Saturday, 21 March 2015

Andorogynous (MSX)

Obviously, the title is a mistransliteration of the word "androgynous" from English in Japanese and then back again. But since there's no obvious gender-related themes in the game, I'll just assume that the developers were just going for a word that sounded sciencey and biological and this is the one they went with.

Anyway, the game's a vertically scrolling shooter with two twists: the scrolling goes down instead of up, and the player can only shoot to the left and right. The incongruity between the shooting and scrolling axes serves two purposes: the first, and most obvious is the mechanical purpose. When your enemies mainly come from above or below, having to maneuver youself to shoot them from the sides puts you at an automatic disadvantage. The second purpose is one of atmosphere: the player character's shooting range is ill-suited for their environment. Coupled with the fact that they are some kind of humanoid slowly floating down a hostile, biological pit, this helps create a feeling that the player is a fish-out-of-water, a soldier behind enemy lines in every sense.

Atmosphere is one of Adorogynous' strongest points, and the developers ( and more specifically, the artists) have really played to the MSX's strengths and weaknesses. The graphics are just detailed enough that you can see that everything around you is a living organism, including the walls and the shots your enemies fire at you, while at the same time are just vague enough to allow the player's imagination to fill in the blanks. What this does is give the impression of descending and being surrounded by a pulsating and oozing organic hell, even though a more detailed and more animated depiction of such would be beyond the host hardware.

The game itself is fun to play, though it is also brutally, unforgivingly difficult. I've completed Mushihimesama Futari on a single credit, but even after hours of play and dozens of attempts, I've yet to even see the second boss of Andorogynous. In the interest of fairness, I should point out that it's a testament to the game's quality that I even bothered to try so long and so hard before giving up. There's a couple of specific flaws that make the game even harder than its level design intends, too. Firstly, the power-ups tend to appear in the same places, but whih power-ups appear is totally random. In one particularly absurd case, the game started the second stage by giving me two extra lives. Secondly, there's an old bugbear typical of a shooting game this old, the "slippery slope" of losing all one's power-ups on death as well as being sent back to a checkpoint, meaning the loss of one life makes progress incredibly difficult. Finally, there's a weird bug I found. The best weapon power-up is the 2-way/3-way shot offered by a white letter L. Collecting once gives you 2-way shots, collecting twice gives 3-way.Collecting a third, however, demotes the player back to a single stream of shots.

In conclusion, I can only really recommend Andorogynous if you're looking for a true challenge. It is a good game, that' high in quality in most respects, but like I said, it's brutally, insanely hard.

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