Heavy Unit (TurboGrafx-16) review
"I’ve decided I have to be some sort of mentally ill glutton for punishment. You see, when confronted with a shooter of the lowly caliber of Taito’s Heavy Unit on the PC Engine, the average player likely wouldn’t get too far. They’d start up the game (likely because its somewhat suggestive title tricked them into believing they were playing some old-time masturbatory hentai shooter like Divine Sealing), immediately watch their underpowered ship get wiped out by the horde of skeletal (yet durable)..."
I’ve decided I have to be some sort of mentally ill glutton for punishment. You see, when confronted with a shooter of the lowly caliber of Taito’s Heavy Unit on the PC Engine, the average player likely wouldn’t get too far. They’d start up the game (likely because its somewhat suggestive title tricked them into believing they were playing some old-time masturbatory hentai shooter like Divine Sealing), immediately watch their underpowered ship get wiped out by the horde of skeletal (yet durable) snakes that provide the game’s first bit of opposition, mutter an obscenity or three and turn it off — never to play it again.
Sadly, I’m apparently not that bright. I conditioned myself to avoid virtually EVERYTHING in the early going until I was able to turn my puny dime-store spaceship into a robotic force of destruction. I struggled my way through multiple ugly stages fighting an unending assortment of lame foes and bosses that really just seemed to be hunks of metal thrown together with a bunch of guns attached for good measure. I learned that suffering even one death would revert my ship back to its original impotent form — no matter how many power-ups I’d previously collected. And when I was done, I realized that regardless of how frustrating and unfair the first stage was, there were more innovative ideas there than in the other five levels combined.
If you’ve played any big-name horizontally-scrolling sci-fi shooter, you know how they’re SUPPOSED to start. Since your ship begins with very little power, the computer sends out a few waves of pathetically weak foes following simple patterns. Blast them out of the sky and you’ll likely snare a few power-ups, giving you additional firepower for the real challenges that lie ahead. Well, like a rogue cop, Heavy Unit doesn’t play by the rules. Sadly, Heavy Unit possesses none of the charisma or appeal of Dirty Harry.
You’ll find no easy foes at the onset of this game. Your initial adversaries are a collection of long, skeletal snake-like foes that can take a few hits before collapsing into many segments. Maybe your pathetic ship will shatter one of these skele-snakes before being overwhelmed, but you’ll soon realize that dodging these foes is the only intelligent way to go. After making it past a few more tricky obstacles, including a trio of very lethal cannons, you immediately must fly to the top of the screen to dodge three fire-breathing dragon heads. This opening sequence only takes a minute or two to complete, but possibly will deliver more frustration than the rest of the game put together. With your ship’s current impotence, the entire first section of the game is essentially an obstacle course where you have no room for error.
Fortunately, Heavy Unit lets you start working on the project of improving your ship after you’ve gotten past the dragons. As you reach the top of some large building, you’ll realize that shooting the imp-like foes here will release power-ups that give you shields, much-needed speed enhancements (part of the game’s initial challenge comes from your ship starting out with the mobility of a snail), stronger bullets and (hopefully) the ability to transform into a mech.
While you have to pay the price of being a much bigger target as a mech, you’ll likely agree with me that it’s worth the hassle. Your ammo is so much more powerful in this form that foes that seemed impossible earlier will perish at virtually the same time they enter the screen. Instead of frantically trying to dodge every monster you see, you’ll get to take the fight to them. Things are definitely looking up for your changes of victory.
And that might keep you interested for roughly the remainder of the first stage. A number of really neat adversaries pop up throughout the rest of the level to give you an opportunity to test your new powers. A gigantic horned head will explode from the building you’re flying over only to give way to a snake-spitting face plastered to a wall as you descend inside. Move on a bit farther and fight a huge robotic boss who apparently just missed the cut to be in one of the R-Types. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it made me optimistic that I’d be playing an imaginative game littered with memorable foes (much like Wings of Wor or Forgotten Worlds) — even if the actual play value was somewhat questionable.
I hate being wrong....
To be honest, the rest of this game is complete garbage with absolutely no redeeming factors. Look at the background graphics throughout the second level and tell me where I’m supposed to be. Is it a cave? A forest? A forest in a cave? Something else? The third level is one of those enemy base levels that seems to pop up in just about every shooter. The fourth stage is one of those intestinal levels that pops up almost as frequently. The bosses of these levels were featureless masses of artillery. While some vaguely resembled animals, none of them stood out in any conceivable way. All the imagination and creativity I had seen in the game’s first level had faded, leaving me with nothing more than a collection of poorly reproduced shooter elements thrown together haphazardly.
Things didn’t improve as I finished off the game. The fifth stage, in keeping with generic themes, was little more than a gauntlet of previously-beaten bosses. The final level was even more brief, with virtually nothing standing between you and the final confrontation — a ship which is tough only because of the lack of room you’re given to mount your offensive.
No matter how you look at it, this is the sort of game that only serves to undermine the PC Engine's reputation as a wonderful system for shooters. You start with next to no offense and really won’t become all that powerful until you transform into the mech. This enhanced version of your ship will be able to hold its own with any villain, but will be a much larger target that will have problems surviving intense confrontations. Unfortunately, you have no choice but to survive. No matter how strong you are, the loss of a life ensures that you’re ship will be starting over from scratch. And let’s face it — if you’ve gotten through those first few screens before receiving your initial power-ups, you will have no desire to revert back to that initial state of helplessness.
And Heavy Unit really has very little to make that sin a forgivable one. Darius Plus (another PC Engine game where one death strips you of all power-ups) at least was able to use wonderful music and a few gorgeous backgrounds to create a world atmospheric and beautiful enough to withstand some unfair game mechanics — with the exception of the imaginative first level, Heavy Unit doesn’t even come close to accomplishing this.
And as the creative and grotesque offerings of that first level give way to stale, generic beings throughout a procession of dull and ugly stages, the game’s flaws will only be magnified. As demonic heads and dragons are replaced by a seemingly never-ending procession of bland and soulless adversaries, my interest in this limp, flaccid Heavy Unit gradually waned until I was finally able to get through its joyless climax — not an experience I’d recommend to others.
Community review by overdrive (July 15, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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