Ah, the sidescrolling shmup, a genre
within a genre, capable of putting smiles on our faces, but equally
capable of delivering mass amounts of frustration. Unlike the overhead
brethern, the side scroller usally takes much more memorization.
There aren't many side scrollers that can be beaten on pure reflex.
Simply put, either you learn the levels, or die.
Having said that, I think it's about time we had a look at one the
early Mega Drive shooters, Gaiares. Being one of the first cartidges
to use the new 8mb format, Gaiares is a technical monster. However,
Gaiares wasn't just about graphics. Nope. For a shooter to be considered
a classic, it has to have more than flash. Thankfully, Gaiares is
a real meat and potatoes game. It's a real man's shooter that deserves
a piece of every Shmuppers time.
Graphically, Gaiares is solid. It holds up very well compared to
some of the later shooters that appeared on the Mega Drive, like
Greylancer and even Thunderforce 4. The graphics look very colorful,
despite the Mega Drives weak color pallete, and there are generous
amounts of 3d in the backgrounds. Enemy models look solid, though
a few too many of them look as though they were ripped out of other
Gaiares has some pretty decent Anime scenes as well, coming at the
beginining and the end of the game. While these scenes look pretty
primative by todays standards, they still manage to tell get the
story across, and as corney as they seem, they are basically just
filler, so you don't really mind it too much. If you saw these scenes
on a cd title, you'd laugh your ass off, but this is a cartridge,
so it doesn't have to be so great.
The game also has some cool effects, courtesy of some great wave
effects that fill some of the backgrounds, and even some of the
foreground surfaces like the water or lava. Considering that this
is a 1990 game, and one of the earliest shooters on the system,
that graphics are surprisingly good. While it's nothing that'll
rip Axelay or R-Type 3 to shreds, it looks far better than some
other shooters from that same period, like Thunderforce 3 and Air
However, like I said, a shooter doesn't need to be glitzy to be
good, and thankfully, Gaiares has enough in the other areas to keep
you coming back.
The biggest plus in this game is the challenge. Make no mistakes
about it Gaires is hard. It's damned hard. It's not that the pace
is wicked, like a TF game, or that it throws too many bullets at
you. The main reason for the challenge level is that you're only
allowed to play each section through once, unlike most shooters,
where you continue where you die. In Gaiares, everytime you die,
you're forced back to the beginning of the section. Now, this has
been going in shooters forever, especially in the R-types, and even
more recently in games like Einhander. However, it really doesn't
suit Gaiares well because of A) super long levels B)lots of enemies
with strange weapon patterns C) cheap bosses.
Simply put, unless you've played every level and memorized each
and every section, you'll die. It gets a little frustrating to be
killed by an enemy, causing you be forced back to the beginning
of that level with weak weapons. Chances are, even if you do make
it back to that same enemy, you could die again, and again, and
again....etc. However, while many people frown upon these types
of shooters, for me it just enhanced the replay value. I still won't
touch R-type with a ten foot pole, yet I come back to Gaiares every
time, showing the game what I've learned, and even throwing some
new tricks at it.
Then we have the weapons. Now, I don't like the weapon system in
Gaiares at all, but I know many do. Gaiares' weapon system revolves
around the TOZ pod, a pod that circles your ship, can destroy various
bullet types, and can also steal weapons from enemies.
While in combat, the TOZ can be fired at certain enemies, and once
it attaches to them, it collects data about the enemies weapon system.
This means that there are no weapon icons or floating powerups.
The only way to enhance your weapon to figure out which enemies
offer the best weapons, and steal them. Now, it wouldn't be so bad
if the weapons were decent. Unfortunately, most of the weapons in
Gaiares are pretty crappy. They range from the standard spread shot,
to the typical thick laser, and even weak homing missles.
Problem is, despite the way they look, most of them are damned underpowered.
I can't count how many times the enemies flew onto the screen, pelted
me with god knows how many bullets, then just flew off the screen.
All while under constant fire from my lazy weapons. It gets tedious,
and until you figure out what enemies fire what weapons, you'll
often find yourself with a weapon you don't want.
Even though the game offers a wide varity of weapons, it's better
to just get the one you want early on and don't bother experimenting.
Most of the bosses in this game have small damage sectors, and the
wrong weapon could mean fighting 20 minute boss battles. Don't waste
time with the weapon system if you don't have to.
The TOZ is also good for firing into certain enemies that don't
have weapons to steal. Again, you really have to know every enemy
and level before you can take advantage of the weapon and TOZ system,
which is kinda lame. Oh well, you can't win them all.
One aspect of the game that seems to seesaw is the music. Gaiares
has some very good songs at times, but during others, it has some
absolute stinkers. Many of the songs fit the levels perfectly but,
but then sometimes you'll find yourself thinking "wtf?". It's weird
when you find yourself getting into your groove during one level,
then hitting the mute button on the next. Decent in most regards,
but even the weakest songs in this game aren't as bad as some that
I've heard. Basically, Gaiares has an average soundtrack. The soundeffects
aren't really revolutionary either. If you've played one shmup in
your life, you've heard most of the soundeffects that this game
has to offer.
Gaiares does control rather well. Just like Thunderforce, the ability
to change speeds is present. However, it seems overdone. The max
speed is just too fast, and most of the game can be beaten by just
staying in med. In fact, the speed change seemed like an after thought,
but it is extra, so I can't complain. The ship has the usual 8 way
control, and the TOZ comes off instantly. Since the weapons need
to be stolen, there is no weapon change button, and there aren't
any special attacks either. Just the basic fare.
Gaiares is a great shooter, even if it is a bit on the hard side.
It may seem cheap at times, and the music may get on your nerves,
but it's nothing that really hurts the game too much. Being such
an early shooter, many of the flaws are forgiven, at least in my
book. Gaiares has it where it counts, with great level design, cool
enemies, a great challenge, and even damned solid graphics. Easily
one of the best shooters on the MD. If you've never played it, what
are you waiting for!!! If you have, give it another go. You won't