Sunday, January 31, 2010

Scramble (Playstation 2)

Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
6 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Konami in 1981
Published by Hamster in 2005

In the history of horizontal scrolling shooters there's not much to mention about Scramble, except the fact that it was the first one of its kind. The year was 1981, and a then unknown company called Konami released it in the arcades. It was a different experience from Defender, released roughly a year before, because it had forced scrolling instead of a free roaming horizontal screen, a concept that would soon become the standard in the genre. Scramble is also heralded as the embryo of the Gradius series, and some people even consider it to be the first game in it.

Japanese Playstation 2 owners were presented with a gift edition of Scramble through the first entry in the Oretachi Game Center series. It is actually an anachronism to have such a rudimentary game occupy a whole CD, even considering the fact that the purpose of the series is to recreate the arcade experience at home. As with all other titles in this collection, the game is accompanied by detailed colored manuals/folders that include info on the original arcade board, a music mini-CD (10 tracks with 10:28 of total time) and a mini-DVD with several ads for the 6 first games in the series, a music demo and a complete 1st loop run. The mini-CD features the only song in the game (the brief intro) plus all sound effects and 2 freely remixed tracks that incorporate lots of in-game sounds. It's a well rounded package, but if someone sees you playing the game and you tell them it is running on a PS2, people will just have a hard time believing it...

Flying saucers populate a cave in the second stage of Scramble

Simply put, Scramble is just like an improved Atari 2600 game. What differentiates it are the little graphical variety throughout the stages and the impressive (for the time) array of sound effects. One could also see a glimpse of things to come on the gameplay front, given the fact that the ship fires two types of bullets, the main shot and bombs/missiles. No more than 2 of these missiles can be fired at any moment. They develop a downward arch with a trajectory that relates directly to the ship's movement, demanding certain aiming skills from the player in order to be properly used. There is a fuel bar that depletes over time and must be refilled by destroying the ground buildings marked with the word FUEL, and as the game progresses and loops this fuel bar depletes faster and faster, until it becomes impossible to be replenished.

Although the game is divided into stages, these are not separated by any intermediate screen or whatsoever. You just advance to the next stage/area as you play, and the active stage is shown in the status bar on the top of the screen. All areas are very short (a complete run lasts less than 5 minutes), and every area has its distinct environment and enemies. The colors change all the time in a seizure-inducing fashion, but after a while you get used to it. The final objective is to destroy the "base" in the final stage, thus completing the mission posed by the game, which taunts the player with the "How far can you invade our scramble system?" message.

Options in the PS2 game are accessed by pressing L1 + R1, and everything there is in Japanese. Here's the translation for reference:

Click for a larger picture of the option menus translation for Scramble for the PS2

EDIT FEB-2013 - Despite being horizontal, this game's native screen is of the vertical type. By default, Scramble for the Playstation 2 starts with a stretched horizontal display (see picture above), so in order to get it close to the original aspect ratio you need to mess around with the options a little (TATE included).

Scramble is also unique because there are absolutely no bullets shot at the player. You are not allowed to horizontally move beyond the screen centerline, but the danger only comes from the ground, from incoming flying craft/fireballs and from the environment itself. It's not as easy as it seems, believe me. Even though on the outside this game seems to be primitive beyond belief, I must confess I had fun playing it. Maybe because it's a title that perfectly serves the purpose of competition and high score pursuit. The only extend is given with 10.000 points, so no one is going to be playing it forever.

Full run of Scramble's arcade version, 1st loop
Note: the PS2 game doesn't have that KONAMI sign over the building in the last stage

(courtesy of YouTube user MamePlayer)

I was able to get my high score very late at night while I was a bit insomniac. The stage I reached was the 5th on the 5th loop (dumb death inside the maze).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Raiden (Playstation)

Checkpoints OFF
4 Difficulty levels
8 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Seibu Kaihatsu
Published by Seibu Kaihatsu in 1995

Time for another old school classic!

Chances are that if you were in an arcade joint around 1991 you most certainly were exposed to the almighty Raiden machine, an extremely successful vertical shooter that spawned an equally successful series. I clearly remember seeing and probably playing one or two credits in it. Later on my further contact with the game would be on the Mega Drive port, and after having my way with one of the PC Engine versions I realized it was time to play the most faithful existing port, which is the Playstation one present in the Raiden Project compilation.

Since every other console port I knew was checkpoint-based, I thought that the lack of checkpoints in the Playstation/arcade game would make it an easier ride. How naive I still find myself to be sometimes... Taking the same style that Toaplan developed a few years earlier, Raiden puts the player to fight against a series of threats that have the nasty ability to fire deadly aimed shots at you. The journey starts on the shore and continues inland, going through distinct environments such as a naval base and rocketing into outer space for the last 3 stages. The difficulty slope is one the most balanced I've ever seen, which makes every stage a particular challenge on its own and definitely lures players to come back in order to refine strategies and, ultimately, blast off that huge last boss.

Fighters mk-II (red) and mk-IIb (blue) ready to wage war!

On the gameplay front, there are two main weapons in Raiden: the vulcan (red) and the laser (blue). The vulcan has great spread range but is weaker, whereas the laser is concentrated but far more powerful. Destroyed specific carriers release power-up icons, which cycle in color so that the player has the chance to change the weapon if needed. Orange ground buildings release icons for missiles, where M represents the more powerful straightforward ones and H stands for the homing green missiles. It takes 8 power-ups to maximize the main weapon and 4 power-ups to maximize the missiles. Occasionally a P icon will appear, granting instantaneous maximum firepower for whatever weapons the player is using. Bombs will detonate after a brief delay, nuking their target and nullifying bullets inside their radius. In the end of the stage, the number of bombs is multiplied by the number of flags collected × 1.000 for a special bonus. Sometimes a flag might be replaced by a miclus, Seibu Kaihatsu's mascot, a blue thingie that's worth 3.000 instead of the regular 1.000 points. Bomb stock is limited to 7, after which every surplus bomb is worth 5.000 points - the same applies to all surplus power-up icons collected. 1UP icons are very scarce, and extends only come with 150.000 and 400.000 points.

In my opinion, the feature that collaborates most to make this a hard game is the ship's fixed speed. It's exceptionally slow, and it forced me to adopt a style of play that involves constant side-sweeping with a certain degree of memorization. It is very common to get hit by something that creeps up from behind or from the sides. Whenever you die you get back to the default pea shooter, which leaves you in a very difficult situation against the enemy forces. Fortunately, there's a secret that helps you power up faster: certain areas of the terrain can be hit, and if they are destroyed a fairy is uncovered. Besides being worth 10.000 points, this fairy will return right after you die to release an assortment of power-ups and bombs in the middle of the screen. This works only for one life, but other fairies can be uncovered for another emergency power-up stock (from what I've seen, there are hidden fairies in the 1st, 4th and 6th stages). This is no guarantee of an easy recovery though, since later in the game the screen is so filled with enemies that timing the collection of all those power-ups isn't an easy thing to do.

And let's not forget about rank! Sometimes I feel I can manipulate it by changing weapons in the 2nd stage, starting with the laser and then switching to vulcan. It doesn't seem to work every time though.

1st stage of Raiden played on CAPTAIN difficulty (VERY EASY) with remixed soundtrack
(courtesy of YouTube user KobayashiBR)

When talking about Raiden, most people remember the little cows seen from above during the 1st stage. It's a graphical detail that showcases how much care was put into the game. Certainly the graphical side might be a little underwhelming by today's standards, but its awesomeness was undeniable back in the 90s. The now classic soundtrack is unmistakable for shmup fans, who generally forgive the repetition of tunes. Well, I do. Plugging the controller to the second console input activates play with the second ship, but the blue color isn't the only difference. Enemy placement and quantity is changed, making the game generally easier and more manageable. I don't know how the game behaves in co-op, since I had no chance to play it with a friend. I do know that when one of the players shoots the other player's craft, a series of extra bullets is fired from the second ship. It's a cool effect, but it sort of overloads the players' perception during busy parts.

The western release of The Raiden Project has a large package that resembles the US Sega Saturn titles. The game's got a great animated intro and comes with some nice features. Besides offering support for TATE both for Raiden and Raiden II (EDIT SEP-2013 only by means of a cheat code via a Gameshark device: 80050BAC 0003), it's possible to select between the classic or remixed versions of the soundtrack, and also to adjust the vertical position of the displays for score and bomb stock. High scores and settings are properly saved.

I was able to reach loop 2-3 in my best run on COLONEL difficulty (NORMAL), playing with the original mk-II ship (red).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Salamander (Saturn)

Horizontal / Vertical
Checkpoints OFF
6 Difficulty levels
6 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Konami in 1986
Published by Konami in 1997

After their success with the groundbreaking Gradius, Konami decided to give the shooter genre another go with the first Gradius spin-off, a horizontal/vertical hybrid called Salamander. For the most part if plays and feels just like another Vic Viper adventure, with a few main differences: the checkpoint system is gone, stage orientation alternates between horizontal and vertical and all power-ups are acquired with straight icons instead of the power-up bar introduced by Gradius. It results in a more straightforward experience, one that can be picked up and learned a lot faster than what you would expect when playing a regular Gradius game. That doesn't mean Salamander is the better shooter, because it isn't. It's still memorable and difficult but, unlike its forefather, extremely uneven and ultimately unfair.

Salamander starts off really fine, with the classic organic stage that has spikes coming out of the walls and barriers of organic matter that grow into the play field or block the way completely. The first wave of popcorn enemies will equip the ship with options, missiles, ripple laser and shield. Each of these power-ups has its specific icon, and a demonstration of all of them is comprehensively shown during the game's attract mode. There are also icons for speed-ups and for a regular laser, which comes up in the beginning of the second stage. This regular laser is my favorite one, even if the ripple laser seems to cover a wider area of the screen. Taking everything that comes will render the ship fully powered by the beginning of the meteor shower in stage 2.

The 4th boss - I hate his guts!

The journey that takes place afterwards is pleasant and entertaining. Following the meteor area a horizontal section inside a fire tunnel with revolving flame dragons leads to another vertical section with volcanos, falling rocks and multiple paths leading to a 3-core boss fortress. And that's where the problems with the game start. The 4th boss in Salamander is probably one of the biggest pricks I ever had to fight in my whole shmupping career. Taken as it comes, a natural player's reaction is to try and kill the cores, but the boss spits so many blue spheres that it becomes virtually impossible to do it. To make things worse, all shots/lasers are blocked by these blue spheres. It's simply disheartening to reach it fully powered and get mercilessly crushed while your face turns into a mix of incredulity and anger. Try once, try twice, try how many times you want, it doesn't matter: the 4th boss will teach you the meaning of defeat.

There's a catch though. All is not lost! The 4th boss can be defeated, but it takes a good deal of precise - I mean precise - positioning and an even greater deal of luck. Theories have been devised about how to beat the boss, and my approach was the one that says you should poke the ship to the leftmost side of the right core. When done correctly, this technique should result in all blue spheres missing Vic Viper until the confrontation times out (the middle and left cores shoot horizontal spheres and the spheres created by the right core bounce up and down). Easier said than done, obviously. Sometimes, even if you die once or twice, it's still possible to do it if you manage to destroy at least the right core: just put your ship inside it, watch the blue spheres bounce everywhere and pray none of them will hit your then sacred safe spot.

Salamander played with slowdown disabled until the end of the 3rd stage
(courtesy of YouTube user Succulla)

The last 2 stages are intense with the horizontal meteor shower and the final vertical showdown with big cores, moais and closing walls. As I mentioned earlier in this text, the overall difficulty in Salamander is rather uneven, with extremely easy bosses to compensate for the 4th bastard and stage sections that become nearly impossible if you die. The shield power-up is sort of useless because it fades just by touching other power-up icons! Graphically speaking, stages 2 and 5 are very poor (they only have meteors and enemies coming against a simple star-filled background), but all other parts of the game represent a step up from Gradius. Lots of the ideas and enemies from Salamander would be used later in Gradius II.

On the Sega Saturn, Salamander is included in the Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus, a collection that also contains Life Force (the westernized and later Japanized version of Salamander that uses the power-up bar from Gradius) and Salamander 2. The screen size for Salamander is customizable, as well as the original slowdown (wait control OFF will eliminate it completely). Upon beating the game once you unlock an option to play and practice the crazy difficult second loop.

Before I finish, let me share the most important thing one should know about the 4th boss: after defeating it once, it's possible to kill him very easily every time you reach it again. Just destroy the upper ground hatch as soon as possible, and it won't fire any blue orbs. This trick will work as long as you don't reset the game - a great reward for all the suffering you have to go through to beat him once.

Here's my high score on NORMAL, wait control OFF, game played up to loop 2-1.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Super Darius II (PC Engine CD)

Checkpoints OFF
3 Difficulty levels
7 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Taito
Published by NEC Avenue in 1993

Darius games were plenty during the 16-bit era, and the PC Engine had a great share of home conversions. Super Darius II is a revamped port of the original arcade game and, excluding the later version for the Sega Saturn, it is well known as being rather late to the console party. There's an uniqueness to this game however, since it is a lot different from what people know as being Darius II, to the point one can consider it a completely different entry in the series. Sure it retains the general stage order and feel, starting in the Sun and ending in Jupiter, but sprites are swapped between stages and brand new bosses wait for the player at the end of each area - the only ones that made it here are Leadain, Yamato and Killer Hijia.

The most notable change in Super Darius II is the zoomed-in aspect of the play field. This goes much against the wide scope of the arcade and drastically alters gameplay, because the screen is always wobbling up and down a bit below the huge score display area. The second big change is in the music, a guitar filled collection of tunes that not always resembles the original classic Zuntata tracks. Even though the theme for the first stage is very recognizable, for example, later tunes were changed completely and detract from the original feeling of playing Darius II. It would be most correct to say it comes down to taste, and for mine even if it's not bad in any way it just isn't on par with the original work.

A completely changed stage E, just before facing new boss Revenge Shark

Given all the differences, it's impossible not to compare this version with others, namely the Mega Drive one. While both games stand well on their own, the Mega Drive port is better. Not only it's more faithful to the arcade, but it's also easier and more fun to play. Super Darius II feels contrived by the big sprites and lacks some of the graphical effects that made the original so cool. One example is the warped background that takes over the screen during the boss fight in area A. It's not there in the PC Engine game, adding to the disappointment of having Golden Eyes instead of Hyper Sting as the first boss. Also noteworthy is the Engrish message saying that the boss "is approached" fast and some rare but crazy bugs where chunks of the scenery will disappear completely as you fly by them (during that spike press moving up and down in stage M). Adding to the difficulty, the shield is a lot less efficient in Super Darius II. Its second color is blue instead of the traditional silver/gray, and no matter the shield level it also turns completely red if there's only one hit left. On the other hand, dying won't strip you completely of your firepower, you just lose one power level for each weapon. The rest of the gameplay is intact: kill a particular wave of enemies to collect power-ups for main shot, bombs/missiles, laser and shield. Occasional 1UPs might appear, but no extends are given based on score.

Stages A, C and F played with the default ship, Proco Jr.
(courtesy of YouTube user Mushaaleste)

Talking about bosses, the one that surprised me most was Revenge Shark, the battleship from stages D and E. He's so unique and unlike any other Darius boss it was quite a challenge to learn how to beat him while preserving the shield. Dark Modon appears as the one and only boss for the 6th stage, and also offers quite a fight before going down. One of the final bosses, Mechanical Bio Strong, is so easy to be taken down it pales in comparison with the original Bio Strong. Speaking of which, a lot of the original Darius II bosses were ranked down as mid bosses in Super Darius II, joining the ranks of old bosses returning from Darius. It's just one more aspect that helps give this game its special flavor within the series.
Co-op play still isn't available, but like in the Mega Drive port it's possible to select the player in the OPTIONS screen - red Silver Hawk (Proco Jr.) or blue Silver Hawk (Tiat Young). They appear during the attract mode, which strangely has absolutely no sound. It will also sound weird for a lot of people, but I do think Darius Plus and Super Darius are more fun to play than Super Darius II.

Here's my high score on NORMAL, going through route ABEHMSY.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Super Thunder Blade (Mega Drive)

Rail shooter / Vertical
Checkpoints OFF
3 Difficulty levels
4 Stages
Ship speed variable
- - - - - - -
Developed by Sega
Published by Sega in 1988

Ask anyone who was around during the launch days of the Mega Drive/Genesis about the most disappointing and lackluster shooter - or game for that matter - of all the initial titles available for the console. I bet my copy of this game that 9 out of 10 answers will be Super Thunder Blade, which was supposed to display the superior 16-bit graphics in an action-packed adventure based off the arcade hit from Sega. However, it left a legacy of disaster that unfortunately haunted the Mega Drive for years as a platform that could not do decent scaling.

The most surprising thing for me this weekend was to find out that Super Thunder Blade isn't an arcade port, being actually a pseudo-sequel to Thunder Blade. That means it is an almost completely original game. It isn't 100% original on the account that all stages are somewhat "based" on the arcade game, sharing most of its 4 stage themes: city (1st), caves (2nd) and factory (4th). The 3rd stage is changed from a jungle to the open sea, and works as a nice breather from the claustrophobic action inside the caves. From the few footage I've seen of the arcade version, I can pretty much say the Mega Drive game is a lot harder. Blame it on the awful frame rate and the slow moving speed of the helicopter!

Stage 2 - flying through one of those two holes in the mountain without stopping is easier said than done!

Playing Super Thunder Blade is a matter of keeping the A or C button pressed at all times and slowing down with the B button when necessary (for those who don't like the reverse control for Up and Down it's possible to change this in the OPTIONS screen). Landing the helicopter will stop game progression while a TAKE OFF message will warn you to move on. The top-down initial parts of each stage were removed from the Mega Drive game, but all stages now have mid-bosses where the screen stops. At the end of each stage a boss fortress must be faced in a vertical top-down style, with the chopper being fixed in the bottom of the screen and able to only move sideways, going up at a snail's pace. The B button will make it stop and fly backwards, but this won't help much when dozens of turrets fire at you at the same time. And soon you'll find yourself keeping displacement momentum according to the enemy fire rate - something you'll rarely see in any shooter out there, believe me.

No excuse can be given to how badly Super Thunder Blade plays. It is atrociously programmed and poses another level of challenge to those who decide to face it. I am a masochist, so I had to see it till the end. I was helped by the somewhat numerous extends: first one with 500.000 points and another for every million after that. I had to hone the skill to use the B button to avoid dying against the spikes of the 2nd stage. And this is taken to the extreme during the last stage, where flying above, below and between the pipes is a must in order to reach the last boss. He's not like the previous ones, where flying past them is enough to win the stage. It must be completely wiped out, green turrets and all, if you want to see the ending...

Last words of advice: when hovering, you can graze walls unharmed; when flying, it's impossible to crash against airborne enemies; never hover in front of an up close enemy though, it will be impossible to avoid its fire.

A quick look at the first stage of Super Thunder Blade
(courtesy of YouTube user crapoartworks)

Strange as it might be, the music in Super Thunder Blade is actually very good, making a weird counterpoint with the awful gameplay, to the point of really getting my blood pumped for action when I'm playing it. The awesome revolving alphabet of the screen for high score initials is impressive, too bad it isn't an in-game feature.

Not everybody considers rail shooters a part of the shmup culture. Well, I do. And having cleared a game like this gives me a strange feeling of accomplishment, because I know very few people will have the will to endure the same mission. I can assure everybody it's not an impossible one, it's just... unique in its awkward nature. Here's my final score on NORMAL, for due reference:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Down Load (PC Engine)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
6 Stages
Ship speed selectable
- - - - - - -
Developed by Nec Avenue
Published by Nec Avenue in 1990

Fast-paced futuristic action on a hoverbike is something no ordinary gamer would refuse. When this idea is implemented in a shmup you have something like Down Load, a trippy ride with a guy who seems to be framed in the middle of the night and sets off to avenge the death of his best friend, rescuing his girl from the bad guys during the process. Of course I implied this from the several cut scenes presented in Japanese - and that's enough for story, at least on my part!

Ever since I got this game I was hooked to its package. The main character is all over it with a bold, inconsequent grin that translates well into his attitude throughout the story, a sequence of bit parts that unfold like a good old fashioned adventure. Some stages have several sections and bosses (like the 1st one), while others pass by on one quick and furious flight (the outer space in stage 5). The last stage is also comprised of several sections, but these aren't separated by any fades.

One of the few parts where you get a breather, at the start of stage 4

Down Load's most prominent gameplay aspect is the fact that it gives the player only one life. Once the health bar is depleted it's Game Over, so you'll want to keep the health up at all costs. The array of weapons available provides for the means to survive - upon starting a stage you're given the option to choose between 2 main weapons (spread and laser) and 3 special weapons (chaser, crusher and barrier). Each main weapon can be powered up 5 times, and its power level is shown right beside the health bar. The icon for this power-up looks like a fly's head or a big blinking pill. Although being limited, the stock for special weapons can also be replenished by the icon that cycles with the one that replenishes health (light blue and larger / dark blue and smaller). There's also an extra pill-shaped icon for temporary invincibility (smaller) or smart bombing (larger).

Since it's very easy to die in a snap, memorizing is a key factor if you want to beat the game on a single credit. Avoiding greed and waiting for the icons to come closer instead of rushing to get them is a must. There are 4 selectable flight speeds, and walls can be touched and used for blocking at will. My favorite special weapon is definitely the chaser, since each load gives you 96 of these.

10 minutes of Down Load action from start until close to the 3rd stage's boss
(courtesy of YouTube user Mushaaleste)

Competent for the PC Engine's capabilities, the graphics are a mixed bag of mechanical and biological cyber stuff put together, sometimes presenting an amazing parallax that adds greatly to the sense of speed. Generic and muffled sound effects are compensated by a soundtrack that's overall adequate. It makes the game fun while it lasts, just not remarkable in any special way. If only the programming side wasn't so badly implemented... Not only does the game come with an useless password feature (WTF do I want it in a shmup for?), but it also doesn't buffer high scores. So this was another case where I had to be fast and pause right after dispatching the last boss to take the high score picture - I might have lost some 10.000 points from him, but whatever.

The bad programming doesn't stop there though. After the end sequence the screen halts in a message that displays "THE END OF FILE". You can only exit by pressing SELECT + RUN. Just to have an idea, the only other instance where I saw this kind of dead end was on Divine Sealing for the Mega Drive. Not a healthy comparison, huh?

I have hopes that Down Load 2 will improve on this when I get the chance to try it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hyperzone (SNES)

Rail shooter
Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
8 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed variable
- - - - - - -
Developed by Hal Laboratory
Published by Hal Laboratory in 1991

Still taking a serious beating from some other shooters I've been playing, I suddenly got in the mood for some mindless rail blasting a few days ago. The choice fell on Hyperzone for the Super Nintendo, in fact one of the few representatives of this sub-genre on this specific platform. Given the strength provided by the impressive mode 7 scaling effects, one would assume the SNES was perfect for this kind of shooting games. However, Hyperzone is the only one I know of, standing as a crazy mix of F-Zero (the best racing game on the SNES, period) and Space Harrier. In Japan the game is spelled Hyper Zone (which I think is cooler) and has stages 1 and 3 swapped, besides presenting some minor differences in the soundtrack. Who cares anyway? The core experience is the same on both versions!

Those who played F-Zero will feel at home with Hyperzone, since they are graphically very similar. The ship flies into the screen and must stay within the boundaries of the flying field at all times, receiving damage when getting beyond it - just bear in mind that in later levels it will be necessary to do it. Each life has an energy bar that can be replenished in special areas of the track, just like in F-Zero. Controls are simple and comprise 2 buttons: fire and deceleration. The speed is always cranked up to the maximum, so this deceleration feature is useful both to dodge tricky obstacles and to milk the energy replenisher areas. There's no autofire for the main shot, but starting from stage 3 every newly acquired ship has the ability to charge its weapon for a more destructive blast. It's really cool to see the main character change ships in the start of all later stages, since some of them will even affect the way the upper HUD is displayed.

Charging the shot during the 4th stage - to the left, a recharging field

Mode 7 makes everything really cool in this game. Someone called my attention to how the upper and lower graphics for the first stage are actually mounted Tetris blocks! The scaling is smooth, all stages are very different graphically and the overall futuristic feeling is remarkable. While that makes for a great part of the fun in Hyperzone, there are certain things that bug me, like the fact that it's impossible to reach the uppermost part of the flying area - in the lower part you feel like you're just hovering above the ground, but on the top you're blocked halfway with a lot of unreachable dead space. Why is that? It would've also been nice to have an option to increase the maneuvering speed, just because the ship feels too damn slow. Fortunately that's never a problem as in some other rail shooters out there, since it's fairly easy to dodge almost everything. All bosses are a joke, but a few parts of the Neo Megalopolis zone (stage 6) are nearly impossible to handle. Music is okay.

Curious things everyone will notice: two of the bosses are just rehashes of the first boss from Space Harrier (the snake dragon), while another is shaped as a Super Famicom controller. As I mentioned though, they are ridiculously easy to be beaten - just keep moving at all times and you'll be okay. The energy bar is fully restored at the start of the next stage, with the game granting extra lives for each 30.000 points. In some weird cases, however, this will work only with 50.000 points - I didn't check this further since I looped the game on the second time I played it. I found it too easy, probably the easiest rail shooter I have ever beaten. After the ending that shows all enemies from each stage, Hyperzone restarts but no extra lives are granted anymore. You keep the most powerful ship from the 1st loop, and there seems to be no increase in difficulty whatsoever.

Here's the 3rd stage with the Super Famicom controller as the boss
(courtesy of YouTube user TheNattak)

I could write some more about what I would've liked to see in this game (such as sharp racing turns à la F-Zero), but it is mildly entertaining as it stands. It's easy alright, but it's a welcome change of pace from other shooters , and unlike Star Fox you can measure your performance with an actual score (Star Fox does have scoring, sorry for the mistake - EDIT 19-MAR-2010).

The high score below was achieved when I reached stage 2-6.