Genre: Shmup Developer: Telenet Publisher: Renovation Players: 1 Released: 1990
Talk about cult classic. Gaiares joins the rank with Gunstar Heroes as one of the most loved, yet most ignored games on the Genesis. Talk to most die-hard shooter fans, and they’ll mention Gaiares with a tone of passion. Though I really don’t think it’s THAT good, there are more than enough reasons to signify this as a classic (and also some reason to WHY it was largely passed over.)
There’s actually a small storyline, as told through an anime-style intro and ending (although no other time through the point of the game.) An evil terrorist group named Gulfer (any relation to Gofer from Gradius 2?) is going to take over the planet Earth to make weapons. The planet of Leezaluth sends a warning… either you must destroy Gulfer or the sun will have to be sent supernova to stop their menace. Uneager to save their dying planet, the people of Earth take off to settle somewhere else. However, one pilot (named Dan Dare, seemingly named out of a Saturday morning cartoon) wants to give it a shot. With the help of a native Leezaluth inhabitant named Alexis (and their powerful TOZ technology, I’ll get to that later) set out to destroy the evil queen of Gulfer. It’s not impressive, but it’s a good attempt.
The most innovative thing about Gaiares is the aforementioned TOZ system. It’s a little satellite that shadows your ship and acts a little bit like the pod from R-Type. It can be used to block shots and will also provide additional firepower. However, its main function is to steal weapons from enemies. With a press of the C button, the TOZ will shoot forward, latch onto an enemy, copy its weapon data and return to your ship, with a new weapon! This is extremely cool, being able to take the powers of enemy craft. What’s even more, if you keep using the TOZ on the same type of enemy, the weapon will grow more powerful. There’s your standard Vulcan, but there’s tons more cool powers, like homing lasers, missiles, wide beams, spread blades. There’s even a hidden weapon in the game (fire the TOZ without hitting anything six times, then latch onto any other enemy.) This is more than just extremely cool, it just ROCKS! Your ship also has bombs that fire from the bottom (and top, with a power-up). You can also get a shield from the normal power-up orbs, positioned at various places throughout the levels.
Other than that, Gaiares is pretty much your typical shooter, left-to-right scrolling. And not only that, but it’s VERY tough. The screen is absolutely filled with ships, projectiles and lasers. If that wasn’t enough, you don’t pick up where you left off when you die. You get sent back, far. While there are a few checkpoints in each level, they are few and far between (especially considering that the levels ARE quite long…there are eight total.) Usually after you kill a mid-boss, there’s a checkpoint, and one right before the main boss (so you don’t get sent back to the beginning if you die there) but otherwise, you’ll be spending lots of time playing sections over and over. I know some people are bound to be enormously frustrated by this…make one small misjudgment, and you’re sent back about three or four minutes to so, with one less life (you get five ships, and four continues.) If you have patience, then you’ll eventually get used to the way the games work. Many times you’ll have to figure out what the best weapon for the area is, where the shield is (there’s usually one in each area) and where the fast enemies appear so you can avoid this. Of course, this is a cruel shock for those hoping to race through Gaiares with guns blazing. It won’t happen.
The levels aren’t anything to go wild over (outer space, asteroid field, ice/underwater level, more space bases, a level where you fight old bosses, stuff like that.) There are a few interesting moments throughout, like outracing the gravity of several blacks holes and dashing through a set of guillotines (??). However, the bosses are pretty interesting. The second level guardian is a huge mermaid that lives inside of a clam, the third one is the Grim Reaper (the first I’ve ever seen him in shooter, despite his rampant recurrences in Castlevania and other action titles), and another boss is a huge sword and shield wielding mechanical warrior. It’s a far cry from the normal huge spaceship routine you usually see, but it’s refreshing.
The graphics serve their purpose well, although some of the backgrounds could be a tad less boring. This bit of drabness is made up by a really cool warp sequence at the beginning of level 3. The music’s quite good too, especially in the first level. Too bad the main gun sounds like something that an Atari 2600 would produce. Hopefully you can get rid of that weapon pretty easily.
Usually the control is OK, with three speeds to handle your ship, but there is one quibble in certain areas… in a few places where you can move vertically, the screen often moves up or down without your ship actually moving at all. This can be a pain when maneuvering through narrow passages, where steadiness is a must.
Quite honestly, the difficulty and few restart points kind of bring down the game a bit…it’s hard to ignore them when you’ll die so often. In fact, unless you’re pretty good at shooters or looking for a really good challenge, I’d advise staying away from Gaiares (unless you want to cheat with invincibility or a level select… at least you can play with the great weapon system.) The difficulty’s probably one of the reasons why this game never got as popular as it should’ve (that and America always seemed to ignore Telnet/Renovation. Pity.) Shooter fans will see the influence that this placed upon the modern day PlayStation shoot-em-up Einhander, in both the similar weapon system and gameplay. But with enough practice and a good temper, you’ll probably find a lot to like in Gaiares.
SCORE: 8 out of 10