Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gokuraku Chuka Taisen (Cloud Master)


Growing up an NES owner in a community of NES owners, I didn't enjoy much early exposure to the Sega Master System's library. Sure, there was one guy who owned an SMS, but my pals and I never played at his house; we stuck with our Castlevania and Zelda carts instead. Aside from a Golvellius here and a Miracle Warriors there, I never really felt like I was missing out on anything noteworthy; but Cloud Master was one title that had intrigued me from the start. Finally obtaining the HuCard version many years later was more than just a meager delight for me, especially since I'd learned the game had been altered and "souped up" during its transition to the PCE, ending up even more awesome than it was originally (not that anyone had ever called Cloud Master awesome to begin with, but whatever...). It reminded me right off the bat of another Taito shooter (of sorts), KiKi KaiKai, with its Far East-flavored soundtrack and area designs, bands of tiny enemies, dinky weaponry, and 8-bit-caliber "ping-ping" sound effects.

The visuals are what I like most about Cloud Master--the color choices, specifically. It seems as if everything had been drawn with pastels and then dulled down to the point where the hues appear reticent (but never washed out). CM achieves a cartoony look with an aspect of grit, which I think is pretty damn cool and not very typical. But most players will probably be more impressed by the parallax effects employed during boss battles.

The bosses are tough customers, as are their small-but-strong henchmen. To take down the lot of 'em, you'll need to make smart decisions in the weapon-selection chambers, which you gain access to after defeating lightning-bolt-hurling mini-bosses.

Even if your main shot is all powered up and you've got some nice auxiliary firepower in tow, you'll find that many of your foes can withstand severe beatings and keep on marching forward. This is where Cloud Master will prove annoying for some players. If you die late in the game (which you almost certainly will, considering the stoutness of your enemies, the abundance of incoming projectiles, and the relative largeness of your hitbox) and find yourself stripped of whatever powers you'd been wielding, your chances of advancing further may prove slim, as the monsters will shrug off your pellet fire without even a grimace. A one-life run is your best bet for winning and having fun while doing so, and to that end, I suggest acquiring the mini-cloud-guy option buddies as soon as possible. They may not provide the same level of protection as the wheel of flame or seem as cool as some of the flashier secondary shots, but their little red bullets actually pack quite a punch and can help you clear out areas quickly.

Cloud Master can be a bit irritating at times, but it ends up being a decent shooter thanks to its unusual visual elements, worthy bosses, and solid stage action. Even at its most frustrating power-stripping points, it never comes close to projecting an aura of indomitableness. The level of proficiency required for that single-try clear should be attainable for most competent players, and the enjoyment to be had when said level is reached makes those early bouts of frustration seem not so bad in retrospect.

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