Reviewed by Malc

I've got a bit of a soft spot for Sidearms. It seemed to always be the poor cousin of the classics like Nemesis and R-Type, and first plays didn't reveal much to endear the game to you. The arcade I used to play it in had the difficulty cranked up to the max, and it required a good few quid to get the 'hang' on it. More of an 'instinct' game than a 'memory' shooter, it was like a cross between Defender and Section Z: you could fire at the fairly random enemies two ways, and the fight took place in a varied scrolling environment. Before I go any further, if you download the Mame emulated version, you really MUST set the difficulty higher to experience any challenge and enjoyment, otherwise you'll wonder why I'm making a fuss about it.

The joy of the game revolves around your joystick-wrenching 'Battle for Survival' against an onslaught of trigger happy enemies, and I must say I actually enjoy playing Sidearms on my arcade cabinet a bit more, you really need a sturdy joystick WITHOUT autofire to wrestle with to play the game as it's meant to be. I usually careen around in a crazy sweaty dance with the machine shouting "Shit shit shit bugger shit gerrof you git...." during the mayhem in the later levels. ('scuse language:)

The gameplay is decidedly different from the relatively serene and thoughtful R-type, in that hordes of enemies mercilessly spitting bullets, swirling snakes and jumping robots constantly assault you from all angles. To fend them off you are equipped with two buttons, for shooting left and right, and an assortment of pickup-able weapons, some of which are not particularly useful. Certain enemies drop icons, which can be shot several times to change into other weapons. The best weapon has to be the rapid stream autofire, there's two autoshots, but only one is very effective. Hanging onto this weapon helps ensure your survival, if you die and lose it, make it a priority to get it back!

A great innovation in the 2-player mode was introduced here, which I haven't seen since. Collecting a rare flashing a/b icon morphs the two ships into one, with multiplied firepower. The trick here is, both players can shoot, but only one controls the joined craft! This is also available in 1 player mode, but it's not as much fun.

The levels themselves are long, but few. Scrolling up and down at points helps break the sometimes irritating length of them. Each level is guarded by a boss, predicably. These bosses get repeated an awful lot, like in Nemesis, but have subtly different attack modes, so don't relax with the supposed familiarity of them! My favourite has to be the fast spinning lightning wheel, which you are sure is going to burst off its bearings if it goes any faster. The sounds accompanying it's blurry spin are fabulous too, grinding electrical whizzy bursts of energy...

Other enemy and level graphics have got an early, strange look about them, that don't really impress these days. Everything is neat and coloured well, but most enemies are small, seeming to fit a predefined sprite size. Still, they're small and nasty with it, especially the snakes: trying to survive with two snakes zooming around your wee man isn't easy! Also lending an air of weirdness are the small cow and barrel icons that pop up from time to time, I really wish I knew why!

Disappointingly, the quality of the music can get very rough, in some places it is quite tuneful and appropriate, and others it sounds like a wheezy out of tune organ. It uses those standard capcom sounds, I'm sure you'll recognise them from many other games! So, here's the Mame emulated version, which is pretty true to the original, but minus a background star effect... not too important anyway. It also had a great conversion to the PC-Engine as well, if you want it, I'll put it up here too.

SCORE: 8/10

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Level one sees you fending off this rhino-like blobby contraption, after a battle through an environment straight out of 'Forgotten World' (also by Capcom).

You'll see I have all my weapons here: B.I.T. is a normal shot, with extra multiples floating around, S.G. is a sort of spread gun, M.B.L probably means Mega Blast Laser, 3-way is exactly what is sounds like, and AUTO is my fave, fast, powerful and finger friendly.

Descending into the bowels of the planet, you decide whether to have a strawberry or a barrel. Weird stuff. Be careful and get into the moving pistons below quickly or you'll not make it.

This boss pops up frequently: a mechanical snake's head contraption. On easy mode, you only get the lasers, on hard mode, it's a completely different affair, with homing missiles, small enemies appearing and the big baddie has an added rush attack too. DON'T play it on easy. Listen to me:)

This is where you first encounter real snake trouble. You end up doing this circular dance with them, in an attempt to blast them away before the normal enemies get their act together and blast you mid-whirl...

Here's a very poor representation of the spinning wheel boss. Much more impressive in the game, it grinds and clanks away at a furious rate the more you hit it, sparks flying and lasers shooting.

After a ride through a twisted pink bowel, it's time to take to the water. Some new enemies appear here, fast moving mechs, and robot fish-things. Great dead alien corpses buried in the purply mud too. Reminds me of Shadow of the Beast:)

These green leapers make your life a misery by jumping off ledges from all sides. Practice your rapid left and right shots to cover your bot.

Another common boss, made harder by the fact the small enemies refuse to budge offscreen when the boss apears. Try and get rid of all snakes before boss-time, they really are a pain!

My Grandpa's got a carpet like this. He bought tons of it so it would do the whole house. This isn't a double boss, it tranports from one area to another (yes, only on hardest mode) in an attempt to evade being screengrabbed.

This is the third and last time the wheel appears. The blue fuzzy arms pulsate for no apparent reason. I think they ran out of storage space easy in these early games, I mean, the whole romset is only about 700k anyway. I think these limitations made for better games, as they had to try so much harder to impress with less space and resources. Take all those classic C64 and speccy games for instance. (I KNOW there were crap ones too, I'm not THAT rose-tinted!)

Agh, I buggered up this grab. This is the final boss, big snakes with exploding bits. Play it on easy and you only get one snake, if you haven't got the hint by now!

Hmph. No end sequence. Just a blue-green bull thing in the background, and they even spelt 'congratulations' wrong too. I remember beating this game with one credit in the arcade, and feeling slightly miffed about it then. But I was slightly mollified by finding out during the rolling credits that the lead programmer's name is 'POO', and the hardware guy is called 'Punch Kubozoo'.

So that's Sidearms. Never worked out why it was called Sidearms, but I still like it anyway.


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie