Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Huge Insect (NES)

Vertical fixed
Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
5 Stages
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Thin Chen Enterprise (Sachen)
Published by Sachen in 1993

Object of cult for many, motive of utter despise to others, Taiwanese developer Sachen was definitely one the most - if not the most - prolific unlicensed developer/publisher for the NES, with an immense catalog that includes a few shmups. Some of them are quite a treat to collectors due to their rarity, and Huge Insect definitely falls in this bastard category. Basically a Galaga ripoff, this game has the sad distinction of being the last title the company published in cartridge form in extremely low quantities in the 2000's, even though the main game screen shows a "copyright" from 1993.

Actually there are several sources about the peculiar history of this release. According to this page, it wasn't originally published in a cartridge. Sachen offered it for free download on their website in 2002, but later the game became available to buy in green, orange (2002), blue (2002) and purple (2005) box versions. 78 carts were manufactured, but it seems the green cartridges might have actually been made in 1993. The cartridge I own is the purple box variant.

For an unlicensed game, Huge Insect could've been much better. In its final form it's a misfire that's probably related to the inherent laziness that comes with the end of an era for any company. The misfire is in the fact that the gameplay isn't a complete waste like in some other unlicensed crap, yet Sachen made it so easy that even the inept, the sleepy and a combination of both might be able to beat it in their first try. Basically you get an extra life during every transition from a stage section to the next, which means six extra lives per stage, totalling 29 extra lives per credit. And on top of that you're also able to get occasional 1UPs!

Searching for a huge insect in a nearby pond
(courtesy of YouTube user The VideoGames Museum)

The idea behind the makeover on the Galaga mold is that you control what looks like an insecticide spray can and must destroy lots of insects that arrive in successive waves. Enemies that survive as they come into the screen will enter in formation at the top and dive upon you when the whole armada is complete. Each stage has six sections with the same background and environments that resemble a pond, a forest, a grass field, a cloudy blue sky and outer space. You're only allowed one shot at a time with button A, but the default pea shot can be upgraded by collecting items dropped when blinking enemies are destroyed.

The assortment of items includes a double shot, speed-up (S), a single power-up (P) that turns your regular firepower into laser shots, a 1-hit shield (the golden circle) and the extra life / 1UP (a representation of the basic ship in a circle). There's also a black skull that must be avoided at all times since it strips you off all power-ups you're currently carrying. Note that when taking the double shot your hitbox becomes twice as large because then you'll be controlling two insecticide cans instead of one. Weirdly enough, there are times when the 1-hit shield doesn't work and you die anyway when getting hit, in what's the only glaring flaw of the rudimentary gameplay.

At the second section of each level an invincible bug will appear in the middle of the screen, moving left and right and shielding the enemy from your shots. Each successive section adds another of these bugs until you have four of them in sections 5 and 6, and once all enemies are destroyed in section 6 the stage boss appears. That's the reasoning behind the game's title, but killing the huge insect isn't a big deal. It's just a matter of anticipating his large two-way blast and avoiding the occasional bullets fired by the minions released behind him. Boss attack patterns do not change at all across all five levels, but wave speed and enemy aggression increase slightly as you make progress.

Boss begging for peace after being defeated
If you're able to get the P power-up, obliterating insects becomes a breeze and deaths might only occur if you get stuck against a fast-moving wave. Dying isn't that taxing though because soon enough you'll get new upgrades, on top of having (as I mentioned above) one of the most stupid supplies of extra lives I've ever seen in any old school video game. Game variety is practically non-existent, but if it weren't for this atrocious extend routine Huge Insect might have offered a bit of a challenge. Never mind the soundtrack, which has only two very similar stage songs that alternate during the whole game. At least they're not grating, if that counts for something.

Each item you take gives you an extra 100 points, but there's a simple way to score higher. During the boss fights just avoid hitting the boss and keep destroying the minion bugs he summons. The scoring system can be broken this way but it takes forever to do it, you need to move a lot to not die and chances are you'll eventually kill the boss by hitting it every now and then.

There isn't any sort of score buffering when Huge Insect is beaten. All you see is the panel of a kid (you, of course) smiling while celebrating his victory, then the game gets back to the start screen. That's why you need to pause as soon as the last enemy of the final level is killed if you want to take note of your score. In my second credit I did milk a few bosses to get the result below, just for the sake of it.

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