Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Advanced Spanner-X -Endless Fire- (X68000)

The title might be bizarre, but unfortunately, the setting of this game is fairly standard, old-fashioned space shooter stuff. You're a spaceship, you shoot other spaceships. Luckily, however, it is a bit more interesting from a mechanical standpoint, and though it's a Japanese game on a system that was only ever released in Japan, it does make me wonder if the developers were fans of European-developed shooting games, like Xenon 2 et al.

There's a couple of reasons I say this. The first is that the game does suffer from that most stereotypical EuroSTG bugbear, lots and lots of bulletsponge enemies. The second, and most interesting, is that rather than your ship having one weapon that gradually powers up, or the ability to change weapons by collecting different items, you instead select your weapon before each stage. A lot of European shooting games have weapon shops for changing and upgrading one's weapon, though Spanner-X's system is a little different from that, too: you're given a selection of weapons from which to choose at the start of each stage, and the twist is that each can only be chosen once.

I guess the point of this is that there's a weapon that best matches each stage, and the player discovers the best order to use them through trial and error. I'm putting a lot of faith in the design skills of the developers with this theory, but I think it works out. There's definitely weapons that seem perfect for the first few stages, at least. It's not a system I like, but at least they're trying something different, I guess? And really, the biggest problem with this game is that first point: the enemies can all take a fair few shots, and they're mostly really small sprites too, so you constantly feel underpowered, which isn't a lot of fun, to be honest.

There is another, more interesting mechanical idiosyncracy in there too, though! Rather than giving you a health bar or a set number of lives, you're given a number of energy units, which not only act as hitpoints, but also temporary power-ups. You lose a unit of energy if you get hit, and you can also press the second button on your controller to expend a unit to power up your weapon for five seconds. Either way, when there's no energy left, it's game over. It's an interesting and unusual system, but even your powered up weapons still feel weak, so making the sacrifice never really feels worthwhile.

There's some other little notes to say about this game, like how the music is excellent (though this being both a shooting game and on the X68000, you could probably have predicted that), and the weird practice of how by default, the score's only displayed between stages, and you have to go into the options screen to turn on score display during play. Though it's an interesting and fairly original game, I can't really recommend Advanced Spanner X Endless Fire, as playing it just isn't fun or exciting. A disappointment.

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