Cybernator was released in 1993 for the SNES by Konami. This is a port of the 1992 Japanese Super Famicom game called Assault Suits Valken from NCS Corporation/Masaya. While the gameplay itself is ported directly from the Japanese original, a large amount of story and dialogue was excised for the U.S. release.
The Assault Suit franchise consists of several loosely-related games:
- Assault Suit Leynos (Target Earth in the U.S.) on the Genesis/Mega Drive
- Assault Suit Leynos 2 on the Saturn (Japan only)
- Assault Suits Valken (Cybernator in the U.S. and Europe) on the SNES/Super Famicom
- Assault Suits Valken 2 on the Playstation (Japan only)
Despite the similarities – and the fact that it was published by Konami – the SNES game Metal Warriors is not related to the Assault Suit series; it was developed in the U.S by LucasArts (by the Zombies Ate My Neighbors team, no less).
Cybernator is a side-scrolling sci-fi action game in which the player controls a 5-story tall 5-ton Assault Suit (mech) through a variety of environments – on the ground, underground, in the sky, in space, and within enemy ships and other constructions – in a fight for the remaining fossil fuel on Earth and territorial rights on the moon.
From the instruction manual:
You’re not a member of the 95th brigade of the mechanized marines. This elite Cybernator force has been put on full alert in quadrant nine. Before climbing into the Cybernator cockpit, please review the following orders from your commander Major General Steele (AKA: Ol’ Iron Britches)
THE GUTS AND BOLTS OF A MECHANIZED MARINE
The Cybernator first appeared around 2013 AD. Initially introduced as a means of eradicating space pirates from the lunar shipping route, the Cybernator soon became an integral part of the marine corps’ mechanized forces, replacing the Firestorm XG-9 Solar Tank.
Becoming an elite Cybernator warrior requires 1,000 hours of training in mock Cybernator combat. Ninety percent of all marines who attempt to take their seat in the Cybernator cockpit either drop out because of mental and physical fatigue, or are accidentally destroyed by their own incompetence.
Press to leap. Press and hold down to activate the Power Pack.
Press simultaneously with the Control Pad for a quick attack thrust. Enemies who fear this maneuver call it the “rampage rush” or “roller dash”. The last words heard from many referred to it as the “AAAAAAAAAAAAGH!”
Press to fire your Three-Peater Eliminator or to throw a devastating Cybernator Punch.
Press to change weapons. You have three weapon choices (vulcan shells, laser beams and homing missiles). Your fourth and final selection is the Cybernator punch. Remember, you begin with Vulcan Shells & The Punch. Other weapons can be obtained by finding special “W” power-ups.
Press to raise your Ionized Indestructoid Shield
Press to hold in your current position
* These are the default control options. There are a total of 4 pre-set control options available from the Options menu. (Button function descriptions come from the game’s manual.)
As is readily evident from the control scheme, Cybernator is fairly a complex game relative to most side-scrolling action games before it (and most after it, for that matter, outside of Ranger X and a few others). In 1993, most U.S. gamers would have been coming fresh from the 2-button NES controller – or maybe a 3-button Genesis controller – only to find themselves face-to-face with the SNES pad, a controller that added 2 additional fingers to the number required to play a game. Most of the early SNES games didn’t make use of the full gamut of available buttons, or simply assigned secondary functions that the player didn’t regularly need during gameplay. But that is not the case with Cybernator. Every button on the controller must be used if the player expects to survive this 7-level game on the 3 continues allotted.
Let’s skip the weapons for the time being (that’s a complex subject on its own), and discuss the player’s movement options. While the character sprite is fairly small on-screen, the player is actually in control of a hulking multi-story armored Assault Suit, and all of the movement mechanics are built around this fact. As such, this is a game that requires a somewhat more deliberate and strategic approach than the run-n-gun games that came before it (Contra, et al). The default character speed is pretty slow, and the sound effects of the footsteps emphasize the fact that it’s a large hunk of moving metal and not some spry bare-chested somersaulting marine. The mech isn’t as slow as you might find in simulation-style games – this is still an action, game after all – but it works to illustrate the scale of the game, and the overall power of the mech.
The player isn’t forced to plod through every environment as a lumbering giant, however. The Assault Suit has a dash maneuver that allows it to move forward at a much greater speed, sending it “skating” across the ground until the dash runs out. This can be used as often as the player would like in ground-based missions, but the control is somewhat less precise than walking, and dashing into a group if enemies is typically ill-advised due to the mech’s slow response time; it’s better used to escape from danger instead. The player does retain the ability to shoot while dashing, but this is not a very productive maneuver given that most enemies take several hits to destroy, and precision targeting while dashing is very difficult. A bigger drawback to this feature is that the dash maneuver was not only assigned to a button, but also assigned to a double-tap on the D-pad, which allows the player plenty of opportunities to accidentally dash into a hail of bullets at precisely the wrong moment.
For additional maneuverability, the mech is equipped with a limited-use jetpack. Holding the jump button, or tapping the jump button in mid-air, causes a jetpack to fire up, taking the mech a bit higher/further than the typical jump. The balance that keeps players from simply flying through the ground-based missions is that it only lasts a few seconds before overheating (indicated by the jets sputtering for a moment) and switching off. From a practical standpoint, it operates similarly to a double-jump, albeit much slower, which again further emphasizes the scale of the Assault Suit.
Since overall movement is slow, it can be difficult to dodge enemy fire. To offset this, the Assault Suit is equipped with a shield which can be raised by using the right trigger. Unlike many action games that offer defensive options that players never need to use, the shield in Cybernator is all but required to survive several areas, especially ones which send you through tight enemy-laden corridors. Many battles will be fought by moving slowly forward and firing at a group of enemies, raising your shield to defend against return fire, and then shooting back. You are unable to move or shoot with your shield raised, so there is some strategy involved when engaging enemies that are closing in on your position, but the shield does defend against most enemy projectiles.
One other major feature that sets this game apart from standard run-n-gun action games is the aiming. The D-Pad in Cybernator does more than simply move the player from left to right; it also aims the Assault Suit’s weapon, which can be controlled in 16 directions. Furthermore, by using the L trigger as a modifier, players can lock the weapon in any direction they choose. Contra III (which was developed by Konami on the SNES about a year prior) had a similar feature in which the player could hold the R trigger to fire in any direction while standing in place. Cybernator, on the other hand, allows the player to lock into a specific direction and fire while moving. This allows the player to fire in one direction and move in another, or walk beneath an enemy while firing up at it. The aim speed is fairly slow, but the 16-way firing and control-lock feature make aiming more precise and allows for some new strategies, particularly when dealing with bosses.
You begin the game with a Vulcan Cannon and the ability to punch enemies. Both of these weapons are very weak at the beginning of the game, but they can be upgraded up by picking up Power Chips (P icons) throughout the game. Additionally, new weapons can be added to your arsenal by picking up Weapon Chips (W icons). Picking up and powering up weapons strategically is one of the most important elements of this game, and can have a dramatic impact on how the player fares in later areas, and what strategies will be available.
Every weapon in the game starts out at Level 1 and can be powered up to Level 3. Each time you pick up a Power Chip, it is added to whatever weapon you have equipped at the time. Pick up enough chips, and the weapon increases by one level and gains new abilities and increased destructive capability. The strategy comes from deciding which weapons you want to power up and remembering to switch to the correct weapon when you’re about to get a Power Chip.
Power Chips are obtained by breaking open certain boxes, or sometimes as enemy drops, but they only stay on the screen for a few seconds. So, if you’re in the middle of a firefight with your Vulcan Cannon and you want to upgrade your missiles, you’ll need to switch to the missiles before you pick up the Power Chip, and you’ll need to do it before the chip disappears. If you choke, you can miss the window of opportunity, or fail to switch weapons and just upgrade the one you’re using. Since the number Power Chips in the game is limited, powering up the wrong weapon can wreck your strategy, or leave you underequipped to deal with major threats later in the game. Cursing will ensue when you mistakenly grab a Power Chip for a weapon that is already maxed out.
As mentioned, the weapons you decide to power up can drastically impact how you go about playing the game. Since you start the game with a missile weapon (Vulcan Cannon) and a melee weapon (Punch), many players will focus on leveling up the Vulcan Cannon first to be better equipped to deal with enemies at a distance. Heck, many players may play through the entire game without ever using or upgrading Punch at all, which is a perfectly acceptable strategy. But, a fully upgraded Punch can deal some pretty serious close-combat damage that other weapons cannot. In addition to the starting weapons, players can also pick up Missiles and the Laser by grabbing Weapon Chips. Each of these weapons can be upgraded, and each requires a different number of Power Chips to increase its level.
- The Vulcan Cannon is your standard machine gun (well, your standard 70mm mech-mounted machine gun) which shoots bullets in a narrow spray. While it has infinite rounds, it does have to pause before reloading, leaving the player momentarily open to attack. Also, the gun will not reload until the player has run out completely of bullets; there is no way to reload a partially-depleted magazine. At Level 2, the size of the bullets increases, and the bullets gain the ability to bounce off of walls, which is excellent for ground-based corridor missions. At Level 3, the power and size of the shots increase even more.
- Punch is very different than the other weapons in the game, and takes more work to master (which is another reason why players may opt not to use it). At its starting power level, it is pretty weak and has a short range. At Level 2, the range increases somewhat as your fist emits more energy, which moves away from the punch. At Level 3, the energy ball is much larger, moves much further, and causes a ton of damage. What makes this weapon difficult to use is that each time you punch, you’re depleting the power gauge. If you punch at full power, and then immediately throw another punch, the second punch is going to be significantly weaker than the first, because the power has not yet been built back up. The gauge builds quickly, but timing is very important to using this weapon effectively. Used in combination with the shield and dash maneuver (to dash away), it can be quite the menace, and it’s particularly useful in situations where you need to deliver a ton of damage very quickly.
- Missiles can be picked up via a Weapon Chip in the second level. They do more damage than the Vulcan Cannon, but they are limited in number. Whatever supply you have when you enter the stage, that’s it. Once you’ve fired them all, they do not replenish until you begin the next level. This makes the missiles pretty good for boss battles, but not incredibly practical otherwise. Also, when considering which weapon to upgrade, do you want to upgrade a weapon that you can use whenever you like, or risk upgrading a weapon that has limited ammo? At Level 1, there is no tracking on the missiles and they’ll fly in the direction they were fired. At Level 2, a homing ability is added, but the tracking is a bit loose. At Level 3 tracking is tighter, and of course, more damage is dealt.
- The Weapon Chip for the Laser is located in level 5. Given that you’re picking up a non-upgraded weapon this late in the game, you’ll find that its base setting is very weak against most enemies. It fires a narrow stream that does constant damage (while draining your power meter) and can hit multiple enemies at once, but it’s not incredibly effective against the powerful enemies of level 5 and beyond. However, the Laser becomes pretty formidable as it is upgraded. Level 2 gives you a wider and more destructive beam, and Level 3 takes this up another notch. At its highest level, you can deliver continuous heavy damage to one or more enemies. Also, unlike the Vulcan Cannon, it does not have to be completely depleted before it reloads. Just stop firing for a second and wait for the meter to refill (except if you’re using your shield). The only decision that remains is whether you want to try to power it all the way up before the end of the game, or use your precious Power Chips to top off a different weapon.
- Lastly, there is a very powerful hidden weapon. By completing the first level without shooting anything – except the boss – you will be rewarded with the Napalm Gun. There are no powerups for this weapon (unless you manage to beat the second level without getting hit or shooting anything besides the boss), but it is almost ludicrously powerful on its own, allowing you to fire an explosive blast that quickly destroys most regular enemies and can make boss encounters last mere seconds. At close range, this weapon basically looks like a fiery explosion, especially if you are firing them off in rapid succession, but it actually works like a projectile. If you shoot it straight up in a ground based mission, you can watch the fireballs fly through the sky and arc back down toward the earth. Ammo is infinite and the power meter recharges very quickly (except when using your shield). There’s a reason why this weapon is hidden.
One thing that you will discover at the start of the game is that most enemies do not kill you on contact. Unlike many 2D games where contact with an enemy sprite will damage you (or destroy you entirely), in Cybernator, most enemies have to actually fire at you or perform an attack to cause damage. As such, you can walk right past/through most enemies without taking any damage. This makes the game somewhat more forgiving, but more than that, it offers some advanced strategy in dealing with stages. It’s possible to dash past enemies and bypass them altogether, but you risk getting attacked from the rear as enemies close in on you. On the other hand, it essentially acts as another “layer” to the 2D playfield, allowing you to get behind enemies, or get out of tough situations because it’s not really possible for an enemy to back you into a corner and destroy you.
Once you’ve gotten used to the play mechanics in the first level and feel comfortable navigating the environment… practically everything you learned is chucked right out the window. Level 2 starts you in a forced scrolling zero gravity environment. No longer are you plodding along the ground taking down slow moving turrets and docile mechs; now you’re flying through space at high speed with enemies firing at you from all directions. You don’t have a standard “jump” ability; rather you can move in any direction you wish, and your jetpack (technically a “rocket pod” here) is infinite. Also, while flying, you can’t use your shield. Multi-directional firing is still intact, and the lock-on button that may have seemed like a novelty in level 1 is now a requirement for surviving level 2.
There is a tremendous amount of gameplay variety between, and within, the levels. The fourth level starts you out free-falling into earth’s atmosphere, and eventually heating up on re-entry and causing damage to your mech. You have to steer yourself toward your ship to avoid taking further damage, and the ship itself crash lands on the surface of the Earth and slides to a halt, leaving you to fight a boss. Level 5 starts you in a forced-scrolling free flight area similar to level 2, and then returns you to a ground-based mission – which transitions from day to night – before giving you back your rocket pod so you can pursue a freshly-launched space shuttle.
Level 6 starts you off in the snow, where you are in dash mode the entire time, fighting off a number of very versatile and pesky enemy ships. From there, you move to a very short ground-based area, and then into a dark cave. The cave is unlike any other area in the game. For one, you use a flashlight in this area, which prevents the use of some of your weapons, namely Punch and Laser. Of course, not only are you restricted from using these weapons, you are not able to switch to them, and therefore are not able to power them up in this section. There are some unique enemies in this area as well, including a burrowing snake-like enemy that will torment you unless you destroy it early, and some kind of giant drill that will pursue down a tunnel (dash, dash!) and explode. This is also the home of the (presumably) mutant 10-foot tall bunnies, which stand knee high to your 5-story tall mech.
Many of the levels have two or more paths that you can take to reach the end, some of which are more difficult than others. A prime example of this is the third level which tasks the player with infiltrating an enemy base called the Arc Nova, which is in orbit around the Earth. The player will fight his way through the base’s outer defenses in a zero gravity environment (with a couple of minor branches there), and break into the interior section, which is gravity-controlled. After a bit more fighting, the player will encounter a tube with enormous missiles being fired through it. At this point, the player may choose to take the high road and pass over this obstacle, or smash through the floor and travel through the missile tubes themselves. Obviously the second choice is the more dangerous option (and requires liberal use of the dash maneuver), but it rewards the player with some additional Power Chips and a small energy replenishment in the form of an Energy Chip (H icon). A couple of strategically placed scroll locks prevent players from exploring all branches in a single playthrough.
The game provides 2 tools to assist the player with navigating through the available paths. The mission briefing at the beginning of each level provides more than an excuse to toss around some story elements and look “official”; it also shows a wireframe map that is pretty representative of the available paths, and gives you some kind of idea what to expect on your mission, at least environmentally.
The second tool provided to the player is a mini map that appears in the upper right corner of the pause screen. Rather than show a miniature version of the entire level, this map provides a silhouetted view of your immediate surroundings, giving you some idea of where you can/should go next. It is themed well to blend into the overall HUD, which is fairly complex, but is meant to represent what the pilot of the Assault Suit would be seeing on the internal displays in the cockpit (one wonders why the mech pilot needs to have a score displayed, unless he is bragging to the other mech pilots about his conquests when he gets back to base).
Prominently featured on the HUD is the player’s health, represented in a large red bar at the top center of the screen. While it is divided into segments, they are only meant to help the player gauge the overall amount of health they have lost; the player can, in fact, lose health in any increment, not just one segment at a time. Health is replenished at the start of each level, and may be partially restored in-level by picking up Energy Chips. Weapon energy is shown in the top right in a somewhat more complex view which shows the name of the weapon, the number of points remaining to upgrade it to the next level, and the amount of energy/ammo remaining.
Below the score/health/weapon section, there is also a place for text to appear. This is often difficult to notice during the heat of battle, but it’s not generally information that you need to survive. It provides information such as a critical alert when your energy is low, or when your mech is performing a dash maneuver. Many of the things shown in this display are unneeded and could be determined by simply looking at the screen, but once again, it is meant to mimic what the pilot of the mech might see, and purposely adds to the clutter of the HUD. It can also deliver messages indicating that you have received picked up a powerup or equipment, or messages from your commanders, such as “Good luck”.
There are a number of other things in the game that are simply in place to emphasize the fact that you are piloting an enormous mech, as opposed a soldier. For one, your weapons leave behind damage on a number of in-game objects, so you can see bullet hits in the ground, walls, and other parts of the environment.
Secondly, whenever you use your jet pack near the ground or a wall, you can see the blastback in the form of smoke which pushes away from your mech. It travels across the ground, down walls, and even curves around collision-based objects on the ground.
Third, there is no shortage of ‘splosions in this game. A number of objects and enemies get destroyed in very hearty and satisfying explosions, more so than many other side-scrolling actioners. The third level even has enemies interspersed with enormous gas tanks which give off explosions so large that they can obscure more than half the screen. Thankfully, the explosions do not damage you, and you can pilot your mech directly through the fire, but they do prevent you from seeing enemies that might be hidden in the blast radius.
Adding to the overall realism and strategy of the game is the fact that most enemies do not respawn. This isn’t the first game to do this by any means, but many games of this type put enemies back into play if you return to a previously-explored area. Here, you can take a more tactical approach, wiping out the enemies in an area, and then picking up powerups, without having to worry about a continuously-streaming onslaught of enemies trying to kill you as you do. This also accommodates the slower pace of the game overall.
Lastly, not all missions are required to be completed in order to beat the game. There are a couple of places where you can fail to complete a mission-critical objective (namely the third and fifth missions), and the game will allow you to continue. There are 2 very different endings for this game, and the one you get is determined by whether or not you are able to complete all of these objectives. Also, another little interesting fact: you are not allowed to continue if you die in the first level. From a practical standpoint, this makes perfect sense; after all, why use up a continue if you’re really just starting the game over again? It’s just interesting to see that extra programming was put into the game to keep players from wasting a continue. This has been done in other games as well, such as the 1989 Genesis title, Mystic Defender.
BASTARD CLASS ENEMIES (What's this?)
Humans That’s right, dirty stinking humans. These little buggers first show up in level 3 with their tiny little pea shooters. At first, you think you can just ignore them. After all, how much damage could they really do? The answer is not much. But if you get a few of them firing on you at once, you’ll begin to see your precious energy bar begin to deplete. What’s worse is that you can’t stomp on them to take them out; you actually have to hit them with a bullet, which can be very difficult given their size. Also, only gun-firing humans can be killed. There are numerous other humans in the game, some of which eject from destroyed mechs, and others appear as scientists (who raise their arms in panic and run away), but your bullets pass right through them. Given the pain of dealing with humans, you may find yourself attempting to kill every one that you find, innocent or not.
Mines These appear in level 3. When they first appear they just sit still, but then they become activated and move toward you, and stop again. They keep doing this to close in on your position. At first, there’s just one or two, but eventually you’ll be pursued by several. They are small and difficult to hit, but you don’t want to ignore them, or they will overwhelm and destroy you. They dole out a fair amount of damage, and your shield is useless against them. God help you if you try to bypass them and walk into an area with other enemies. Fighting one enemy while 4 or 5 mines move up from behind you is a recipe for certain death.
3-Bomb Droppers These guys first appear in level 5, and show up pretty frequently throughout the level. This is a flying enemy that has 3 bombs hanging from the bottom of it, and they time their bomb drops to land near your location. The bombs have a decent sized splash area and deliver a fair amount of damage. The fun is that the enemy drops the bombs while it's moving, so the bombs fall toward you in an arc, and this is occurring while you are fighting off ground-based enemies. So, unless you’re particularly adept at working out trigonometry whilst firing a machine gun, chances are, you’ll start to back up when you see one. This is a bad move. There are 3 bombs, and they’re timed to drop on you, so backing up is essentially just giving this enemy 2 more chances to hit you. So, you decide that it would be better to just shoot it down. Well guess what… if you’re backing up and shooting at an enemy that’s moving toward you, where do you think it’s going to land when it blows up? On you. Congratulations, you’ve just orchestrated your own demise.
Bottomless Pits Bottomless pits, you say? Hardly. If you’re a veteran of 2D sidescrollers, you should know that bottomless pits are just part of the territory. Has Mario taught you nothing? And you would be right to scoff… normally. But here’s the problem: bottomless pits don’t appear at any point in the game except for level 5. Up to that point, you’re free to explore for Power Chips all you like without fear of reprisal outside of the occasional random enemy. Try that here, however, and you will drop off the screen to your instant death. Keep in mind again that you’re not loaded down with 35 lives like you are in your typical Mario outing… you only have 3 continues. Your life bar is all that stands between you and using up one of your few opportunities to get through the game. And seriously, while the rest of the game emphasizes realism, the idea of a bottomless pit doesn’t really make any sense. Hell, in the previous level, you dropped to the Earth FROM ORBIT! What could be at the bottom of this pit that’s going to destroy you instantly? Spikes? Yeah right.
There is no life bar during boss encounters, nor do they color-change to yellow or red to show that they’re nearly destroyed. Instead, you will need to watch for the physical damage that appears on the boss to determine how much damage it has taken. (Note: the level names below are taken from the instruction manual, and differ from the level names that appear during the mission briefings at the start of each level.)
Level 1: Axis Lunar Mining Colony Your goal here is to destroy the battle cruiser’s power unit, so this isn’t really a boss fight. The power unit is being pulled up by tethers, and it cannot fire on you. Its only defense is a pair continuously respawning turrets that each appear on their own tether. The turrets fire at a moderate speed and don’t cause much damage, so they can be completely ignored unless you are particularly low on energy. There are a number of platforms in this vertical area which allow you to drop to the bottom and start shooting at the power unit as it is being raised. The power unit is segmented, so the bottom piece will drop off when it is destroyed, leaving you to destroy the top half. You need to destroy the unit before it reaches the top of the screen. Once you do, it falls and blows a hole in the floor, allowing your Assault Suit to drop out and get picked up by your ship, the Versis.
Level 2: Asteroid Defense Forces and Orbital Hideout This boss is a ship that emerges (somehow) from a wall of rock, flinging rocks toward you as it does. It fires rockets, and sends out rocks which have turrets attached to them, which also fire at you. With all of the standard rocks flying about, mixed in with turret rocks, the battle can get a bit confusing. Only the main ship needs to be destroyed, however, which allows the player to hang back and dodge artillery while focusing on dealing damage to the ship.
Level 3: Arc Nova The end-level boss here is actually a multi-stage encounter, and is one of the more interesting fights in the game. First, you will come across the boss’s ship parked in a hangar (which cannot be damaged at this time), and a pilot is lowered down in a chair from the ceiling, and placed in the cockpit. There are still maintenance workers in the launch tube when the pilot fires the rockets, and the blast from the engines kills each of them as it passes, sending them hurtling off the bottom of the screen.
You pursue the ship outside and find that the Arc Nova base has been sent plummeting to the Earth. Everything has turned a reddish yellow, and fire spits up from the bottom of the screen as the metal (including your Assault Suit and the boss’s ship) heats up during re-entry. Even pieces of the background are destroyed and sent flying off the top of the screen during the fight. The boss ship itself doesn’t present a great challenge. It can only fire its arm at you, and it can’t cause much damage. The real challenge is that you have to deal with the boss while destroying the 4 engines that are forcing the Arc Nova into the atmosphere, all in under 2 minutes. Technically, you don't have to engage the boss at all, as you only need to destroy the engines, but killing the boss first does make things go a bit more smoothly.
The engines don’t cause any damage, but the timer is still running. There is nothing on the screen to tell you how long you have left, but your comrades will occasionally radio in and let you know where you stand. This is a spot that can be difficult if you didn’t upgrade your weapons properly, as it’s imperative that you are able to dish out a large amount of damage in a short time. Provided you have enough firepower, taking down the engines is easy (they do not fire at you); all you’re really fighting is the clock, and the suspense of whether you will make it or not (the game will continue even if you fail to destroy the engines, but this will put you on a path to the “bad” ending). With the engines destroyed, the Arc Nova goes off course and does not enter the atmosphere, but your Assault Suit does… and you are not alone.
If you didn’t destroy all of the engines within the time limit, you will get to see the Arc Nova fall to the Earth in the background on the next level, causing a huge explosion and leaving behind a plume of gray smoke.
Level 4: Stratospheric Showdown The entirety of level 4 is essentially a boss fight, although you can’t technically damage the boss at the beginning of the level. Rather, you plummet into the atmosphere from space (falling from the Arc Nova in the previous level). You encounter the boss while falling, and you can destroy the enemies surrounding it, but not the boss itself. To avoid being burned up on re-entry, you must land on the Versis, which crash-lands on the ground for your official fight against the boss.
The boss is in an Assault Suit, but this one is capable of flight. Apparently, Beldark (the pilot) has killed one of your friends in another Assault Suit (this happens offscreen), and now he has come for you. He fires small rocket-propelled projectiles at you while flying around. He’s a bit hard to hit, but his mech can’t actually be destroyed, only damaged. So you’ll fight him for a while, and once he takes enough damage, he’ll fly away (to be fought again at the end of the final level)
Level 5: Madagascar Shuttle Port This boss is another interesting encounter. You enter a shuttle port and see a large rocket preparing for liftoff, complete with (unkillable) humans loading into it right before launch. The thrusters kick on, and the rocket starts to take off. Somehow, you suddenly get equipped with a rocket pod (must have left it in the same place where Optimus Prime parks his trailer), and you fly up after it in pursuit.
This is a pretty hectic fight. Each of the rocket boosters must be destroyed, and the shuttle has turrets attached to it. To make things more interesting, continuously spawning flying mechs come up from the background and hound you. Once the boosters are destroyed, you go for the cockpit and blow it to hell. It doesn’t actually explode; rather it sinks off the bottom of the screen, meaning that the shuttle has failed to reach escape velocity and everyone in the ship will inevitably be killed when it crashes back down to earth.
This is another mission that can be failed, and the game will continue even if you are unable to stop the rocket. Your HUD shows the rocket’s altitude as you fight to destroy its engines. Eventually the reading shows “Too High”, and the rocket begins climbing off the top of the screen.
Level 6: Axis Prime Minister’s Mountain Hideout This boss is an anti-aircraft battery. You encounter anti-aircraft guns within the a manufacturing facility inside a cave, and follow as the guns are moved on a track outside. You have to destroy several of them while fighting off a pesky flying ship that drops energy balls down from the top of the screen. The ship will also occasionally charge at you with an energy ball on the front of the ship, causing tons of damage. Making everything explode allows you to continue.
Level 7: The Axis Capital: Suburbionski, Uzbekistanski This is a multi-stage boss encounter. First, you will encounter Beldark again, the guy who killed your friend in level 4. He fires bullets from his main gun as well as a stream of rockets, and he has a pair of hovering turrets which also fire bullets at you. As before, he can fly, but so can you during this encounter. Only Beldark’s mech needs to be destroyed, but the turrets can be destroyed independently as well, and drop Energy Chips. Beldark ejects from his mech, to return again as the final boss. (Note: a major cutscene was removed from the U.S. version of this game which would have appeared before moving on to the next section).
The second part of this encounter is a chase/escape sequence. Your mech dashes quickly down a hallway as doors close, and enemies and other obstacles appear. Outside of dodging the occasional obstacle on the floor and shooting at anything that appears in front of you, you won’t be doing too much until the boss appears. It is a flying machine that fires beams of electricity at you. You fight it while you are moving, and eventually come to a stop where you must finish it off. The beams are easier to dodge while you are not dashing. Once it has been destroyed, you’ll get some health to buff you up for the final battle.
Beldark reappears piloting your typical 2-screen tall end boss monstrosity: a giant mech with all sorts of gnarled tubes and wires and what appears to be a glowing eye. It flies up a tube by means of a large rocket booster, which is protected by a napalm-firing turret, both of which can be destroyed (and the turret drops an Energy Chip). Throughout the battle, the arm will attempt to punch you until it is sufficiently damaged, after which it will fire glowing bullets at you. On the head, near the glowing eye, a trio of glowing bullets will emerge periodically – one set of three from above the eye, and another from below. These bullets will hover for a moment, moving toward you slowly, and then will suddenly speed up and come right for you. Occasionally, the “mouth” will open and fire a solid laser directly at you. A fair amount of dodging and directional firing is required to bring Beldark to his final fiery end.
Why this game should be part of your 2D heritage:
- Complex control scheme adds strategy
- Wide variety of weapons allows for numerous tactics, and replay value
- Strategic weapon upgrade system
- Major gameplay variety between/within levels
- Scale and realism enforced by controls, movement speed, equipment, environmental damage, effects, and HUD.
- Complex control scheme can cause frustration in tight moments
- Accidental use of the double-tap dash can send the mech into danger