Galactic Attack (Saturn) review
"Never call this game Galactic Attack. Its arcade form was called RayForce, its home conversion in Japan was titled Layer Section... both were great, virile names. Acclaim saw fit to ravage such an eminent mixture of gameplay and nomenclature by dubbing it the horrendous Galactic Attack; join me, though, as I attempt to ignore the words on the disc and review this game, this peak of 16-bit-style design: Layer Section. "
Never call this game Galactic Attack. Its arcade form was called RayForce, its home conversion in Japan was titled Layer Section... both were great, virile names. Acclaim saw fit to ravage such an eminent mixture of gameplay and nomenclature by dubbing it the horrendous Galactic Attack; join me, though, as I attempt to ignore the words on the disc and review this game, this peak of 16-bit-style design: Layer Section.
Set across the backgrounds of space and earthly terrain, Layer Section was a masterful 2D thoroughbred, a shooter undertaking with divine purpose: abuse 2D effects and wrap them around an innovative experience.
And so it did. Layer Section's graphic playfulness and gameplay are deeply intertwined. Built around the question of exactly what could be done with scaling in practical play, you'll find enemies and backgrounds to be both above you and below, in several different planes of separation (''layers''). Flight-capable baddies can launch from the ground to the air, zooming in visually thanks to scaling, and becoming nearer a threat to your stoic ship. And when they're at these different levels below you, you can blast away with your lock-on laser.
Placed in front of your ship is a targeting cursor; scanning over lower-altitude enemies will lock them into the laser's range. Blast away (multiple ships can be targeted), and lasers fly at them, Panzer Dragoon-style. The brilliance of this system is the way it seamlessly integrates with the graphics; scaling was typically a pointless style effect, but the zooming in and out of enemies here becomes the foundation of this game.
The main weapon is more of a generic ''blaster.'' Powerful, yes, in its later levels, but perhaps simplistic in design. It is leveled up by collecting appropriate icons, getting wider in its spread and stronger in its power. Boring, even rudimentary, but in tandem with the lock-on laser, the two form a practically flawless shooting mechanic.
Boss designs are excellent, each with assured weaknesses and multiple, accessible advantages to be taken. The first boss, for instance, can be crowded before he's able to attack, your ship picking away at his exposed weak area with the lock-on laser, until he retreats to the top of the screen. The fourth boss, a brilliant cliff-clinging curmudgeon, can be either shot apart in the center, or can have his legs blown away, sending him falling to the metropolitan abyss below.
And Layer Section does this all without becoming a ''bullet hell'' shooter. Not that I don't groove on the Mars Matrix-type impossible odds, but it's refreshing to play a game like this, where it seems like a steroid-injected Genesis vertical, rather than a heroin-injected trip through bullet damnation. Bosses emit large, sweeping clusters of bullets, but in a fair and even-handed manner, with definite paths in and out of turmoil. This would, perhaps, make it too easy, were it not for the slightly chugging speed of the ship.
You'll wish for just a little more oomph from the RVA-818 X-LAY. Not that it haphazardly meanders around the screen, or that it lumbers or drags or sloths, but it seems that, sometimes, just as you've slipped past some menacing bullet, it catches your tail unfairly. The ship set out to destroy armadas and encampments of malicious malcontents; the least it could have equipped itself with was a little extra juice.
But it all comes together visually, and rightly so, given the importance of the visuals to the gameplay. As the enemies scale in and out of the layers, and as the destructible scenery crashes to the ground, and as the Saturn's color palette is abused, the excellent graphics transform into part of the game as has never happened before. It is not at the same level as, say, Soukyugurentai, but this effects-laden bastard was made several years prior. The colors are vivid, and practically every sprite on the screen will soar in and out of the primary plane at some point or other.
The missions take place across space stations, cities, inside a hangar; each brilliantly segues into the next. The ground separates and tears to expose the ''fissure'' you must soar through to battle the wall-clinging boss, and the futuristic city gives way via a deep, mechanical chasm to the subterranean city below. Throughout this constant metamorphosis of your surroundings, the powerful 2D presentation delivers this melding and transforming as flawlessly as it can.
As a contrast, the music is muted an corny, practically nonexistent in many cases. It's sparse and dull in composition, and often lower in volume than the rest of the sound. The few voice samples are garbled and chortled, a side-effect of its arcade translation, no doubt.
But the sound can be ignored, while the game itself cannot. Layer Section was a stellar concept with near-flawless delivery. Perhaps the ultimate example of a 16-bit shooter, complete with all the effects and tricks that make us drool, and with a style so rooted in the glory of the era. Layer Section, although hosted by a 32-bit 2D monster, is truly a 16-bit shooter evolved to its prime.
Community review by ethereal (March 14, 2004)
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