The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Terra Cresta II (PC Engine - 1992)
Tatsujin (PC Engine - 1992)

These vertically scrolling shoot-'em-ups were released at around the same point, arriving later in the PC Enigne's lifespan. Heading towards its peak, both titles offered players highly-developed, sophisticated examples of the genre that played to the console's strengths from both aesthetic and technical standpoints. Nihubutsu's Terra Cresta II takes inspiration from its predecessor and built on it substantially with impressive new elements. The basics are straightforward, you pilot your ship through a series of stages filled with opposing forces lined up against you. Terra Cresta II features an array of surprisingly smart foes that seem to fly at you in formations. The game's enemies consistently anticipate your moves, and you have to stay alert for the most part. An effective counter-strategy is to learn enemy attack patterns so you can counter thier moves.

As in the first game, the main focus lies on its elaborate stacking system of power-ups. These can be collected through shooting numbered pods throughout each stage. Enabling these allows you to fire in one of two ways. Either with an enhanced shot that cuts through enemies faster than standard fire or more interestingly, with side-armed weapons. These appears as pods at either the side or in front of your ship. Steering these add-ons alongside your ship is can seem a little tricky, but allows you to confront enemies not directly in front of you. The advantage allows you some protection from their attacks and gives you the ability to wipe out the formations before they converge on your position.

You can use these super-shots at any point once you've earn them but they're limited for a short time, so its best to use them wisely. At the top of the heap, are the devastatingly effective Phoenix-style power-up that transforms the ship into a super-powered bird shooting out massive waves of flaming arrows in all directions. This super-weapon comes up rarely but gives you a limited invulnerability that allows you to sweep right through enemies with little effort. It adds a level of excitement to the gameplay that gives you a temporary breather from the normal shooting action, but its not enough to make Terra Cresta II a cakewalk. This approach maintains a good balance and keeps you motivated. This is especially true once you reach the later, more elaborate stages.

Terra Cresta II's stages are designed in such a way as to incrementally increase the challenge. Standard enemies put up quite a fight and some are very difficult to beat and will fire directly at you. Making them more dangerous comes in the way that they attack in waves, making it difficult to avoid their line of fire. Multiple shots seem to aim directly at the player, and locating a safe zone takes practice and memorization. Using the side-wing power-ups effectively also takes practice, since their occasionally awkward placement isn't always located in the ideal position. This sets the stage nicely for the gane's boss encounters that are both entertaining and challenging.

You'll face off against some fairly intimidating foes that attack your ship with unexpected techniques. They can emerge suddenly from the side of the screen, causing significant damage that can seem impossible to avoid, at least at first. Memorizing their attack patterns and getting out of their way is the best strategy, though it might take several attempts before you can beat them consistently. Terra Cresta II's structure is a little more forgiving than some of its contemporaries in that you aren't penalized excesssively for a single shot, instead damage only reduces and degrades your ship's accumulated firepower. This makes it easier to recover from small mistakes, though there are obviously some areas where you neeed really good responses to pass through.

Nichibutsu did an excellent job in this console conversion, and its excellent presentation makes it one of he more polished shooters on the PC Engine. It's fluid controls and responsive interface benefit from the PC Engine's hardware. Smooth scrolling backgrounds showcase an impressive style and design and the game unfolds with no slowdown evident, even during more intense sections with many enemies on the screen simultaneously. Terra Cresta II offers a few extras including time attack modes which are fun diversions that should keep your interest levels for short bursts, but also make good training sessions for the main game. Surviving these modes while gaining a high score is challenging, but helps sharpen your skills.

It's a consistently entertaining and challenging game, and maintains enough appeal to keep you playing though its many levels without feeling cheap or gimmicky, making Terra Cresta II one of the more enjoyable titles for the PC Engine. However, there was another outstanding title released that year in the outstanding Tatsujin, a horizontal shooter from Toaplan that's nearly its equal in most aspects. It takes some inspiration from the classic Raiden but adds a few uwists of its own. Like many other horizontal shooters, the game casts your lone fighter against an array of aggressive foes. Your basic weapons are effective for the most part, but the power-ups are needed to help you survive. Its unique looking approach to its super-bombs helps to differentiate it from other system.

Tatsujin's power-up system is a traditional stacking model, making progression straightforward for the most part. Standard weapons build up power quickly with increasing range and firepower until you have multi-tiered weapons firing in tandem sweeping through most of the screen. Once you've fully charged your weapons, they become quite powerful, allowing you to make quick work of the ground-based and flying opponents in your path. As in many of the better shoot-'em-up titles, the best strategy is to memorize their patterns and abilities while keeping an eye out for the unexpected. Tatsujin's enemies seem to have a bit more sophistication in terms of their AI. This leads to an seemingly more random, unpredictable attack pattern that are more difficult to anticipate. Helping you along on your mission, you have a limited number of super-bomb attacks.

Instead of a random explosion, you have a giant skull portal that appears onscreen for a few seconds that destroys anything in its path. This allows you to clear out sections quickly and easily but you need to be careful. Your ship isn't invulnerable and can still be destroyed if it comes into contact with enemy fire. There are a limited amount of these avaiable during each stage. An effective technique is to caerefully time their deployment. Using them up to early means you'll find yourself heavily attacked with little recourse. If you aren't careful, you can quickly find yourself cornered by multiple opponents without an easy means of escape during the tougher sections.

This can be frustrating at points, especially when you encounter some of the heavier fire, but a skilled player should be able to navigate through with some practice. Its difficult can ratchet up quickly, especially during the latter sections, and tis can be frustrating, Its a little bit harder to progress than Terra Cresta II since you're destroyed with a single shot. Losing a ship mearks a huge setback, when you have to retrace a singificant distance, which can feel like a harsh penalty. Taking a few additional attempts usually reveals the weakness you missed, making it easy to progress after you learn eacj level's terrain and structure. There isn't as much leeway in this game, but its harder difficulty makes for a hard, but not insormountable challenge.

Its play balance and controls are finely tuned and its harder difficulty is a function more of its skilled placement and relatively smart AI, the challenge isn't excessive so success is satisfying and reached with memorization. The game is consistent throughout and this makes it enjoyable for its own sake. Tatsujin's level design and structure are finely balanced and the game unfolds at a steady pace. Enemies come at you with consistent patterns and formations while the placement of its stationary weapons is somewhat predictable. All of this combines to create what can be considered an almost traditional approach to the shoot-'em-up genre. Its structure and style take good advantage of the hardware and the action flows smoothly.

The gameplay is fairly solid and challengine but these standard shooting modes are broken up occasionally when you unleash Tatsujin's trademark weapn, the massive skull-bombs that explode off the screen and give this shooter a distinct personality. From a presentation standpoint, the game's impressive, speedy play is complemented by well-drawn character designs, detailed backdrops and fluid animation that uses of the PC Engine hardware effectively. Tatsujin's fluid animations make for an exciting visual appeal that's immediately appealing and doesn't suffer much apparent slowdown, making for a smooth playing experience. A hyper-soundtrack helps to keep the momentum going while a range of sound effects are effective. Its overall style and pacing are immediately appealing and accessible, giving it immediate appeal to players with even a passing knowledge of the genre. Its learning curve is shallow and most gamers should be able to get the hang of its conventions and play mechanics with little effort.

Taken as a tandem, both games show-off the occasionally near-flawless implementation of the shoot-'em-up genre that seemed to appear with unreal regularity on the PC Engine. Both represent the best efforts in terms of play-balance, execution and technical ability. Terra Cresta II is a decidedly flashier game, and its somewhat over-the-top power-ups and multiple modes of play give in a more immediate appeal. Most of your effort is concentrated on attaining power-ups and the massive attacks you can unleash deliver an impressive punch. Its visuals are superb and there's a really good balance in terms of style and susbtance. Tatsujin's more traditional approach isn't as flashy, but the foundations of solid gameplay make for a deeper and more challenging style of play. It's difficult to decide which of these two titles is superior. A more accurate determination is probably that both games offer an equally-polished and enjoyable experience, on balance. Tatsujin and Terra Cresta II both excel, but their strengths lie in slightly different areas. If we had to choose, we'd probably give Tatsujin a slight edge due to its deep and challenging play mechanics. However, Tatsujin is definitely its equal, and probably the more accessible title. Which title is more appealing will probably depend on the player's personal preferences, choosing between a flashy or deeper shoot-'em-up.

- Michael Palisano