Not everyone wants to focus on moving up. Who cares what’s bigger and better in the skies above? I’m interested in what’s happening here, now, in front of me. And that’s why there’s always a good place for horizontal shmups in my life, and why they align so much with my shooting sensibilities. Oh, did you think I was talking about life and career advice? Trust me, I’m not one to dispense. No, I just got done with Last Resort, a NEO GEO Switch port from 1992 that is still surprisingly relevant today. If you think that those explosions and that massive tank above look even remotely interesting, read on, it gets good.
Don’t worry about the plot. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from playing NEO GEO ports over the last few months, it’s that SNK seemed to think that humanity was always one misstep away from completely destroying themselves through poor decisions. In this case, the human race finally figures out how to make colonies in space (yay!) but gets infected with a computer virus (boo) that causes machines and even humans to turn on other humans (what?). The solution is to then put someone in the helm of a fighting ship that inexplicably is immune to also getting this virus that has gotten into ships that looks just like it (ok.)
Last Resort will be quite familiar to fans of R-Type or, more specifically, Blazing Star, especially due to the powerup mechanics. Starting out as a basic ship, one of the first things you’ll find is a secondary pod ship that flies around your main vessel, shooting at and angle that is affected by how you pilot your ship. As you move, the turret on the pod ship also moves and will usually fire in the polar opposite direction of your movement. You can choose to freeze the pod to stay constantly in front of your ship, but its turret will still continue to pivot and fire in other directions. Additionally, you’ll pick up homing missiles, laser upgrades and the ability to shoot your pod at other ships with surprisingly destructive tendencies. Getting hit means dying and re-spawning a short ways back, stripped of all powerups, but you will have a chance to get them back…if you’re fast.
Before anything else, I have to give a nod to the soundtrack of Last Resort. In a timeline where retrofuture music is king, Last Resort has an absolutely driving and enthralling sound that I fell in love with. It’s got a great mix of 80’s electronica and early 90s industrial, highlighted with explosions and various sound effects that you mix in yourself as you play. The music, more than anything, is what brought me back to the game time after time and what’s keeping it high in my rotation as of right now. It’s rare for a classic game that isn’t an RPG to grab me in such a way, but I highly recommend playing Last Resort in console mode, especially if you have a good sound system.
Last Resort is also well executed as far as handling. Your ship is quick and moves about in a smooth fashion, but it is bigger than you think it is. Dodging bullets and other ships is by no means a bullet hell feat, but being aware of offensive as well as defensive is pretty key to getting past even the first couple of stages. Given that this was the SNES era, I remember several shooters asked you to simply overpower your weapon and then go to town without needing to move around a lot. I may remember the games differently because I was young and spry but that’s far beside the point. Last Resort demands a certain level of excellent from whomever is playing it. As stated above, your death results in a loss of powerups and re-spawning relatively near your death. Relatively. Meaning you might be “lucky” and have exploded right after one of the game’s invisible checkpoints, allowing you to pick up where you left, albeit weaker. If not, you could find yourself repeating several waves of enemies all over again, only with a rag on a stick instead of an awesome arsenal. That, I’m afraid, is certainly a glaring issue within Last Resort: trying to recover if you die later on in the stage. Early, sure, whatever, just get your pod back and dance until you recharge your missiles. Were you right near the end of the stage? Might as well reset and try again, you’re screwed.
NEO GEO, as it was both an arcade machine and a console at the same time, has this quirk about inserting coins in order to start and continue a game. Which makes sense when you’re in an arcade, because give us your money. For the console ports, however, it always feels strange and convoluted, like we’re pretending we’re at an arcade for the sake of atmosphere. Last Resort (and other NEO GEO titles) give you nearly unlimited chances to continue the game as long as you have “coins.” Which you do, because the button to insert a coin is the left shoulder button. I wonder if NEO GEO players also felt this level of disconnect and strangeness, because, after learning about the spawning and the recovery of weapons, the horror and pressure of the game dropped off substantially. If I was frustrated at blowing up, it was only because I knew it would take extra time to figure out where to move in order to a.) grab powerups and b.) not get shot in the face. I wasn’t going to have to start all the way back at the beginning of the game or even the stage. I didn’t need to beg a quarter off my mom. The incentive to get better and stay alive was there, sure, but it wasn’t driving. This game lost a little something in the console port, and it’s only further highlighted by the Switch’s ease of use.
Then again, as a game that fits in better with the arcade element than some, Last Resort is already poised to have a constantly challenged leaderboard on caravan and time attack mode. I will never not be surprised by how many people are clawing their way to the top on these classic games, and I hope Nintendo is taking notes with what people do for SNK titles that had an arguably smaller audience in their heyday than Nintendo’s own games. You bake something like this in for the Virutal Console library that may come some day and people will spend weeks trying to out-score their friends in Balloon Fight or Mappy Land.
Last Resort is one of the stronger entries for the Switch’s ever-expanding NEO GEO library. It looks great for a game that predates many current Switch owners, the soundtrack is bananas and I can see me coming back for more even after I get caught up in the upcoming wave of AAA titles that’s going to slam into the Switch over the next few months. If you’re a new or old fan of shooters, especially horizontal shooters, than make Last Resort your first stop on the eShop.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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