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Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum (NES) artwork

Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum (NES) review

"I laughed when I first saw the box art to this game. Hopefully most of you know of Flash Gordon, the old pulp sc-fi hero who fought Ming the Merciless and the subject of a 1980 movie. This movie is, objectively, rather poor, but is still incredibly fun to watch. You can't help but smile at the horrid lines ("What do you mean, 'Flash Gordon approaching?'"), the hammed up acting, the blatant 1950s look, the brilliant cheesy yet heart pounding theme song, and the goofy plot. Well, it's obvious ..."

I laughed when I first saw the box art to this game. Hopefully most of you know of Flash Gordon, the old pulp sc-fi hero who fought Ming the Merciless and the subject of a 1980 movie. This movie is, objectively, rather poor, but is still incredibly fun to watch. You can't help but smile at the horrid lines ("What do you mean, 'Flash Gordon approaching?'"), the hammed up acting, the blatant 1950s look, the brilliant cheesy yet heart pounding theme song, and the goofy plot. Well, it's obvious to anyone that this game is a cheap ripoff of Flash, from the similar names to the old rocket to the fact that both wear red with a lightning bolt logo. But whereas the Flash movie was bad but fun, this game unfortunately only copied the former element.

Our hero and king of the impossible, Dash, must make his way through 24 different levels of the alien asylum. On each level, he must enter all four rooms and turn off the switches in them, as only then will the Earth be saved or something. You control Dash from a top-down perspective in the "hallway", where you must push blocks and blow up force-fields in order to reach the rooms. Once in the rooms, you switch to a side persepctive, and play like any normal platformer. Except here the goal is not to find the end, but to hit all the switches and then return to the door. You are limited only by your oxygen meter, which slowly depletes and takes a big hit when you are rammed by an enemy. And, of course, there are plenty of other obstacles and objects ranging from pitfalls, traps, slides, trampolines, and more stuff to collect. When you finish up one floor, it's on to the next. No rest for the hero, of course.

I'll get straight to the worst element of the game, and the single flaw that totally ruins every aspect of the game - the speed. I find it ironic that a character by the name of Dash is the slowest videogame character in history. Seriously - his jumps are as floaty as if there were no gravity, and he walks at a pace that would make a snail yawn. Imagine how exciting that is, waiting forever to actually traverse the screen, or slowly floating your way down from a high jump. And yes, the enemies are just as painfully slow, forcing you to wait forever until they get out of your way. I shouldn't have to explain to you just how boring and frustrating all this slowness can be; it should be blatantly obvious. I want some speed in my platformers, thank you very much.

Well, ok, so Dash can run. But that just makes matters worse, since the controls are so awful. You must hold down the direction arrow to get Dash to run; after a few moments of slow walking he'll get the hint. But then you get into the problem of precision control, as it's hard to gauge exactly when Dash will actually start running. It also means you can't use it in all situations, and are forced to use it under certain situations. And I can't tell you how much that bugs me. Even worse is with jumping. Dash's normal jump is high, but with absolutely no horizontal distance, while his running jump is long but low. Which means you have to utilize each one in different areas, which means you'll have to either stop running at places or try to build up some speed in others. Both options are annoying, I might add, especially when you screw up multiple times trying to time things just right. I'm sorry Dash, but this is just one of those things that make every other game better than you.

But I'll admit it, it has some good ideas. Take the trampolines for instance. It's an entirely new idea, as the height you jump to depends on the height you fell from (meaning you'll have to build up momentum - cool!). The idea of returning to the entrance is an idea rarely used, so I was also happy to see it here. Besides, the levels are really short, usually no more than, say, 3-6 screens wide, and there were tons of them. Personally, I like my levels short and sweet, so this definitely had some potential. The fact that the oxygen worked both as a timer and a health bar was another cool idea. The blend of puzzles (in the top down hallways) and action (in the rooms) was nice, as they don't interfere with one another yet both were required. And besides, it's a Flash ripoff; that's gotta count for something! So clearly, it's tough to call this game a complete waste of time.

But even so, many of the ideas were still implemented poorly. The worst is the level design - short and sweet levels only work when each level is substantially different from the next (see Mario 3). Here, all the rooms felt the same, making what could be a pleasant and engaging experience into something monotonous and depressing. It's hard to be excited over finishing one area and moving on to the next when you know you'll have to do practically the same thing over again. And again, and again, and again. The monotony is a killer, as it removed any sort of desire I might have had for moving onward. It's just more of the same over and over again. However, and this is completely bizarre, I found you sometimes don't even have to enter all the rooms to move to the next floor! I managed to make it all the way to the 9th floor before the elevator shut me out, so you don't even have to do anything to advance!

On the other hand, I couldn't actually do anything on the 9th floor, since there was a force field blocking stuff and I had no bombs or keys. Which is kind of stupid if you think about it. First of all, there was nothing to indicate that I could skip so far ahead, and nothing to do once I had skipped that far. The first aspect is a lack of consistency (always a bad move), the second is bad design. Sigh...

But in any case, the other aspects with potential turned out rotten as well. Yeah, the idea of oxygen is cool, but it's hampered by the annoying enemies. See, you can't kill them unless you have a bomb. And if you use the bomb, you'll kill yourself too! Granted, if you have a detonator you may be able to get far enough away to survive, but you get the idea of how stupid that is. So you have to avoid enemies - except you move too slow and your jumps are too pathetic to really do that. So your best bet is just to hit the switches and get out, and if you get hit you get hit. Oh well, who wants to live forever? And the trampolines are nice, but would be a whole lot better if the whole process wasn't so slow (noticing a pattern here?). Besides, because your jumps aren't very maneuverable, if there's any enemies in the way you'll almost certainly hit them. There's no point in getting off the trampoline and waiting for them to pass by, as you'll lose just as much oxygen doing that as if you were jumping straight through them. Cool idea, but better luck next time.

By now, you can see that the game should go to the bore worms. It's just too slow to be any fun. It controls to awkwardly to allow immersion into the game. It's too monotonous to keep you interested in moving forward. Three strikes and you're out, particularly when these three strikes are enough to kill any game. Even the parts that seem to have potential are mostly shot down by some combination of the three strikes or some other pointless fault that should have been fixed. The game's good only for a laugh, to see what might have been but ultimately wasn't. Sorry guys, I'll stick with the real Flash.

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (August 26, 2005)

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