Monday, February 23, 2009

Gate of Thunder

Red / Hudson Soft
Super CD-ROM

Gate's reputation as one of the greatest PC Engine shooters precedes it, and the list of merits to note in its favor is indeed a long one. The virtue that takes to the fore at once is the unforgettable audio. The game boasts spectacular music, from the heavy opening number and the tense Stage 2 track to the rockin' Dark City theme and the badass boss tune. Note that hard rock isn't all that's on offer here; reference the rhythmic Stage 3 tune and the somewhat eerie sixth-boss track.

In addition to featuring one of the best shooter soundtracks ever, Gate boasts some of the genre's all-time coolest level concepts. Few other blast 'em ups put you in as tight a situation as this one does in its very first strip, where you find yourself caught between the surface of a planet and the hull of a ten-screen-long starship. While many lesser shooters contain a typical "blow up a big ship piece by piece" stage, Gate has you mutilate a giant sea monster instead. And I can't think of another 16-bit sidescroller that at any point even comes close to having as much action as the insane Dark City stage, a level augmented by Megadethian riffs that make the experience of playing through it even more exciting.

With sharp visuals, dynamic explosions, bold guitar riffs, and a shades-sporting hero, Gate goes beyond "stylish" and seems to carry itself with an air of cockiness. Featuring flawless mechanics and a relentless enemy armada, it's a brash, fearless shooter that backs up its attitude with quality and substance. I've beaten the game about a million times, yet it's still lots of fun to play. A remarkable title just as enduring as it is intense, Gate has earned itself a spot among my five favorite shooters.

Starting things off with style.

The opening stage has you wreak havoc beneath an incredibly enormous starship.

Gate pits you against some very large mini-bosses, even as early as the second level.

I dig the third stage's lava-vat background, not to mention its big borer boss.

If the fourth boss can't nail you with its energy weapons, it'll resort to using its girth.

The fifth board has you destroy waves of mechanical worms and insects before taking you underwater to battle a sea monster.

While I use the earthquake weapon in most levels for its sheer destructivity, the wave beam boasts greater range and really comes in handy during the famously chaotic Dark City stage.

The enemy hits you with everything it's got during the final stretch.

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