Thursday, February 19, 2009

Blazing Lazers

Compile / Hudson Soft / NEC

The advent of 16-bit game consoles was marked by the lauding of impressive graphical work, but Blazing Lazers had no need to flaunt mind-blowing visuals, as it managed to make a name for itself with its then-unmatched speed and intensity. Indeed, shooters I'd played that hailed from arcades and the NES library did little to prepare me for what Compile's incredible vert had to offer. BL's pace was frantic; its enemy onslaught, relentless. Unequipped to deal with such high-level action, I at times found there to be so much transpiring onscreen that avoiding destruction seemed an impossibility. The demolishment of my ship stock played out in such exciting fashion that the wreckage-laden experience ended up being an utterly joyful one. There were many other players who came to know that same sense of joy, and BL was ultimately anointed a Turbo classic.

Of course, it's no secret at this point that the game has flaws. Its levels are too long, and it has players drift along through patches of dead space far too often. But I will say this: during its most dangerous stretches (the most harrowing of which are to be experienced in stages 7, 8, and 9), BL is more intense and thrilling than any other old-school vertical I've ever played. Yes, this is a seminal, dawn-of-16-bit blaster that's more exciting than the down-the-road likes of Sapphire, Spriggan, Sylphia, Nexzr, and Soldier Blade. It crushes all of them.

And it gets a bum rap as being an "easy" shooter, as its last few levels are genuinely tough. Area 7 is wild with its projectile counts, Area 8 fills the screen with its bubbles-and-beasts assault, and Area 9 sends enemies at you from every which way before presenting you with a string of large, vicious adversaries.

While it does take some time for BL's difficulty to ramp up significantly, don't for a minute believe that the early levels are utter throwaways. Area 3, with its bullet-spewing, pod-topped towers; Area 4, with its oddly allied brain beasts and eyeball creatures; and Area 5, with its pyramid-peak turrets and star-shot-blasting moai heads, all have more than enough action to keep most players constantly entertained. Only Area 6, with its dancing small-fry, seems like something of a waste, but good playing and smart icon snatching during that strip can set you up for success in the tougher stretches yet to come. The first two levels are space-outpost fare that, while having you deal with a fair share of adversarial activity, can drag on a bit, but the music is so amazing in both areas that I love playing through them anyway.

Actually, the game features awesome tunes from beginning to end, with intense rock numbers in stages 1, 4, 7, and 9; a beautiful flute-produced Area 2 melody; and cool abstract material such as the bubble level's dirge. And few other tunes get me quite as pumped up as BL's title-screen theme does.

As far as I'm concerned, Blazing Lazers still has that magic (not to mention the coolest shoot-'em-up weapon ever in Field Thunder), and after all these years, it still stands as my favorite vertical shooter for the TG-16.

Wreck steel contraptions and biobeasts alike.

Early bosses and midbosses fall rather easily...

...but the enemy really starts to mean business later on.

The pace picks up significantly once you reach Area 3.

Take on moai heads and a two-headed rock-dragon during the desert stage.

Field Thunder works well for annihilating the surprisingly robust bubbles. Actually, I stick with FT for most areas because it's powerful and it looks cool (which, of course, is extremely important)...

...but the other guns come in handy in certain situations. Wave-beam fire is faster and contains fewer gaps than slow-wending Thunderbolts, making it useful for disposing of Area 6's small, quick enemies, while Ring Blaster is invaluable in Area 9, where sneaky adversaries attack your flanks.

Witness the bizarre progression of the final battle.

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