Thursday, March 24, 2016

Override (PC Engine)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
6 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed selectable
- - - - - - -
Developed by Sting
Published by Data East in 1990

After playing Override for a little while it’s easy to notice a good amount of influence from two developers that helped shape the 8 and 16 bit console scene back in the day: Compile and Hudson Soft. As far as I know they have no saying at all in this relatively obscure vertical shooter, which has a counterpart for the Sharp X68000 computer system under the name Last Batallion. As usual in the case of obscure titles, both were only released in Japan.

The good news is that Override incorporates some of the best traits from 8/16-bit Compile, such as frantic action and a flashy weapon gallery, all of it exquisitely programmed to run with absolutely no slowdown. On the other side, the game fails to harness the potential to be one of the best shmup outings in the PC Engine library, mainly by looping eternally with little increase in difficulty while still preserving a generous extend scheme of an extra life for every 70.000 points scored. To keep it PC Engine only, it suffers from the same unfortunate fate of Toy Shop Boys, another example of wasted raw material.

Regardless of the above observations, there’s no denying that a good deal of quick fun awaits those who decide to try Override. The story goes that alien creatures once again were threatening the world, invading the underground and building secret bases in order to kill the planet from within. How do I know that? Because I’m a psychic and I have just concocted this story, of course! Outside from the cool display of the spaceship in the ending and the brief take-off animation after you press START, there are no other special frills in this game. So prep your controller, make up your own story and off you go blast aliens across six levels of decently sized duration.

Forests must be protected from alien scum

Command inputs are simple: button II shoots, button I switches between three preset speeds. Special harmless carriers zap across the screen from one side to the other at defined intervals and release items when hit. These stagger down slowly before disappearing, and range from the ever-present power-up (P) to color-coded weapon icons and energy recovery cells (E). Each E refills one lost cell in the energy gauge, which comes with three slots and allows a good survival window before you lose a life. P is responsible for upgrading the main shot, whereas auxiliary orbs are only generated after collecting the first colored weapon item.

Color items always cycle in the same order: blue (trailing options, forward laser), purple (fixed options, side shot), red (fixed options, 45ยบ shot with homing ability at max power), yellow (moving options, directional reverse-shot), green (rotating options, forward wave shot), then blue etc. The first color to emerge is always the next after the one you’re currently using, so if you want to take the same color for a much needed upgrade (maxes out at 4) just wait to take the item as it approaches the bottom of the screen. As a rule of thumb, unless you’re desperate for a specific item there’s no need to rush to get it.

The last observation about the gameplay is actually the most important one. By refraining from shooting you’ll notice a green flare appearing on the tip of the tank-shaped spaceship, and if you wait a little longer the ship will start to glow. Push the fire button and watch as an outward blast of pure awesomeness devastates everything in front of the ship, enemy firepower included. This special charge blast is in fact the most effective way to deal with bosses, especially when you start to notice their attack patterns are built around the recharging time of your ship. It’s also a very useful resource in offensive and defensive ways against a few enemies during the stages, and the best thing about it is that you can use it even with a bare ship.

Attract mode - Overriding evil with justice
(courtesy of YouTube user narox)

If Override doesn’t thrill you on graphics, at least it excels at providing fast moving sprites and several sections with nice parallax levels. The soundtrack is fitting, but the highlight in my opinion is the BGM for the first level. An aspect that bugs me a little is that I found the first speed setting to be fast enough for the whole game, so I never used button I anymore once I figured that out. A clear point of unbalance in the overall challenge lies in the 4th stage - it's much harder than the others, with lots of walls, overlapping enemy waves and turrets firing heat-seeking lasers that pour down the screen while giving you little time to react. It’s an awesome, intense level, but it should’ve been moved to the end of the game since it doesn’t seem to fit the stage order. A boss parade precedes the final boss in the last level.

I haven’t delved deep into the Soldier series on the PC Engine yet, but many people consider that Override bears the same style and vibe of those games. Therefore if you have a soft spot for them you might also end up enjoying this little shooter. Sadly, when you go beyond the basics and start analyzing the game as a whole you can’t help but think it misses many opportunities to be a top shooter. Excess power-ups give absolutely no extra points. Since the health/life system with no checkpoints feels too generous (just like the extend scheme), why not apply special bonuses for extra lives upon completing the game and do away with the loops?

The above paragraph is just some food for thought, even though it's possible to simply break the scoring system by safely milking projectiles from bosses. In successively looping the game I at least tried to get a no-miss on stage 4. I failed it, then took this picture in stage 6-2 before turning off the console.