Genre: Shmup Developer: Zyrinx Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1 Released: 1993
Late in the life of the Genesis came an obscure game known as Sub-Terrania. At first glance it may look like just another generic space shooter, but looks can be deceiving, as it didn’t take place in space, nor was it anything like any space shooter to come before it. Sub-Terrania was decidedly different, though whether or not this was a good thing is still open for debate.
An alien invasion squad has attacked a subterranean mining colony that’s vital for the survival of humanity. All human weapons have proved ineffective against the aliens, except for those mounted on a prototype fighter. Being the hotshot pilot that you are, you take off to single handedly smear some alien innards all over the mine shafts. Sounds like the average space shooter so far, right?
Well, it’s not. Though this is a shooting game, you have a lot more to worry about than just the pesky aliens. Since you’re not in open space, you also have to contend against the rigors of gravity that’s constantly pulling you towards the ground. You have a limited shield, indicated by the ship-shaped life icons in the lower-left corner of your screen that fill up and turn red when you’re hit. When they’re completely full, your shield fails and your ship explodes. Moreover, hitting the floor or any other part of the subterranean landscape will drain your shield incredibly fast. It’s not all bad though, as you’re able to land properly and this becomes one of the most important features in the game, making it reminiscent of the PC classic Lunar Lander. If you land too hard or too fast you’ll do damage to your ship, so finesse is needed. Landing becomes necessary to pick up fuel and shield restore pods which brings us to the next major threat in this game, fuel.
As you fight gravity, your little ship wastes a lot of gas, and if you run out you’ll find your ship scattered in pieces on the ground in a spectacular wreck. This makes Sub-Terrania even more strategic, as you’re forced to use fuel pods only when needed since they’re placed strategically levels, and you’re usually only given enough of them per level to survive. This causes a lot of trial and error the first time you play to a level which may frustrate some gamers but also forces the player to use gravity to their advantage and allow it to carry their ship down passages without use of thrusters, to conserve fuel. The controls and the gravity will take a while to get used to, and thankfully there’s a much-needed practice area to use for getting the hang of it.
With all of these issues working against you (plus the aliens trying to shoot you down), Sub-Terrania is already incredibly difficult. But let’s also add a variety of mission objectives that range from rescuing stranded miners and returning them to your base, to destroying certain structures, or even hunting memorable bosses like a giant head with four faces. The objectives are usually pretty original and add a lot of variety to the game. They’re also extremely rewarding and give you a sense of purpose that’s not found in the usual breed of shooter. For example, one of your main objectives early on is to locate units which will be used to let your ship travel underwater in later levels where you’ll face another danger: a deadly acid that furiously eats will away your shield before you even figure out what hit you. In these later levels gravity is also heavily increased, causing the difficulty to skyrocket. One of my peeves me here is the inability to check your objectives while you’re in the mission, so paying attention to the briefings is imperative.
Your ship comes with three different main weapons so you can defend yourself from the alien horde. The weapons differ by color: orange, blue, and green; and each fires in a different pattern, which is good for different situations. You get weapons by finding colored cylinders on the ground that shift colors. Collecting the color you already have will give you an enhanced version of that weapon, while collecting a different color will switch you to the new weapon. If you let your gun rest without firing for a while your first shot will be a multidirectional blast which is good for situations where you find yourself surrounded. To supplement your firepower you can also collect missiles which are limited but cause a greater amount of damage.
Sub-Terrania‘s graphics are good but not spectacular. The subterranean mines aren’t much to look at themselves, but the explosions and other effects are fun to watch. The levels are designed admirably and there’s a lot of destroyable areas that make for some cool eye candy. The later, more organic looking levels are a bit nicer to look at but the graphics are really nothing stand-out especially, for a 1993 title. The graphics do shine in some areas however, like the game’s fantastic introduction sequence and there’s also a spinning 3D representation of your ship next to the high-score board. Some enemies are interesting looking, especially the boss characters.
The sound works just fine, with atmospheric and sometimes even creepy music that’s upbeat when it needs to be though, you’ll probably be hearing the hissing sound of your ship’s thrusters and the suitable blasts of your fighter’s guns instead. When all is said and done the sound fits the mood of the game nicely.
Sub-Terrania is an often overlooked and highly underrated title that most people will put down without even giving it a chance thanks to its steep learning curve and its difficulty. The game looks, sounds, and smells like the average shooter but as it turns out it’s more of a strategic puzzle that values piloting skills over twitch reflexes and manic shooting. The game’s worth looking into if you’re a hardcore gamer who’s bored of the usual shooter and looking for something original, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
SCORE: 7 out of 10