Monday, March 16, 2009

SideArms Special

NEC Avenue / Capcom

Although I like the HuCard version of SideArms well enough, I was in no rush to acquire Special. I was pretty sure the red book audio would prove to be well produced, but the chip's tunes are better than adequate as they are, and I didn't count on the new "Before Christ" mode (which adds elements to and alters aspects of the game as it was presented on card) offering much more than appeal as a novelty. Well, the CD soundtrack is indeed fine--no surprises there. The BC game, on the other hand, actually did astonish me by markedly outdoing the "Standard" mode (which emulates the chip version) in most respects.

BC's visuals are a treat for people like me who find the graphics in HuCard SideArms to be simplistic and washed out. Everything here seems a bit bigger, a little more detailed, and much brighter.

Weapon switching in BC occurs the old-fashioned way--automatically upon the nabbing of an icon. No longer must you pause the action to make a change in arms. Even better, BC starts you back at a checkpoint each time an enemy takes you out. This may seem like an odd thing to praise, as instant respawning is generally preferable to being sent back a ways, but lives tend to run out quickly in Standard due to enemies that unfairly park themselves right where your character reappears after death. BC eliminates the problem and hosts fewer "cheap parts" in general. Snake-like enemies, infamous for their relentlessness in chip-based SA, are present in BC but not nearly as nasty.

The most significant alteration to the old formula comes in the form of a recast boss crew. While Standard makes you face the same few big guys over and over again, BC presents you with a fresh opponent at the conclusion of every stage. I wish these new fellows were capable of performing more than one type of attack each, but some of them do require a bit of strategizing and even chicanery on your part, not to mention efficient use of your new charge-laser cannon.

Now, there are some things about BC that I don't particularly like. It does allow you to acquire option pods, but the alpha craft that one could merge with in the original is no longer present. The drone-augmented form was the most distinct element of the game on chip and seems like it should be regarded as an essential part of the whole SideArms experience. Also, for some reason, the game powers you down completely at the beginning of each level (save for Round 10, the final battle). This seems completely unnecessary and quite stupid to me.

Those are minor concerns, though, considering all that BC does right. SideArms fans simply must try it, and even those who don't enjoy the chip game might find a lot to like in it.

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