As my brothers can tell you, my face just lights up whenever the brilliant company Pack-in Video is mentioned. But the anticipation I feel with every new Pack-in pick-up is matched in intensity by the unease I experience when forcing myself to try something by Nichibutsu (they of F1 Circus "fame"). I dreaded what the outcome would be when the two groups formed an unholy alliance, and my fears doubled upon learning that some backalley team called "Big Don" would be making this curious fellowship a full three-ring circus.
Armed F is a vertical shooter that commences with an ugly opening stage and places you in a slow clunker of a ship that seems reluctant to budge. Reluctance to budge is not good when there are numerous enemy craft and projectiles to deal with, and poor graphics are never good, so after just a few seconds of playing, I was ready to curse Nichibutsu for tainting Pack-in's record. But once I managed to make my ship sputter over a few speed-ups, things became tolerable, and tolerable turned into enjoyable while I was messing around with the game's cool weapons (flank-guarding side-shots and spreading circle beams among them). I also got a kick out of deploying my option pods to nail enemies just around the bend.
Even when you're blazing along and all powered up, Armed F isn't easy. The screen is often very crowded--not merely with enemies and projectiles but with enormous, indestructible structures and rock chunks. The game just loves to put you in tense tight spots. Death means a trip back to a checkpoint, but most of the time, it isn't incredibly difficult to get going again. With quality weaponry and a flexible option-positioning system in tow, you shouldn't find many of the game's challenges to be unfair (with one of the possible exceptions being the final boss, a cheap disappearing-then-reappearing twerp).
Despite my misgivings coming in and an inauspicious start, Armed F proved itself to be very playable and pretty darn enjoyable. It features some really catchy tunes, too. Tally another quality effort for Pack-in Video (and one apiece for Nichibutsu and "Huge Don," I suppose).
Send your option pods out to launch preemptive strikes on enemies positioned just around the corner. Be smart about this, as you sacrifice ship-side protection when sending the pods on the offensive.
You'll run into some tough, tricky enemies, including these tanks that you can destroy only by nailing their crimson weak spots. Make sure to equip a weapon handy for such a job.
The game is no marvel visually, as some stages are rather austere, but the only truly ugly one is the first (which I've spared you from viewing the worst of).
Some of the later levels do boast brighter, more interesting backdrops, but it's easy to lose sight of enemies and projectiles in the color clashes that take place.