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Mid-Garts (X68000) artwork

Mid-Garts (X68000) review

"Lightning flashed across the screen, volcanoes erupted in the background, laser beams blocked my way, fiery chimerae hurtled through the air, orcs tossed hammers from below, and gigantic rocks tried to squish poor me (and my dragon). The boring game from the first level had suddenly developed an imagination I now had a reason to keep playing."

Something tells me that Wolf Team intended Mid-Garts (dramatically emblazoned on the box as MID-GARTS) to be special. Maybe it's the painted cover's pretentious subtitle: Hope Springs Eternal With My Dear Friends. Maybe it's the 94-page manual, packed with more than enough historical information and character stats to run your own D&D campaign. Neutrally-aligned sorceress Mana Ruft has 87 DEX and 201 INT! It's awesome when companies include that kind of stuff, especially if there's no clear reason for it.

When you're done drooling over irrelevant numbers, you'll turn on the X68000 (or fire up the emulator, you sneaky devil) and smile at the animated introduction and beautiful music. Stripped of the silly "speak/think" adventure scenes that the manual's first few pages appear to describe, the X68k port of Wolf Team's MSX classic has been condensed into a promising 12-level horizontal shooter. You'll crack your knuckles in anticipation of some truly epic fantasy action. The game will begin and, if you're anything like me, your first two words will be "Aaaargh. Aaaargh!"

After heroic Kain rides his pet dragon onto the screen, the very first enemies he faces are TWO SMALL BATS in a drab blue cavern. Contrary to the instruction manual's elaborate "giant bat" illustration, these dull grey rodents are tiny and boring. Visually tame as they may be, they're fast bats, and one of them flew straight into my face. As I screamed at the game's cheapness, Kain released a muffled "Aaaargh" of his own. Ten seconds into the game and I was dead. I continued and died again. Those bats flew so erratically that my dragon's piddly fireballs never seemed to connect! Uninteresting, difficult, and unfair: so much for "promise".

Following six or seven miserable attempts and six or seven curses, something wonderful happened: I learned how to dodge. While racking up millions of points in Espgaluda and Mars Matrix, I hadn't ever consciously noticed that enemies and projectiles in modern shooters basically travel in straight lines. Streams of bullets may criss-cross, but their actual paths are predictable. Mid-Garts mixes things up; bullets move in straight lines, but creatures themselves fly in erratic patterns (for example, up and down like real bats) and they chase you around the screen . . . but erratic or not, they do move in patterns that can be studied and avoided.

Once I got the hang of the bats' patterns, I finished the rest of the admittedly boring first level. After a cinematic scene involving an elder dragon named "Joshua", the cavern's drab blue floor crumbled . . .

. . . and I was plunged into the lava-flooded remains of New York City! Lightning flashed across the screen, volcanoes erupted in the background, laser beams blocked my way, fiery chimerae hurtled through the air, orcs tossed hammers from below, and gigantic rocks tried to squish poor me (and my dragon). The boring game from the first level had suddenly developed an imagination I now had a reason to keep playing. After spotting a cleverly-hidden rock shaped like Wolf Team's wolf-head logo and the totally NOT hidden Statue of Liberty's head floating in the lava, I wanted to persevere so that I could experience everything else the game might offer.

That's about when I came across the only survivors of the apocalypse: human fetuses preserved in fermaldehyde tubes. After talking to a severed dragon head in the next cinematic sequence (this is entirely realistic because it was attached to a life support system), my early concerns turned to hope. Hope that there would be more such daring imagination.

I wasn't disappointed. There were spectacularly twisted levels: forests full of plants with brains, enormous claws protruding from the ground, and trees adorned with screaming fruit. There were awesome bosses: the sea dragon with the segmented body and the enormous red dragon "Rudane Valice". And then there was the totally unexpected: after six levels of monster-slaying and wizard-hunting fantasy action, I was teleported into modern times . . . and the US Navy, understandably frightened by the sudden appearance of a fire-breathing dragon, deployed their entire fleet to slay the vicious beast. That beast being my dragon, Sahkun.

"Tally ho! Look at the size of that thing!"

At this point, Mid-Garts had blossomed from an "oh look, two grey bats" shooter into a maniacal shmup full of jets, missiles, bullets, and vapor trails. And it was fun. Even though Mid-Garts remains difficult the whole way through, I can definitely say that it's possible to beat without taking a single hit (and the game allows you three). In many old shooters, large hit-boxes and underpowered weapons conspire to make it impossible to get by without using a shield or an extra life somewhere along the way. Mid-Garts is hard as nails, but perfectionists can strive and work towards mastering the elusive one-credit clear.

Since the game keeps adding dangerous new opponents, Wolf Team incorporated an inspired spell system to make it fair. After each level, either Kain or his dragon Sahkun learns some new magic. In a single playthrough, you might master a dozen spells, but similar to Silpheed they're acquired in a somewhat random fashion. You might learn slow but powerful FLAME in one playthrough, rapid-firing ICE in another. Unlike Silpheed, these spells can all be toggled on the fly. It's hard to argue with diversity and convenience.

Incinerating jets and helicopters with streams of fire and lightning bolts is fun for a level or two, but Mid-Garts mixes things up again in a hurry. Kain's dastardly rival Luan Khan, a renowned swordsman with delusions of grandeur, followed Kain into the modern era! By the time they finally cross swords, Luan Khan has already taken something very dear from our hero . . . and now Khan is threatening the helpless love interest! As the two fight for modern civilization's future in the burning remains of Athens, Luan Khan verbally taunts the younger, less experienced Kain. Mid-Garts takes cool battles and makes them epic. And there's even more after that; the game does span twelve stages, after all. Most levels end in a cliffhanger, so that it almost feels like you're watching a fantasy soap opera. This edge-of-seat drama also makes it really hard to shut the game off.

Kain's adventure poses some philosophical and religious questions (at one point, he even flies into orbit to fight God himself), but mostly it appeals to romantic ideals of youth. Have you ever dreamed to ride a dragon across the azure skies? Does your heart ache for the companionship of a barefoot beauty? Have you ever wished upon a star for a better life, only to find that star has fallen? Kain experiences such things while searching for Odysseus' cyclops, consulting with shady historians, and launching Stryper Missiles at manticores and golden powered suits.

This is the magical world of Mid-Garts, the third game from Wolf Team's inspired youth. Long before Kyle Fluge took flight in Panzer Dragoon, sixteen-year-old Kain Serge soared through a post-apocalyptic world atop his emerald dragon Sahkun. As part of Wolf Team's "Sacred Fantasy Series", Mid-Garts features imaginative monsters, enigmatic wanderers, magical spells, fair maidens, religious overtones, and exotic scenery. Whether depicting cheesy love scenes or creepy decapitated dragon heads, the entire game is presented with a refreshing innocence that was difficult to find even 16 years ago.


zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (September 04, 2005)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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