Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hawk F-123 (PC Engine CD)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
8 Stages
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Make Software
Published by Pack-in-video in 1992

Instead of using the well-known strategy of adding “Super”, “Special” or “Custom” to the title, which was the common practice for CD-revamped versions of HuCard games, Pack-in-Video decided to rename Power Gate as Hawk F-123 when releasing it for the PC Engine CD in 1992. Granted, it’s not the same game, but Hawk F-123 recycles a handful of sprites from Power Gate, also servicing the expected overhaul in music and presentation. Add a few changes in gameplay and the final result is a slightly better shooting experience, a bit more balanced in some areas but overall still more recommended to hardcore 1CC completists such as myself.

The setting is pretty much the same, although this time there are 8 stages instead of 6. The game starts and ends with the obligatory CD cut scenes of the era, with accompanying music but no spoken dialogue. Once more you pilot a jet airplane against the usual flock of enemies, aided by an arsenal of 3 main weapons and several types of auxiliary firepower.

Going from HuCard to CD media made the gameplay a little more fluid, or at least that’s how I felt when controlling the jet’s hitbox in Hawk F-123. I couldn’t help but think of how much of an Aero Blasters (aka Air Buster) wannabe it turned out, especially during the sections where those missiles start falling from out of the screen onto your back. There are more similarities, but these are very subtle, and I wonder if Pack-in-Video’s programmers received word to emulate Kaneko’s style when making the game. Or maybe this is just a stupid observation, I don't know.

This cruiser is the main source of resistance in the 4th stage of Hawk F-123

With the exception of the homing special weapon, Hawk F-123 incorporates almost everything Power Gate had as gameplay and adds new stuff to it. The biggest difference is the addition of 2 new weapons that are interchangeable with colored icons. Besides the default straight shot (red), now it's possible to use a laser (blue) and a special shot with impact blast (yellow). This last shot type gets split every time it hits something, damaging other targets along the way. They are powered up by getting the same icons repeatedly. Other permanent weapons are homing missiles (H), bouncing energy balls (P) and options/multiples (up to 2 tracing small planes). You must choose between homing missiles and energy balls, it's not possible to use both at once, and the auxiliary small planes absorb enemy bullets but disappear after taking enough hits. There are 4 limited special weapons: the temporary shield, the protecting circle, straight power missile and the 8-way power blast. They work the same way as in Power Gate. The hourglass activates the ground bombs, S goes for speed-ups and D for speed-downs. Every icon is worth 200 points, and you can get all speed-ups you want because the jet never gets too fast.

When trying to improve the difficulty, the developer ditched the health bar and increased the extend routine to 50.000, 100.000 and for every 100.000 points thereafter. Bosses also got tougher, and the increased amount of parallax in some stages adds to the challenge of dealing with bullets and enemies. That would've worked fine if it weren't for one thing: the shield special weapon. After you've learned how to deal with it every single boss becomes a joke - saving at least one shield for every tricky boss is the best hint ever to be given about Hawk F-123. It's almost unfair against the game's AI, really! It's so unfair I was able to clear the game on one life, an accomplishment that wouldn't be so easy had this shield thing been left out of the game.
Complete opening and selected takes on Hawk F-123
(courtesy of YouTube user KollisionBR - that's me!)

There is some slowdown, but it doesn't hurt the gameplay that much. Morevover, plenty of color and a decent variety in graphics help establish the mild entertainment this title is capable of providing. The music is probably the most interesting aspect though. Most of the tunes from Power Gate received better quality renditions, and it was a clever move to reserve the best BGM for the 4th stage, by far the longest one in the package. The soundtrack's got a surprisingly jazzy feel, thankfully not in the sense of elevator music, but just enough to keep you wondering "wow, that's not exactly the type of music I would expect here... and here". I thought it was okay.
To wrap it up, let me point out some laziness signs from Pack-in-Video, which seemed to be one of the out-of-the-mill developers/publishers for the PC Engine. In Hawk F-123:
  • there's no high score buffering - if you're going for the 1CC remember to pause the game right after the final boss is beaten or you'll lose your score!
  • the game halts indefinitely in the end credits screen (RUN + SELECT to leave it)
  • there was no planning for when the stock display reaches 10 lives - check my HS picture below to see why
  • problem: the game crashed on me once when I defeated the 2nd boss - the jet was kept flying forever and the stage would never end (Earth Defense, anyone?)
  • problem: the game froze on me once during the 6th stage
So, without further ado, here's the 1LC score I got from Hawk F-123:


  1. This is a good game, and very underrated.
    I was overwhelmed by the first few levels because of the weak weaponry. But once i got my weapons powered up, It felt manageable and fun.

  2. No, that is 10 lives # is in hex digits. Hex numbering goes 1 to 9, and for 10 to 15 you have A, B, C, D, E, F. Hex is used basically in all code and computing or what not why you'll see it in games more + seeing videogame numbers max at 15 or 255 for F or FF respectively (FF/255 is one byte). I learned/figured it out almost on trial & error alone when I downloaded a hex editor to hack + almost entirely figure out/label what's what in a Sega Saturn memory card save file. Glad I learnt it. Now I can hack! ... Want to learn how to program videogames for various old school consoles soon too... But yeah you right, for this game it's still lazyness.

    This game really seems like an improvement over the HUE card one alright, of which I keep that & Deep Blue into my "Bad Hori PCE Shmup" genre rom folder, lol. But for this CD version, I'm thinking of taking it out of same said folder on PCE CD side of things?... The intro to this game made me laught at how low budget they've made it. As in "zero animation" and only moving still sprites used as animation, lol. Makes me smile, so it's all good. :)

    - Sinful

    1. Yeah, I've always known it was a hex digit, I'm an engineer!
      But then again, isn't Battle Garegga to blame for allowing that as well? Of course comparing both games is out of the question, but Raizing should've known better right?
      But I digress. I haven't even touched the surface on Garegga, nor have the balls to assume I'll get a letter-score in it one day. Time is closing in though, and I'm slowly feeling the need to try it.

    2. Hmm, really, Battle Garegga has it too? Wasn't it in one of the cheat codes that showed you rank or someting though? Meaning it would of been alright if it was a cheat and not exactly lazy as it's better then nothing (Read once PCE Arcade Hi-Res modes were done as cheats sometimes due to maybe not having time to fully test out how stable they were, Hence fine as a cheat if it does turn out buggy. Thus making sense as to why they're cheats instead of all in the option menu).

      What, an Engineer! That sounds pretty freakin impressive, Kollision! You should be collecting Arcade units now, lol. How else you gonna get the most out of them Darius games you love so much? I would start with Darius Burst EX2. ;) Besides that, so you have a scientific mind then, huh? Something I wish more had...

    3. Hmmm, I was just checking the HS thread at the shmups forum.
      The extra digit in the highest scores isn't exactly HEX, you can see "K" and "I" there.
      Now that's a challenge, getting at least an A!