The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review - Sega Genesis - Gaiares & Sagaia









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Gaiares - Renovation - Genesis - 1991

While it bears superficial resemblance to countless other shoot-'em-ups on the platform, there's nothing else like this innovative title on the console. Putting aside the engaging visuals, stunning boss battles and outstanding music, the unique play mechanic of Gaiares lies in its power-up system. Instead of collecting pods at random as in most other shooters, in this title, you're given control of a unique TOZ system. This acts on a base level as a shadow pod that accompanies your ship. You can use it at the most basic level as a kind of shield which blocks enemy fire. However, its movements are constrained to the same visual plane as you and it can only be fired straight ahead along a narrow path. When the TOZ docks and connects to an enemy ship, it doesn't just destroy it, it learns from it. Returning to your ship after connecting, it takes on the weapons your opponents use then transfers their abilities to your ship. At this point, you can use their more-powerful weapons against them, turning the tables in unique fashion. This unique play-mechanic is all the more impressive given the expectations and limiting structures that constrains countless other shoot-'em-ups.

Since each enemy in Gaiares fires a different type of projectile weapon such as homing missiles, powerful laser-fire and more effective weapons that unleash larger attacks. These collected weapons have varying degrees of effectiveness, but you can choose which to hold onto or pass-up, depending on the situation. Some of the upgrades are relatively weaker and it might be better to wait for stronger opponents depending on the situation. There are tons of variations throughout each level. Your Toz can also collect shields, power-ups and space clearing pods during each level, making it surprisingly versatile, and effective when used properly. The upgrades become surprisingly intuitive after a few rounds, clarifying their function and controls quickly, which gives Gaiares a unique feel. However, if you lose a life, you lose any upgrades you might have collected previously, which can be frustrating at certain stages.

Additionally, the weapons don't immediately power-up to full-strength and you might have to connect with multiples of the same enemy in order to reach the apex of its strength. This mechanic might sound complicated but using it isn't quite as tricky as it sounds. You simple aim your shots and the upgrades are implemented automatically. The TOZ process unfolds in a few seconds and becomes remarkably intuitive after a short time. You have to be patient lining up your shots since the TOZ device can return empty-handed if you're not careful. The main functionality relatively easy to get used to with practice. It quickly becomes intuitive to line up the TOZ with enemies and collect their weapons. This definitely adds a different dimension to the game, brining a layer of strategy and complexity to the gameplay that makes for a unique experience.

Gaiares doesn't skimp on the basic mechanics, you can fly at different speeds and adjust your momentum on the fly, shoot normally and dodge enemy patterns easily once you learn the layouts and make work of the general foes quickly once you've leveled up the ship. Stages unfold at a relatively quick pace and aren't excessively long, but Gaiares has another trick up its sleeve. While most shoot-'em-ups are content to throw a relatively pedestrian boss at you at the end of each stage, Gaiares goes the extra-length and throws a massive boss onto the screen, seemingly without warning.

These intimidating figures take up the entire side of the playfield, from top to bottom, unleashing a relentless attack on your ship in the process. The effect of the boss battles can be disconcerting, given the relative predictability of the stages preceding them. Their implementation is undeniably impressive, even by today's standards. They move across the speed with ferocious energy, unimpeded by slowdown, flickering or other noticeable glitches, the bosses remaining impressive in terms of design and function. Their patterns are complicate and somewhat unpredictable, requiring complex maneuvers, evasive actions and a sustained effort in order to defeat. They serve as an immense exclamation point at the end of each stage, making Gaiares an absolutely unforgettable game that delivers quite a punch throughout.

Determined players will find the game offers an intense battle throughout, going far beyond the typical mindless button-mashing you'd typically expect from the genre. Its unique TOZ power-up system is fun to use in its own right, engaging the player with a strategic element that allows flexibility and power without slowing the action down. Using this system is intuitive for the most part, integrating seamlessly with the standard gameplay mechanics to create an engaging and challenging experience. Gaiares' production values are superb throughout with fantastic animation, impressive designs and outstanding music. The soundtrack's arrangements are epic and elaborate, matching the game's ambitious design and structure faithfully. Even the shortest, intercessional sequences and status screens bring an impressive audio that's composed brilliantly with a highly consistent, appealing quality. Further enhanced by excellent sound effects alongside an appropriately fast pace, Gaiares delivers a experience that's engaging, challenging, unique and consistently surprising.

Sagaia - Taito - Genesis - 1991

Instead of working in strictly chronological order, Taito released the second game in its legendary Darius series for the Genesis console, Retitled Sagaia, this edition stays remarkably faithful to the arcade edition. All the stages and enemies are intact, and the full-plethora of power-ups is also present. However, the first thing you'll likely to be impressed by is the music which does a superb job mimicking the arcade game's elaborate soundtrack. The scores are remarkably complex with elaborate and appealing arrangements that memorably accompany the gameplay without over-whelming the action. Sagaia's soundtrack is likewise punctuated by outstanding sound effects with loud, pronounced explosions that bring the classic shoot-'em-up action to life with great flourish. Additional power-ups allow for stronger weapons with enhanced capabilities such s multiple shots. Players can also chose to enable rapid-fire mode, which helps to even out the playing field.

Getting good requires you to master Sagais's basic play mechanics, Sagaia retains the arcade title's enduring appeal with a simple power-up system where you can upgrade your ship by rolling over one of the numerous power-ups that float on the screen. An array of extras include diagonal shots, stronger laser weapons and bombs that can be dropped on ensconced objects or enemies that fly beneath you. You can also collect the series' famous green shield which surrounds your ship, giving you invincibility. However, this only lasts for a couple of shots so you still need to remain careful.
An outstanding selection of aquatic enemies drawn in the series' trademark oceanic motif includes mechs that resemble a swarm of fish, serpents, large mouthed monsters, sea-lions and other types, Each of these opponents brings a unique pattern of attack and style that you have to confront, either head on or by other means. Occasionally, the mechs will diverge from the traditional pattern of attacking from the right an take their place on the left side screen, forcing the player to attack them from the opposite angle, giving the mechanics a unique feel. Mastering the boss battles can be tricky since you not only need to find their weak-spot, you also need to maneuver the waves of shots they fire. This can be trickier than it sounds since they attack with multiple types of projectiles depending on the situation. Learning how to avoid them is part of the challenge.

While the original arcade game took place over a whopping three screens, the Genesis version scales the action down to a single field. On-screen objects have been proportionately scaled and while it seems certain points feel smaller than normal, the game does a good job in maintaining a consistent scale, even during the elaborate boss battles. From a visual standpoint, the game thrives on its visuals expertly-rendered animation and smooth surfaces highlighted by the occasional graphical flourish such as wavy points and strange divergences, but these don't impede the action. The game's relatively straightforward visuals allow you to concentrate on the action without getting distracted. It might take multiple attempts to defeat some bosses, but once you prevail, you'll move on to the next stage.

At this point, another significant change from expectations occurs. After a stage boss is dispatched, players can select the next stage from a large branching system. Instead of moving ahead across a single path as in most shoot-'em-ups, subsequent levels are identified alphabetically, with multiple branches and paths you can take. This sets the stage for a plethora of options and possibilities that brings a huge variety to the gameplay. Each stage brings unique set of challenges and foes to battle and latter sections become increasingly difficult with smarter enemies, more elaborate bullets to navigate past and harder bosses to conquer. This makes for a challenging game at points, but it never feels frustrating or overly difficult. Generous continues and multiple difficulty options allow you to move deep into the game at a satisfying pace. Taken together, the elements combine successfully to make Sagaia an excellent translation of the arcade game, faithfully and consistently recreating its instantly appealing gameplay mechanics, measured difficulty settings, outstanding visuals and superlative soundtrack to the Genesis in outstanding form.

- Michael Palisano