Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hawk F-123

~ HAWK F-123 ~
Pack-in Video / Make Software
Super CD-ROM

Hawk is more of a, uh, "normal" shooter than Deep Blue (Pack-in Video's legendary underwater blaster and greatest hit). I'd say it loosely compares in feel to Aero Blasters, which is certainly normal (and very good at that). But Hawk doesn't look normal, as almost all of its sprites are extremely flat. Your craft is flat, your beams and projectiles are flat, your enemies are flat, and everything is pretty darn small at that.

But the backgrounds are a much more impressive story. There's plenty of parallax to be found here, and while not every level looks gorgeous (Stage 4's sea and sky are as plain as can be), Stage 3's dark clouds and Stage 5's twilight city are nothing short of beautiful. It's too bad that most of these nice backdrops scroll by so slowly, making the game feel less intense than it really should; but hey, I always get psyched up when Stage 6's subway tour suddenly picks up speed at its halfway point. The mostly upbeat soundtrack does a better job supporting the action than does the slow scrolling, as it features a jazzy tune to back the aforementioned city sequence and a title-screen track strangely reminiscent of the Castlevania series's "Beginning."

So Hawk makes up for squashed sprites with attractive parallax and catchy music, but then, a lot of people don't mind the graphics and music in Deep Blue either, citing gameplay as the area in which DB "stumbles." Well, Hawk will keep you on your guard, to be sure. Enemies attack from every direction: bombs rain down on you from above, ship cannons target you from below, choppers glide in from behind, and standard craft utilize the old-fashioned head-on approach.

Be warned that your weaponry may seem fairly meek at first. If you're to succeed (and have fun with the game), you'll have to find armaments you're comfortable with and strengthen them while making good strategic use of your auxiliary equipment (especially the somewhat-rare shields, which not only protect you but also allow you to plop your craft atop enemies [even bosses] and quickly demolish them). Once my laser reaches maximum strength and I grab some homing missiles along with an option or two, I'm pretty much unstoppable--and I'm also having a lot of fun. The only grievance I have at that point is that the stages are a bit too long.

There are sure to be some folks who give up on Hawk quite quickly because of the small, flat sprites and initially weak weaponry. Those who persist long enough to turn their craft into an aerial wrecking machine should discover action, music, and background art that'll make the game worthwhile. Another warning--the last stage is very tight and very tough. But at least we get a "real" ending, which isn't the case in a certain other Pack-in gem I can think of.

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