Released into the arcades in 1995 by the… interestingly named Fuuki, Go Go! Mile Smile – sometimes known as Sasume! Mile Smile depending on the territory – is an endearingly cute, maze based action game. The player controls a cyan egg which can only be moved around the tracks surrounding the play area; these spaces are completely safe because the patrolling enemies can’t actually move into them but, in order to complete each stage, the contents of the egg must literally come out of their shell and gather all of the items which are dotted around the screen.
Contents plural because the egg is almost TARDIS-like and crammed impossibly full with yellow, fluffy chicks; as they head out into the playfield these avians form a delightful little Conga line and, if an enemy breaks their chain in some way, a life is lost and the round restarts. The fire button can retract everything back into the egg at lightning speed if used early enough and there’s also a friendly fairy who drifts past occasionally, pausing on her way to drop off items which are either a score bonus or there to help, for example temporarily allowing the chicks to deal with their pursuers.
So with the bonus items, fast retract button and the egg being safe from contact with the nasties it might sound like an easy game, but Go Go! Mile Smile really isn’t; keeping a constant, watchful eye on the entire line of birds and making sure they’re not about to make contact with anything is an acquired skill and it’s incredibly easy to miss potential collisions when concentrating on where the lead one with a piece of shell on it’s head is going. There’s not much time to hesitate or strategise either since each level has a time limit, this can sometimes be topped up by items from the fairy but it’s best to play like the seconds dished out at the start of the stage are all you’re getting.
I stumbled across Go Go! Mile Smile over a decade ago, randomly downloading it whilst picking up ROM images for MAME in part because it looked bright and colourful and I wanted something that wasn’t a hardcore scrolling shoot ’em up so that my Beloved and I would sit down and play together; we did but, ironically, she spent far longer playing Parodius rather than anything else! The gameplay shares a few features of the 1982 coin-op Anteater except with more potential entry points into the maze-like playfield and, despite all the jolly colours and music, things get seriously intense as the seconds tick down whilst trying to gather those final, hard to reach items on a stage.
For the last week or thereabouts I’ve been playing a lot of a coin-op called Fire Hawk – it was released by Korean manufacturers ESD in 2001 and a little “research” on the internet reveals that it’s actually built on a hack of Psikyo’s code with the most popular guess as to where the “donation” came from being the Strikers series; the influence of those games is pretty obvious too, with the overall look being like an unrefined, low resolution version of Strikers 1945 III.
Each level has a cliche… erm, theme ranging from desert with armed pyramids to rainforest and passing through that mining town with a huge marshalling yard, a rusty industrial area and the semi-rural landscape that’d be quite nice if it wasn’t for the mega tanks and concealed guns along the way. It also has what I can best describe as a “twee village” that sticks out like a sore thumb since it’d belong in an entirely different game if there hadn’t been an absolutely massive jet “parked” by one of the buildings – the bizarre scale of the jet to it’s surroundings hints that whoever drew the backgrounds wasn’t told which scale was being used for everything else.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I got so hooked on the thing. It’s a relatively simple shooter and not exactly perfect either since there are some bugs in the mix and, whilst most of the issues are cosmetic things like bosses leaving large chunks of themselves behind after exploding, I reckon the variation in the amount of kicking a boss will take on the later levels is too erratic to be deliberate and the collisions seem to be a bit squiffy since I’ve seen medals floating under the body of my plane without a hit being registered.
But it could’ve been worse; there’s a hack of Fire Hawk (oh, the irony) by another Korean dev Yona Tech called Spectrum 2000 that manages to all but shatter things to the point where the difficulty was ramped up to “fecking quick” at the start, half a helicopter and two bits of tank track were still considered to be an active boss that was therefore still firing and, whilst credit feeding through it to see how badly damaged things actually were, it fell apart completely, leaving an invisible, non-firing and indestructible chunk of boss in play so the level wouldn’t end!
Actually, I suspect that I do know why Fire Hawk (and to a degree Spectrum 2000 although that was more a morbid fascination) managed to hook me, it’s the simplicity of the thing; after a little “complexity” whilst having to choose from five different planes with their own weapons and initial level order, it becomes a case of dodging like a madman, grabbing power-ups and medals as they go past and most important of all giving anything that gets in the way a serious kicking.