Sunday, July 25, 2010

Macross 2036

~ MACROSS 2036 ~
Super CD-ROM

This is one of the PC Engine games that I made daily supplication for back in the TG-16's "heyday." Rumors constantly abounded about 2036 making the trip overseas, but of course, it never did. So I had to wait a number of years (ten, to be precise) before finally getting my hands on it. And once I finally did obtain it, I played it over and over again, pulling off one-life completions, conquering its various difficulty levels, and reveling in its intense action and sweet aesthetic elements. It continued to earn my regard to the point where I viewed it as my favorite shooter of all time.

I'm a Robotech/Macross fan, have been for many years, and playing a Macross-based game presented in the manner in which this one is was like a dream come true for me. Much of the music was lifted straight from the great Super Dimension Fortress: Macross soundtrack, providing fans of the show with quite an aural treat and contributing to the impeccable atmosphere of the adventure more than any other individual element. The tracks are dynamic: the abrupt change in tempo exhibited midway through Mission Five’s theme is more reminiscent of Tool tunes than it is of Robotech‘s straightforward riffs. The soundtrack reaches its apex during Mission Two, where it starts off in explosive fashion to accompany the heroine's journey through an asteroid field littered with Zentradi attackers. Not only does it rock and get me pumped up to the extreme, but it's actually scored to the action, matching up dynamically with the events onscreen. Just as the explosive track settles into a beautiful, melodic interlude, the game holds back attackers and serves up a pretty sight of red asteroids dancing about the playfield. Superlative design and coordination here.

The situations that you'll find yourself in, from blasting Zentradi mecha on a rubble-laden planet Earth to playing a protective role during a desperate outer-space offensive, are so faithful to original show concepts that they'll make you feel as if you're participating in an actual episode if you're a fan (and what fan didn't wish to be a part of this universe?). Indeed, with its abundance of animated cinemas and obvious focus on plot, 2036 comes off as a segment of the show that you can take part in rather than as a mundane sidescrolling shooter.

Knowledge of Japanese is hardly necessary to feel right at home with the game’s startlingly true-to-the-source-material atmosphere and imagery. No language barrier can diminish the impact of scenes depicting enormous laser cannons obliterating entire armadas or gigantic vessels smashing into one another.

Of course, amidst all of the animated festivities, there is a game to participate in, and as a pure sidescrolling shoot ‘em up, 2036 ranks among the best. With the press of a single button, you'll have your jet spewing forth lasers while releasing both rising and plummeting missiles. Remember to make optimal use of these devastating weapons by firing constantly and covering as much ground as possible, as you never know when or where you’ll reveal a one-up Minmay icon (cute stuff) or a force field that'll grant you temporary invincibility. And to help you deal with your speedy adversaries, your Valkyrie comes equipped with a radar system that alerts you when you’re in line with an oncoming enemy and lets you know from which direction said enemy will be making its attack.

In addition to standard lasers and missiles, 2036 presents you with an impressive fourteen different auxiliary weapons to make use of. You’ll have to earn the right to carry them into battle, however. Points are awarded each time you take down a Zentradi attacker; these points are used in determining which brands of secondary weapons will be available to you following each stage.

Perform at a high level and you’ll be trusted with the more explosive devastators in battle, some of which are quite original in design. One impressive arms system takes the form of dual cannons stationed right behind your ship; the cannons themselves provide protection from enemies attacking the rear of your vessel as they spew a veritable rainbow of spreading missiles at your adversaries.

Your decision as to which weapon to take into battle (you can use only one secondary gun per level) can prove to be critical. Different strips call for distinct strategies; cannons that appeared to be useless during early phases of the adventure can become tools of destruction if utilized properly later on. Initially, you might not find much use for a satellite that hovers above your ship and fires lasers towards the bottom of the screen, but during Mission Five’s descent into the enemy’s labyrinthine factory, said satellite becomes a godsend. Your choice in weaponry will also play a vital role during Mission Four’s all-out-war scene. Glance at the background and you’ll witness an incredible battle taking place between Earth’s forces and the Zentradi invaders. With enemies attacking from every which way, it’s a good idea to make use of a particular spread weapon that hurls fireballs at various angles all around your ship.

Of course, the time will come when, if you’re a skilled-enough player, you’ll wish to move on to a higher difficulty level (the game offers four settings in all). At that point, you’ll have to scrap your previous strategies. Accept the challenge offered by Hard mode, and those spheres of fire will be too weak to take care of the enemy hordes. A powerful needle-thin laser can get the job done--but its severe lack of range will make fancy flying on your part a requirement. Crank 2036's difficulty up a notch and its aerial wars become as hellishly intense as those in any other Thunder Force-style shooter.

The elements of speed and strategy at work here are complemented by fantastic superficials. Graphically, Mission Three is awe inspiring, with a line-scrolling moon surface reflecting the action in its icy, crystalline blanket. Be wary of the crystal structures that protrude from the terrain (and be sure to sneak down between said structures in search of hidden treasures!).

And the point at which you'll realize that you’re immersed in a truly special experience will likely come during one of the game’s dramatic boss encounters, when your Valkyrie finally switches to its Battroid mode, requiring that you rotate the machine and aim its endless streams of shots. With a little practice, you'll be spinning and shooting as efficiently and effortlessly as Macross's mega-pilots ever had--which will be necessary if you're to defeat the Zentradi's incredible boss behemoths (who are introduced with fanfare at the beginnings of their respective levels).

Perhaps the concern exists that all of these superlatives are being hurled about by a long-time Robotech fan with a supersubtle eye. Rest assured that with its stirring soundtrack, seamless integration of strategic elements, and intense higher difficulty modes, Macross 2036 is worth any shooter fan’s time. Those familiar with the series will get the most out of the experience, however, as even the most bitter curmudgeon will recall and revisit the feelings that accompanied each viewing of the classic television show. For the saga's most loyal fans, the time has finally come to take flight and earn your wings.

Just as you’ve always wanted to.

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