Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Final Blaster


Final Blaster is a maddeningly inconsistent shooter. It supplies you with a sweet charge shot that takes the form of a phoenix, and it gives you plenty of options regarding the management of your companion pods (you can utilize them as stationary frontal shields, have them trail or rotate around you, or set them off as smart bombs), but your craft's main gun blasts and auxiliary laser beams are not terribly interesting. The soundtrack scores winners with its Stage 2, Stage 6, and final boss themes (energetic, ominous, and chillingly dramatic, respectively) but wastes time with plenty of forgettable numbers as well. And while the last boss's cocoon-lined lair looks very cool, the generic space-and-base scenes that precede it do not.

Although the last level is the only one that makes a good impression visually, some of the others fare well conceptually, particularly Stage 5 with its gauntlets of mechanical pincer claws and rotating barriers and Stage 6 with its ancient ruins and strange sketch-beasts. Unfortunately, there's also Stage 3 with its tiny cannons that look like randomly etched lines and circles.

FB's erraticism extends to the lineup of enemies it sends at you. Stage 4 stars neat gun-toting robo-troops who leap from the backdrop into the fray, but they're accompanied in battle by lots of little riffraff villains that make no mark at all.

It's the same story with the bosses. Among the memorable ones are a multiform vegetation abomination and a duo of scythe tossers flanking a bullet-spewing, many-faced cranium; among the throwaways are a junk serpent and some cheap string-riding circle thing.

While the game obviously has many highs and lows, its "difficulty system" is ultimately what will make or break it for most shooter fans. The system judges your performance in one stage and then sets a new bar for you prior to the next, with as many as four variations for each board. Make it to the high road and you'll definitely have a challenge on your hands--an occasionally irritating one at that. Suffer a wipeout and your post-continue takeoff will see you back in easy land.

And that really pissed me off. The difference between the Level 1 and Level 4 settings is vast; get demoted and you'll find that your enemies have had all their speed, toughness, and aggressiveness drained out of them. I never want games to feature bullshit training-wheels systems like this one, and for players who do want to take it easy, there should be a traditional mode select presented at the outset. The Level 4 challenges are not insurmountable, but they do require practice, and it's hard to put in that practice when the game insists on treating you like a baby; such a system does not encourage learning and improvement. Nexzr, Tatsujin, and Raiden didn't knock me down to some Fisher Price kid setting when I first failed at them; they kept kicking my ass until I honed my skills and reaped rewards by conquering them the old-fashioned, true-warrior way. Final Blaster can be rewarding, but its stupid challenge-adjustment system makes it a bitch to stick with.

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