Wednesday 7 April 2010

Galaxy Force (II)

I've been doing quite a bit of work for the ambitious project Sega Retro as of late, and even though I already knew more than my fair share of Sega trivia, I'm still learning facts I probably won't need to succeed in life. Between 1985 and 1992 for example, the entire department of Sega AM2 seem to have been set on flushing out psudo-3D third person shooters/racers that were reliant on hardware that could scale and rotate sprites at will. Sega made half a dozen arcade boards that take advantage of this, including the Sega X and Y Boards which couldn't do much else. Makes you wonder why it took so long for their home consoles to take advantage of this technology.

Anyway today's subject is this, Galaxy Force II. You possibly might recognise this one - it's a B-list Sega Mega Drive title, similar to the likes of Super Thunder Blade. Brilliant in the arcades, extremely watered down at home, and not particularly appealing to new users, yet it still shows up in compilations and re-releases in its Mega Drive form. Most reviewers shove Galaxy Force II on the PILE OF MEDIOCRITY, and is only brought on special occasions to make some comment about how it's not Star Fox on the SNES. Shame on them.

Initially released in 1988, Galaxy Force II is actually quite good. As Sega Ages Volume 1 on the Sega Saturn was one of the first games I've owned, I've played a lot of Sega's After Burner II over the years, a 1987 game with similar controls and goals that ran on the slightly weaker Sega X Board hardware. After Burner (and After Burner II since they're more-or-less identical) would have been extremely impressive to look at in the day, especially with the rotating arcade cabinets, but it's also insanely difficult, mostly because you can't see what's happening half the time and everyone wants your extremely weak plane dead. Galaxy Force (and Galaxy Force II since again, they're essentially the same) fixes these problems.

It's set in space, so things aren't as hectic. Its enemies aren't all fans of the heat-seeking missile and the improved graphics and much safer ship make it a lot more enjoyable. It also still had the benefit of having a crazy arcade cabinet, just with the added downside that it was one year behind After Burner. One slight annoyance? The addition of a limited fuel supply, mostly because there aren't many opportunities to fill it up. Oh and you've still got limited missiles like in After Burner... and they too don't fill up quite as often as you may want them too.

Your ship travels across numerous planets blowing stuff up. Every now and then you penetrate an enemy fortress and you find yourself indoors moving left and right to avoid walls. So a bit like Star Fox then. But wait, because Star Fox uses boring bland polygons Galaxy Force II actually looks a bit nicer. Gameplay isn't quite as fluid, but again it was five years before we had something obvious to compare it to. Should you get to the later levels, you'll realise that a world without polygons isn't quite the best world to live in, as poor collision techniques become more obvious and you find the controls aren't quite as tight as you might want them to be. It was also a world without fogging, so you're able to see the game draw the background in a choppy manner.

The music is great, surprisingly, and it's one of the few things that the Mega Drive version of the game emulates well (which this is even better considering that port was done in 1989). It's not on the same level as Space Harrier or OutRun, but it's still very good and certainly isn't dragging the game down. Like many arcade games of that era though, it's not particularly memorable. It just helps to set a scene.

I should say though as well as playing poorly on the Sega Mega Drive, Galaxy Force II was also ported to various computers that couldn't handle it too. Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum ports exist, all looking worse than the Mega Drive version. In Japan there was nicer but laggier port to the FM Towns Marty with an updated soundtrack, and as with other Sega Y Board games such as Power Drift it was released on the Sega Saturn as part of the ever growing Sega Ages series. No remixed CD soundtracks in this version though. Galaxy Force I turned up on the Sega Master System and made use of the "why wasn't this the standard" FM synthesizer add-on too. You probably shouldn't care too much about that one though.

And of course like everything else it showed up in Sega of Japan's Sega Ages 2500 series for the PlayStation 2, a collection of budget titles from Sega that were a mixture of re-releases and enhancements and annoys us all to no end that they were never released in the west. That's potentially the best way to play the game, though there are still several gameplay problems that weren't addressed. If they made a sequel and used Star Fox 64 as a reference, we could be get something magical.

The original game hasn't aged amazingly well so if you're willing to give it a shot do be warned that it may not live up to modern expectations. Some parts look really nice and detailed due to effective sprite use, while others (such as walls) simply do not work (though in most home ports the walls are just solid colours so at least it's better than that). It is amazing to think that nothing in this game is truely "3D" though, and it's even more amazing to think this was released in 1988, the same year that North American NES owners were shopping for Super Mario Bros. 2.

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