The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Armed F
(PC Engine - 1991)

W-Ring (PC Engine - 1991)

The PC Engine had such a large library of shoot-'em-ups, it can sometimes be difficult to set them apart from one another. Take the comparion between two shooters released at approxomately the same point in the console's lifespan. Both of these challenging Hu-Card games offered a similar approach in many aspects, while there were some fairly significant differences as well. Such is the case with these two game, both coming in about even in terms of overall quality and polish though with varying approaches. Nichibitsu's Armed F initially plays like a traditional vertically scrolling shooter, its inticately designed enemies and interesting backgrounds create an eerie atmosphere but there's some depth to the gameplay that's somewhat unexpected but welcome.

Initial stages in Armed F unfold in a somewhat predictable manner, theough the arrangement and positions of enemies can lead to some vexing and occasionally frustrating points where you lose ships for small errors and attacks that can be difficult to avoid. However, the game's plentiful assortment of power-ups allows you to rebuild your ship quickly, avoiding the frustration of feeling like you're starting over completely from scratch. There are several levels of power as you upgrade your ship, allowing you to sweep over enemy forces effortlessly after going a few rounds.

Armed F's most interesting feature lies in the power-pods that appear at the side of your ship. Used strategically, they can be arranged to fire at enemies on the opposing sides of the screen, keeping their more dangerous and fatal attacks at bay. You still need to be careful, but there's another feature that helps mitigate sneak attacks, the ability to fire backwards, which offers protection beneath your ship. This is useful in more situations than you'd expect, and gives the gameplay an added level of challenge and sophistication. Armed F's design and structure is fairly good for the most part but there are a few minor frustrations. Certain areas in the game are a bit too narrow and difficult to navigate, leading you to crash into the sides if you aren't careful.

You'll also find several enemies that attack you without warning, making their shots nearly impossible to avoid. This makes for an occasionally difficult and challenging title that occasionally feels unforgiving and somewhat unbalanced in terms of challenge. However, memorizing enemy positions and patterns goes a long towards making it possible to fly through its levels easily. At the end of each stage, players will need skill and endurance, since there are elaborate bosses waiting for them. Defeating them requires some persistence and skill, but these end-stage confrontations usually bring each level to a satisfying conclusion.
Armed F doesn't offer any of the extras of some of the more elaborate shoot-'em-ups on the PC Engine. There aren't any carnival stages, time attack or points modes. There isn't a difficulty setting, which means you need to build up skill and technique on your own. Armed F's responsive controls, smooth scrolling gameplay and fairly decent balance rewards players with some surprisingly challenging gameplay. Getting the hang of using the power-ups and arranging the side-armed weapons is probably the most important task. The system is quite effective and allows for intense fights and cool weapons that seemt to blow off the screen. Armed F's presentation is straightforward which makes the action easy to follow. This smooth implemetation extends to the music and sound effects, too. All these elements combine successfully to make Armed F an entertaining and challenging entry in the PC Engine's extensive shooter library.

Taking a slightly more ambitious route, Naxat's W-Ring: The Double Rings is an elaborate side-scrolling shootet that immediately brings to mind Gradius. Its not quite of the same quality, but offers enough twists and turns to make it worth playing in its own right. Start with an impressive array of power-ups, W-Ring's stacked power-ups are plentiful and easy to manipulate. You can collect a variety of lasers and bombs plus trailing pods to rapidly increase your firepower. This fairly elaborate but simple system allows a quick build-up in terms of power and flexibility. You don't have to wait long for a the ship to show-off its fire-power.

While most shooters can be a bit difficult and opaque for more players, W-Ring might be a good place to start if you're not completely familiar with the conventions and expectations of the genre. Making the gameplay somewhat easier and more accessible, a single stray shot won't immediately destroy your ship, and instead degrades your abilities and lessens your firepower. While this might slow the momentum down a little bit, it doesn't completely stop your progress. It makes for a more acessible title, since you can recover from minor mistakes and not be penalized with a trip all the way back to the beginning of a stage without any power-ups.

This gives you some room to breath but it's not a cakewalk. W-Ring's difficulty scales up quickly so you'll need skill and persistence. When you reach W-Ring's later, more challenging stages, things rapidly become more intense. An increasing number of smarter and faster enemies are arrayed against you in persistent forms, allowing you to take a good sweeping of them, easily wiping the screen in certain sections. The game's smooth controls make for an intuitive and accessible shooting title, allowing you to quickly gain proficiency, though there are several levels of difficulty, making it easy to perform practice runs. W-Ring's structure follows the pattern you'd expect, with standard-stage fights leading to end-stage boss battles.

These elaborate boss battles feature far more challening and impressive foes than the ones seen in the main game. Encounters with these impresive, screen-filling creatures can offer an unexpected challenge. Some of these bosses are impressive in terms of design, simultaneously making W-Ring a visually pleasing. They're somewhat difficult to defeat, but there are predictable patterns and bullet placements that you can anticipate, and dodge. Sometimes, the game will highlight and spotlight pronounced weaknesses that are easy to spot. Hitting them when fully powered-up is usually the best strategy, but most of the gsme's bosses can be defeated even without a full compliment of weapons enabled.

W-Ring flows fairly nicely throughout, delivering a fairly good balance of gameplay skill and strategy. Excellent animation, varied stages and an interesting sequence of themed levels makes for an consistently interesting game that's aesthetically pleasing throughout. The game plays smoothly with little slowdown. Detailed and nicely animated enemies, cool-looking backgrounds and a consistent look shows-off the PC Engine hardware effectivly. A polished and engaging soundtrack helps to prope the action and keeps you motivated without overwhelming the action. It's a little bit shorter than would be ideal but W-Ring delivers a satisfying package that brings an intruiging style to the shooter genre. W-Ring's appealing mix of consistent gameplay mechanics, intuitve controls and challenging levels make it for an engaging shooter on the console. It's not the most well-known title, but it's definitely worth seeking out.

- Michael Palisano