Weapon of Choice

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Mommy's Best Games for PC and Xbox 360, originally released in 2008.

Title
Console
Publisher
Developer
Players
Year

Weapon of Choice
PC, Xbox 360
Mommy's Best Games
Mommy's Best Games
1P
2008


CONTEXT
Before continuing, you may wish to learn more about the Hidden Agenda behind 8 Bit Horse. Or don’t. It’s up to you. Don’t be a hero.

Weapon of Choice was released in 2008 on the Xbox 360 in the Xbox Live Community Games category (now known as Indie Games). It was one of just a handful of games available at the launch of the service and it was, in many ways, the flagship title of Community Games, sporting the highest production values and tightest game design of any of its forerunning contemporaries. It also received numerous awards and accolades, including 3rd prize in Microsoft’s Dream Build Play competition, and winner of IGN’s 2008 Game of the Year in the Community Games category. And it is being released as a downloadable title for PC.



Weapon of Choice was the brainchild of Nathan Fouts, a decade-old veteran of the game industry, who had previously worked at Running With Scissors, n-Space, and Insomniac Games on a number of high-profile titles. Like many, he had cut his gaming teeth in the 8- and 16-bit era during the golden age of 2D console games, but found himself working in an industry that had all but abandoned 2D gameplay in favor of jiggle physics and light bloom.

Nathan left Insomniac in 2007 to start his own company, Mommy’s Best Games, with a focus on creating titles that were rooted in the core mechanics of 2D action games, but which added new features that had become available with the added horsepower offered by modern-day hardware.

Ask yourself: If you took a modern console back to the early 90’s and handed it to Treasure, or Konami, or Capcom, what kind of game would they have made with that technology? Mommy’s Best Games has responded to that question, and the answer is Weapon of Choice.


PREMISE
From the introduction:

Department of War Update
Date: May 11, 2188

Earth has been besieged by a sprawling, gene-bending menace bent on human annihilation. The enemy must be destroyed, or desolation will accompany their attack.

By last report, the U.N.P.’s Solus Operatives have been deployed and continue to rally upon the UNS Thaddeus Q. Sasquatch under the command of the venerable General Grier.

Immediate action, united with valor, alone can achieve the great work.





CONTROLS
Weapon of Choice features 4 preset control schemes, as follows:



The default control scheme allows the player to play the game Robotron-style, using the left stick to move and the right stick for independent aim. This is a fairly common control setup in modern overhead shooters, but it is not often used in side-scrolling action games (BlowOut used this control scheme, but not so well). Additional control schemes are available to fit other play styles, including an “old school” setting for folks who want a 16-bit Contra or a Gunstar Heroes feel.



At the outset of the game, the player is dropped into a training room where he is free to try out the selected control scheme – and switch it on the fly, by pressing an in-game button – in a danger-free environment. This allows the player to become accustomed to the game’s controls before he finds himself knee-deep in hideous alien monstrosities.




MECHANICS
In the vein of side-scrolling action games of yore – such as Cybernator and Contra Hard Corps – Weapon of Choice hurtles you into the action at breakneck speed. Where classic games would begin with a ship, jeep, or other vehicle crashing through a barricade into a war zone, Weapon of Choice starts the player off on an aircraft carrier, strapped inside a 400 kiloton rocket.



You have about 5 seconds to absorb this fact as you are sent rocketing into the sky while General Grier spouts off your orders.



You crash-land in fiery explosion in the midst of a lush and colorful jungle environment, somersaulting out of the fire with guns a-blazin’.



Right away, you know you’re in for a different kind of experience. This isn’t your little brother’s World War II barbed wire brown-and-gray FPS. No, this is your daddy’s World War III hardcore side-scrolling action BMF, only now it’s all grown up, and it has come to show you how things are done.


But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves… Let’s delve into the game mechanics.

One of the biggest things that sets Weapon of Choice apart from other 2D games on the market – including the classics – is the selection of weapons. Unlike many games that provide your standard machine gun / shotgun / flamethrower / grenade setup, the weapons in this game are vastly different from one another and have capabilities well beyond what you’ll find in your typical shooter. This should be readily apparent to anyone who enters the character selection screen and sees that the first available character uses a portable jet engine as his primary weapon (more on this in a bit).



In Weapon of Choice, weapons aren’t just scattered about the levels for you to pick up. Instead, each character has his or her own signature weapon – i.e., their weapon of choice – and carries that unlimited-ammo weapon with them at all times. To add further balance and strategy to these characters, they each have a weapon modifier (which works like an alt fire), as well as character-specific aerial maneuvers which can range from a super-high jump, to an exploding double-jump, to the ability to walk through the sky on a cloud of smoke. And some of the characters have secondary special abilities in addition to these.



You start the game with 3 available characters, who essentially act as your “lives” in the game. You are free to pick any of the 3 you wish, in any order, and you play until you run out of operatives. However, throughout the game, you will find operatives that have fallen in battle, and you have the ability to throw them over your shoulder and carry them out of the area. If you manage to beat the boss and clear the area, that operative is added to your roster, essentially giving you 4 lives on your next outing, and giving you another weapon for your arsenal.



There are a total of 7 characters in the game, each with their own special abilities and weapon of choice:

Xerxes Remington
Location: Available from the start of the game
Weapon of Choice: Jet Engine Gun

That’s right, this guy uses a portable jet engine to incinerate his alien foes. Xerxes’ primary offensive power is very direct and concentrated. This allows him to deal a high amount of damage to a specific area, but requires that he pay extra attention to enemies or projectiles that are closing in on him peripherally. The Jet Engine Gun also does not fire through solid objects, so he must position himself appropriately, or change his attack strategy.

Unmodified, this weapon sends a solid stream of fire at anything ugly.



Modified, the power is increased and a flame jet is sent all the way to the edge of the screen. The balance is that the blowback from this weapon is so powerful that it can push Xerxes backward when fired in mid-air. This keeps the player from simply holding the alt fire button down and demolishing everything that moves.



On the other hand, the player has the ability to use this blowback to his advantage. The force of the blast is so strong that it can actually lift Xerxes off the ground Cave Story-style, turning the weapon into a makeshift jetpack. It’s really fast, and it takes some getting used to, but a skilled player can launch Xerxes high in the sky, leap over enemies, fly through the air at high speeds, or even hover above an enemy and torch it until it goes all gooey.



Xerxes has a double-jump maneuver that acts as a hovering somersault, allowing him to jump large distances and change directions in midair. Combine this with the jetpack function of the Jet Engine Gun, and you’ve just entered a world of high-flyin’ hijinks.


Constance O’Leary
Location: Available from the start of the game
Weapon of Choice: Arc Knife Launcher

This plucky sex-kitten wields a weapon that’s even taller than she is. It’s a particularly nasty piece of work that looks like something you’d take to a hand-to-mouth fight against Jaws. It has a long barrel loaded top-and-bottom with a row of curved knife blades, and it has a wide attack range, making it somewhat difficult to deal precise damage, but working effectively against large groups of enemies.

Unmodified, spinning blades are launched out of the top and bottom of the weapon in a somewhat haphazard fashion, filling the screen with flitting edges of death.



Modified, all of the blades emerge from the top of the weapon, which also flit about, but in a tighter pattern.



Constance’s aerial maneuver is what really sets her apart from the pack. Double-jumping creates a mirrored holographic representation of Constance, which mimics her movements in the opposite direction. Like Total Recall, you can laugh at your enemies as they attempt to fight your invincible doppelganger, only this one can shoot back.



Used in an open area, the hologram is good for dealing a bit of extra damage, particularly when surrounded. In an enclosed area, where Constance can grab onto a ceiling or overhang with her spider pack, that’s when the double-damage really comes into play. See, the hologram only stays on the screen until it touches the ground. But, if you don’t touch the ground… you just earned double firepower, which is especially nice against certain enemies and bosses that are fought in tight quarters.



So, she slices, she dices, and she makes french fries in 3 different sizes… but that’s not all. You can also create a walking hologram – again, working as a mirror image – that stays on the screen until you jump. It’s not the easiest technique to master, but using it effectively means that you march face-first into any threat without fear of reprisal.


Moses Longhorn
Location: Available from the start of the game
Weapon of Choice: Satellite Lasers

This cigar-smoking, muscle-bound military brute brings the pain in the form of lasers. No, this isn’t just a gun that fires a laser beam; rather it launches a series tiny laser-blasting satellites. The lasers take a second to fire after launch, making Moses a tough character to use in tight situations (from which he is equipped to escape, with explosive effect) but his unique firing style still makes him a force to be reckoned with.

Unmodified, the weapon pumps a series of satellites out in front of Moses, which prime themselves, and then fire bright white lasers. The direction of the laser fire is under the player’s control and can be aimed at will, allowing Moses to pump laser-emitting satellites into dangerous areas, and then point them in the direction of the nearest bug-eyed freak.



Modified, the lasers become locked in the direction they were initially fired.



Since the lasers move a small distance away from Moses before firing, and since there is a delay in their activation, players may find that it’s better to simply escape from the situation. That’s where Moses’ aerial maneuver comes in. Double-jumping causes a huge red explosion, which causes damage to nearby enemies, and propels Moses into the air (and hopefully away from danger).


Boom.


Chanterelle Marmalade
Location: Mountain Village
Weapon of Choice: Plasma Saw

For many players, this will be the first downed operative that they encounter. Rescue her from the Mountain Village, and her Plasma Saw is yours. This weapon is very compact but packs a huge punch. It has a good range and can be swung around in different directions to cut through practically any alien threat. And, it passes through solid objects, allowing you to take down some pesky enemies while avoiding direct fire.

Unmodified, this weapon works as described… it’s like a huge chainsaw with blades made of plasma. The “blade” has a somewhat springy effect, bouncing forward, up or down as you aim in each direction, and it does continuous damage to anything it touches.



Modified, the individual saw blades shoot out and crawl across the ground and up walls, exploding when making contact with enemies.



Like Moses, Chanterelle has a damage-dealing double-jump, but hers is much more direct. Rather than sending an explosion outward to kill enemies, Chanterelle herself becomes the weapon. When double-jumping, she moves in a straight line in whatever direction the player presses, and she is surrounded by an arrow of energy that causes damage to anything it hits.


Rudolph Homunculus
Location: High Trees
Weapon of Choice: Blast Wall

Rudolph is more of a defensive character. His weapon has a short range, but the shot emerges as a solid wall that can absorb most enemy projectiles. He also has the ability to reduce his size to dodge enemies more effectively.

Unmodified, the Blast Wall moves forward a short distance, absorbing bullets, and then fragments backwards.



Modified, the fragments blast perpendicularly to the initial shot, allowing Rudolph to damage enemies at a 90 degree angle to his original firing trajectory.



Rudolph’s aerial maneuver is the Mini Jump, which allows him to shrink to half of this original size, and significantly slows his descent. This makes him both easier to control in the air and significantly more difficult for enemies to hit. Like Constance’s hologram, this effect lasts until you touch the ground, which means you can activate your spider pack and hang from the ceiling at a reduced size… but your shots are reduced in size as well, though they do fire more quickly.



Rudolph can also miniaturize himself on the ground by crouching and then hitting the JUMP button.


Thwack Jones
Location: Mountain Village (hidden)
Weapon of Choice: Calypso Jam

So this is probably the strangest of the operatives, and he is also one of the most well-hidden. He has a rather odd-looking bomb-lobbing weapon which works pretty well in enclosed environments due to the way it bounces around, and how its explosions push the other bombs around the screen. He also has the highest single-jump of the Solus Operatives, sending him as high into the sky as many of the other characters’ double-jumps.

Unmodified, the Calypso Jam lobs a series of bombs which bounce around the environment. They explode somewhat haphazardly, pushing the surrounding bombs around, and giving off a bit of music while they do.



Modified, the weapon emits a series of bombs that hover in place a short distance away from where they were fired, and explode after a few seconds. Like the unmodified version of the weapon, one of the bombs may go off early, pushing the other bombs away, but it’s still pretty effective for causing concentrated damage.



And the oddest move of all is Thwack’s Smoke Walk, which generates a cloud of smoke under his feet that allows him to walk through the sky. This works similarly to Princess Peach’s hovering jump, only with 100% more pipe smoke and 100% less pink parasol. As its power runs down, Thwack exhales and floats gently back to the ground… finding himself much more relaxed.


Numble Paul
Location: Strip Mine
Weapon of Choice: Limpet Mortar

Numble’s weapon is probably the wildest – and perhaps the most powerful – weapon in the game. He fires sticky limpet mines that attach to whatever they hit – including enemies and projectiles – and they emit a solid stream of flame. Aiming and controlling these mines can be a bit difficult, but once mastered, Numble is a menace, particularly against bosses.

Unmodified, Numble can toss limpet mines a good distance, and after a short while, they engage and spit forth a spire of green flame, causing continuous damage. The flame is emitted in only one direction, however, so it may take a few shots before you get one that connects properly and starts dealing damage to your foe.



Modified, this weapon fires with well-nigh unreasonable unpredictability, sending limpets in all directions, and igniting in a red flame almost immediately after they are fired. Damage is increased, but long range accuracy is seriously handicapped. On the other hand, if there’s a huge screen-filling gene-confused boss looming over you, sticking It full of fiery red limpets can bring even the toughest bosses crumbling before you in a blaze of glory.



While Numble’s aerial maneuver is technically dubbed the Spike Lift, you’ll find that it looks a bit more like a Snowflake Lift. But you’ve never seen a snowflake carve an Air Bladder in half and leave its guts pouring onto the surrounding flora (have you?).



Not only do the spikes damage anything they come in contact with, the jump maneuver itself allows you to travel much higher than any of the other Solus Operatives, allowing you to propel yourself out of danger, and take down a few baddies while you’re at it.



In addition to the wide array of weapons and moves listed above, each Solus Operative is equipped with 2 additional pieces of equipment. First, there’s the TAC Gun. Unmodified, this gun acts like a typical machine gun that you might see in any other game.



Modified, the gun shoots out from your operative on the end of a cable, allowing you to deal some straightforward damage at a distance, or fire around corners, if you like. This is a sort-of equalizer, ensuring that each of the operatives has a fallback weapon, just in case their weapon of choice isn’t up to a particular task, such as shooting down shielded enemies, or taking on a hard-to-hit boss.



Secondly, each operative is equipped with a Spider Pack. This one of the most strange (and creepy) supplemental tools available to any action game hero. This is a backpack full of mechanical spider legs that emerge when you get close to a wall or ceiling, and allow you to stick to it. Not only that, you can use the spider legs to move your character up or down walls and across ceilings, leaving your weapon free to keep shooting at anything that displeases you. This eliminates the need for unexplainable random ladders, or 90 degree wall jumps, which might limit your ability to engage your primary pain-delivery mechanism. Movement speed is reduced while wall-crawling, but you can drop from a wall or ceiling at any time by tapping the JUMP button.



While Weapon of Choice takes its inspiration from a number of side-scrolling 2D action games of the past, it also adds some new mechanics that bring it into the 21st century. Besides the wide array of weapons and the Spider Pack, there’s another gameplay innovation that helps to temper the frequent deaths common in older games. This a last-minute lifesaver is called Death Brushing. Death Brushing is a cool effect in which time slows down when the player is in immediate danger. Whether an enemy is getting too close, or a projectile is closing in, or you’re simply being a bit careless near a wall of organic spikes, the screen will begin to darken, and you will start to see skulls and other ghastly images hovering up in the background.



During this time, a spinning circle appears around the threat, giving the player a bit of an extra chance to get away. This might mean aiming your weapon in their direction, pressing away from them to escape, or engaging a damage-dealing double-jump maneuver. During this time, your fictional in-game adrenaline starts to pump, allowing you to move slightly faster than your enemies, while time appears to be slowed down. But hey, if instant death is your bag, you can try one of the game’s higher difficulty levels, which speeds up the game, throws more enemies at you, and turns off Death Brushing altogether. Just don’t come cryin’ to us when you wake up with a Spike Sack on your face.



But what happens if your character does die? Hey, in a game like this, it’s bound to happen once in a while. Well, as long as you have more operatives to spare, you can select another one to send into battle. But the game doesn’t just drop them into the action and let you start playing again. No, the game gives you the opportunity to kill the thing that killed you. This, ladies and gentleman, is where we summon forth the Vengeance Missile.



When one of your operatives dies, you get to flip through those remaining and make your selection. Once you do, a glowing red reticule appears on the screen, and you can aim it wherever you wish (within the constraints of the screen where you died), and position it right on top of the baddie that took you down. After a few seconds (or instantly, if you mash the triggers), a missile will be launched into action, rocketing down from the top of the screen.



When it hits, it causes a huge explosion, damaging your target and any surrounding collateral, and you emerge with temporary invincibility. Few things feel better than delivering a final hit against a boss – or a particularly nasty Bastard Class Enemy – with a bit of lovingly-crafted UNP hardware in the form of a 400 kiloton rocket. Yummy.



And there’s another feature to help balance things out further – and which makes complete sense within the context of the game. Not only can you rescue downed operatives that you find throughout the game, you can rescue operatives that were downed while you were playing. Let’s say you take Xerxes into battle, and whilst distracted by staring in to the vulval rifts of one of the first level bosses, you find yourself soiling the back of your bright orange pants. You load up Chanterelle and smack the boss right in the mutated baby-maker, Vengeance Missile-style.



Once you take that bad boy (girl?) down for good, you can toss Xerxes over your shoulder and carry him to safety. You can only carry one downed operative at a time, so you’ll have to choose wisely if you’ve had a particularly tough battle, but at least it gives you once last chance to save your go-to operative for another round of alien-bashing. Once you’ve completed the level, you’ll get a mission briefing that shows an overview of which operatives are M.I.A, and which one was successfully rescued.



There’s something else that Weapon of Choice offers besides weapons… and that’s choice. Sure, you have the ability to choose which operative to take into play, which one to save, and who to kill with your Vengeance Missile, but you also have the choice in which path to take through the game. Within most levels, you are free to take the high road or the low road (and sometimes a road or two in between), but there are also branching paths that will take you to entirely new levels altogether.



All tolled, there are 4 different endings to this game. A couple of the branching paths will be readily apparent to anyone who plays through the first level and checks out the Conflict Map during the General’s briefing. Right away, the player is offered the choice to follow the General’s orders, or set out on a different path, as advised by a mysterious alien. Each path has drastically different consequences and presents the story from a different perspective.



In addition to these two obvious paths, there are a couple others which are more well hidden, which may take some prodding by the player to find. These alternate paths introduce completely new bosses, new mission objectives, and new endings. So, just because you’ve beaten a few levels and saw a closing cinematic, the battle is far from over. And if you haven’t yet encountered a boss that attacks you with ice cream cones from the heavens, then… well… you have some more playing to do. The Conflict Map gives you a hint as to how much of the game is left for you to conquer, as do the game-ending briefings, and the “Areas Secure” indicator on the difficulty selection screen.



Something that this game offers, which was not easily done on the consoles of old, is a dynamic camera. A camera, you say? What’s a camera doing in my 2D game? Well, as it turns out, a camera and 2D can actually add up to 2 great tastes that taste great together, and it eliminates the rigid “scroll box” that is present in many other games of its kind. Whenever an enemy is present on the edge of the screen, the camera will slide over to make it visible to the player. If there are lots of enemies nearby, or a particularly large boss, the camera may pull back to give you a better view of the action and show you the size and scale of the threat you’re up against. It’s another modern accompaniment to the standard 2D side-scroller formula.



There are a couple of bits of nastiness in the game that come exclusively to modern consoles, which probably wouldn’t have passed the Nintendo censors of the 90’s (and maybe not even the Sega ones). For instance, the High Trees level introduces you to a poop-chucking alien called a Scat Thrower. The thing literally craps into its own hand and then chucks it at you like an overexcited monkey at your local zoo. Worse, rather than just ruining your zoo-sized fudgesicle, alien poo can actually kill you. That’s right, this game has Death Brushing with turds… name one other game that does that.



The fun is that these poo-flinging enemies are surrounded by odd Monument Valley-inspired rock formations that teeter when you stand on them. So, while you can take down a Scat Thrower with your standard weaponry, you can also unbalance a rock and send it down to crush the alien’s skull. That’s what you get for playing with your food.



Another of these morbidly perverse enemies is called Monkeyeballs. We’ll let you digest the etymology of that word for a second… Done? OK, so this thing has eyeballs for testicles, which is pretty sick on its own. What’s even more disgusting is that this monkey likes to pull off his own eye-testes and throw them at you, at which point he can spawn a replacement. That’s one of the single most disturbing images present in any game that isn’t selling itself as outright violence-porn. If there’s one thing Mommy’s Best Games knows – as evidenced by the game’s many strange creatures – it’s that oddly-placed eyeballs are quite disturbing. Enemy ideas left on the cutting room floor are likely to have included Eyesickles and the Eyegina.



In fact, one of the things that sets this game apart from a lot of “typical” shooters is the enemy variety, and the fact that most enemies are specific to a certain region of the game, eliminating the easy-to-kill drone characters that populate many games from start to finish. Besides those listed above, there are some other enemy designs that stand out if for no other reason than their odd abilities. For instance, the Strip Mine level (complete with mine cart section… check) features a floating mushroom-like enemy that drops seeds as it moves. If allowed to hit the ground, the seeds will immediately sprout into large pink coral-like plants which will, of course, kill you. Destroying the plants causes them to wilt, and destroying the hovering mushroom-thing will prevent it from dropping any more seeds.



The Peak Bridges area features not only Monkeyeballs, but also a strange exoskeleton-clad creature that can grow huge spikes from its back, and can grow a plant-like thing from its mouth that shoots lasers in multiple directions.



And finally, one of the first creatures you encounter in the game – which you will find in numerous sizes and colors throughout the Mountain Village – is the Spike Sack. While it is capable of firing projectiles, its most menacing attack is a full-on running charge move. It will give out a maddening shriek and then its 4 insect-like legs will propel it toward you, sack a-swinging all the way.



A few other notes before we crack open the Spectacle and Bastard Class Enemies… This game has no enemy respawns. Once you kill it, it’s dead. So, if you want to explore the high road and the low road, and that secret mountain pass you saw earlier, go ahead. You can always go back the way you came without repercussions.

Also, this game has no HUD. Nope, none. So you’re free to ogle the artwork, and still have screen real estate left over to welcome the nearest visitor to planet Earth… with your gun.



And there are a few other funzies to be had here and there. For instance, the dialogue between you and General Grier will occasionally change during the opening rocket launch sequence at the beginning of the game. Also, interstitial loading screens are packed with odd pop culture references, numerous This Day in History... statements that inform the player about what has happened in the world between now and 2188 (a lot of which have to do with sheep, apparently), and even quotes from a character that was cut from the final version of the game – but who has some (disturbing) advice for the kiddies nonetheless.




SPECTACLE ENEMIES (What’s this?)

Teat Walker About midway through the first level, you will encounter a creature that positively defines the term “Spectacle Enemy”.



The Teat Walker is a beast that is simultaneously gorgeous, hideously ugly, and mind-warpingly strange. Its back is covered in hard shells, intermixed with tufts of fur. It has enormous insect-like legs that arc toward the ground, which it uses to slowly walk through the level.



If you make it across the Teat Walker’s back, you will see that its malformed head has hideous teeth – which it uses to chomp down and eat birds right out of the sky – and it has a row of spikes jutting back to protect its exposed throbbing pink brain.



You have the choice to go over or under the thing, either walking on its back or walking under its legs. And the underside of the Teat Walker is where you will find out how the thing got its name… Beneath the lumbering monstrosity, you will find a row of bulging, veiny alien breasts. Rather than making you exuberantly shout “bewbies” like a hormone-enraged teenager on a message board, you will instead find your stomach turning a bit as your mind attempts to absorb the nature of these man-sized gerfloppers. For a bit of added stomach-churning, why not try spider-packing your way through her underside?



As you have no doubt noticed from the screenshots, this enormous monstrosity cannot be seen all at once. It is so tall that taking the high road doesn’t allow you to see its legs (or breasts), and taking the low road gives you but a hint of its true nature. It’s just… a spectacle to behold, and you’ll probably need to play through the level a few times to fully grasp the entirety of the Teat Walker.



But she’s not just there for show, or a free ride (uh huh). Remember that throbbing pink brain we mentioned earlier? Fill it full of fire and fury, and you can actually bring this creature crashing to the ground, if you wish. See, the thing doesn’t actually attack you. Sure, its spikes can hurt you if you get too close, but otherwise it’s just minding its own business, not even taking notice of you as you run across its back or swing beneath its bouncy ba-baas. Still, you’re itching to try it just once, aren’t you?

Rockapillar In the High Trees level, tucked away in a somewhat hidden mountain pass, you will find the Rockapillar. These long green exoskeleton-clad caterpillars will leave you alone if you don’t bother them. But hop on one’s back and you’d better be prepared for a wild ride.



Standing on the right-hand side of a Rockapillar will cause it to start walking to the right, while standing on the left will move it that direction instead. Its movements are a bit strange and unpredictable – a commuter train it is not – and it will bend up and around as it moves forward and over obstacles.



But you can’t just sit back and enjoy the scenery… Besides the enemies surrounding you (Knife Walkers, the bastards), you can also be hurt by the Rockapillars themselves, by getting a bit too close to the pincers on either end. And, there’s more than one of these things to contend with, so you’ll find your caterpillar scurrying face-first into others, which have equally dangerous mouths. At this point, you’ll need to jump off and mount the next creature to continue your guided tour of the mountain caves.


Peak Worm “We have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen!”



This is another creature that essentially ignores your presence, but it presents a serious threat nonetheless, and must be dealt with if you hope to pass the Peak Bridges level.



These multi-screen high creatures burrow up through the ground, one after the other, leaving a small gap for you to run through. They also poop out goodly-sized spheres – right into the mouth of the next Peak Worm – which can cause you the hurty pain.



It’s not enough to just dodge or shoot these mines; you have to make it through the gaps quickly before the worm’s forward movement carries you up to the top of the hole and mashes you against a row of organic spikes. And, due to the shape of the moving pincers, it’s possible to find yourself accidentally trapped within their grip and carried to the top. Time to pull out one of your aerial maneuvers before you become part of the scenery.


BASTARD CLASS ENEMIES (What’s this?)

Knife Walkers They’re eyeballs with knives for legs and they always travel in packs. They can walk across the floor or the ceiling, and they can even flutter their little knifey appendages about and hover in the air for a while.



They’re hard to spot and even harder to hit. And since they vary in size, it can be easy to think you’ve wiped them all out only to find one tucked away in a corner somewhere. Wonder why Death Brushing kicked in when you walked next to that bush? Surprise, it’s free lobotomy day!


Eye Saws So, we’ve had eyeballs with knives and now we have eyeballs with saw blades. Can the Eyeron Maiden be far behind? (Let that sink in for a minute… after a while the pain will be replaced by emptiness.)



At the lowest difficulty level, these enemies don’t even appear in the game, which should give you some idea of how dangerous they are. There’s a pod-like plant that births the Eye Saws, after which they will seek you out relentlessly. Take one of them down, and another will follow. The pods are capable of excreting 3 of these saws, so its best to concentrate your firepower on the source before it has a chance to launch more, because they do not feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.


Wrap Mouth Depending on the path you take in the High Trees area you could potentially encounter this creature twice. It first appears at the opening of the High Trees and it must be destroyed in order to continue to the rest of the level.



It’s the environment that’s partially to blame for the difficulty you’ll find in dealing with this enemy. You will be jumping from tree branch to tree branch, using your spider pack, and dealing with a fast-moving flying enemy that can enter from either side f the screen.



It acts almost as a boss in that it has multiple attack patterns. It will start off by darting across the screen at you. Then, after it has sustained enough damage, it will become even more dangerous, opening its flip-top head and chasing you down, launching a tracking energy ball as well as horned projectiles that come at you in great number, which can be difficult to avoid or destroy given that they travel in an arc.



At the opening of the High Trees area, killing the Wrap Mouth will allow you to leave the area and continue on to the mountain. There, if you take the high road, you will find yourself facing off against two of these creatures at once (only 1 on the Easy difficulty setting). They are smaller in scale than the first one you encounter, but keeping track of both of their attack patterns can be difficult. Best to bring an operative that’s good in the air, lest you become dinner for two.


BOSSES
The bosses you encounter in this game are dependent upon which path you take. So, rather than place them in sequential order, we’ll just list them based on the path you need to take to get to them, and leave you to find them for yourself. Also, the strategies for fighting these bosses are drastically different depending on which of the 7 operatives you take into the encounter, and each boss has numerous attack patterns.


If you’re following General Grier’s orders, you will encounter the following bosses:

Mountain Village: Pineapple Tail



For a first-level boss this guy has a pretty complex array of attacks. First, it has a long stalk that emerges from its back and sends spores hovering down to the ground dandelion-style. They move slowly down the screen and don’t fall straight down, so you have to be mindful of their trajectory. Fortunately, they can be destroyed by your weapon, but if you are hit by one, it will stick to you and substantially limit your movement, leaving you open to other attacks.



Pineapple Tail lobs invincible spiked things from its… er… slits, which bounce around the area and generally cause havoc. Additionally, it can spurt a stream of green slime from its underside, and suck you toward itself with the vacuum power of its back hole (yes, we’re calling it a “back hole”). Occasionally, it moves forward and attacks you with its claws, dragging along the wall and ground.



Causing continuous damage to its body is the fastest way to bring it down.


Strip Mine: Zipper Lips and Snotsquito



This boss is actually made up of 2 creatures in a symbiotic relationship. One is a dragon-like snake that emerges from the ground, and the other is a little flying bug.



At the beginning of the fight, the Snotsquito appears to “unzip” the mouth of the snake, and then begins flying about the screen, dropping pink energy bombs on you, while the snake spews snot from its nose. You are able to cause damage to the boss by shooting either the head of the snake or the flying bug. The snake’s body cannot hurt you, so you are free to run about the lower portion of the screen as needed.



Once you have caused enough damage, the snake will rise up out of the ground and will begin swinging around, attempting to bite you or ram its head into you. At this point, the bug will stop dropping bombs and start dropping temporary shields that will block some projectiles. This is where a weapon like Chanterelle’s Plasma Blade really comes in handy, because the blades can pass through any solid object.



Cause some more damage, and the Snotsquito will return to the snake’s head, and apparently fill itself up by sucking the snot out of the snake’s nose. Then, it begins dropping energy bombs and shields at a higher rate of speed. Sadly for the boss, the shields also prevent most of the bombs from reaching the ground as well, so they become less of a threat. The snake, however, moves much faster during this time, making it easier for you to be killed from melee damage.


Cleft Mountain: Cleft Mountain
This is the end-level boss for the General’s path, and it’s a doozy. You start the level by walking up the side of a mountain, with a full moon in the background, and pretty calm music playing (at least compared to the guitar riffs in previous levels). There are no enemies to fight. Instead, as you get to the top of the mountain, it splits open, revealing hidden teeth, eyeballs, and gushing sores.



The term “screen-filling boss” isn’t really appropriate when you’re dealing with a game that has a scaling camera, but it is certainly the case here. In fact, it’s really more than screen-filling because the entire mountain is the boss! If the camera zoomed out to show you its entirety, your character would be reduced to a tiny speck on the screen.



When the mountain springs to life, you’ll have to deal with a series of three eyeballs, the top of which shoots green parasite-looking projectiles at you. There is an identical set of eyes on the opposite side - protected by a tooth-ridden chasm - which also fire at you during this time. Fortunately, these projectiles can be destroyed; unfortunately, they are high in number and move in a somewhat unpredictable pattern.



There are also sores on the alien’s back which emit some kind of bluish goo, which squirts out in a haphazard fashion. The goo doesn’t hurt you, but it does push you around, purposely limiting your movement. So either you get up close and personal with the eyes, or you hang back and deal with the goo gushers; it’s your choice.



Once you have dealt with the first eyeball, it will turn black and roll down, while the next eyeball rolls up to take its place. The second eye shoots swirling spherical projectiles, until it is destroyed, at which time the third eye emerges and shoots long spinning projectiles. All of these projectiles can be killed with your weapon, and you still have to be mindful of the set of eyes on the opposite side that are continuing to fire upon you during this time.



Finally, once you’ve taken down all 3 eyes, the huge alien mouth will start to close, giving you a chance to jump over the cleft and take out the 3 identical eyes on the other side. Then, the alien mouth opens up all the way, and starts sucking air down into the resulting hole. You have no choice but to go inside.



Falling into the mouth of the alien will reveal a floor made up of a row of moving tongues. On either side is a tooth-lined tunnel.



The teeth protect a pair of eye stalks which fire off slimy projectiles, and both of them have to be destroyed before the boss is finally down for good. Occasionally, the wall of teeth above you will start coming down, leaving you to retreat or be crushed. Beating this boss gives you one of the game’s 4 endings.



If you’re following the advice of the alien, Vice Chancellor Elemes, you will encounter these bosses instead:

Mountain Village: Spike Worm



The Spike Worm can emerge from any of the 4 corners of the screen, and will proceed horizontally across, attacking as it goes. It has 3 spikes sticking out of its back, which are its weak point. As each of them is destroyed, the boss’s attack pattern will change.



At is base level, the worm will either simply charge across the screen, or will tuck itself into a ball and roll toward you (even across the ceiling!). Once you have destroyed one of its spikes, it will cough up a projectile that spins around in the center of the screen, and then moves forward in 90 degree increments. It will remain on the screen until it is destroyed. The worm will also send smaller projectiles out from its backside, which will move in a single direction before hitting a wall and disappearing. These projectiles can also be destroyed.



After sustaining further damage, the worm will start to extend its head and swing it back, attempting to kill you with melee damage. He will continue to speed up and deliver the above attacks until he is finally destroyed.


High Trees: Digging Clam



Even though this level is called High Trees, you will actually find yourself passing through a forest and a mountain, before eventually coming do a desert area. When you walk out into the desert, a huge clam will come rocketing down from the sky and bury itself in the sand, right where you’re standing, so you’ll need to dodge quickly.



The clam can shoot a pearl out of its mouth, which explodes in to an array of shards. It can also jump into the air, dropping a red ball from a string hanging out of its mouth, which will kill you if not avoided or destroyed.

Once you cause enough damage, it will also start to scoot quickly across the ground, and will occasionally stop to open its mouth and shoot bouncing red blobs at you.



Cause even more damage, and it will start to leap quickly out of the ground, fly across the sky, and re-bury itself, pausing in mid-air to spin and launch a series of spikes at you.

One of the cool things about this boss is that the shell can’t hurt you, and it has full collision detection. So, you can stand on the clam’s shell – even when it’s flying through the air – and shoot down into its mouth, which is its weak point. This is a good strategy for dealing some up-close damage with a character like Xerxes.


Warped Ship: Unhydra Crab (get it…?)



At the start of this fight, you appear to find yourself up against a creepy, multi-legged armadillo. All it can do is jump around and try to run into you. Its shell is impervious to your weapons, and you can only damage the legs which protrude from beneath.

But, once you damage it enough, it will lose some of its legs and grow considerably in size. At this point, it continues to jump, only now it occasionally stops while bugs come pouring out of it and running toward you. It’s best to kill the bugs quickly, because they’ll stay on the screen even after the crab starts jumping again.



Once you have caused sufficient damage to this form of the alien, it loses all but 4 of its legs, and grows to the full height of the screen. And then… it comes after you.

You must run, run, run, as fast as you can, jumping up ledges, maneuvering past trees, and avoiding enemies (which can be quite plentiful on higher difficulty settings). It will continue to chase after you, knocking over trees as it does.



Eventually, you will come to a clearing which is littered with dead trees, and the crab will actually stretch out one of its legs and taunt you.



Then, it will come at you, moving its legs end-over-end, and giving you just a small area beneath it to avoid damage. You need to keep dealing damage to its legs as much as you can during this time. On the lower difficulty settings, you can be pretty well assured that Death Brushing will be in full effect here, giving you a bit of extra time to find a safe spot under its legs as it moves. On the higher difficulty settings… well, you’d better think fast.



After it moves back and forth a couple of times, it will stop and reach down, picking up one of the dead trees. If you’re standing on it at the time, you'll need to back away, because it will reach up with one of its other legs and… poke at you. Funny though it may seem, it can still kill you just as dead. Defeating this boss brings you to one of the game’s 4 endings.


If you take one of the hidden routes, and follow Agent Axon, you will encounter these bosses:

Mountain Village: Pitcher Mouth



This boss appears to be a pair of eye stalks (or 1 in the Easy difficulty setting), which are sitting in a tooth-lined coffee mug. The eyes look over the edges of the cup to target you – one aiming high and one low – and then shoot lasers which track across the screen in your direction. You can damage them by shooting either the stalks or the cup itself. Occasionally, only one of the eyes will fire at you, and the other will fall down into the cup and splash, sending some of the deadly brown substance within heading your way.



Once you cause enough damage, the real zaniness kicks in. A huge hand will reach out and grab the mug by the handle and start pouring the brown substance on the ground, and then set the mug back down (which will kill you if you were standing under it for protection from the death sludge within).



On the second coffee spill, the big hand will set the mug down on the opposite side of the screen and will start making fists and which drop down from the ceiling to kill you. You can shoot the mug, the eye stalks, or the giant creepy fist, all of which will cause damage.


Peak Bridges: Bubble Dragon
This boss looks like a stoned 3-headed version of the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story. It sticks head and neck down from the top of the screen and the 3 heads vomit in your general direction while pink bubbles emerge from the bottom of the screen and push you up toward it. It will occasionally stick out a green snake-like spiked tongue and will try to lick you to death with it.



The blue gem in the center of its head appears to summon more bubbles, and once you cause enough damage, it will summon a row of bubbles and begin shooting energy blasts from both of the side-heads. The projectiles arc quickly toward the ground, and will pop any bubbles that they hit. The initial shots are easy to avoid if you stay directly beneath the boss, but once they hit the ground, they will turn and start seeking you. Fortunately, these projectiles can be destroyed, but they can be a bit difficult to see because they can turn and move just beneath the solid ground.



Once you kill it, it will fall from the top of the screen and you’ll get to see the fullness of its oddly-shaped body. You’ll also get to see the end of the Secret Agent path of the game.



If you manage to find what is probably the game’s most hidden route, you will encounter a very odd level, the final boss of which is the Evil Sun:



As crazy as the other bosses are, this one trumps them all. This gonzo battle takes place inside an area that is sealed off by walls of dinner plates carrying steaks and potatoes. After taunting you, the sun will begin pelting you with snot from its nose and energy rings from each of its eyes, and will occasionally drop down to the ground to kill you.



After blowing out one of its eyes, a new attack will be added to its repertoire where it will not only drop down, but will drag across the ground from one side of the area to the other.



Finally, destroying both eyes will reveal… a third eye! Once it opens, the Evil Sun gains the ability to summon ice cream cones from the heavens. Yes ice cream cones. We kid you not. Killing the sun – which you don’t get to do very often in a video game (Super Mario Bros. 3 notwithstanding) – will allow you to access yet another game ending.




HERITAGE

Why this game should be part of your 2D heritage:
  • Multiple characters, each with their own weapon of choice and vastly different abilities
  • Unique “lives” system uses the number of remaining operatives as your life count
  • Multiple paths, each with their own bosses, hidden characters, and story elements
  • Available dual-analogue control in a side-scrolling action game
  • Wide variety in design and abilities of both standard enemies and bosses
  • A number of over-the-top bosses and Spectacle Enemies
  • No HUD

The downside:
  • There’s some slowdown when you get into the thick-and-heavy
  • Screenshots don’t do the game justice; you have to see the game in motion to get the full effect
  • Um… it’s just too much fun. What?

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