Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Splendor Blast II (Arcade)

So, you remember the early 90s, when the first big 3D arcade games were coming out? Virtua Fighter, Virtua Racing, and so on? It's shameful to say it now, but at the time, I wasn't impressed. Since I was a poor kid who couldn't afford a Saturn or 32X, and lived in some podunk village with no arcade, I only ever saw still screenshots of these games, that looked like a bunch of ugly boxes. Obviously, yers later, I saw these games in motion and was made to be ashamed of my thoughts and actions. I clearly didn't learn anything, though, as upon seeing stills of Splendor Blast II, I thought it looked like just another 80s shooting game with ugly low resolution graphics. Then I actually played it, and it turns out I was wrong on many fronts: it's actually an innovate futuristic racing game that looks amazing in motion, and the backgrounds look that way because it uses a kind of pre-mode 7 rotation effect to fake 3D!

This game was actually never released, though it is finished, and we can only play it thanks to Shoutime getting ahold of a copy and dumping the ROM, and we should all be thankful for that, as it really is a great game. It's pretty much as you'd expect from a futuristic racing game: spaceships instead of cars, racers risking life and limb, interfering space monsters and a little bit of shooting, as well as that old chestnut, the "fuel gauge that serves as a combined health bar and time limit." You race through the stages at high-speed, dodging obstacles and overtaking your opponents. The latter half of each stage will also let you shoot to destroy obstacles and aliens, though not your opponents, who will manage to avoid getting hit every time (though you can use this to your advantage by getting them out of the way). At the end of each stage, you get a bonus based on which position you finished in, how quick you were (as long as you finished in under a minute) and just a bonus for finishing. You also get some of your fuel back, at a rate which seems to be directly tied to how large your bonuses were.

It really is a game ahead of its time in a few ways. Obviously, there's the graphics, which look great in motion. Not only are they super-fast, but the psuedo-3D effect looks really cool as well, with some parts being especially good, like the lava stage with has columns of flame shooting out of firepits, like something from the hellish planet Apokolips in Jack Kirby's Fourth World. There's also the fact that you are actually racing against opponents. Though the game won't end if you place low at the end of a stage, the bearing that your placement has on the energy you get back would severely hamper your chances of surviving the next stage. But the fact that it keeps track at all is something to talk about, as most racing games in 1985 pitted you purely against the clock, with other racers only there to give you a points bonus when you pass them (though SBII does that too, of course).

The fact that this game was never released is bizarre to me. It's obviously a complete game, and not only is it a great one, but it's also an innovative one that's years ahead of its time. The only possible explanation I can come up with is that maybe Alpha Denshi saw SEGA's Super Scaler games and thought that their vertically-scrolling effort looked old hat in comparision? Anyway, now that it's available for everyone to play, I strongly recommend that you do so as soon as possible.

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