The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review - Sega Saturn -  Blast Wind









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Blast Wind - Technosoft - Saturn - 1997

In the venerated catalogue of Technosoft releases, Blast Wind stands out for a number if key reasons. Its a vertically scrolling shoot-'em-up in a similar vein to the epochal Thunder Force titles but takes a significantly different approach. Its rotated perspective is just the opening salvo in what's promised to be the "Ultimate Destroyer." Your given a standard solitary ship to fight against the evil forces of "Gorn." They've undertaken a relentless assault against your home-world, implementing a large force to complete the task. It appears to be hopeless task at first glance but your ship provides you with ample firepower. There are two main fire modes: a standard fire and a homing dhoti. These can be switched instantaneously, standard attack form thicker layers of more powerful shots while the homing shots are noticeably weaker but provide fairly effective targeting mechanics.

There's an additional third weapon at your disposal, that release large firebombs on the screen. You only have a limited supply of these to use, and their blast radius us a bit limited compared to other shooters, so you'll have to use them wisely. Power-ups cross the screen at regular intervals and quickly upgrade your firepower, allowing you to sweep through certain sections easily. Its much simpler and much moiré straightforward then the elaborate pods seen in Thunder Force games, and its simplified approach makes for a more immediately accessible experience.

You need to keep apace and respond to enemy movements quickly, dodging the waves of bullets while maintaining focus on the relentless bullets they unleash. The pace is moderately challenging for the most part. It's not quite a traditional 'Bullet-Hell' shooter in the vein of Donpachi, but it comes close in terms of intensity. Blast Wind's level design offers some surprisingly varied terrain. More open areas predominate in the early stages but players will find trickier courses to navigate later on. These feature multi=layered barriers that need to be destroyed alongside other stronger sections you need to steer around. Throughout, the pace is unrelenting. There's a large array of enemies throughout that put up various forms of fire that surge from all directions.

Finding a safe location where you can fire back isn't always obvious, but you can survive if you concentrate. These opponents generally shoot in defined patterns that you can memorize and anticipate after repeated play, It makes for a more enjoyable game, but maintaining your reflexes is a key part of the challenge. Another significant change for other Technosoft shooters comes in its level structure. At certain points, players will come across encamped buttons they can shoot or push. These change the direction the game follows, allowing an alternate path to open up, the most immediate change the occurs is the end-stage boss encounter is completely different, and can be easier or harder to defeat depending on whether you choose or longer or shorter path. This approach is fairy innovative and gives Blast Wind significant variations, the represents a fairly effective system that reduces repetition without slowing its pace.

Engaging the game itself is seamless due to its decidedly non-intrusive handling. A responsive tactical approach means players familiar with its genre conventions should have no trouble coming to grips with its mechanics. Surface maneuvers can be flawlessly performed and Blast Wind's straightforward implementation allows you to make an immediate inclusion the moment you begin play. Surviving for any length of time requires a flexible approach and easily-issued command structure. Underlying these commands, a visually appealing presentation brings the playfield to life in vivid detail. Elaborate background rich in detail and colorful layers set an appealing field of attack ranging from cities to fantastical nature-strewn areas.

Animated sprites show impressive amounts of precise movements alongside a pleasing level of detail that makes for a coherent and consistent approach of consistent quality. Superb audio accompanies the action with a mix of harder and softer compositions that accentuate the action effectively throughout each stage. Visual presentation is a bit odd, with scores, remaining ships and other indicators stretched in vertical boxes along both sides of the screen, which can be initially distracting. Once you get accustomed to this approach, the unimpeded view of the action, which comes close to a quasi-Tate approach. Taken in its entirety, Blast Wind is a relatively sophisticated design, its multi-tiered paths punctuated by impressive boss design are supported with a mostly-traditional structure and a familiar set of weapons with ample satisfying play-structures and patterns along with engaging presentation that marks this outstanding title substantially with immediate and enduring appeal.

Hyper Duel - Technosoft - Saturn - 1997

Sharing many key elements of the legendary Thunder Force series, Hyper Duel offers enough variations on the theme to merit extended play sessions. The base structure should be familiar for those who've played the main series. The action unfolds horizontally, as your ship moves across the levels shooting an array of enemies while avoiding waves of massive shots along your path. This sound relatively simple. However, a major differentiator comes when you transform the ship into a flying mech called "Buster Gear." Your options and controls are substantially different, with a unique set of weapons at your disposal. You can switch between the mech and standard-ship forms on the fly but there are trade-offs. The standard ship isn't as powerful as the mech, but offers a longer-range of fire. Buster Geat gives you a massive amount of fire-powers, but is most-effective at close proximity. As you get farther away, it becomes increasingly difficult to aim your shots.

Controls are fluid and responsive for the most part, Hyper Duel doesn't suffer slowdown or jerkiness, making for a smooth experience which ever mode you decide to implement. The ship is immediately familiar for the most part. This is mainly because it mainly features a Thunder Force-inspired system of power-ups and controls similarly to a TF title. As you traverse each stage, the ships collect power-up pods by flying over them that light up specific types of power-ups. These are called out using the same voice heard in Thunder Force games, which adds a nice touch of continuity, making Hyper Duel feel more like a spin-off from the main game. In addition, the power-up structure maintains its familiar form.

You cycle through these on the fly but have to be careful, if you're destroyed when you're shooting one of these weapons, you'll lose access to it, Knowing when and which situation to use them is a key element of strategy. Most of the weapons are easy to use, but others seem better suited to certain encounters the others, so you have to anticipate this and avoid wasting the more effective ones during the easier sections. Levels are fairly straightforward in terms of design and structure, which some requiring better navigational skills since they unfold in a series of tunnels that you have to travel through without hitting the sides. This isn't as simple as it sounds, since these sections can scroll by at a quick rate, which can deplete your lives quickly if you aren't paying close attention.

Boss battles are fairly easy to defeat in the early stages, but later sections require you to survive against foes that consist of multiple parts and objectives that aren't quite as easy to exploit. Finding their weak spots requires a substantial amount of effort, but it helps to memorize these vulnerable locations. Most require a sustained attack, but eventually fall if you maintain concentration and avoid getting locked into their lines of attack. They've got elaborate patterns of fire and attack in large waves, so you need to memorize their conventions in order to defeat them. Hyper Duel allows the player another significant tool; pjayers can unleash a super bomb that almost immediately clears all surrounding objects on the main screen without impediment.

You can locate additional assistance and earn transient leeway thanks to the relatively abundant placement of power-ups and extra lives, allows for additional maneuverability, giving you a semblance of cutting your own path through the stages. The game's challenge can be adjusted at the options screen, but generally maintains a good balance of difficulty and smoothness, making for a consistently entertaining game that never becomes too difficult while never becoming a dull-cakewalk, It unfolds at a fairly consistent pace throughout and its patterns and boss set-pieces create an enjoyable pace that's fairly enjoyable to play through without a steep learning curve.

One of the main attractions of Hyper Duel is that it offers more than a standard arcade conversion. The full original game is excellent in its own right, delivering an engaging mix of thumb-crafting action and intense ply mechanics you've come to expect. However, players can choose to lay in the enhanced' Saturn' mode. This is an enhance diversion of the arcade game with improved visuals, more detailed animations and a vastly-superior CD soundtrack that brings the action to life vividly. It definitely shows-off the console's capabilities to a greater degree, and the Saturn soundtrack is exceptional, truly bringing a new layer to the proceedings without overwhelming the play mechanics. There are additional minor changes in terms of enemy placement and patterns, but these are mainly superficial aesthetic adjustments that don't materially affect Hyper Duel's long-term appeal. The biggest problem seems to arrive once you reach the end, It seems to finish much too quickly with an ending that arrives prematurely truncated, A couple of extra levels would have done wonders to extend its reply ability.

However, the ability to switch your mode of attack between ship and mech on the fly makes for a more complex shoot-'em-up than you might expect, it feels like a very different title when you switch modes, Playing through the game using the standard space ship is enjoyable, but things really get interesting, and challenging whiten you transform, which helps to mitigate this to a large degree. Hyper Duel looks to be a fairly standard shooter at first glance, but look beneath the surface. Transforming your character and changing attack patterns simultaneously doesn't appear to add anything we haven't seen repeatedly in many of its contemporaries. The ability to switch your ship and move between these two modes seamlessly, giving Hyper Duel an immediate appeal that endures since its backed up with enjoyably challenging play mechanics. Hyper Duel represents a showcase title for both the renowned developer's unrivaled skill and Saturn's resplendent hardware capabilities. It proves that implementing significant twists, minor changes and additions can rejuvenate a tried-and-true formula to make a title that feels simultaneously familiar and innovative.

- Michael Palisano