After I had experienced all that the MegaDrive had to offer, it was common sense that the next stepping stone for me was the PlayStation. The love and familiarity I had developed for Sega wasn’t even enough to persuade me to get a Saturn. In fact, I don’t even recall hearing anything about the Saturn at that time. All my friends were talking about Sony’s new powerhouse and the 3D revolution it promised, so I jumped on the band wagon. Regrets? Absolutely none. Some ten years down the line, however, when my gaming tastes and knowledge matured like a fine wine, I realised I’d missed quite a bit with the Saturn. Not an awful lot, but just enough to make me invest in one. Other than provide a first-hand education on why it was bested by the PlayStation, what I’d discovered, thanks to the Internet, was a vast library of side-scrolling shooters the hardcore fan base had dubbed “shmups”.
Unfortunately, most of these hardcore gems never made the jump across the pond. The most famous among them however, was Radiant Silvergun. Hailed as the immortal God of the genre, Radiant Silvergun enjoyed a cult status as an incredibly rare treasure and Holy Grail of any Saturn enthusiast’s collection. If you’re a casual gamer yet the name still sounds familiar, it’s probably because Radiant Silvergun was recently released on XBLA – a move greatly appreciated by the genre’s fans that weren’t quite ready to shell out for the original version. If you don’t know what I mean, try shopping for it on Ebay. Let me know how that one goes.
Having never played Radiant Silvergun, I can’t vouch for the status it’s held for so long. I can, however, state that it isn’t the only great shmup out there. GaiaSeed, for example, originally released for the PlayStation, is a perfect example of the 10 minute burst theory. It’s fast, furious and unnervingly challenging (for newcomers at least) and now that’s it’s been re-released on the Japanese PS one Import section on the European PlayStation Network, it’s widely available to all who fancy some retro shooting action.
I have to admit, this is the first time I ever reviewed a game I’ve never heard of before. When the download code popped up in my Inbox, I almost found myself Emailing my boss – “What is this crap?! It doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page!” I eventually managed to calm down and convince myself that I wasn’t some kind of walking retro videogamedatabase. Who was I to contradict our most glorious leader? So, avoiding excommunication from Bonus Stage, I got straight down to work and, to my surprise, I had a lot of fun playing GaiaSeed.
Despite not being particularly unique visually, GaiaSeed had some nice backdrops with an artistically impressive transition from one stage to the next. However, as I manoeuvred my spacecraft up, down and across the screen, I often confused harmless debris with hostile forces. Especially on the first stage, where I would go out of my way to avoid a harmless background effect only to crash into a real enemy. That’s bordering on nit-picking though, because guess what… I honestly couldn’t find anything else wrong with this near flawless piece of retro goodness.
The frantic shoot/dodge gameplay you’d expect from this type of game has stayed surprisingly solid over the years. I even found it often exhilarating as I avoided a seemingly impossible barrage of enemy projectiles, all the while successfully returning fire. To be honest, very few games I’ve played recently have absorbed as much effort and attention as this modest shooter. Beforehand, I was rather enjoying a leisurely session of RAGE on PS3, but when I flicked onto GaiaSeed, the television reached out, grabbed hold of my beard and yelled, “RAGE? YOU AIN’T MAN ENOUGH FOR THIS FACIAL HAIR!”
In no other genre does enemy AI try so hard to utterly obliterate you, and GaiaSeed is no different. The variation of enemies is so overwhelming, and oftentimes completely random, that eventually you should be expecting the enemies in the next stage to be flying kittens or something. I’m not kidding! We go from conventional enemy crafts, small explosive drones and missile pods to atomic octopuses and killer eggs! The battles are so bizarre and trippy, but the funniest part is that you don’t realise it at the time, as your much too busy trying to survive. Only after explosive sessions do you ask yourself, “Did I just exchange laser blasts with a gigantic… ass?”
Developers, Techno Soleil, mightn’t have pushed the boat out in terms of innovation when the game was first released in Japan, but they’ve really nailed the essentials needed for an excellent horizontal shooter. For example, your surroundings change constantly, forcing the player to adapt their style of play, so don’t get too comfortable with the conventional “outer space” setting as soon you’ll find yourself thrust into organic airspaces or navigating tight trenches. It doesn’t sound too bad? Try doing this while avoiding a billion bullets in your face. Also, despite a myriad of varied enemies with different flight paths and attacks, you’ll eventually find yourself facing off against the old faithful end stage boss. Pretty simple and familiar stuff, but I can guarantee these aren’t the same enemies you’ve gotten used to in other shooters…
Whilst battling bosses is challenging enough, your can never be confident that they’re positively dead until you see the intro to the next stage. Fighting that giant robot seemed reasonable enough until his arms and tail turned out to be independent bosses in themselves. At one point, half way through killing a particularly long-winded boss, I was convinced his spleen was going to come out and have a pop at me. Not only that but… what’s he going to throw at me? Lasers? Homing missiles? Rabid badgers? It’s a refreshingly wacky and unpredictable gaming experience that modern blockbusters can’t seem to match. At some points, I was positively welcoming my gruesome demise, just so I could use my “Intense Fire” ability again and give the bosses a bit of their own medicine. Yeah, that’s right, I got a pulse beam too… and its blue. “SHWOOOOOOOOOOOM!
Fans of everything retro should really consider giving this a shot. If not for anything else, download it just to see what a real boss looks like. They don’t make bosses like they did in the Nineties, that’s for sure. Don’t let the challenge put you off either because, in some ways, GaiaSeed is quite merciful. Try toning down the difficulty to “practice” if you fancy a coast through, and if those bosses prove too tough to topple, you need only survive the time limit when the boss self destructs. Pretty handy, eh? Toss in some memorable tunes, stir it up with some 2D graphical charm and… bon appetite, you got yourself a nice Nineties snack high in fun and low in cost.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.