Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Moon Cresta (Playstation 2)

Vertical fixed
Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
1 Stage (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Nichibutsu in 1980
Published by Hamster in 2005

When people ask me what I think about the original Space Invaders game, more often than not it's hard to disguise my disdain. Of course I do understand the importance of the game to the history of this hobby, but I cannot fathom the idea of spending hours playing such a drab shmup that has no ending. But why am I talking about the original Space Invaders anyway? The reason is that I kinda had the same impression of Moon Cresta until very recently, i.e. the idea the game was actually so primitive that it didn't warrant any serious attention.

Yet here I am, writing about it after playing the port released for the Playstation 2, no less. Moon Cresta is in volume 5 of the Oretachi Game Center budget series, a Japan-exclusive collection dedicated to emulated versions of old arcade games. Regardless of the fact that it just sounds dumb to have a full disc dedicated to this little game, at least it comes with a few nice extras such as the folder with info on the arcade board and a pair of mini-discs with original/arranged versions of the soundtrack and sample runs with extra material about this particular series.

You can get a lot of fun and thrill in this trip to the space war!

In order to differentiate themselves and present some evolution to the idea pioneered by Taito, Nichibutsu added a few tweaks to spice up the experience. Besides taking extra inspiration from Namco's Galaxian (in the way some enemies split and/or descend upon the player), Moon Cresta has a unique mechanic based on three ship sizes and a docking maneuver players are supposed to pull off in specific points of the game. Despite the simplicity of it, it's actually an ingenious way to make things more addictive and lure people into wanting to try that next credit in an era where each extra coin spent mattered in arcade centers.

The basic rule in the gameplay is that you're given exactly one shot at a time fired by a single button (any face button of the PS2 controller can be used to fire, SELECT enables the credit to be started). You get three lives, and each life comes with a different ship, or "rocket" as the game calls it. The first rocket (I) fires a pea shot, the second rocket (II) is a little larger and fires a double shot, and the third rocket (III) is even larger but fires a triple shot. If you don't die you'll be required to connect all ships during the docking parts mentioned above, which takes place for the first time after the 4th enemy wave.

During docking the mission aim is to align your current rocket with the next rocket that appears at the center of the screen during an alloted time window. The rocket falls down naturally, but if you need extra space or time to complete the maneuver just press the fire button and use the directionals to help out. A successful docking will result in a combined rocket formation that's naturally more powerful, as well as bonus points for time remaining. Failure will result in the explosion of the ship and the loss of a life. After the 7th wave, where you face a series of meteors that don't need to be fully destroyed, a second docking sequence happens for another chance at further enhancing the ship's capabilites. Note that you can lose two lives at once if you have an arrangement of two rockets and fail to land correctly over the third rocket piece!

Once the purple enemies of the 9th wave are fully destroyed a FAR OUT! message is displayed and the game loops at a higher difficulty with the smallest rocket you have in formation or in stock. In the case of a three rocket formation, for instance, the loop will start with rocket I.

A quick credit of Moon Cresta on the Playstation 2
(courtesy of YouTube user ZetaMage)

All waves of Moon Cresta are so short that it's pointless to consider each one a separate level, so I always think of it as a single-stage loopable game that can be completed in around three minutes if you play well enough. A word of attention for score chasers is that scoring higher is directly related to the time bonuses of the docking sequences. That's why even though rocket III seems great for survival, it just isn't good for score because you won't get into any docking sequence with it. Achieving 30.000 points gives you a complete free game for your current credit, which means you preserve your score and start the game over from the first wave once your last ship is destroyed (the message ENJOY ANOTHER GAME appears as a signal of this unique feature).

Despite the relatively disjointed nature of the first couple of waves and the rudimentary mix of music cues and sound effects, the looping feature and the embrionary but engaging stage design presented in Moon Cresta definitely puts the game in a different category from Space Invaders and its several endless copycats. It's one of those classics that haven't aged that bad, and while not as flashy or loud as Konami's Scramble it still stands on its own in terms of immediate and quick fun. Several home ports came out besides this PS2 version, the PS1 being a particularly interesting iteration that deserves special attention (more on that in the near future, I hope). Moon Cresta was followed by pseudo-sequel Terra Cresta, in an unexpected series that went on across several systems and platforms.
Click for the option menus translation for Moon Cresta on the PS2

No functional difference exists between the Japanese and English versions of the game that are included in this PS2 release. As you can see from the Options translation above a TATE orientation is included, so that's obviously the best way to enjoy the game if possible, even though fullscreen YOKO is just fine for what the game has to offer. That's how I played it for a couple of evenings to get the high score below, finishing the credit in loop 4.

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