Gaiares (Genesis) review
"I have seen evidence of reviews, ‘professional’ or otherwise, where the reviewer seems not to have been able to get into the belly of the game, and writes of early passages in an attempt to skirt the issue of his superficial foray. It probably works, because many fans who own the game haven’t seen the horizons beyond level four either. "
It will make you tap out
There are those good shooters where a week of getting destroyed prematurely is an accepted investment to facilitate the copious amounts of practice and memorization needed to finish them (I'm thinking of R-Type). Then there are others that are so hard that no amount of practice or prior knowledge alone will assure victory. These, I dub, the ‘unfair set’ (I'm thinking of Deep Blue).
And then, there’s Gaiares.
A game that is so unapologetically hard, that when you’ve reached the point where you’ve cleared all seven levels of most other shooters, you’re at Gaiares’ level three. I have seen evidence of reviews, ‘professional’ or otherwise, where the reviewer seems not to have been able to get into the belly of the game, and writes of early passages in an attempt to skirt the issue of his superficial foray. It probably works, because many fans who own the game haven’t seen the horizons beyond level four either.
Gaiares might as well have been two games; a B game, and the A game. Most won’t taste the intense gratification that the slightest progress later on will bring. But if one is patient with Gaiares, if one trains oneself to believe that in shooters, as in Role-playing Games, experience building is possible, with time, even a mediocre player might slip past the guillotine-guarded gate of Death Ghetto (the ominous and quite appropriately placed Grim Reaper). In light of the incredibly intractable attitude of Renovation’s game that almost begrudges you progress, it’s amazing that Gaiares manages this mean streak while maintaining fair play.
You’re Dan Dare, and along with ally Alexis, you must put down the threat of the evil Gulfer empire. Seems easy enough. As in R-Type, you’re the recipient of an indestructible satellite (why not indestructible spacecraft?) that follows your every move. Unlike R-Type, you can’t attach it to your ship, however, it is actually capable of learning enemy weapons (Einhander’s weapon-stealing power up system doesn’t seem so revolutionary now, does it!). Fire out the TOZ in a straight horizontal line toward an enemy, and learn the use of the weapon that enemy is using. You can learn the weapon a few more times to power it up. The enemies will offer eight different types of weaponry, ranging from rapid-firing missiles, to wide blue beams. Then there’s the ultimate weapon, the T-Braster. This semi-secret all-consuming weapon can only be earned by firing out the TOZ six times in a row at nothing. Then the very next enemy the TOZ hits will provide your ship with the five-way, homing weapon of mass destruction. However, you need to reacquire it at the beginning of every stage, and actually doing so might be more trouble than it’s worth. Despite its inarguable usefulness, I have died scores of times in its pursuit to begin a level.
I maintain that with a more easily accessible T-Braster, more shields scattered about, a few standout backgrounds, and a couple more good tunes, the hard-as-hell Gaiares would have been the perfect shooter. The recipe for inimitable brilliance seems so close to fulfillment—but alas, ‘twas not to be. It's flawed majesty, and not at all for the easily frustrated.
The music and graphics are an up and down affair. The backgrounds are often static and dull, but the enemies—especially the bosses—are massive, intricately detailed and painted, and, in keeping with the theme of the game, extremely unfriendly. Similarly the music is repetitive, but the tracks that are present are hypnotic and become engrained in one’s perception of the game’s soul. The galloping, bass-heavy insistence of the pre-boss/mid-boss tune seems to communicate better than anything else to our memories that Gaiares is like no other shooter we will play. That Gaiares is too much for you, and you’re lucky to be a part the experience that it has wrought.
Typical—but still memorable—shooter ‘fanfare’ music initiates you to the game, accompanied by a good example of the aforementioned banal backgrounds; potatoes serve as asteroids. At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “this is a decent shooter for the Gen—“ and then you’ll be dead. Pay attention! The first level of a game is no place to use your continues, but then… You should be eating your ego at this point, swallowing, coming clean, starting over, retracing your first steps in the newness of shooter fan infancy. If there is one thing Gaiares does other than inspire greatness, it is this: Gaiares humbles.
The brilliant Aurora Borealis look-alike blinks festively, inviting you to stage two, showing off possibly the best backdrop the game has to offer. The blue and white world of snow and ice seems to pay homage to the simplistic beauty of a Lauren Harris painting. Travel through mountains; sweat as bubbling, warping waters rise to drown your spirit; and crack open a great shell to reveal the malicious mermaid inside.
Level three is a fan favourite, and though that might well be because that’s as far as they can get, it might also be due to the stage’s own merits. Enter a blood-red nebula system and test the gravity of black holes that pulse oddly with electricity. Suddenly, (Gaiares’ developers seem not to be fans of continuity between scenes) you’re in a castle complete with giant guillotines. Loosen the chains and dash through the narrow transom before the otherworldly blade eviscerates your ship! And finally, the Grim Reaper himself, Death Ghetto, alternates between appearing behind you and in front of you, tossing massive sickle-shaped blades in an attempt to do what the guillotines failed at doing.
Evade Death, and find yourself in find yourself on untouched ground (well, not really, but it’s nice to think so). Ironically enough, the fourth level depicts a space junkyard and the ramped up difficulty promises you a place in the landscape. Take an elevator, fly by upside down buildings and dodge machine gun fire from agile robots bearing shields. The spinning, organic cocoon boss will fire eggs and circle the screen tossing hugs rings of fire at every hour of the clock.
Halfway through this, one of the greatest tests of shooter dexterity and planning, you will still not have met with the magnitude of the winged golden dragon; the shield and sword bearing, screen-filling woman warrior; and at the end of level seven’s archetypal ‘previous boss showcase’—the dreaded wall, which features a mind-numbing pattern involving laser fire and the evil extension of its deadly claw.
On the topic of level six’s giant woman warrior boss, many of Gaiares’ end guardians are indeed female, (certainly a surprising and welcome aspect of the game) and all are giants. Stage one’s Galudia seems to bear a female profile—and then there is Demarina, the mermaid from area two, and finally, most notably, the cheesily-monikered final boss, Queen BadNasty.
Interestingly enough, if you beat her, your typically heroic and dashing anime hero—complete with Rick Hunter haircut—will walk off toward some sort of docking bay. You’ll notice he keeps walking, his arms working, his legs striding with all the effort in the world, but he doesn’t recede into the distance. He doesn’t get anywhere. While you shooter jockeys should enjoy putting in the effort with Gaiares, this might end up being you.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 14, 2004)
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