Saturday, 1 November 2014

Aurail (Arcade)

Aurail is an arcade shooting game made by Westone in 1990, with a bunch of interesting gimmicks. It also has a pretty interesting setting  and visual style, taking place in a world that seems to combine old-fashioned ornate design with futuristic technology, giving the game a slightly more unique look than the semi-steampunkish style usually used when a setting combines fantasy and sci-fi or the past and the future. A lot of love actually seems to gone into the game's visual design, with some nice big pieces of splash artwork use at various points, like the titles and continue screens. It's a shame there'll probably never be an artbook showing some more insight into it (although I'd love to be proven wrong on this. Even if someone just dug out a lavishly illustrated article from an old issue of Gamest or something, that would be nice!)

The easiest to explain out of the game's gimmicks is that there are two types of stages in the game: typical vertically-scrolling shooting game stages, and the less common first-person shooting stages, that take place in long, straight tunnels. A little more complicated, though more prevalent, since the first person stages are only occaisional distractions, are the control and power-up systems.

Along with the joystick, the player has three buttonswith which to control their walking tank. The first is a fairly traditional fire button, which when held locks the tank in place, allowing the player to shoot all around them. Before explaining the other two buttons, the power-up system must be explained: there's a power meter going up the left-hand side of the screen, which is filled a small amount when a "P" power-up is collected. There are also "D" power-ups that summon an attack drone that hovers around, following the player. The second button puts the drone into attack mode, causing it to fly around the screen, shooting enemies until the power meter is depleted. The third button activates a forcefield around the player, using a fairly hefty chunk of power. The player can have up to three forcefields active at once, each protecting from a single attack.

So it looks good, and has interesting controls, but it Aurail actually a good game? Well, it's alright. The pace is a lot slower than you might expect from an arcade shooting game, as there's no forced scrolling, and the player does need to be careful, almost tactical even, when approaching enemies, especially since the walking tank isn't really fast enough to quickly weave between oncoming bullets: it's more effective to seek positions where safety can be found for a second or two, shoot from there and then move again. It's also very, very hard. Those three shields can be worn down quicker than you might expect, and when death does come, the distance between checkpoints is truly punishing. There's harder games from this era, but Aurail is definitely not a forgiving game by a long, long way.

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