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Arrow Flash (Genesis) artwork

Arrow Flash (Genesis) review

"The 16-bit era saw the release of one hell of a lot of shooters. This is one of them."

It's probably telling that it wasn't until after I'd finished Arrow Flash -- a Genesis shooter I'd poorly written about many, many years ago -- for the second time that I realized that the ship you control has multiple forms. Apparently, by pressing a button, you can transform into a mech and back again, with the two working a bit differently. Your super-powerful special attack takes a different form, while certain sub-weapons, such as missiles and those mini-ships that flank yours in so many shooters, also are altered somewhat.

That's the sort of thing you'd think a person would instantly notice and almost-as-quickly take advantage of, switching between the two forms when circumstances dictated that one might be better suited to the game's challenges. Not me! I played through the entire game in mech form, so either that's the default or I had an early inadvertent button-press in the first level and never tapped that one again. And I found the mech to be well-suited to just about anything contained in Arrow Flash. In that form, your basic shots might go straight ahead, but your missiles are guided, so it's a well-rounded beast that works well. Even if I was actually aware I could have been switching back-and-forth, I probably wouldn't have because if something is working, why change it?

It also probably didn't help that Arrow Flash is the sort of mediocre and mundane offering that neither requires nor inspires experimentation. It's not one of the 16-bit era's elite shooters, but it also isn't the sort of complete rubbish that inspires reviewers like me to engage in paragraph after paragraph of low-rent stand-up comedy at its expense. It's just there. While some of the stages look nice and a couple of the musical selections sound good, it's not even close to being one of its era's best on an aesthetic level. It's not the most challenging or tricky shooter out there and much of the difficulty it possesses resides in the fact your ship-mech (mech-ship?) is a one-hit wonder that gets crippled all the way back to its default pea-shooter upon losing a life -- a pretty commonplace element in these games.

The mediocre appearance of this game becomes more noticeable when you realize its levels mostly are lifted from the Big Book of Generic Shooter Stages. While there might only be six stages in this game, five of them are divided into two distinct halves, allowing for you to cover all sorts of ground you've covered in basically any other shooter you've played. You start out by flying over clouds and then descend to finish the level over water. Future levels will see you in outer space, a forest, a cavern and a crystal tunnel. While a handful of those locations look fairly nice and are reasonably fun to play through, it's just hard to shake the feeling that I'd seen it and done it all before.

Arrow Flash screenshot Arrow Flash screenshot

This problem can't be completely blamed on those background graphics, though. Throughout the eight- and 16-bit generations, there were a LOT of shooters made and it's not like they were all overflowing with completely original locations for you to fly through. Outer space, caverns and so on tended to find their way into the vast majority of those games with the main difference between the ones I loved and the ones I struggled to remember even days after finishing being what they did with those tried-and-true locations.

And the gameplay in Arrow Flash is, if anything, eminently forgettable. Playing as the mech, I was able to choose between three different kinds of fire, all of which essentially covered the same territory in front of me, even if they did look different. I collected missiles, shields and speed upgrades, as well as a pair of pod-ships to give me even more firepower. The levels ranged from being mostly or completely open to feeling like the programmers wanted to delve into the cramped and claustrophobic nature of an R-Type or Gradius, but couldn't bring themselves to go all the way, resulting in something that's complex enough to keep you awake, but not enough to truly test your maneuverability and memorization skills.

And the one somewhat original thought this game has possesses the ability to make a mockery out of any of its challenges. Instead of having a small number of bombs in Arrow Flash, you have an ability known as Arrow Flash. You start with three per life, but they're fairly common pick-ups and you'll also gain a handful of them for completing levels, so it's easy to collect a dozen or more. If you're in mech form, using an Arrow Flash engulfs you in a large flame and grants you a few seconds in which you can simply ram into enemies for massive damage. Bosses can be destroyed in seconds with this power, with even the late-game ones only able to withstand a few usages before exploding.

It's really easy to collect a lot of Arrow Flashes, as long as you can stay alive for a decent amount of time. And if you have a lot of Arrow Flashes, it's really easy to stay alive, as you can use them as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card whenever you're in a sticky situation. Find yourself penned in, hit the button, become invincible and ram into anything that might be giving you grief. If the attacks of a particular boss prove to be a bit tricky to dodge, there's no need to bother with things like "learning patterns" or "getting better" when you can just fire up a Flash and utterly wreck it in the blink of an eye. All you have to do is pay attention to when the flame fades, so you can extract yourself from your quarry before it's you who winds up dead via contact damage.

Arrow Flash is a game that's more fatiguing to write about than it is to actually play. It's a fairly short game that might have a few tricky parts, but also is willing to give you many uses of a power that can make those challenges trivial. It's not particularly pretty, but it's reasonably breezy and won't take that much time to get through. The sort of game that's destined to attract comments ranging from "adequate" to "tolerable". In other word, a game that's just not all that interesting because it is lacking in both thrilling highs and ludicrous lows. The sort that might be worth playing, but won't hold a permanent spot in your memories. Something you might even play all the way through while being completely unaware of one of its key gimmicks…with that ignorance having absolutely no effect upon your experience!

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (September 10, 2021)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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