The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Rabio Lepus Special
(PC Engine - 1990)
Hana Taka Daka (PC Engine - 1991)

Home to many of the best developers of the classic era, the PC engine was home to some of the best horizontally-scrolling shooters, and also some of the more surreal and interesting. Examining two titles released a year apart make make fine examples that bend the edges of the genre. Taito's Hana Taka Daka stands out immediately as the more surreal and strange of the two. Set in a strange forbidden forest, the game casts you as a round-ish strange-looking creature who's apparently been assigned the task of clearing out the forest of the bad guys who've over-run your surroundings. Things begin on an off-kilter note as the main character rapidly expands in size after collecting just a couple of powe-ups.

A few more additions increase your firepower and allow you to quickly build up strength. An array of enemies wait in your path, attacking from all directions. Hana Taka Daka's basic structure and style should be familar to players and it follows some fairly conventional paths. Using the PC Engine's control-pad effectively, you can toggle between standard and auto-fire modes. Choosing the autofire unleashes a steady stream of attacks, but the standard shot mode allows you to charge your shot by holding down the button to unleash a super attack. There's an array of cool power-ups that can add a variety of special abilities such as trailing pods that fire alongside you and even bomb attacks. These are limited and it's a good idea to conserve them until you reach the boss encounter at the end of the stage.

Hana Taka Daka has a fairly good balance between skill and strategy, while there are noticeable patterns, there are some seemingly random elements that should keep you challenged throughout the main section. Once you reach the end of each stage, you'll find that Hana Taka Daka's boss encounters can be surprisingly epic, with sustained battles that require both stamina and persistence. You can memorize their patterns after awhile, but they're still tricky in many ways. Beating the game's stages is fairly difficult for another reason, losing your ships means you're penalized by going back to the beginning of the stage. This is frustrating and its might take several tries to beat some of the more difficult bosses.

The good news is that the stages themselves offer varied and engaging environments that keep your motivation levels high. An excellent array of characters and mind-bending bosses keeps the game entertaining throughout. Besides the gameplay another key element of its appeal lies in its above-average visuals, which run smoothly with a consistent feel throughout. Excellent in-game animation is especially appreciated during some of the game's more impressive boss battles, where the screen-filing enemies move around effortlessly for the most part, attacking the player with a deceptively silky smoothness. The game's controls are intuitive and responsive, giving Hana Taka Daka an accesssible interface that's quick to pick up and play. Despite the quirkly approach and surreal animation style, the game's solid gameplay mechanics go a long way in prolonging its appeal. While some sections can be a little difficult, with some multi-pathd areas that can be a little confusing, adjusting for the this isn't that onerous, and most players should be able make consistent progress. It's a fairly well-balanced and surprisingly enjoyable shooter on a platform abundant with them.

Even though it stars a rabbit flying through outer-space, VideoSoft's Rabio Lepus Special actually feels like the more realistic and grounded of the two games. Its structure and design elements are more traditional than Hana Taka Daka and its more accessible in terms of its design and characters. The game is divided into several sections with the levels unfolding in a traditional way. Each stage begins with a prelude where the rabbit main character has a series of smaller encounters with normal types of foes. These release different power-ups when releasd and chaining these together allows you to implement some powerful attacks. These include stronger firing lasers, missiles and, homing missiles that are quite effective on your adversaries. Rabio Lepus' stages are a bit more complicated than you might initially expect, and you'll spend almost as much time dodging surface items such as falling blocks than you do battling enemies. As you progres sthrough the game, the ship becomes more powerful in its attack, with increasingly wild power-ups, some of which even provide limited invincibility.

Rabio Lepus runs remarkably smoothly throughout and the levels, while not as over-the-top as they could be offer enough surprises and challenge to keeps things from growing stale. Its enemy AI is fairly sophisticated in comparison to other PC Engine titles of its era. There's enough challenge to keep your fingers busy but the level never really exceeds what you'd expect. Its smooth and responsive controls and intuitive power-ups make for an enjoyable game, though it's not as complicated or obtuse as other shooters can get. This simple approach might not appeal to everyone, but its makes Rabio Lepus a refreshing change of pace from the more-demanding shooters on the plarform. The overall structure and design is appealing and accessible and the game flows effectively between different areas. Its fairly decent presentation offers nicely detailed and well-animated characters. An occasional flourish in the aesthetics during certain sections, such as impressive use of multi-layered parallax scrolling and some richly-detailed backgrounds make for a visually rewarding title.

When played back-to-back and compared side-by-side, both of these entertaining titles form an illuminating pair. These connection isn't immediately obvious, but both are similarly themed shoot-'em-ups for the PC Engine that showcase a surreal yet appealing aesthetic. They share a lot more than might be obvious at first bit they seem connected. Hana Taka Daka and Rabio Lepus compliment each other nicely in style and substance. Both share a surreal, cartoonish aesthetic that belies more sophisticated and challenging gameplay underneath..Their straightforward mechanics make them accessible for most players but there are some portions of each that provide unexpected difficulty. Of the two games, Rabio Lepus seems to offer more depth in terms of power-ups and level design. Hana Taka Daka is a more immediately appealing game, but it's drawback is its shorter length and simpler gameplay which is still challenging but not quite as polished Rabio Lepus. Hana's definitely the more sureal of the pair, and its wacky enemies, strange power-ups and humorous end-level bosses are engaging in their own right. Both games are prime examples of the varied gameplay, different approaches and sub-genres covered within the many shoot-'em-ups on the PC Engine.

- Michael Palisano