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Solid old school 2-D shooter with nice ideas By DocAetzn

A battle that will either wipe humanity or machines from the universe has begun! The year is 210 SE (Space Era). Humankind has prospered beyond the wildest imagination of the earliest space explorers. Waves of human colonists have advanced to thousands of planets all over the universe. Each colony built is provided with a caretaker computer and equipped with Android Industrial (AI) Drones to control the planet and mine resources. The materials collected are sent back to Earth.
Now, something has gone terribly wrong and the caretaker computer of Odin, (planet #0326) has spontaneously reprogrammed itself. Instead of serving humans and sending minerals to Earth, it seems its new mission is to slaughter humans and make minerals of Earth.
The corrupted caretaker, calling itself “Mittgard,” has declared war on all humanity. His mechanical army of “AI Drones” is headed toward Earth,and he has equipped them with a ray that will render the strategic computers and weapons of the United Earth Army inoperative. As a result, wherever the army has tried to intercept the AI Drones, they have suffered total defeat.
As luck would have it, a xeno-archealogy team working on Ragnarok (planet#1562) has just made a most fortuitous find. Among the ruins of an alien civilization, a battle machine has been unearthed. Because of its alien design and construction, this battle machine is not affected by the Mittgard rays. The most fortunate stroke is that it is equipped with a device that allows it to reprogram some AI Drones and use them against Mittgard’s forces.
After taking possession of the Ragnarok battle machine, The United Earth Army has called on its number one flying ace, YOU, to rid the universe of the menace posed by Mittgard.

That’s the Story, taken from the manual.

Once we have left the usual adjustments screen behind us and have pushed away the auto-pause function, a sparse intro awaits us, in which we only see the title screen. Here, we can choose between Game Start, Config and Brightness. While I probably don’t need to say much about the first and last menu options, in the Config menu, there are the following setting options: Degree of difficulty from 1 (easy) to 3 (hard) as well as 2 different joypad configurations.

In Vertical Force, unlike most other scrolling shooters, your ship has an energy bar, so you’re not out of action after one hit. The bar can also be replenished by special Shield Drones, but more on that later. The actual gameplay takes place in a classic, vertically scrolling 2D surface. However, thanks to the VB’s 3-D capabilities, you have the opportunity of moving your spaceship in two levels. This means that you can switch back and forth between a higher and a lower level by pressing the A button, so the programmers of Hudson Soft found a nice way of integrating a 3-D flair into this game. This back and forth between the levels is used throughout the entire game. For example, there are sections where, due to the level structure, you can only move in the lower or upper level. Also, the bosses behave very skillfully, so a constant, tactical changing of the level is of great importance for the actual gameplay.

You begin the game with a simple, puny standard shot. Then, as extras, you can pick up Laser, Wide Shot, and Shield. While the Laser only shoots forward, you can fire with the Wide Shot in all directions. If you collect a Shield, then you’ll have a protection against enemy attacks in front of your nose. Each of these extras can be built up to Level 3 – meaning e.g. that the Level 3 Shield flies around you, in order to provide more protection. The Level 1 Wide Shot fires two meager shots forward and one backward. Level 3, however, delivers three forward and two backward.

A very important point is the collecting of and tactics with so-called “AI Drones,” types of extra spaceships with their own shots – known, for example, from the R-Type titles. There are Laser Drones, Wide Shot Drones and Shield Drones. The latter slowly fills up your life energy again, if you are not fighting. The Drones can be increased just like the normal weapons. Very interesting is the aspect that you can recall the Drones at any time and can also substitute them – meaning, in plain English, if you, for example, have picked up a Laser Drone and a Wide Shot Drone, then you can determine which Drone is to be active for you by using the right control pad. If you don’t need a Drone at the moment, then you can withdraw it, thereby recovering the energy of the Drone, which decreased due to enemy fire. You can, however, also let a Drone explode and, thus, release an enormous explosion, after which, of course, the Drone is past. The Drones can be steered automatically by using the Select button, so that they are always in the level other than the one you are in, or you can also let them fly before you manually, always in the same level in which you find yourself.

The graphics are well done. Very sharply drawn textures, brilliant backgrounds (especially in the last level) and very well done 3-D cutscenes before a new level leave nothing to be desired. The music is, in my opinion, very well done. It sets no new standards, but it also doesn’t get on your nerves in any way and fits the game. The feel of the game is unique. I must also say that I am a fan of shoot ’em ups, but even non-fans of this genre should get their money’s worth. The steering is smooth as silk, and you never loose control of your spaceship. Unfortunately, I must also say for this game that the scope of the game is, once again, too small for my taste. There are, unfortunately, only a meager 5 levels. A few extra levels or a Score Attack Mode would have remedied this situation. Still a highly recommended game, which in direct comparison to its only 2-D shooter competition, “Space Invaders Virtual Collection,” clearly emerges as the winner.

Solid old school 2-D shooter with nice ideas, crisp music and just that good old shooter-feeling. But it’s not only for shooter fans, and with the relatively low purchase price, it’s an absolute must buy!

8 / 10

Rated: Jan 08, 2004 • 21:45