Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Geimos (NES)

Rail shooter
Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
6 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Wixel / Ascii Entertainment (Corporation)
Published by Ascii Entertainment in 1985

According to the game's instruction manual, in the distant future an alien race is disrupting the peace in the galaxy. Earth's defense forces then launch a fleet of space fighter crafts to try and stop the invasion. They must battle the enemy across six planets of our solar system: Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Pluto. Take those as designations for the levels, in a neverending adventure that forces you to keep fighting as the game loops over and over.

As a complement to the *aham* non-stop action, the game also comes with a soundtrack that might not make anyone's ears bleed but certainly adds to the endurance test with a brief Star Wars-like snippet at the start of the stage and a four-note beeping noise that's repeated non-stop until the stage itself is finished.

With such primitive video game efforts like Geimos, pretty much all that's left besides the fairly tedious gameplay is trying to understand the context of the market at the time of its release. Geimos is a rail shooter, but one that lacks the all-encompassing influence provided by Space Harrier – simply because it came out before Sega's classic. Hence its main visual influence being Capcom's Exerion, even though that's not a rail but an extremely odd vertical shooter instead.

Lovely craters to the left, the endlessness of the universe to the right

Another influence imprinted in the gameplay comes from Xevious, since button B fires your main shot while button A drops bombs aimed at hitting ground targets. Geimos lacks autofire, so the best way to enjoy the game is to get a turbo controller, activate rapid fire for both buttons and keep them pressed at all times. Flying enemies arrive in waves that start shooting at you as soon as they've travelled enough into the screen, ground targets are mostly harmless but every once in a while an angry turret will show up firing several scattered shots towards your location.

Once you've defeated the regular enemies a large mothership called Phobos will warp into the center of the screen. If you fail to destroy it in time (20 seconds), it will warp out and you'll have to play the level again. If you succeed in destroying the mothership it explodes and you move on to the next stage/planet. The main background and colors change accordingly, in what's certainly the most variation you'll come across while playing the game. And once Phobos is once again blasted into oblivion in Pluto you're sent back to Earth with no fanfare, no ending message, no sign of clear victory at all.

Apart from the timeout constraint on the boss fight, dying is another occurrence that sends you back to the start of the level regardless of where you stand in it. Dying is also the only means for the player to see his/her life stock or the current stage/round that's being played. However, since you're forever stuck with the same firepower and all stages have the same short duration, there's actually not much hassle from deaths in Geimos once you've got used to the game's overly repetitive patterns. Phobos can be destroyed with any particular method every single time, for example (you can't pause when fighting it though, which is just a minor harmless observation of course). The extend routine starts with 20.000 points and proceeds with 70.000 points, with a new extra life awarded at every 70.000 points after that.

Earth is under attack!
(courtesy of YouTube user FamicomGuide)

An interesting additon in Geimos is the possibility to play the game with a different approach as to how the screen behaves (use the SELECT button). Mode A offers the regular experience where your ship moves around freely. Mode B, on the other hand, fixes the ship at the bottom center of the screen while everything else moves around you. Despite adding a reticle to the ship's aim, the latter is quite confusing and tough to get used to, that's why most people will certainly opt for Mode A. Whatever the chosen mode, the difficulty increases and maxes out by the second loop, after that it's all a matter of how long you can hold on to your strategies until you counterstop the game.

Once I got used to how things worked I decided I coud try to max out the score, and so I did. In the picture below the counterstop came in round 45 of mode A, which corresponds to the 3rd stage in the 8th loop. I can't say I was either thrilled or actually amused by the experience, but it wasn't that horrible either. Most of the time it was just a matter of flying low, destroying targets as they approached and moving around before getting hit by enemy fire.

That's Geimos in a nutshell, folks!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Firebird (NES)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
4 Stages
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Irem
Published by Irem in 1992

In 1990 a new anime franchise started airing in Japan, following the end of the first generation of Transformers. Known as the Brave/Yūsha series, it focused on giant mechas working with humans as peacekeeping forces. Firebird (also known as Taiyō no Yūsha Firebird) is based on the second season of the Brave series, which came out in 1991. Why the developers chose to make the game for such an old platform like the Famicom was in 1992 is a little mystery, since one would naturally expect them to target the most powerful systems at the time. But then again, one could say the Super Famicom was still in its infancy while Irem had absolutely no allegiance with Sega.

Firebird is considered to be a mistranslation that actually makes a lot more sense than the original term Fighbird, so I'll keep using it for the time being. The full name of the game translates to The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird. For all purposes it's just another licensed product that leaves a lot to be desired, so don't get your hopes up when you see the powerful name of Irem in the game box or at the start screen. The game is slow, boring and for most of its duration it's quite frankly just another very effectively designed snoozefest.

There are lots of Japanese dialogue in Firebird, as well as many characters interacting in between levels. That was the whole idea of fan service in a licensed game, of course. You even have the chance to choose one out of both main characters of the show: Kenta (the yonger lad to the left) and Katori (the older guy to the right). There are no functional differences between them though, so it really doesn't matter who you go with.

First stage of Taiyō no Yūsha Fighbird/Firebird
(courtesy of YouTube user AAAA HERO)

The stage structure is very odd here. With the exception of the final level, each stage is divided in three parts with specific gameplay rules. In the first section you must fulfill a certain task while choosing any of the five available vehicles (or "barons") at the press of button A. Firing is accomplished with button B and differs for every vehicle, which in turn is powered up separately by picking up the P icons that appear from time to time. Other items you'll come across are the heart (for health refills), an S (for speed-up) and a clock that serves to extend time. If you fail to complete the mission in the alotted time frame you go directly into GAME OVER regardless of how many lives you have left.

In stage 1 the objective is to destroy seven green bombs, in stage 2 you're supposed to collect seven red canisters and in stage 3 you must arm seven bombs by pressing SELECT in specific orange platforms. Note that a small counter in the lower right corner of the screen shows how many items are missing in your objective list. In these sections Firebird behaves a little like Silkworm or SWIV, in that ground vehicles will not allow you to move freely around the screen. Since everything's so dull and easy, you might as well just pick the last vehicle, the Sky baron, and fly at will to complete your missions.

During the second sections of a level you're in control of a single jet that's powered up by picking up items numbered from 1 to 4, which activate and upgrade new weapons that must (again) be chosen by pressing button A. This is where boredom reaches its peak with endless empty backgrounds and few enemies crossing the screen. If you don't know what to do you might be stuck there for a long time, as I did when I first played the game. There's no timer anymore: the catch is that in order to move on you need to press SELECT as soon as the name of the game pops up in the corner.

Moving on the the final section of the level, you'll be in control of the large Firebird mecha in a quest to defeat the stage boss. It uses the same arsenal of the second section, including the need to switch weapons with button A. Note that the first weapon comes with an extremely powerful charge shot that's devastating against larger enemies. All other weapons require some sort of artificial turbofire in the controller if you don't fancy manually tapping your way towards victory.

The Drill baron in glorious action

In terms of difficulty, Firebird is nothing short of a joke. The challenge never picks up, and with the exception of bosses you'll never feel there's any danger whatsoever. You can take lots of hits because of the lifebar and the incoming refill hearts. Besides, it's also possible to get lots of 1UP items in all types of sections throughout the levels.

The only redeeming quality of this game, for Famicom standards at least, is the music. The soundtrack has decent moments that are sadly used over long stretches marked by tedious action and tepid design. Unless you're keen on having a taste of uninteresting gaming history, I doubt there will be any thrills even for the most diehard fans of the anime.

Firebird keeps no track of scores and even hides the score display when you pause. The result below was obtained by filming the fight against the last boss with a cell phone and then freezing the footage on his death afterwards. Since you can play second sections of levels indefinitely (without pressing SELECT when needed), there's no point at all in trying to play the game for score.