Jupiter Strike (PlayStation) review
"Jupiter is an exciting planet. I'd go so far as to say it's the excitingest planet in the galaxy. It's an elephantine, reddish gassy giant with a day period consisting of a cracking ten Earth hours and a diameter eleven times the size of Earth's. That makes it the biggest hunk of fast-rotating rock and dust in the galaxy. They even have Helium in the atmosphere on Jupiter, just sitting there. You don't have to suck it out of a balloon-inflating device or anything! Imagine all the squeaky-voiced ..."
Jupiter is an exciting planet. I'd go so far as to say it's the excitingest planet in the galaxy. It's an elephantine, reddish gassy giant with a day period consisting of a cracking ten Earth hours and a diameter eleven times the size of Earth's. That makes it the biggest hunk of fast-rotating rock and dust in the galaxy. They even have Helium in the atmosphere on Jupiter, just sitting there. You don't have to suck it out of a balloon-inflating device or anything! Imagine all the squeaky-voiced fun you could have with your friends while you froze and shattered in the shade of Jupiter's piledriver atmosphere and got blasted by extraordinarily complex wave motion.
Yet for the Totenkloitz aliens, being vaguely associated in some way with the excitingest of all planets just wasn't enough. So they launched a strike against Earth and tried to kill us all. And the secondary nickname of the slow-moving spaceship Earth launched in an attempt to fob off the Totenkloitzes, was... Juuuuuupiter Strike! (JS)
It's rarely a promising indicator of quality control in a game when even the manual and the spiel on the back of the jewel case can't agree on its background story, especially in the case of a facile shoot-em-up. So I figure that the story I invented concerning the aliens' grudge against humanity was as good a plot as any to wring some excitement out of the proceedings. Nevertheless, JS kept swinging wildly in this department - before I'd even played my first game, if that can be considered possible - by opening with a bewildering (both in terms of overkill and confusion) three minutes of choppily compressed FMV depicting numerous spaceships swarming, destroying things and each other, and generally massing for combat. In hindsight, this proved to be one of the most ridiculous-seeming openings in gamedom.
JS then gives you an Afterburner-ish rear view of your admittedly cool-looking space jet (it's like a foxy upside down 'V') as it limps into the blackness of space, across alien oceans and through some asteroid fields and space stations, with the twin goals of survival and trying to kill everything that moves against you.
There are worse first-generation Playstation games than this one, which was the brainchild of Taito (for shame!) and Acclaim (not for shame!), but not that many. JS, incredibly, does manage to come back somewhat from the most pitiful initial moment of an action game I've ever experienced. This is the moment when you first see your ship almost not moving at all into an empty field of space, with huge pixelated asteroids trundling leisurely towards you. And you press the d-pad to move your ship around and it drags across the screen like a somnolent elephant, and then you notice that hideously tinpot little twenty second loop of boppy music in the background, and you also notice that absolutely nothing is happening, that there are no aliens anyway... it all just coalesces into a sensation of pure, distilled lameness.
Fortunately, some enemies do attack after awhile. BOY do they attack!
Enemy craft swirl in from the front, the rear, the sides, above and below, constantly spewing lasers and heat-seeking rockets at your present position. For a game espousing the 'move constantly to avoid taking hits' model, you're not well-equipped to handle things in your molasses-speed ship. To ward off the Totenkloitz onslaught you're armed with just two weapons - a regular laser and a lock-on laser - and you've got a target reticule which settles inconveniently right in front of your spaceship when you're not moving, so that you can't see either the crosshairs or what you're shooting at. You also have the cheap-yet-crucial ability to roll your ship. This makes you temporarily immune to everything but the terrain, and there's only a minor time restriction enforced between rolls.
The game throws so much artillery at you that the roll is of vital importance, so it's maddening that this manoeuvre's controller implementation is awful and random-feeling. You have to tap one top shoulder button then the other in rapid succession to start the roll, and this only registers about half the time. The result for me was that to get anywhere in JS beyond the first couple of stages, ultimately I had to be just rapidly tapping the shoulder buttons in succession for the entire duration of the game. That was the only way to guarantee I'd be rolling often enough to survive, and in those moments where I needed it. It also guaranteed that my wrists will now pack in a few years earlier than they were scheduled to in my pre-JS salad days.
After a couple of dozy black, brown and grey levels of skirmishing, the first boss you meet in JS proves to be a horrendous shock to the system. Not visually - he's a Robotech prototype named Li-Wang - but in terms of difficulty; this fight can drag on for an agonising and highly punishing five minutes. Five minutes of strenuous dodging and rolling around great vomits of mines, laser salvos and extendible robot arms whilst not forgetting to shoot back. And this is only level two! But this pattern is to be repeated for all the bosses in JS. They all have absolutely ridiculous hit points and present a challenge bizarrely out of kilter with the level content. There are no passwords or game saves available, and when any boss kills you, you have to plod through the whole level again, which is profoundly dispiriting and unpleasant.
The game does develop as you continue and some elements improve, but the majority don't. After every second level you're graced with a new twenty second loop of crappy background music. The 'doo' noise that gets repeated during the third bad JS theme was so embarrassing that it made me constantly want to leave the room. The enemies definitely improve. The little one-hit gyroscope ships who swarm like bees and are too small for you to ever see clearly never go away, but you're introduced to alien battleships, which roll across the screen horizontally and give a decent sense of scale. And the shooting stone megaliths sent my mind pleasantly spinning all the way back to Sega's Space Harrier.
The terrain proves more entertaining when the great boring empty spaces of space are left behind. Flying into the gizzards of a big enemy cruiser felt as cool as it usually does in this kind of game, and the vaguely observed surfaces of alien planets fared a little better in the visual interest stakes than the preceding bland fields of stars. The mild strategic concerns of flying under, over and around structures could have been diverting if it wasn't for the fact that the graphics are so flakey that the environment often seems to be quaking, and that you can crash into stuff which has badly clipped out of sight.
In spite of all these problems, I still had minor feelings of fun at times. Even addiction, as I worked out how not to get killed during stages three and four. JS seems to fight stubbornly against my mental checklist of what features prevent (save?) a game from being really, deeply terrible. Can you get better at it? Does it change as you play further? Is it challenging in a way that practice or strategy can overcome? JS manages a strained 'yes' to all of these questions, but only by the skin of its teeth.
Such temporal issues can obscure the deep-seated aura of badness which pulsates about JS like the rings of Saturn. You only have to take a few steps away from the game to apprehend that all the things that make it feel so pathetic in the final analysis were all present in that terrible Initial Moment, which reeked of absolute, plodding slowness. The scenery crawls by as if on its way to death, and I've emphasised your spaceship's sluggishness enough already. The defensive roll is essential, but paradoxically it's also cheap, frustrating, and random in effect, all at once. It's the kind of element so poorly considered that it screams for a redesign of the entire game from top to bottom. And it's a great inducer of repetitive strain injury. The target reticule... you can't see it if it's in front of you. It's hard to aim at anything. The music is terribly embarrassing and the graphics quake as if about to fall part, especially the terrain. The whole thing just feels ugly, tentative and fragile when it should feel like an exciting blast through outer space in a cool-looking jet. And relative to the rest of the game, the bosses are insanely difficult.
Jupiter Strike is another trophy for hunters of the worst the Playstation ever offered. Which leaves you, the reader of this review, in the same position I was in prior to tracking down the game, buying it second-hand and writing about it:
Can my imagination stand not knowing how awful it might feel to play Jupiter Strike for real? Can it really be as bad as they all say?
You know what choice I made and you know what I inevitably discovered.
Community review by bloomer (March 08, 2004)
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