Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Legion (PC Engine CD)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
7 or 8 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Telenet Japan
Published by Reno in 1990

If you are one of the people who lived through the 16 bit gaming generation, owned a Mega Drive and enjoyed shooters you’ll most certainly be familiar with names such as Renovation, Wolfteam or Telenet Japan. No? Okay, what about Sol-Deace, Gaiares, Granada and Arrow Flash? It rings a bell, right? If for any reason you ever cherished any of these shooters, I’m quite sure you would be thrilled to know that Revovation/Telenet also released a couple of shmups for the Turbo Duo/Turbografx-CD. Being a late guest to the PC Engine party I was certainly thrilled to know that. At least until I finally got in contact with Legion.

Legion carries the Reno(vation?) publishing seal of quality, developed by Telenet Japan itself (this company is a mess, really). It does not, however, resemble in any way its famous Mega Drive shmup siblings. The atmosphere and the gameplay are so different that it’s almost as if a totally different company had developed the game, which is often hailed as one of the worst shooters in the system, let alone in the whole genre. Yes, under certain points of view it is a tough contender for all lists of crappiest games ever released. At the same time, it isn’t a total waste either. Shall we start at some of the good aspects then?

Proceed immediately to that sector and destroy the robot! Jeez!

Graphics in Legion are fine for a PC Engine CD game. There’s some basic yet effective use of parallax, a good color palette and a variety of ideas that could have been explored a bit more. The music has no identity of its own, and fails to cause any lasting impression whatsoever. The best tunes seem to be reserved to the intermission screens showing the planets you’ll be flying through as you play, and at certain moments it does remind you of more famous competitors. The weirdness of the BGM for the 3rd stage practically makes you think this tune is a leftover from Taito’s Darius.

The last and most controversial positive in Legion is its challenge level, which I find to be quite unique. However, this is where part of the criticism abounds, since this crazy challenge is also one of the responsible factors for the game’s bad fame.
Right after you start the first stage, enemies sweep back and forth and shoot so fast that it will take lots of credits and practice just to beat this level alone. It eventually turns into a continued attempt to kill all enemies as soon as they enter the screen, or else you’re pretty much doomed. Cheap deaths? You’ll certainly need to try at least the 1st stage from Legion in order to know what they really mean. This kill-or-die gameplay behavior isn’t constant though, in what could be seen both as design variety or schizophrenic choices a.k.a. bad game design. Random difficulty spikes follow and culminate in a crazy scramble in the last stage, with blazing lasers being fired in the middle of the screen all the time and nearly impossible narrow passages to navigate through. Take it from me when I tell you to practice this a lot in an emulator before facing the real challenge. Unless you’re possessed by a shmup-god it’s just counterproductive to learn it by practicing in the real hardware.

I complain and I rant, but I'm still a hero in the end!
(courtesy of YouTube user KollisionBR)

You start out with 5 lives, with no 1Ups or extends in sight (it’s possible to continue three times if you want to go on punishing yourself after your lives are over). Three weapons can be switched by taking the C icon: the default vulcan shot (green), a blue spread shot (red) and a set of homing missiles (blue). Besides the odd color choices for the weapons (it’s common to mistake red for blue), the C icon cycles colors very fast and demands good timing to be grabbed. Other items include: power-ups (P, get five for maximum), additional missiles (M), shield/barrier (B) and special weapon (O). The special weapon can be deployed only once (sometimes twice, just don’t ask me how), and then again only after you get another O icon. Besides your own memory, there’s absolutely no indication of the special weapon’s stock anywhere. I couldn’t figure out the exact rules to activate its two different types (the smart bomb or the missile shower), though I think it works according to the stage you’re playing.
Honestly speaking, the above paragraph tells how messed up the gameplay seems to be. It’s not the end of the world, I tend to see it as different and uncommon. I do think skill lapidated by practice and perseverance are keys to win a difficult game. What kills Legion as a shmup isn’t this presumed impossible difficulty level. It isn’t the lackluster stage arrangement, which will see you playing one less stage if you choose the lower route after the 3rd level, also messing with the stage order and making you play the last stage as if it were the 5th. It isn’t the pilot’s narration either - it’s actually amusing and laughter inducing at times. What kills this game is the absolute lack of scoring (other examples: Barunba, Terra Cresta 3D). Where’s the purpose, where’s the motivation to destroy all those enemies and bosses? Once you finish this game there’s no coming back to it, and this awful feeling is inversely directly proportional to how much effort you have to put into the process of beating it.

Surely I’m proud of this 1CC. It felt good to do it twice. But I would’ve felt even better if the game had a proper score. I know it is highly unlikely, but if you ever decide to try beating Legion as well, the best advice I can give is to get to the last stage with maxed out homing missiles and at least 4 lives. This is what made it possible for me to see the following screen without continuing:


  1. I had this game as a kid (well actually I still have it) and I just couldn't finish it. My main incentive to play it was to hear the good music in the intermissions that is until I realized I could just listen to the music (and horrible narration) from listening to the game in a regular CD player. LOL

    I think one day in a fit of playing I reached level five but that's as far as I got. I guess as a kid you don't realize how really badly designed a game is... you just credit it to being stupidly hard. It's nice to know that it wasn't just me being a poor shmup player that made the game seem impossible.

    Thanks for posting about this game, it's brings back memories.

  2. You're welcome, milk.
    And yes, I agree, we don't realize many things about games when we're kids!

  3. You make an interesting point about score, about there being no purpose to replaying a game if there's nothing to keep track of your performance beyond beating the game. To that I wonder: don't you rewatch movies, reread books, or anything like that? Isn't it gratifying to experience something again? As an added bonus, you might even come to a greater understanding of something upon revisiting it.

    Now that said, I can understand why no one would have the desire to return to a bad game. But, more to the point: if Darius II didn't have a score, would you enjoy replaying it anyway?

    Anyway, I gotta admire you for powering through Legion!

    1. Although the parallel with movies and books is valid, one has to ponder the fact that a game always requires some sort of bigger effort to be properly savored. Sure you must exert some kind of effort with movies/books, but they're not nearly as burdensome as, say, playing Legion to the end.

      I'd rewatch Back to the Future, Barbarella and even Plan 9 from Outer Space with great joy. Each session would take me two hours of relaxed fun and attention (mind you, these are cherished classics). I could do the same for a GOOD shmup that has no scoring system, but in terms of a completion/1CC I can't name any that would be as easygoing as a movie. Maybe playing with friends so that we can get a laugh out of teh game? Not that's ok by me. However, as cool as Hani in the Sky is it would still require a good deal of re-learning to see most of the game again...

      To answer your question, I'd say I wouldn't be as inclined to replay Darius II if it had no score. Where's the extra push to go for those tricky waves? I love those tiny 5.000, 8.000 point tags when I obliterate a full wave!

      PS. the only book I read more than once was Dracula. Re-read it in Portuguese and once again in English. Don't ask me about comic books though. :)

    2. small correction
      ** Now that's ok by me.

    3. Nice, this is some great info! Thanks for the response.