Firepower 2000 (SNES) review
"Enemy vehicles often take the form of stationary turrets that have no trouble firing in all sorts of directions, but there also are tanks that may roll in from any side of the screen, swarming units of helicopters, or machines hiding beneath foliage to the side of the screen. The Jeep can obviously adapt so that it fires diagonally and is out of the range of most shots, but the helicopter is going to have to dodge like crazy if itís to survive long enough to pepper the screen with shots of its own."
When some planes making a routine flight just northwest of Bermuda mysteriously vanish, no one thinks it might just be another Bermuda Triangle incident. Everyone instantly knows that it is actually the work of a secret underground race of people who have been creating an army of robots in a bid for global domination. Now those mechanical soldiers are piloting not only the downed airplanes, but various other vehicles stolen from military forces throughout the world. Some bright bulb decides that the only way to stop this threat is to send them another helicopter and armored Jeep.
Youíre the driver or pilot of one of those vehicles. For whatever reason, youíre impervious to vehicular abduction. Because of this, you are the only one capable of putting an end to the underground people and their nefarious schemes. This is the premise for Firepower 2000, Sunsoftís vertically-scrolling shooter for the Super Nintendo that is thankfully much better than its ridiculous plot. With practice and determination youíll not only save the world, but have a great time doing it!
Soon after you begin playing, youíll discover that your chosen vehicle is about as tough as a third grade spelling bee. Whether youíre piloting the Jeep or the helicopter, one hit is enough to cost you a reserve vehicle if youíre not protected by an all-too-rare shield. The game starts you out with your main vehicle and three reserve units. Though you can earn extra lives by destroying plenty of large machines and collecting the icons they leave behind, enemy forces eat through your stock of vehicles so quickly that it hardly matters. If you take a crippling hit, you only have three seconds of glorious invulnerability before returning to your wimpy self.
If you die in a particularly enemy-infested area, then come back and donít make quick work of any nearby opponents with the few seconds of invincibility, you might well lose another vehicle only a few seconds after watching the previous one evaporate. This can be frustrating if youíve just begun playing a new level and you arenít yet familiar with its enemy patterns. Fortunately, you are equipped with a ready means of clearing opponents from the screen. Pressing the ĎXí button will unleash a special attack, which may range from a wider swath of firepower to a ring that vaporizes every smaller machine in sight. Though the merciless level design means more enemies will likely flood the screen within a second, your special attacks should still give you moment to draw a quick breath.
Obviously, you canít just fly through the game using endless special weapons, though. You have a limited reserve. Though it does restock itself astonishingly quickly, your primary projectile is still going to be the weapon of choice in many cases. This can take varying forms, and may vary in strength. When you begin, youíll be equipped with missiles, plasma, and fire cannons. You can press ĎRí to switch between them on the fly. Missiles tend to be the weapon of choice if you like to attack from a distance, plasma is a weaker form of missiles until you power it up, and flame can make short work of even the most armored of opponents. As you defeat enemies and bust open crates, youíll find icons that increase your primary weapons. Suddenly your flame can reach further, your plasma can split into a spread shot, or whatever. These boosts last until an enemy sneaks in a shot, then itís back to the basics. Much later in the game, you can also increase the number of base weapons. Itís actually a good system, one that allows you to mold it to whatever you need at that particular moment.
Another excellent touch is the differences between the two vehicles you fly throughout the majority of the game. The differences are more than just cosmetic. The Jeep, which the game chooses for you by default, is most well-suited for beginners. Though it canít drive past certain obstacles (and can get hung up as the screen scrolls, causing it to explode), the all-terrain vehicle makes up for it with an eight-way shot. You change the direction in which youíre firing by tapping the desired portion of the control pad. Your Jeepís shots will then move in that direction as long as you hold the shot button, while you can move the vehicle about independently by continuing to press directions on the d-pad. In contrast, the helicopter can fire only directly ahead, but its elevation means it doesnít have to worry so much about trenches or the short buildings and foliage youíll encounter in the gameís six stages.
Because the game features a variety of enemies and hazards on the screen at any time, the vehicle you select is actually the equivalent of a difficulty gauge in some other shooters. Choosing the helicopter cripples you more than it helps, as any given second may find you facing two or three different enemy vehicle types. Enemy vehicles often take the form of stationary turrets that have no trouble firing in all sorts of directions, but there also are tanks that may roll in from any side of the screen, swarming units of helicopters, or machines hiding beneath foliage to the side of the screen. The Jeep can obviously adapt so that it fires diagonally and is out of the range of most shots, but the helicopter is going to have to dodge like crazy if itís to survive long enough to pepper the screen with shots of its own.
As you may expect from a shooter, there are also boss encounters to look forward to at the end of levels. I was surprised to find that even the first of these monstrous machines is actually quite innovative. You have to dodge the cannons at its front while additional units and shots pour out of either of the two bays along its side. Again, the vehicle youíre controlling will impact your strategy for success.
Some players will find that the levels and bosses in Firepower 2000 are just too difficult. Progression will turn into a matter of memorizing the threats early on and falling into patterns of movement that respond accordingly. Every time I played, I found myself getting just a bit further before a new squad of enemies cut my adventure short. Then Iíd get there again the next game and do just fine. Memorization is key, and some people will find this too discouraging. However, itís hard not to try just one more time whenever you die because itís always exciting to see what challenge the next stage holds.
Largely because of amazing visuals, each new stage is an exciting event. When the red-tinged sands of the first stage give way to the muddy, fern-strewn jungle floor in the second area, the effect is immediate. Later stages take that even further as you find yourself dodging bursts of lava from volcanoes, or flying through a metallic corridor in a military compound, or looking down on a patchwork quilt of fields below while temporarily piloting a stealth jet. None of the stages are particularly surprising, given the genre in which Firepower 2000 falls, yet the execution is so proficient that you wonít mind knowing youíve seen a lot of this before. Itís unlikely it ever looked this good.
Thanks to an amazing soundtrack, the game sounds great, too. Each stage manages a new composition that heightens the urgency with vaguely metallic compositions and pulsating beats. Even better, the tunes heighten the gameís sense of atmosphere. Play through the volcano stage, for example, and try to imagine any other tune ever doing it justice. At such moments, the levels feel like a rhythmic extension of the soundtrack. When you reach a boss encounter, the pace actually rises to the occasion with a quicker pace.
Sound effects, meanwhile, are exactly what you would expect from such a game and then some. Thereís the sound of ammunition clinking against armor when you first strike an armored tank, but that gives way to a satisfying Ďboomí as the enemy explodes. Enemy artillery gives off one sort of tone, your shots another. Even those effects used infrequently, such as bays opening in the ground while a torch cannon emerges, are of distinct quality. Itís really nice to see that the developers didnít find a single sound for shots and leave things to rest at that. There are two or three variations for every blast or bullet, every item gathered. For the first time in recent memory, I found myself cranking up the volume on the television set just because the game actually makes doing so worthwhile.
Ultimately, the only place the game falters even slightly is in presentation. There are a number of small flaws that I canít quite understand. For one, the vehicle selection process is hidden. From the title screen, you must press ĎSelectí to even access the control and vehicle adjustors. Second, suppose you need to pause the game. You can easily do so by pressing the ĎStartí button. But once you do, donít expect it to stay like that for long. The game will eventually resume action of its own accord, and the wait could be anywhere from a thirty seconds to three minutes. Frankly, this kind of bug doesnít make any sense, and itís surprising to see it there in a game that otherwise is so polished.
Such problems are only minor dents in an otherwise flawless suit of armor. Factor in the simultaneous two-player game and even the mention of shoddy presentation seems downright petty. Itís extremely rare that a game comes along and does so many things right, yet goes unnoticed. If you love vertical shooters but you havenít played Firepower 2000, itís time to correct that problem. Immediately.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 23, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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