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Blazing Lazers (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Blazing Lazers (TurboGrafx-16) review

"This particular game falls firmly into the "overhead space shooter" genre, and smooth control combined with a fairly intriguing powerup system set it firmly at the top of the heap. It was the fastest shooter vertical or horizontal that the world had seen to that point, trouncing even Thunder Force 2 on the "superior" Genesis system."

Released in 1989, Compile's Blazing Lazers shined very brightly, a true evolutionary end-of-the-line for the '80's line of spaceship shmups. In case you don't recall (or never even knew), Compile is the same company that designed Zanac and the NES classic Guardian Legend, and later went on to make... Puyo Puyo. This particular game falls firmly into the "overhead space shooter" genre, and smooth control combined with a fairly intriguing powerup system set it firmly at the top of the heap. It was the fastest shooter vertical or horizontal that the world had seen to that point, trouncing even Thunder Force 2 on the "superior" Genesis system.

At least, it was fastest for a year. Then the equally-fast Thunder Force 3 and MUSHA came along. By the end of 1992, a mere three years later, Space Megaforce, Lightening Force, Gate of Thunder, Batsugun, Axelay, and Spriggan all swatted Blazing Lazers further and further down the totem pole, where it eventually settled into the status of "reminder of yesteryear" rather than being a true contender for the coveted King Of Shooters throne.

In simpler days, most shooters ignored any semblance of continuity or plot, simply throwing the player into stage after random stage of cool scenery: one level a raging space battle, the next the innards of a bio-monster. This is the line of thought that spawned Konami's Gradius and Life Force, and Compile borrowed a few ideas when they made Blazing Lazers. While strafing the desert planet look, it's the moai heads from Gradius! What's that in the bubble level? Could it be... the giant, floating skull boss from Life Force? And speaking of bubbles, haven't we seen those in Gradius 3?

Physically deformed peon advisor: "Sire, this lone fighter is single-handedly destroying our entire armada!"

Stern commander: "Damage report?"

Physically deformed peon advisor: "He has destroyed our entire Advance Fleet, and the monstrous Brain-Eater Megamonster!"

Stern commander: "Then we have no alternative... BREAK OUT THE BUBBLES!"

Silly, yet amusing. Blazing Lazers offers very little in the way of "new", but it brings back memories of other olden blasters, reminding you how cool-but-goofy the level designs in the Gradius series really were.

However, thanks to the power of the TurboGrafx, Blazing Lazers actually adds smooth control and SPEED to the equation. No more processor-bogging slowdown! No more of those accursed speed-ups! Not only does your ship fill the screen with waves of flicker-free firepower, but you can toggle your craft's speed at will. Too fast? Drop it a notch. Too slow? Warp drive ten, baby!

Many, many people have fond memories of the old classic shooters, but going back and actually playing those games can be a bit of a shock. Due to its responsive controls, Lazers lets you pick up the control pad, weave through the organic "brains-on-sticks are attacking me" level, and think to yourself: "Ahhhh, man, Life Force was such a great game!" Much less painful than actually playing Life Force's version of the brains-on-sticks zone. Unfortunately, Lazers' is a more simplistic rendition of the Brains level, with fewer types of enemies.

Compile also used their "roman numeral" weapon system, which showed up again in the terminally boring Space Megaforce. You can pick up any of four weapons, represented by glowing orbs emblazoned with I, II, III, or IV. Also available are four sub-weapons, although one of these is actually a shield. Mixing and matching can occasionally produce different effects; some, such as homing thunderbeams, are quite neat. Aside from the pitiful Ring weapon (useful only on the final level), they're all very quick and responsive.

So, although Blazing Lazers doesn't break any new ground in the design department, Compile at least spent some time on the controls. However, Compile's "mech" shooters (in which you pilot a mechasuit instead of a Lazers-style spaceship) typically combined both creativity and smooth control. Lazers has nothing even nearly as striking as the bizaare-yet-intriguing storyline of Robo-Aleste, the DEEP (and still unique!) mix-and-match powerup system of Spriggan, or the inspired backgrounds of MUSHA. Even today, when you'd think the world was fresh out of gimmicks, shooters strive for a creative angle to set them apart from the crowd: Darius continues to provide bigger and badder mecha-fish with each outing, Einhander offered secret bonuses and fresh level concepts (such as strafing a train), and so on. Blazing Lazers doesn't do any of that. But there is still hope: if a game doesn't offer something unique and different, then it can still try to do things better than the rest.

Unfortunately, not only does Blazing Lazers lack the originality needed to set it apart from the crowd, but it also lacks graphical flash. With multitudes of substandard enemies (spinning UFO's, spinning missiles, spinning turrets) or non-animated enemies that simply glide across the screen, the graphics don't help raise the adrenaline level. Well, whenever flash fails to impress, gameplay needs to step in and save the day!

Blazing Lazers is very definitely a "twitch" shooter (as opposed to cerebral): rarely must you think about HOW an enemy attacks, just assume that it will try to ram or shoot you, and avoid it. The third level is LOADED with gobs of different drones, gun-laden pillars rising from the ground, and destructible scenery. THAT is the kind of intensity needed to overcome a lack of flash and get the blood pumping!

Sadly, that third level, like the other intense spurts in the game, is mired amidst tedious moments. For example, the desert planet has a short span where Moai heads scatter bullets across the screen and Pyramids launch buckets of missiles. However, that segment comes after a long, droning sequence of "kill a few spaceships", "watch the world slowly scroll by", "destroy a pyramid or two". When you first turn on the game, the backgrounds BLAZE by underneath (a strong first impression), but most of the game meanders along at a leisurely pace. Moreover, many of the levels are extremely loooooooong, with backgrounds that "loop" (as though to increase the size of the level, they simply repeated the background twice). Perhaps the worst is the Outpost level, which plods on and on and on, with very few foes, leaving you with little else to do but enjoy the music.

And how is the music? The tunes really aren't bad, but with its cosmic, high-pitched style, it comes across as the very epitome of tinny beep-beep-boop 8-bit music. Basically, in terms of sound quality, it's nothing out of the ordinary it's exactly what you would expect from a TurboChip or NES game. There are bad tunes (the first level's hideously shrill wailing comes to mind), and there are good tunes (the Outpost's lounge-style serenity and the Brains-level's disturbing beeping come to mind). It's not anything to be muted, but imagining people twelve years ago, playing Blazing Lazers and rocking out "SLAAAAYEEEERRRR!" to the melodies, always makes me burst out laughing.

Time has not been kind to this neglected legend.

In its very brief heyday, Blazing Lazers was one of the best shooters on the market. It's a shame that more people weren't able to play the game back when smooth shooter control was something special. Today, it's more notable for its nostalgic value: "Remember when floating skulls were COOL bosses?" Those days were indeed very cool, if a bit silly. Had the pacing not been so sporadic, and had the presentation offered more punch, Blazing Lazers could have soared as a timeless classic. It's instead a kitsch classic that serves better as a reminder of the past than as a serious competitor.


zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (January 16, 2004)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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