Thursday 8 May 2014

Gaiares - Sega Mega Drive - 1990

The last scrolling shoot 'em up I played for the Mega Drive was Fire Shark.  It didn't make the grade due to its mundane backgrounds, unimaginative sprites and forgettable music - it had nothing to make it stand out from the crowd.  By 1990 shoot 'em ups needed that little something extra.  Why mention Fire Shark here?  Well, at first glance Gaiares also has mundane backgrounds, unimaginative sprites and forgettable music but it also has a unique selling point.  R-Type has the Force, Gradius has the Option and Gaiares has the TOZ.  More on the TOZ later, but first the plot.

The planet Earth has been turned into a polluted, uninhabitable wasteland by careless humans. The last vestiges of the human race are surviving on a space station.  The United Star Cluster of Leezaluth has sent them a warning about an inter-galactic terrorist group called Gulfer.  Led by Queen ZZ Badnasty, the Gulfers plan to use the polluted material to make military weapons.  If the humans fail to stop the Gulfers then the United Star Cluster of Leezaluth will blow up the Sun and wipe out the Solar System.  If the humans defeat the Gulfers they will be given a new Earth-like planet to populate.  Not much at stake then.  You take on the role of the intrepid Dan Dare (not the intrepid Dan Dare from the 1986 Spectrum game) who will single handedly take on the Gulfers.

Our hero Dan Dare and terrorist leader Queen ZZ Badnasty.  With a name like that she was never going to be one of the good guys.  I bet she was bullied at school too.

The game starts with your ship launching from the space station.  You are initially armed with a rapid fire laser and a downward firing missile.  The TOZ system follows the movement of your ship and replicates its firepower (much like an Option from Gradius).  It can also absorb enemy fire and damage enemies (much like the Force from R-Type).  Where it stands out is that it can latch onto enemies to steal their weaponry.  The weapons can be upgraded a further two times by firing the TOZ at the same type of enemy.

Certain sections of each level are best dealt with by a particular weapon.  The enemies that carry these weapons normally appear just before the area where they are needed.  Failing to collect them can make for tougher going and I lost many a life using inappropriate armament.
I liked the T-Braster (blaster?) but quickly got bogged down in this section.  The G-Beam can be picked up just before it and cuts straight through.

Losing a life in Gaiares doesn’t mean Game Over.  Although you lose any weapon ugrades you were carrying, it won’t take long to max out your firepower again.  There is also the occasional shield and smart bomb pickup to be found throughout the stages.  These are activated as soon as they are touched – they can’t be saved for later.

The game is played over eight stages each containing a rather weak mid-level and a much tougher end-of-level boss.
Gulfer - the only inter-galactic terrorist group to recruit bivalve molluscs.  Once destroyed this giant clam boss reveals a giant mermaid boss.

Your ship also has three turns of speed.  MID is fine for me with LOW coming in useful for navigating more intricate sections of the scenery.  MAX is too fast for my reflexes and normally ends up with me losing a life.

As I said the game is not much to listen too.  The graphics get better the further you go – I particularly like the watery effects towards the end of level two - but for the most part the enemy sprites are uninteresting.  It is also a very tough game and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see all eight stages.  It is something I will persevere with.  Overall though Gaiares is a great shoot ‘em up with the TOZ adding a unique element to the gameplay.

 Example gameplay....

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