Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Blazing Lazers

I think we can all agree that in any given situation a Blazing Lazer is 100% more awesome than its regular non-Blazing counterpart.

That's the maxim by which Compile developed the shoot-em-up Blazing Lazers for the TurboGrafx in 1989, and it's a concept which is just as full of win now as it was then. Blazing Lazers (known in Japan as Gunhed) is available through the Wii Virtual Console or at a TurboGrafx emulator near you.

If you're a gamer of any credibility you're familiar with the concept of a shoot-em-up. You pilot a vessel (usually a spaceship), which moves in a single direction (usually up or to the right) and you variously dodge and blast your way through wave after wave of enemies. Key entries in the genre include classics such as 1942, Gradius and R-Type.

It turns out, though, that all those beloved icons had it wrong. The developers of those games seemed to think that merely because you were one ship against a near-infinite armada that you should be remotely killable. That was a silly idea, and Blazing Lazers discards it like the rubbish it is.

In any given game of Blazing Lazers, somewhere between 30 and 80 percent of the screen is filled by your weapons. Your ship vomits an unstoppable avalanche of fiery death which obliterates bad guys long before they appear on screen. Where other games make you choose whether your weapons should be penetrating, homing, or multi-pronged, Blazing Lazers is quite happy to let you have all three at once, with a side-order of smart bombs and satellite ships to boot.

Your weapons come in four basic flavours: a regular bullet shot, a sonic wave-gun, a death-dealing orbiting shield, and the titular blazing lazers. You change weapons by collecting the appropriate power-up from defeated enemies; collecting several of the same power-up in a row upgrades your weapons, while changing to a new type will set you back at the bottom of the power tree. You also have subweapons, which change the impact of your primary weapon. For instance, while using the lazer, the Homing subweapon will add a spread of missiles to your lazer-tastic death rays, while Multibodies will add additional lazers and Full Fire will focus your lazers into a single enemy-annihlating homing flame-beam of death.

It's a little unfortunate (if predictable) that in almost all circumstances the lazers are far better than the other choices; in fact, a lot of the game strategy involves avoiding non-lazer power-ups as though they were ebola. Also, like most games of this ilk, getting killed sets you back to your basic lazerless gimp-ship, which makes it exponentially more difficult to stay alive long enough to power back up.

There's also unfortunately no two-player mode. I suspect its omission is due to the limitations of the TurboGrafx rather than any real malice, but it's still a shame. Releasing a game like this with no co-op is an affront against humanity.

Still, it's all worth it for those prolonged sessions of enemy-torching which make the game so memorable. Blazing Lazers is everything which is awesome about shoot-em-ups distilled into one potent brew. It's one of those rare Virtual Console titles which is as enjoyable today as it was when it first debuted and if you haven't downloaded it yet there should probably be special jails just for people like you.

No comments: