Genre: Shmup Developer: CRI Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1991
Every so often there comes a game that is instantly recognized as one that simply should have waited for more advanced hardware. Galaxy Force II is one such title. One glance at the Genesis version and it becomes painfully clear just how much was compromised to fit it onto a cartridge. The end result, though playable, was a pale imitation of the arcade magnificence that was the original.
The very first thing that went out the window was the actual coin-op experience itself. If you were lucky enough to play the deluxe cabinet, Galaxy Force II was an incredible ride, shifting forty-five degrees from side to side in accordance with the tilt of your ship. The awesome controls and realistic movement set it apart from many of the other shooters that filled American arcades, yet on the Genesis all that is lost, and the three-button controller does little to excite you. It controls well enough and does the job (all you really do is move and fire, a la Afterburner), yet you won’t feel any of the excitement you felt sitting in that deluxe cab. But hey, play it while sitting in a swivel chair and it should be the same, right? Ahem, yes well, moving on…
Ok, so the control has taken a hit, but so long as the visuals are the same, things might still acceptable, right? Hmm, I think you might best sit down for this one. Heck, a picture is better than a thousand words, and we have about seven thousand words worth of description with those crisp little pics to the left. As you can see, the graphics have been raped. Remember the cool scenery that whipped by in cool scaling? Gone. I bet you loved the massive towers and constructions that littered the wonderfully detailed landscapes. They’re history. All the huge sprites have disappeared, and the action has been neutered to the extent that you can now see enemies coming a mile away. The scenery no longer poses a threat either, and you won’t have to worry about outcroppings, machinery, or anything else that was a big reason for the tilting movement of the arcade unit. I guess since everything else has been removed, there was no sense in keeping the stages faithful.
That alone would make for a sub par game, but it gets worse my friends, far worse. There is no danger from the slow-flying foes that barely fire at you, and you can practically set the auto pilot and grab a sandwich while the game zips through to the end. Only the most minimal of evasive tactics is needed to successfully navigate each stage, and the speed change options only really make a difference on the highest level of difficulty.
Especially disconcerting are the stages within the enemy bases. I was awed at the arcade version’s smooth scaling as the moon gradually came closer to you and you were thrust inside. The cavernous interiors were riddled with enemy gun emplacements, and the walls themselves were as much a threat as anything that fired at you. Sadly, this is all gone on the Genesis. The tunnels are now more like the bare Death Star trench than a the inside of a planetary body, and bad guys are few and far between. The whole face of Galaxy Force II has been toned down in a way that unfortunately changes the gameplay, and this in turn ruins the whole experience. I miss the impressive waterfalls and clouds, but then, I guess it’s only one more of the many things about the original that this port is lacking. It’s not likely a casual occurrence that CRI – the same group responsible for the incredibly mediocre Afterburner III on the Sega CD – handled this job. Apparently, sparse backgrounds and environments are their specialty.
A further example of just how much Galaxy Force II taxes the Genesis hardware to the breaking point is in the sheer amount of sprite flicker present. Not only is it detrimental to the gameplay; it’s downright ugly. The screens here simply cannot convey how much flicker there is, and it gets to the point that enemy craft and their fire get lost in the swaths of invisibility that wash over the screen periodically. This isn’t a factor at all when playing through emulation, but it’s a major menace on the actual hardware.
What makes me so angry is all of this could have been avoided. Had Sega merely waited a year or two and ported the arcade game to the then-new Sega CD, it could have made the transition intact. Like Power Drift, Galaxy Force II literally screamed to be put on the CD add-on, and the biaxial rotation and scaling were seemingly tailor made for both of them. The power of the Model Y board was well within the abilities of the Sega CD, and one need only look at Core’s Soul Star to see what could have been.
I so really wanted to like Galaxy Force II. It was a favorite of mine in arcades, and the thought of it on my favorite console was more than I dared hope for at the time. I guess my friends all knew something I didn’t, as no one else expressed any interest in the home port, even though we all played the coin-op extensively. It was a bitter lesson for me, and made me all the more angry towards the lack of intelligent use for the Sega CD later on. This could have been a killer app for that system if ever there was one, and instead we are left with a half baked port that barely shows up for the race, let alone keeps pace with its more powerful sibling. At least there is the much superior Saturn version, which remedies most of the problems that plague this horrible experiment. Cold comfort to be sure, and an even colder reality.