Genre: Shmup Developer: Telenet Publisher: Renovation Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
Well, well, well. A game that has pursued me throughout my video gaming life, Vapor Trail is truly a quality top-down shooter that gets overlooked when one looks over the life span of the Genesis. The sad thing is that even though it is a good shmup, overall it is a purely mediocre game. Vapor Trail begins with the nearly authentic attract mode story setting common to most top down shooters of the period, and you have your basic “city occupied by an unidentified forces” fresh with typo. It then introduces your squadron which is built to yadda yadda, you get the point. You have upbeat music introducing you to the standard line up of three different ships to choose from: The fast but weak plane (Seylen), the medium on all fronts plane (Silph), and the slow but strong and forceful plane (Valkyrie).
You start off Vapor Trail in the place destroyed by “unidentified forces.” It appears to be the home city, with basic tanks you can blow up while flying right through main street. AWESOME! What really should be said is AVERAGE or BLAND. What is actually cool about this first level is that things come out of the background (a helicopter), and about midway through it you encounter a giant tank which has destroyed your city. Multi-layered backgrounds are something that you just don’t get from enough shmups for the Genesis.
Another thing you don’t ever receive from the majority of the other (by majority, I am basically speaking of Fireshark and Thunder Force II) shooters is something that I stated previously: Things coming out of the background. In the first level, it is the helicopter lifting off the building. Later on, a few jet planes on the runways reveal tanks, which mindlessly fire at you. Sadly, these cool effects are hindered by a dumbed-down A.I. (compared to the coin-op original). The only things that are fired at you without any predictability are missiles from the large planes or the various bosses. This is what makes this game begin to lose the â€œitâ€? factor.
What’s more than outstanding than the various vehicles and enemies inside the background is the sound. The music sounds a bit dated (absolutely PERFECT for 1991), with many dramatic guitar sounds and it just induces feelings of Iceman from Top Gun, or some intense military person from some Tom Clancy novel. The sound effects are some of the best I have ever heard, with voices saying “vapor trail” in the beginning, to “roger,” “go for the kill,” and “good shot” just to name a few.
I should note that unlike most shmups (more than I have played anyway), there are often more than one boss per level, with many minions and interesting layouts ranging from the city, to a forest and a desert. There are the usual multitude of power ups and doo-dads available, along with a neat little “spin dash” (pun intended) that makes you invulnerable for a few seconds to do a buzz bomb or two. You start with the regular three bullet shot with the medium plane, two for the small one and four for the large one. Power ups include a multi shot, a speed booster, a spread shot, homing missiles, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary, which leads to make this game just not have “it.” The lack of “it factor” is the main detractor of this title in so many different facets.
Vapor Trail just has a few things that are semi-irritating that keep it from being an outstanding game. There just really isn’t anything that comes forth that makes this game any better (or different for that matter) than the best of the shooters the Genesis has to offer. When you come down to it, this is still just another shooter to add to the library, just because of that missing “it” factor to propel it into elite territory. I still say that even with the lack of the “it” factor, this is one of the best fighter plane shooters available, but Fireshark and Thunder Force II are also great games as well. And with a subtitle like “Hyper Offence Formation,” how can you go wrong?