The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

(PC Engine - 1992)

Standing out in the flood of shooter titles on PC Engine, Naxat Soft's Nexzr creates an immediately memorable style that places you right in the middle of a massivee interstellar space battle. Initially, it would be easy to dismiss Nexzr as another in the long line of vertically-scrolling space shooters on the system. However, while it conforms to most of the player's expectations, there are a few points where it stands out. As you begin the game, you'll face off against an army of typical foes that seem nothing outside your expectations. Then suddenly, huge battleships seem to materialize out of nowhere, filling the screen with massive firepower that lends Nexzr a uniquely cinematic feel. This is definitely outside the norm for shoot-'em-ups but is one of the key elements of its appeal. The game's look and style is one of the main areas of where Nexzr stands out. It makes an immediate statement with its elaborate stages and sleek production values.

Taking advantge of the PE Engine CD-Rom's extra capacity, Nexzr features a driving soundtrack, typical of the upbet early-90's style, that proples the action withiout getting in the way. If you're patient enough to watch the introductory cinematic scene before jumping into battle, you'll find an elaborate opening sequence that sets the stage for the battle to come, with an interesting backstory that draws you into the game. Once you hit the run button, you'll immediately find yourself surrounded by shooting laser-fire and massive explosions. are a bit more polished than many of its contemporaries, with elaborate special effects that makes the action jump right off the screen. You'll encounter waves of beautifully animated enemies flying straight at you, firing from all directions with a consistent speed that gives Nexzr a sleek, arcade-feel. Its got an impressive technical style, but the solid gameplay mechanics beneath helps maintain a lasting appeal.

Nexzr's play mechanics are fairly straightforward but its structure provides an appealing and surprising challenge. Opponents come right at your position, firing multiple shoots that can be difficult to avoid. You begin with a standard fire-weapon which is effective but not as powerful as it could be. Enemies are relentless and attack with aggression. Its difficult to get through the levels based on skill alone but you can progress further once you memorize thier attack patterns and learn to counter or avoid their attacks. Even so, you'll need a bit of skill and luck in order to defeat some of these opponents. Its not the easiest shooter but you have some techniques that can help you complete the mission. Collecting the numerous power-ups adds stronger weapons that make traversing the stages somewhat easier. After your ship has been fully stocked, you can cut through a lot of these enemies with much less effort, though Nexzr's standard enemy pattern are relentless, their formations can be complicated while they shoot streams of bullets in sharp paths that can be difficult to anticpate and evade.

Somewhat open level design contrasts to the more rigid approach of most other shoot-'em-ups, giving players a greater sense of freedom than most titles provide. It's not entirely unexpected that the game's levels are elaborate but the attack patterns and enemy AI are a notch above the standard approach. One of the key elements of this comes in the style of attack, which is more aggressive and harder to counter than you'd expect. Nexzr's enemy placements vary from moment to mometn. This can create a huge challenge in itself, with several points where the enemies will box you in, leaving you little chance of escape. Fortunately, once you encounter these enemies and learn their patterns, you can anticipate their tricks and memorize theses location to avoid the traps they set. It makes for an occasionally frustrating title, especially at the harder difficulty levels. There's almost no room for error and you have to play almost flawlessly throughout if you want to progress to the later stages. The balane is definitely tilted towards the harder side of the scale, which requires more patience and concentration than most shooters demand. An effective strategy within each level is manuever your ship away from the more congested areas. Doing so gives you some leeway to get out of the way of shots, but you don't have much room for error and there's no time for complacency.

Nexzr's difficulty seems to only ratchet upwards as you progress deeper into the game, becoming increasingly frenetic and chaotic in its latter sections. Reaching the boss battles at the end of each stage is quite an accomplisment in and of itself, but battling these feroicious attackers takes a lot of skill. You'll probably need multiple attempts, build up your skills and still use plenty of stamina to avoid their massive bullet outflows, anticipate their movements and counter their attacks. Surving these battles takes some practie, but you should eventually be able to locate their weak points, grind them down and wait just the right moment to make your final attack. Even for experienced shoot-'em-up players, it's uncompromising difficulty makes it somewhat more challenging than expected. Nexzr has a surprising level of challenge throughtout each stage. This unrelenting pace means it that might take several attempts to beat each stage until you're finally victorious, but the sense of accomplishment when you defeat an end-level boss makes the effort worthwhile.

In terms of length, Nexzr seems to offer a number of relatively long levels, though this might be due to its difficulty, but there are breaks usually half-way through some stages. Here, you face off against a sub-boss that usually isn't as hard to beat as the main opponent, but still presents a difficult challenge. The game's difficulty is a bit surprising since flashy visuals usuaully signal a more superficial game. Nexzr goes against the grain in this approach but its a welcome divergence. The game offers several adjustable levels of difficulty and also allows players to change the number of ships for each game. Numerous continues are also given, so you'll probably be able to get deep into the game without excessive frustration. The harder levels might seem impenetrable early on, but the skills you learn in the easier sections will likely go a long way in helping you survive the onslaught.

You can't really fault the game's design, since it follows most genre conventions, with an apealing level of polish. Its execution is fairly consistent with an excellent pace and fluid controls that allow the player to build a good rhythm as they go along. Stacking power-ups makes for a more enjoyable game, though losing a life penalizes yous severely - its difficult to get past the later sections using only a basic weapon payload. This can be frustrating at times, but its this challenge that makes Nexzr so appealing in the first place. When you've beaten a stage, its definitely something that feels earned. Between its engaging play mechanics, conistent pacing, above-average visuals and intense challenge. Nexzr takes a strong position, landing firmly within the top quadrant, in terms of overall quality, of the PC Engine's robust shoot-'em-up library.

- Michael Palisano