Sunday, April 7, 2024

Terra Cresta (NES)

Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
1 Stage (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Nichibutsu
Published by Vic Tokai in 1990

Most well known port of the arcade game, the Japanese Famicom version of Terra Cresta came out very soon after the debut of the original in 1986, whereas the NES version came out in early 1990. Even though this long interval between ports might have hurt the reach of the game in the West, my impression as an old gamer arriving quite late to the party is that it's still well regarded among most NES fans I happen to know. That's just another testament to the huge appreciation the platform had in its heyday and still has to this day, I'm quite sure.

What I do know is that the spaceship dogfight of the century, as indicated by the game's box art, is actually quite faithful to its arcade roots, retaining everything about the original gameplay whilst obviously simplifying the assets and the challenge around 8-bit restraints. It still looks simplistic in the grand scheme of things, yet it certainly feels like the arcade game at home – a worthy development over the primitive experience of Moon Cresta and a very welcome evolution to the graphical style first presented in Xevious.

Wave formation attack against giant desert lizards
At the center of Terra Cresta's gameplay is the gimmick of collecting extra parts of the spaceship and enhancing its firepower with them, as well as deploying these parts in specific formations in order to have a greater edge against the enemies that have taken over the planet. The barren and desolate grounds are also filled with weird creatures and all sorts of turrets, from the type you can see from afar to those that will only emerge when you're too close to them, sometimes also protected by solid obstacles. If you see numbers close to larger hatches you'll know that hitting all of them will release extra ship parts. With each extra part collected the ship gets bigger but is also upgraded with extra resources such as more powerful frontal shots, a rear shot and a rear shield that damages enemies on contact.

Firing is accomplished by pressing button B in the controller. Button A is reserved for the activation of the formation attack, provided you have it in stock. This is indicated by the F icons displayed in the lower part of the screen, which appear whenever a ship part is collected. The number of parts you have affects the firing pattern of the formation attack: two ship parts result in a dual formation that fires a wave-like arch, three ship parts generate a triangle that heavily increases your firing coverage, a four ship formation is similar but adds orbs that move forward in a circular motion, and the attack for five ship parts looks like the one for three ships only slightly more powerful. Finally, if you manage to get all parts without dying the ship will turn into an invincible phoenix for the duration of a formation attack.

Most of the danger in Terra Cresta comes from enemies appearing from behind. It can also be troublesome to recover from some checkpoints if you need to face bosses with no upgrades at all. Occasional slowdown and flicker happens if the screen gets filled with enemies, most notably those waves with lots of drones that come into the screen in a circular motion. Getting hit can either kill you instantly or destroy parts of your ship, a move that's necessary if you'd like to get the phoenix again. After all, once all ship parts are taken the numbered hatches stop showing up. Formation attacks are certainly more useful against bosses, but remember that whenever a new ship part is taken you get a full stock of three Fs to use. Therefore you don't need to be stingy with formation attacks if you see a new ship part coming up for grabs.

Transforming for great justice!
(courtesy of YouTube user The VideoGames Museum)

Since Terra Cresta is actually a continuous stroll with no interruptions whatsoever, I consider it a one-loop game where the loop checkpoint is the third and largest boss, a huge mecha that fires slow-moving fists that overlap with regular bullets. There are two other bosses that appear prior to that, but they're smaller and in general less demanding. All of them time out and leave the screen if the fight drags for too long. Each loop takes roughly ten minutes to be completed if you don't die too much, and after a few times playing Terra Cresta it becomes clear that the terrain tends to repeat itself in predictable arrangements. Even though the point of entry of most aerial enemies is still random and an increase in difficulty is expected in further loops, it's hard not to be bothered by the repetitive nature of the game design.

The first extend is given when you score 30.000 points, and for each 50.000 points afterwards you get another extra life (you'll hear a distinct sound cue when it happens). A weird detail is that you can only see your life stock right at the start of the game of after dying. And while a graphic compromise had to be made for the larger bosses, which appear in black screens instead of the normal terrain, the phoenix form of the ship comes with a short music snippet that plays only in this version. The most interesting feature of the NES port, however, is the ability to alter formation patterns in the "Design" options both in terms of ship part location and shot direction. I never bothered to tinker with it.

If I remember correctly, in the high score below I was able to reach the 7th loop using the default formation patterns. I must mention that in order to have at least a decent time with this game a turbo controller is definitely recommended. Terra Cresta has no autofire at all, and trying to play it with no additional help is definitely a no-go. Unless you're a purist or a masochist, of course.

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