What do you do if you're not much of a creative mind, but still want to make games? You clone those which you like. Which is why after The Great Giana Sisters and, we got . The first of the three not resulting in a lawsuit, although the likeness of Metroid was once again striking. Though probably “far enough” removed this time. Because on closer inspection, the game played rather differently anyway, mostly just taking stylistic inspiration from .
What surely must have helped was that it came at the right time. Its lead platform, the C64, was already of well advanced age. Meaning developers had figured out by then how to squeeze everything out of it. Which certainly succeeded: being greeted by a digitized speech sample (“Another day, another try, but remember: shoot or die! Hahahaha!”), followed by a nice SID tune was something, even if not yet groundbreaking.
Though then, seeing the eight way scrolling at 50 frames per second left an ultra-smooth impression and many mouths open in awe. In spite of a dozen large levels (split into five “worlds”), all these wonders fit on one floppy disk. Well, unless you happened to get your hands on one of the cracked versions which were forced to spread it out to two due to the unusual packing method used.
From a game design perspective, it was the level layout which built the game's legacy. Unlike in the bulk of run & gun games,players could forget about the assumption of the level exit being located straight to the right. Rather, they are small mazes, packed full of optional secrets. Discovering which makes for a lot of the appeal.
The worlds don't just look graphically distinct, but new gameplay elements are introduced gradually. Diverging from, there is usually no need to backtrack. In spite of everything, they are finally linear in their nature, even if using all directions. Progress is therefore a constant forward movement. Spelling some urgency implicitly, in line with the time limit per level.
Bosses appear regularly and they are all of the expected giant size. Some of the designs are certainly something to behold. Especially the giant robot fist became instantly legendary, associated with the series to this day. Even some regular enemies would easily qualify as special bosses in other games from a graphical design point of view.
Unfortunately, they fail to impress on the same level in gameplay terms. The bosses all rely on the same attack pattern, that being semi-randomly moving around and trying to smother the player. Which, unfortunately, is in any case the very same tactic used by all regular enemies as well. Nobody expects complex artificial intelligence in such a game, but a little more effort would have been appreciated.
Some levels can surely be considered stronger than others. Most strikingly, two suddenly have the player strapping on a jetpack and flying vertically. Though even then, the sprite refuses to point its gun vertically, leading to a weird situation of travelling upwards/downwards, but being unable to shoot enemies or obstacles in that direction. I can't say I'm a fan of those stages. Plus, even in the regular ones, there are just too many sections of exact jumping, stacked platforms etc.
The game is, “of course”, subject to the usual doubled edged sort of difficulty level. While initially quite fair, from world three on, the screen is routinely filled up with all sorts of dangers which make it impossible to further progress for past me as well as current me. A fate both mes share with the bulk of players, I fear. If you even get that far.
Finally, the controls certainly get a lot out of the regular one-button joystick. Beyond running, jumping and regular shooting, the game allows for activation of a 360° turnable laser shot, transforming into an indestructible spiked wheel (and back), another special force attack left and right as well as dropping bombs. Although this enables most actions to be triggered with the joystick, occasionally reaching towards the keyboard is necessary, nevertheless. Users of the popular Competition Pro sticks are at a disadvantage, unfortunately, as that one requires one hand on the stick and the other to hold the base and operate the buttons.
In the big picture, those downsides remain of minor importance, however.remains one of the most fondly remembered games on the C64, and indeed, its legacy is largely deserved, because this legacy does revolve mostly around its technical achievements. It is, however, thankfully not just an impressive tech demo, but indeed a mostly well-designed game. Showing that after all, even though they may not have had very original ideas, the designers were quite capable of adapting something previously seen. Understanding and building on it, instead of mimicking it only in superficial ways without grasping what had made those originals good.
And anyway, from player, perspective, a game similar to previous ones isn't necessarily a bad thing. If something is good, why not have more of it?, at least within the European home computer ecosystem, managed to carve out its own niche, inspire its own fanbase, for a brief period of time in the early 1990s.
Thehype did not last all that long, however. Although ports and offshoots to the game consoles rising in popularity fast shortly after the first game were made, they had a hard time even finding publishers on those ecosystems and never made a strong mark there. The series really stayed locked to its home computer roots and it died with them.