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NES Obscurity Quicky!

Back to the December 2015 theme month, For Sold Games, I've. As you may recall from last week, there are a number of games that I sold long ago, thinking I'd never want to play them again...but lately I'm re-buying them and giving them another shot.
This week's topic is the Jetpack-Dude-Hurtles-Through-Space-Whilst-Shooting-'em-Up. You might think that gameplay that specific would require its own sub-genre or category; fortunately Capcom agrees, and they've sorted the resulting game into...
Section Z
What's this game about?
Spiky cyan thingie spews swedish meatballs at earth's moon;
Space Commando in magenta battle armor disapproves!
Space Commando expresses his disapproval by jet-packing through hundreds of auto-scrolling tiny rock hallways (or, "Section"), shooting odd robotic spacecraft.
...but, joke's on Space Commando! Each section ends with a choice between two teleporter beams.
..yes, the entire game is built around WARP DOOR MAZES.
What did I remember about it?
Well, definitely that Warp Door Maze thing...nothing artificially lengthens a game and forces you to make a paper map like a Warp Door Maze; you'll inevitably make wrong turn after wrong turn while learning, and end up having to replay difficult stages again.
Fortunately there's "Checkpoint" Sections -- where, if you get to certain points and beat the boss, you pass through a one-way tunnel onto bigger and better parts of the game, and you no longer have to worry about being beamed further back than there.
I also remember that you don't die if you get shot...which is good, because there's a lot of bullets flyin' around. Bullets just take away your Energy units, and you start with 20 E.
However you DO die if you collide with an enemy ship...which bugs me for two reasons:
  1. It means that, no matter what kind of lasers or missiles a ship is armed with, it's most dangerous attack is "bump into you"
  2. It also means that you're juggling BOTH Lives AND Energy (which I've complained about in the past).
Also, the enemy eventually starts gaming the system... having "Missile Enemies" which count as a one-hit kills you "Ship" rather than a projectile.
But the game also had two space-shooter features which were so unique I certainly remembered them from back in the day:
Even though the screen scrolls constantly to the right, you can shoot EITHER DIRECTION!
"B" for left, "A" for right!
...and you can stand on/bump against the walls WITHOUT IMMEDIATELY EXPLODING!
I also remembered something weird about the "Press 'A' and 'B' at once to enable a Missile attack, but you have to go to the center of the screen to pick it up," but I remember thinking that was pretty stupid (what does "the center of the screen" supposed to represent in-game?), so I mostly ignored this.
What impression did it make this time?
Well, there were enough stand-out elements before that I remembered a lot of them from before; but here's what playing it again recently highlighted:
Power Ups
I remembered there were Energy Boosts (+3 energy each!). This is good, because you have both your # of Lives AND amount of Energy (see above and again below), but I'd forgotten about the Speed Boosts. Both of them aren't UN-common, but are sometimes few and far between. But fortunately (unlike some games with speed-boosts) you can fly and dodge reasonably well without ANY speed boosts.
Then there's also Alternate Guns,
hidden in "Brains", and storable for use later (if you want)
The "M" Wave is a powerful cutting laser; there's also a Spread attack, with 3-way buckshot over a very short range. And if you already HAVE one engaged when you pick up the other (or maybe if you already have one engaged and DOUBLE-pick up the other?), you get a combination "M" Wave/Spread Gun effect. Neat!
But mainly I just learned more specifics of things I vaguely remembered:
Yes, you can press "A" and "B" at once to make a missile appear in the center of the screen...then if you grab it, you get one missile "super shot" (or rather, "super SLOW shot"). As you go on, you get a few different super-shot choices OTHER than missile. But as I'd remembered, it seems pretty arbitrary to "load" it, then to have to fly to the center of the screen and grab it: there's plenty of opportunity for the center to be a dangerous no-man's land of walls and enemy fire.
Also, these super shots cost WAYYYY more energy than they're worth. And while we're at it...
Yeah, about that Energy/Lives stuff:
  • You start with 3 Lives and 20 Energy.
  • Each Bullet costs 1 Energy -- but you keep flying.
  • Each COLLISION costs 1 Life -- but you:
    • go back to the start of the Section you were on,
    • lose any Alternate Weapon you had equipped,
    • AND lose 5 Energy units.
However, when you lose your last can choose to infinitely Continue. And if you Continue, you start at the Section you were on (JUST LIKE if you lost a life).
In both BreakThru and this game, there's so much 'checkpointing' going on, yet there's no lost ground whether you still have extra lives, or whether you lost your final one and have to Continue.
Why not just give you Infinite lives if that's the case?
But the big punishment is reserved for when you run out of Energy units (whether by getting shot until you have 0, or losing a life when you have 5 or less left)...because THEN you're kicked back all the way to the last "Checkpoint" -- as in, Section 1, or the Section past one of the game's big bosses. Later in the game, this can put you back 5-10 Sections, and you have to do a lot of clawing to fight your way back (and I hope you made a map of the Warp Door Maze, because you'll need it).
And about the game's bosses? Well, I learned good news and bad news:
"Good" News: If you ever see a Red teleporter gate, DON'T TOUCH IT, it kills you.
...but on the upside, make note of where it is...because one you've beaten the right miniboss or boss, come back to this section and that Red gate will turn Green. That's how you progress: not every Miniboss or Boss opens a Red Teleporter to the next "Checkpoint" Section, but it DOES unlock a path further into the game, and the Minibosses/Bosses you've killed will STAY dead, even if you lose all your lives/energy.
But then, the BAD news is...the Minibosses and Bosses kind of Suck
This is the "Core Miniboss", seen throughout the game.
he shoots a continuous stream of projectiles directly at you, with 1 in 3 projectiles being 'heat seekers' that follow you around the screen like they were falling rocks
(also they take a lot of hits to kill)
The only upside is, once you kill them you get permanent boosts to your Max Energy. Also the standard Bosses change as you proceed through the game, and that's kind of neat (though sometimes the same one is repeated in the same portion of the game).
So, to summarize...
It's kind of neat; it has some stuff I wish more shooters did. But you need to start mapping the Warp Door Maze stuff pretty soon or you get lost, the Lives/Energy thing still annoys me. Eventually I got frustrated running out of Energy while fighting Bosses: I eventually stopped playing after I died after beating 2 minibosses and 1 of the 2 boss necessary to get through the game's second Checkpoint.
But I can't say my time was fully wasted; if nothing else, I achieved this:
— carlmarksguy, 2015-12-14
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