Verytex (Genesis) review
"Area three takes us back 'outdoors', over Earth perhaps, high enough to skip through the clouds, but low enough to witness clearly the wake of alien conquest. Surely this 'ravaged metropolis' scene is shooter cliché, but decent execution of it never ceases to bring some degree of profound humanity to any blastathon. Regrettably, the crumbling buildings here are nondescript and repetitive, like the houses that whiz by seen through Fred Flintstones' windows as he runs through his own home. "
An average shooter -- music to my ears
Verytex is a Japanese shooter, so I'm not sure what it's about. The ending screen (yes, I finished it -- I'm that hardcore) tells us something, but the upwardly scrolling kanji is unintelligible to me. Rest assured that as always, there are aliens to kill -- and don't feel bad -- I'm sure they had it coming. Anyway, if you've played Hudson Soft's vertical shoot-em-up Star Soldier, either for the ancient NES or the new GameCube version, Verytex will feel comfortable to you, like an old shoe. But also like an old shoe, Verytex isn't overwhelmingly good looking, is in need of a good polishing, and has a few unseemly holes in its soul.
We'll observe the game's ups and downs as we slide easily from mission to mission. The first of the six levels is like a tribute to Hudson's almost-classic. Steel girders hang in mid-space just begging to be blown up -- a common enough sight in a top down blaster. But what's sweet is that here, some of them actually do fall prey to even your puniest lasers. Joy! You'll want to keep in mind that this is one of those checkpoint shooters, so don't die, as you'll be sent back like fifth grade. In the later levels, the midway checkpoints were scrapped altogether, so it's simply back to the beginning of the level for your trouble.
Take heart though! Verytex is also one of those shooters that powers you up rather quickly: in no time at all you'll have your spread shot maxed out (it takes just three orange icons to do it), a glowing blue shield, and your seven-way homing missiles about halfway to their full destructive capabilities. You'll want to flick your craft velocity up to the third degree as well, because the first two notches simply aren't fast enough. And don't forget the smart bombs you have in reserve; they aren't as destructive as bombs in other, similar games, and their window of destruction is also fairly short -- but on the plus side, they swirl sweetly and swallow enemy fire!
By now, as you cruise through the latter part of level one, you'll notice how good the music is, shaming the merely competent visuals. Excellent music tends to make a game feel better than it is -- especially in this genre that leans so heavily on striking atmosphere to adorn the simplistic. This fact had me almost believing for a time, that Verytex was something truly special, rather than the fairly pedestrian offering with bolt-on brilliant score that it is.
The general blandness of play and looks emerges fully from behind level one's clever aural curtain with a dull, mucky red-brown level two: the rather generic 'base stage'. Area three takes us back 'outdoors', over Earth perhaps, high enough to skip through the clouds, but low enough to witness clearly the wake of alien conquest. Surely this 'ravaged metropolis' scene is shooter cliché, but decent execution of it never ceases to bring some degree of profound humanity to any blastathon. Regrettably, the crumbling buildings here are nondescript and repetitive, like the houses that whiz by seen through Fred Flintstone's windows as he runs through his own home.
Strangely, all the general problems with the game seem to be on their very worst behaviour in this third level. Bullet visibility isn't the greatest throughout the proceedings, but they're especially apt to pull off disappearing acts in this stage. Compounding that issue is the one concerning your own weapons. By now you'll notice the game's urging you to try something other than the spread weapon that you've probably gotten comfortable with. The other weapon icons will seem to pop up in greater numbers as if to say ''choose me!'' But you really shouldn't!
One of them has your ship firing crescents of blue and orange that cover an impressive swath of screen in front of you, but the crescents further obscure incoming enemy shots, and leave your rear uncovered (the game is big on bum rushes, probably the main challenge to keep you awake as you play). And then there's the All-Powerful Single Stream Weapon we've met and shook hands with in EVERY SHOOTER, only here it has been altered just slightly. Now it's an All-Futile Single Stream Weapon. Amazingly, not only does it predictably give up the screen coverage of the spread, but in all its ostensible straightforward punchiness, it somehow manages to be less powerful than the spread as well!
But for the patient who stick with the spread, and stick with the program, the tastiest redemption is just around the corner; if you can stomach the lowest of low points in the game, two minutes later you'll be enjoying the highest of the highs! Stage four's expected Asteroid Belt of Doom introduces a slew of enemies with shield-busting lasers (wake up and DODGE!), good mobility, and rear attack tendencies. It's a fairly well designed mission aside from a lame boss closing it out. Even if you foolishly choose one of the two crap weapons, you'll actually be able to see enemy shots clearly again, though the inevitable rearward violations will be ghastly. But the competent design is only half the story here: most notable of all is the level's absolutely superb music! It's not unlike most shooter music in general tone -- it is blaring, pseudo-techno fanfare, but the composition is graceful and inimitably confident. Verytex's level four is without question an anthem good enough to be on a ''best of'' collection of shooter tracks.
Sadly, level five's utterly banal backdrop (I think we're supposed to be high above some partly ravaged and rickety scaffolding structures, but it just looks like we're flying through Rice Chex) and comparatively uninspired tunes, brings the obscure shooter back down to the realm of the barely average. The difficulty picks up though, and tries to make you forget about the ugliness and bareness of it all by unleashing little alien crafts that scale from below to settle on your level and ram you mercilessly from the back. A cool-looking mech bearing a sword seems all set to impress as the boss encounter, but he's all show and no go, like the New York Rangers.
All at once we are ushered into an incredibly hackneyed final realm, complete with the obligatory giant, splayed intestines wallpaper (read: you're flying atop chewed up pink bubblegum) serving as alien lair! Previous mid-bosses return from the dead -- surprise! All the while, sweet synthesizer tunes reminiscent of a track or two from Blazing Lazers hypnotize you, imploring you one last time to feel its genius by hearing it. An exceedingly lame boss encounter is highlighted by heaps of unnecessary slowdown and an enemy that can't even fight back. Surely this cannot be the end? Don't be silly: there's a bigger, badder boss just beyond, at the end of the scrolling screen -- surprise! This guy is harder than anything else the game has thrown at us to this point, times ten. It's a truly harrowing, frustrating finish to a mostly toothless adventure.
And in the end, as we come down from the high of the intense last guardian battle and score to follow suit, we won't realize immediately that Verytex is no more than a very easy take on the old Star Soldier formula with slightly better graphics, and shockingly good music that stirs your shooter soul even as everything else threatens to anaesthetize you. But eventually it will dawn on us. We'll become all too cognizant of this ineluctable thing: to remove the arresting tunes would make Verytex akin to last night's fling when the buzz wears off: you'll be adequately spent, but you'll wonder what the hell you were getting so rock hard over.
Staff review by Marc Golding (February 10, 2004)
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