Tag Archives: Shmups

Fantasy Zone II Review

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Not too long ago I finally managed to snatch up a gem. It’s probably no surprise that this is a gem. In fact, if you have a means to play this one, you should probably stop reading, and go buy this right now. It really is all of the good things you’ve heard. It will please Golden Age fans. It will please shmup fans. It will please hardcore SEGA fans. If you dig video games at all, period. You’ll probably dig this game.

PROS: Colorful graphics. Great characters. Wonderful music. Pure joy.

CONS: Very difficult. But don’t let that stop you.

CONTROL STICK: You’ll want to use this (Or a Genesis Arcade Stick) over the stock pad.

Fantasy Zone II is the sequel to Fantasy Zone, a game I have yet to acquire on the mighty Sega Master System. It’s regarded as one of the earliest examples of a cute ’em up. A shoot ’em up where everything is bright, cheery, colorful, and cartoonish in aesthetics. You’ll notice this the second you see the title screen. Your ship, the Opa-Opa is a cute little pod with bird wings on it. Enemies are everything from flowers to flying turtles.

The game is a mixture of both Golden Age arcade shooter conventions, and the side scrolling shooter arcade games that followed. Every level sees you going along a backdrop that continually circles around itself. Basically, you’ll spend a ton of time blasting enemies with your lasers, and bombs. One button shoots the laser guns, the other drops the bombs. So you’ll cycle along the play field killing enemies, and then collecting the money they drop upon their deaths. Before long, you’ll discover some of the larger stationary enemies will open warp doors. These doors will take you to new sub-levels that basically work the same way. Every level has a store hidden within it too. Here you can upgrade your ship with new weapons, and abilities with the money you’ve collected.

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Once you’ve defeated every stationary enemy in the level, the door to the boss room opens up to you. Ideally, you’ll want to enter these encounters fully beefed up with extra power ups, and weapons. Because the boss encounters are where the game gets very challenging, very quickly. That isn’t to say the levels themselves don’t get difficult. They do. In a lot of ways they feel like an even harder version of Defender. Defender is a notoriously difficult arcade game. As every board just throws more, and more at you as you play. Fantasy Zone II, also does this. But on top of that, every enemy has its own attack pattern, and often times you’ll find yourself going after three or four enemy types at the exact same time.

The other major element of difficulty is in the power up system. Many of the upgraded lasers, and other items are timed, or give you a limited number of shots. So if you don’t hurry up, or you waste them on low-level grunts, you won’t have the extra might for the boss encounter. Moreover, if you lose a life, you’ll also lose any powers you purchased from the shop. Which means you’d better spend another ten minutes grinding money out of grunts so you can re-buy those power ups before fighting the boss.

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Here’s the crazy thing though. While all of this sounds like the kind of thing that would make you rip your hair out, and smash your Master System, it won’t. This game is quite honestly one of the hardest games you’ll ever play. Well unless you happen to eat, sleep, and breathe shmups. Then it may not crack your top ten. But for the rest of us, this game can be downright brutal. But it’s also downright compelling. Just like Defender did for so many of us growing up, Fantasy Zone II can be very addicting. Quite frankly, it is one of the most fun games ever. True, you’ll die, over, and over again. But you’ll probably play it fifteen times before giving up, and playing something else. Considering you’ll get better the more you play, that can add up to a couple of hours a session.

And as you improve, you’ll get to see more of the aforementioned boss encounters. Which just seem to add more craziness to the stew with every reveal. You’ll fight a killer space log in the first stage. Later in the game you’ll see the dragon boss from Space Harrier. There’s also a Mega Man styled boss rush for you to contend with at the end.

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As tough as this all sounds, things can be mitigated if you have the right tools for the job. Namely, a better option than the Master System’s stock game pad. I recommend using either a Genesis game pad, the Sega Control stick, or one of the arcade stick controllers that came out for the Genesis. It makes things much easier to play, as the stock pad’s D-pad just doesn’t have the precision required. Beyond control issues with the stock controller, I really don’t have much to complain about. Again, there is a high difficulty on display, but it’s also fair. When you die, you’ll know it was a lack of talent on your part nine times out of ten. It’s very rare, I’ve felt a death was cheap, or a fluke. I don’t think I ever ran into severe slowdown the way I have in some other games on the console either.

One of the other really great things about Fantasy Zone II is the soundtrack. These are some of the addictive chip tunes ever played back on the Sega Master System. If you have a modified console with the FM Sound Unit, or the Japanese Mark III with the FM Sound Unit accessory the soundtrack is even better.

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Fantasy Zone II isn’t the cheapest game you can find for your Master System these days, but it’s worth tracking down a copy. It isn’t anywhere near the cost of something like Power Strike (Aleste). But it’s going to cost you more than something common like Out Run, or After Burner will. If you don’t own a Master System, or a Mark III, or a Power Base Converter for your Genesis, there are alternatives. The game was ported to the Famicom, MSX Computer, and was also re-released on the Wii Virtual Console. If you have a PlayStation 2, there was a remake as part of the Sega Ages line. Sega also updated the game, and released it to the Arcades. Subsequently there is a version based loosely on that version for the 3DS. Fantasy Zone II comes highly recommended.  If you’re building a vintage Sega collection, or you just love old school arcade games this should be on your radar.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

Tac-Scan Review

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Arcades were always experimenting in the early days of gaming. A number of games not only tried new things with game play, but with graphics technology. Atari made a number of games utilizing vector graphics instead of the more common place sprites. Asteroids, Lunar Lander were classics in their own right, but Tempest became a huge hit thanks to using the vectors to create a 3D visual effect. Of course the Star Wars Arcade game, and Battlezone took things even further. But Atari wasn’t the only company experimenting with vector graphics.

PROS: Fluid controls. Sharp graphics. Unique mechanics.

CONS: Short. Visuals haven’t held up as well as other vintage classics have.

CUT: The console port doesn’t have the transitions. Presumably due to technical limits.

Sega put out several vector based games. Among them was Tac-Scan. At first glance Tac-Scan may seem like a typical Golden Age shmup. As in other early shmups like Space Invaders, Galaxian, and Galaga the ultimate goal of the game is a high score. But Tac-Scan does a number of things that set it apart from the rest of the pack.

Tac-Scan gives you lives, but in a very different way. Instead of you having a set number of attempts, it puts them all on the line right away. You start with all of your lives flying through space in a Tac formation. Hence the name of the game. But it doesn’t end there. Each of your ships can be individually destroyed by enemy forces. Run out of ships, and you’ll see a Game Over screen. You shoot down enemy ships like in other games, however there are also mother ships you can destroy. Not only do these give you bigger point bonuses, but extra lives for every one you blow up.

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These lives are given to you in between waves. You’ll go through a sequence where you have to almost catch your reserved ship. As it falls down, you move your formation into position, and try to let the ship land into one of your open slots. This leads into the next wave. The interesting thing here, is that every second wave changes the perspective of the game! While Tac-Scan starts out as an overhead shooter, it changes to a third-person perspective during these waves. It feels like going from something like Galaxian into something like Gyruss seamlessly. After blowing away the following waves, you go through a wormhole, and back to the top down perspective. As this cycle repeats, the game gets faster, and it throws more enemies, and obstacles your way.

This continues until you can no longer replenish any ships in your formation. At which point you record your score, and either walk away or resolve to do better. But beyond the innovative transitions, the game also uses a paddle controller! This is interesting because so often the paddle was relegated to Breakout, and the games that built upon its core game play. Arkanoid, Circus Atari, Warlords are but a few such games.

But Tac-Scan is one of the only arcade cabinets that used one in a completely different genre. Not only did it use a paddle controller in a shmup setting, it did so with flying colors. Tac-Scan controls like a champ. Your ships steer around at high speeds, without a hiccup or a hitch. Everything feels smooth as you glide your ships along. When you finally lose, you never feel like you lost due to bad controls. You will very much put all of the blame on yourself.

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Sega didn’t end with an arcade cabinet however. They also ported the game to the Atari 2600. The VCS version doesn’t have the stylized line graphics of the arcade original. And to get any semblance of the game working on the console they omitted the third-person transition. But even though it takes a hit in the realm of visual fidelity it absolutely nails the game play.

The 2600 port uses the Atari paddle controllers, and the transition feels nearly flawless. Again, your formation flies smoothly, with little to no slowdown. Surviving wave after wave of enemy ships with any of your ships intact is still quite the challenge. The difficulty curve is well crafted as well. Early stages let you get a handle on the controls because the pace of the game is slow, and ships take long pauses in between firing. Surviving the first two or three waves will seem pretty feasible. The following stages increase the travel speed, and enemy accuracy a couple of notches. Eventually, everything becomes insanely fast, and requires every ounce of your hand, and eye coordination.

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Being that it is a high score game, it might not hold your interest the way some later shmups  may. Things like R-Type or Gradius where there are a set number of stages to complete, and an ending to experience may sate some players more. But there is something to be said for the days when getting the high score was king. It brings out a level of competition among players, and it’s something that can still be compelling today. It’s one of many reasons why a lot of Golden age games have stood the test of time.

Tac-Scan has the honor of both standing the test of time, and yet also becoming one of the more esoteric games of its heyday. Which is a shame, because it is such a good game. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to the arcade version you should really check it out. It uses vector graphics in a unique way while still being a very fun challenge. Alternatively if you have a PlayStation 2 you can track down the Sega Genesis Collection. Tac-Scan is an unlockable game in that collection. The only downside is you will have to play the game with a thumb stick, which isn’t quite the same as using a paddle.

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The Atari 2600 version, again, is pretty terrific. Despite the fact that it is missing a chunk of content, and doesn’t look as nice, it manages to be a pretty faithful port. But whichever way you decide to add the experience to your game collection, you’re in for a great time. It’s too bad that Sega let a lot of their earliest games fade into obscurity. This is one of them, and it is also one of the best games they ever put out. I would put it up there with things like After Burner, Out Run, Alien Syndrome, and Space Harrier. It is that memorable.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Star Fox Zero Review

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Star Fox is the one Nintendo property aside from perhaps F-Zero that can’t seem to catch a break. A recap. Way back in the days of the Super NES it burst onto the scene at a time when polygon models were a rarity in home gaming.  It was also one of the most entertaining rail shooters ever made. Even though today one could look at its low frame rate, and dismiss it, they would be a fool to do so. Star Fox was awesome. It combined the feel of a Star Wars movie, with the action puppetry of Thunderbirds, and Fireball XL 5. Even a dash of Muppets fandom to boot.

Star Fox 2 never came out. It was shelved despite being nearly done, because the Nintendo 64 was around the corner. Instead we saw Star Fox 64. Heralded as one of the best rail shmups of all time. With good reason. It took everything we loved about Star Fox, made it prettier, and deepened an already better than average action game lore. It had a bunch of great voice samples, and dialogue as well as an excellently directed ending sequence. It made force feedback a necessity in gaming moving forward. After SF64, many N64 games began using the Rumble Pak, and Sony went as far as to re-release the PS1 with their dual shock controllers. But things soured a bit after that blockbuster.

PROS: Excellent visuals. Solid controls. Audio. Challenging. Super Mario Cheat Box.

CONS: Controls take some getting used to. Super Mario Cheat Box.

SLIPPY: You will still want him jettisoned out of the closest air lock.

When the Gamecube  came out we saw Rare move Dinosaur Planet from the N64 over, and we then saw creator Shigeru Miyamoto suggest it become a Star Fox game. Which it did. Many may not remember this but people decried this. Many people loathed Star Fox Adventures. Some for not being a rail shooter. Some for not remaining Dinosaur Planet. This is despite the fact that it was a pretty decent adventure game, that actually sold well.

Then we would see Nintendo partner with Namco, and bring us Star Fox Assault. Which would mostly be a rail shooter. This game was a combination of rail shooter, and third person shooter. Once again a lot of people derided it for not being 100% like Star Fox 64. Even though it did pretty well. Next, Star Fox Command hit the DS. It implemented a lot of the things Star Fox 2 would have introduced. It was even worked on by Dylan Cuthbert who worked on Star Fox, and Star Fox 2 before leaving Argonaut. But again, there were voices upset that it wasn’t a full-blown return to form.

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I had to drag you through the brief history lesson, in order to drive a point home. Star Fox seems to be stuck in a catch 22. If it deviates from the formula set up by the first two games, one group of people will be furious. On the other hand, if it doesn’t do enough to be new, or build upon the old games there will be another group of people who will be furious. So this time around it tries its absolute best to do both of those things. But undoubtedly, there are going to be fans in both of those camps who will still be upset.

In a way, Star Fox Zero’s narrative is a shot for shot remake of Star Fox 64. There’s no tiptoeing around that fact. The story is almost identical. Five years ago,  James McCloud goes off to stop the mad scientist Andross from blowing up Corneria, and taking over the universe. He sacrifices himself in the battle to save the day. But now somehow Andross has amassed a new army, and James’ son Fox is leading a team of mercenaries with his dad’s old wingman Peppy Hare. They’re joined by the brash Falco Lombardi, and the ever annoying Slippy Toad.

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Of course Star Fox Zero is the best looking game in the series yet. People were blown away by the first game, then blown away again by Star Fox 64. Even for all of the complaints the people who didn’t like Adventures, or Assault had, graphics weren’t one of them. Nearly everyone agreed that those games looked pretty great. Zero blows all of them out of the water. And yes I know that going from any of the old platforms to this one should look better. But Platinum Games always seems to have a knack for making the Wii U pull off really pretty stuff. This game can hang with Bayonetta 2. It is that good.

Locales have all kinds of intricate little details thrown in. Things that you might not think twice about have had the extra mile traveled in order to impress you. You’re not going to mistake this game for a bleeding edge PC game, or a big budget PS4 game. But you can’t deny it looks really good. All of that, along with the excellent orchestration makes everything feel like Star Wars with Muppets once again. The voice overs are especially great. Even Slippy. Although you’ll still want to shoot him down, and drop a smart bomb on his flaming cadaver.

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As I’ve said before, it feels in many ways like a shot for shot remake of Star Fox 64. The stages are all new of course, but you’re going to be on many of the same planets, in many of the same environments. As in SF64 you’ll start on Corneria, and try to make your way to Venom, and ultimately Andross. Once again there are all kinds of secret paths, and exits in every stage. So there is a lot of replay value in trying to discover every possible route to the end of the game.

Basically, they’ve given some vocal fans exactly what they’ve been asking for since the Nintendo 64 game came out. More Star Fox 64. Prettier Star Fox 64. More difficult Star Fox 64. But they’ve also tried to appeal to other vocal fans who want more than a pretty retread. Shigeru Miyamoto came up with a cockpit view mechanic, and in Star Fox Zero there are a few places where it is a part of the design. When you first turn on the game, it will make you go through a tutorial on how the cockpit controls work.

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Basically, the gyroscopic function of the Wii U game pad controls your head. You control the vehicles with the thumb sticks, and buttons. But you move your head by tilting the controller. Because of this you’ll be looking at the game pad screen to look out the windows of your vehicle, and up at the TV the rest of the time. You can also switch the screen positions making the TV the cockpit, and the pad, behind the plane.

If you’re really worried about that don’t be. Quite frankly, most of the time you don’t need to look down at the controller screen. You basically play while looking at the TV. But there are certain times when you’ll need to. Case in point, in one stage you fly a helipad stealthily in order to shut down reactors. On the helipad you have an R2-D2 stand in, who is used to hack terminals. You’ll lower the robot to the ground, and move him into little buildings. This is where you have to take your eyes off of the TV, and look at the pad to see what the droid sees.

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This isn’t that bad, and honestly does add a bit of depth to the game. You can also see ninety degrees to your left or your right while piloting vehicles by tilting the controller, and looking at the pad. Frankly, anybody who plays a lot of deep flight simulators on their PC may even find this second nature.

But this is where I will humbly submit some of the ire about controls may have a bit of merit. In an arcade rail shooter like this, a cockpit view in this vein isn’t intuitive. Make no mistake, I am not deriding the controls. The motion controls actually work the way they’re supposed to 95% of the time, and pushing in the left thumb stick will automatically center the camera again. The problem actually isn’t the functionality here. The problem is that a lot of people aren’t going to be able to divorce the left thumb stick from the rest of the game pad in their minds. Not right away. So if they move the pad left, and the ship keeps moving forward there will be a sense of confusion, and frustration. On the TV set moving the pad around simply moves the cursor. But looking down at the pad screen is moving your head, and the cursor. The cursor is also a little bit more accurate on the pad. So in some spots even if you’re doing alright on the TV, you might want to look down to find targets above or below you that you don’t see on the TV.

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All of this is a lot less confusing than it sounds, but it is still something some people aren’t going to pick up during their first play through. The opening tutorial’s lessons give the basics, but really most are going to have to replay the game a number of times to really get acclimated to how things work. You can also go into the control settings, and make it so the motion controls only come on when you lock onto something. I didn’t notice too much of a difference, but for someone else it might be a benefit.If you’re willing to spend a couple of campaigns getting used to the setup you’ll find a very good game here.

A very difficult good game, because there are some very high challenges to contend with. Some of these are carry overs from older Star Fox games like taking down nukes while also trying to keep the Great Fox from being destroyed  at the same time. Others are new missions like the aforementioned stealth stage. Of course the showdown with Andross is the hardest part of the game. The game is still new, so I won’t spoil it. But suffice it to say you may want to rip your hair out during this phase.

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But don’t do anything rash. The game does have an option to help you out. Oddly enough, it’s something that again, draws ire from some players. Nintendo has taken a cue from a few Mario games, and added a power up. If you’re forced to continue multiple times on any given level, a care package is dropped. Picking this up will give you invincibility so that you can beat the stage, and move onto the next one. If you use it, it won’t save your score or stats for that stage however. So you’ll have to replay it to win legitimately.

This is something you’ll avoid doing if you’re looking to challenge yourself, or you’re the type who competes against friends. It completely negates all of the difficulty because you can all but let the game idle until the next boss fight. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind the world that Star Fox is a game geared for just about everyone. The giant “E” on the box is a reminder of that fact. The Super Mario Cheat Box is actually a nice feature for kids getting into tougher genres. Or for older people who have very limited time allotted to gaming. But even they have the option to skip it if they want the satisfaction of being able to say they beat the game on their own.

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Star Fox Zero also has one other trick up its sleeve, and that’s a cooperative mode. This can even alleviate confusion some might have with the control scheme. Because in this mode one person uses the cockpit to fire at all of the threats, while the other person uses a controller to pilot the vehicles on the television. This is pretty cool because it can give two friends the sense they’re piloting, and co-piloting. They still need to work as a team, sometimes the gunner will be barking the pilot to head in one direction. Other times the pilot will be telling the gunner to take out a target that isn’t quite in their view.

Beating the game unlocks an arcade mode where you’ll be able to save times for speed running the campaign. Each stage will have a time listed at the end, and these times add up together for a total time. If you clear the arcade mode once, you’ll get one other unlockable. A sound test. This lets you play the game’s various audio clips, and music.

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Rounding everything out are training missions. You can use these to get better acquainted with how each of the game’s vehicles operate, and then try to complete specific challenges with each of them. There is also some amiibo functionality here if you have the Fox, or Falco figures from the Super Smash Bros line. If you use Fox, you can use him to fly the arwing from the original Super NES Star Fox. But if you use Falco you get a beefier version of the arwing. This one is painted black, and has more powerful Vulcan cannons on it. However there is a price, and that is dramatically weaker shielding. The Falco arwing can go down pretty quickly. Neither of these are really all that necessary, and in the case of Falco, actually make the game harder. But these are fun novelties if you happen to have the toys. If you don’t, you can still get the extra arwings. But you’ll have to be an absolute master to do so. You’ll need to get every hidden medal in the game.

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Ultimately, Star Fox Zero is a pretty cool game. But it is going to be reviled by two camps. One that vehemently refuses to even try to adapt to a different controller set up, and one that will keep lamenting the similarities to Star Fox 64. Should you fall into either category, this review isn’t going to change your mind. But if you’re someone who doesn’t mind trying something new, or putting in a lot of practice you might want to give it a shot. It’s a fun game with enough challenge to warrant playing through it multiple times. Sometimes that’s all a game needs to be. Retail copies also include Star Fox Guard,  which is a separate digital purchase if you buy it on the eshop.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

 

GALAX-I-BIRDS Review

Well if you thought last week’s review was pretty over the top, here’s another Commodore 64 game from Firebird. Galax-I-birds (or Galaxibirds depending on who you ask) is a preposterous shoot ’em up that lampoons Namco’s classic Galaxian. It’s a joke game, but it’s a joke game made with some serious effort behind it.

PROS: It gets pretty hilarious. Solid play control.

CONS: You have to survive to get to the hilarity. Which isn’t easy to do.

WHAT?: If you can survive beyond hilarity there are Easter eggs.

Galaxibirds, much like Galaxian, is a very simple game. It can be summed up in a single sentence. You fly a space ship, through space, shooting birds. But that would be a disservice to the game. Released in 1986 by Firebird, Galaxibirds is a precursor to games like Parodius. Parody games that mock the absurdity of games by somehow being even more absurd.

When you first fire up the game, you’re greeted with a giant bird for the title screen. Press the space bar, and you’ll be greeted with a bunch of beeps orchestrated in a way to simulate chirping. This goes on while you see the instructions flash on the screen as credits scroll in the background. Behind all of that is the game’s attract mode.

Once you have selected the number of players, you’re ready to begin. A giant swath of swans will make a run for your ship. Blow them all away, and you move onto the next species. And the next, and the next. Right out of the gate you’ll be running into strange, and stupid ideas. After all, who would buy birds breathing in space? Let alone running kamikaze style into fighter ships?

But if you can survive beyond the waves of birds, you will have to fight waves of comedic genius. There are around 8 different ornithological species before doing so. Do note that each wave gets not only a new pattern, but a faster speed as well. The longer a ship survives the faster things also get. Because of that, a lot of people might not get to see the added jokes Galaxibirds has up its sleeve.

And these jokes lampoon early arcade gaming. If you do get to them, and are familiar with the top arcade cabinets of the early 80’s you’ll laugh. Trust me, the screenshots I have in this review do not do this game justice.  The jokes themselves are more or less done in the vein of new enemy types. Sure the birds themselves might elicit a funny, and confused feeling. But these will get you much closer to the feelings you might have had upon seeing Parodius, or Zombie Nation for the first time. The surprise, combined with the silliness results in a rather satisfying payoff.

There are Angels, there are Wishing Trolls. But funnier yet are the Easter Egg characters. The aliens from Taito’s Space Invaders, and the Vector drawn rocks from Atari’s Asteroids both make an appearance. The game even takes a shot at Karate Champ at one point. Which is strange since that game isn’t a vertical shooter.

You might ask yourself, “What about how it plays? Surely the comedic veneer is going to wear thin eventually.” Which is a good concern, and query to have. Yes, eventually the joke sprites will get old. That can take a while depending on your skill. Because again, you have to survive long enough to make it to the absurd waves. Galaxibirds is challenging. Easily as challenging as the very games from Namco, Atari, and others that it openly mocks.

Each wave of course is going to be a different enemy type. It works like most shooters of the Space Invaders era. You can move left, and right firing ahead of your ship. Every wave you complete displays a flag in the corner. Every ten flags results in a bigger flag. You start the game with three ships, and keep playing until your ships are eventually destroyed. After so many points, you can earn a new ship. But ultimately, it is a game about high score. You can also play a two player mode with each player alternating the joystick between deaths.

The game has pretty good hit detection, and movement too. So in most cases when you die, you really only have yourself to blame.  One thing to remember is that as in Galaxian you cannot fire a second shot until your blast either kills an enemy or reaches the top of the screen. You can hold down the button to keep shooting, but advanced players are going to rapidly press the button. Why? because it’s faster. Other times you might be better off not shooting, and waiting to have the perfect shot while avoiding birds.

Galaxibirds also adds the concept of movement patterns to its game play. Those of you well versed in bullet hell shmups will pick this up a little bit easier. But those who stopped playing these types of games after Galaga will have something to learn. If you can memorize or anticipate the positions that enemies will take during the game, it gives you a huge advantage as avoiding a crash is important. It’s one of the things that makes this budget game impressive. Combining elements of newer shmups, like enemy patterns to the Golden Age game play of early shmups. It is by no means the best shooter on the Commodore 64. Between Hewson’s many games, and excellent ports of games by Irem, Capcom, Konami, and Sega there is much to choose from.

But don’t let that dissuade you from at least trying this game. It isn’t often a comedy game is made well enough to be fun after the jokes stop being funny. The rockabilly chip tune that plays during the game is a nice touch too. If you’re worried you won’t ever make it to the most bizarre stuff, don’t worry.  The programmers actually hid a God Mode Cheat Code in the credits. And while this will certainly erase any challenge, it lets you at least see the crazy stuff for yourself. Keep playing in this mode, and you’ll start all kinds of zany events the developer probably never anticipated. Changing graphics, artifacts, scores rolling back to zero, among many other weird things. It would be an awe-inspiring moment to find someone who could get that far legitimately.

In short: if you love old school quarter munchers, and esoteric comedy, Galaxibirds might be the game for you.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Ice Cream Surfer Review

Ice Cream Surfer is a Horizontal Shooter in the vein of Irem’s R-Type or Konami’s Gradius series. It’s loosely based on the Ice Cream Surfer online comic strip by Stephen Hausdorff. I say loosely because the comic strip has a much deeper lore than the game presents. It takes place in a world known as Ice Cream Land, where the two main characters, Ace, and Frozen attend the same school. Ace is a human character who is obsessed with super hero books, and is part of a club with other classmates. When Frozen, (a sentient piece of broccoli) isn’t allowed to take part in the clique, Ace leaves, and forges a bond with the broccoli. Frozen is also gifted in the sorts of mad science we’ve seen in superhero books for the last seventy-five years.

PROS: Zany characters, and stages. Fun, and challenging.

CONS: Technical hitches. Slowdown. Not much lore for those new to the IP.

WEIRDNESS FACTOR: It gets close to Plaque Attack.

The two partner up, and go on several adventures trying to do good deeds. Without giving too much away, at least for the time being, it’s a far cry from what we’re presented with in the game. In the game, Frozen takes the role of a super villain, who wants to destroy all of the junk foods in the universe. Ace, along with several other heroes have to stop him. Each of the heroes has his or her minor variances in how they play. So the difficulty, and challenge can change depending on which character you choose. The game also offers simultaneous two player cooperative play.

You can play as the following characters:

 Ace, who takes a page from Marvel’s Silver Surfer. He rides along on an Ice Cream Cone shooting bullets. He is a well-rounded character who isn’t too fast or two slow.

Super Cream, a Superman stand in who looks like the DC hero stuck in an ice cream sandwich. He is another well-rounded choice, who is preferred because his heat vision shots can get between enemy projectiles easier.

Sailor Twister, who is an obvious parody of Sailor Moon. She surfs along on an ice pop. Her shots are slower, and change direction every other shot. As such, she’s harder to use because you have to compensate for her slow firing rate, and changing aim.

Rei Tou is a Himura Kenshin inspired character who surfs on doubled ice pops. He doesn’t shoot, but rather swings a sword. When he does, a very small wave flies out in front of him. The problem is that the wave does not travel to the end of the screen. Rather a few pixels, in front of him. This makes him one of the hardest characters to use, as most of the grunts you’ll face have to be dispatched at point-blank range.

Hima is a giant yeti who can throw ice. He is the slowest character in the game. He also has a short attack range, as the ice melts only a few pixels away after firing. The difference is he is also more powerful. So his attacks are more effective on bosses. Of course, the fact that he is larger than everyone else also means that he’ll be hit easily.

The game is structured very much like the shmups of the late 80’s, and early 90’s. There is a lot going on at any given moment. But it isn’t as intimidating as bullet hell games, like Ikaruga. Still, that doesn’t mean the game is going to be a cakewalk for most players. Frozen’s forces always seem to fire projectiles in ways that you’ll barely be able to get through.  You will never have a dull moment, or time to breathe as you try to avoid all kinds of enemy firepower. Fortunately for you, there are power ups. You can collect letters I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M, you can collect gems dropped from every enemy you dispatch, as well as find ice pops, and spoons.

Spoons are this game’s options. In older games like Gradius, and Life Force, one could have an orb that acted as cover for your ship. In this game, spoons will bring a little dish of ice cream to your aid. Some shoot lasers, others just act as an extra hit. You can’t have more than one, so collecting a second spoon merely replaces your dish with a different one. The ice pops beef up your primary attack. Each one adding more power until you go from mere pellets to spread attacks, or giant beams. Collect enough gems, to fill a meter up near the bottom of the screen, and you can use a desperation move. Generally for most characters it acts as a smart bomb, taking out all of the enemies on-screen.

Ice Cream Surfer has a lot of really great things going for it. The cast of zany enemies alone are worth the price of admission. There are bears riding cans of soda, tomatoes sporting Duke Nukem haircuts, Gomer Pyle inspired eggplants, and floating cups of coffee. The bosses are even pretty awesome. In a lot of ways they may even remind you of some of yesteryear’s strangest shmups. Games like Meldac’s Zombie Nation, and Konami’s Parodius. A giant polar bear, a bowl of udon soup that turns into a sumo, and a giant sun are some of the crazy fights you’ll enter. All with the pattern memorization, and dexterity the genre demands of its players.

Ice Cream Surfer is also a short game, it’s only around six stages long (Upon beating a stage it can be selected as a starting stage.). But it feels about the right length overall. It doesn’t go on to the point of monotony. Nor does it end too abruptly. The game also takes advantage of the Wii U’s gamepad. It lets you either use its screen as a sort of HUD, or you can press the – button to enable off TV play. It isn’t a huge deal, but it is nice to see a small developer able to take advantage of it.

Unfortunately there is one glaring problem with Ice Cream Surfer. Slowdown. Just like the Sega Master System port of R-Type, you can fully expect the brakes to jam on. The game just cannot seem to hold a solid frame rate during some of the most precarious times, which makes the game run sluggish, and less responsive. It’s really a shame, because outside of that one major flaw, there isn’t much to complain about. At least as a game. Some fans of the comic may be perplexed as to why Frozen is simply thrown into the role of super villain. (at least until they beat the game.) But in the end Ice Cream Surfer is a surprisingly fun, and exciting shooter. It’s just too bad some technical hitches drag the experience down.

Final Score: 7 out of 10