1990 was a superb year for Mega Drive owning shoot ’em up fans and is pretty much when I personally jumped aboard that particular bandwagon with an imported Japanese unit. Games like Sagaia, Thunderforce 3 and Whip Rush were released for example, all being highly playable and demonstrating just how good Sega’s hardware was for this genre whilst hinting at what was yet to come. Sadly, X-Dazedly-Ray from UNIPACC really doesn’t fall into that camp and, when thinking back, there was for the longest time a small part of me which wondered why I handed over £24.99 for it back in the day.
The first games in the Gradius and Darius series seem to have been an inspiration for XDR‘s developers both from a gameplay standpoint and the visuals – the shield is very Darius-like with the options being more similar to Gradius except they can soak up bullets – although it’s nowhere near the standard of either Konami or Taito’s game. It does suffer badly from “Gradius syndrome” as well so, while it takes the entire first level to get some decent firepower together from the icons left behind by blasting certain enemies, everything is lost on dying and recovering from that situation with the now painfully underpowered ship ranks somewhere between frustratingly difficult and simply impossible.
XDR isn’t exactly a popular game, there’s a scathing GameFAQs user review which pretty much rips it to shreds and I’ve previously seen it described it as one of the worst Mega Drive games ever released during forum discussions. That’s being rather harsh on something that is essentially just mediocre though, and it’s not even the worst shoot ’em up for the platform either with titles like Curse, Xenon 2: Megablast or Divine Sealing being more aesthetically distinctive but, to my mind at least, less enjoyable to play.
So it’s not a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but still offers some entertainment; if the cost of cartridge publishing hadn’t meant there couldn’t be a home computer style budget range for Mega Drive games that’s where X-Dazedly-Ray would have fit in perfectly, not quite keeping up with the full-pricers for spectacle but still reasonably solid. For those wanting to give it a blast, go into the start menu to enable auto firing – because trying to constantly hammer two buttons for the main guns and missiles at a decent rate is something of an ask – and perhaps dial the difficulty down to “easy” before starting.
At the end of the 21st century the world is under attack, this time from the Zzyaxians who, rather than taking on the Earth’s plucky lone fighter with their own fleet, have instead opted for something more insidious and indeed bizarre; the alien aggressors have used genetic manipulation on otherwise friendly camels to breed them into 90 foot high, neutronium shielded, laser-spitting creatures of death. Each sector has six death camels – shown on the handy scanner at the top of the screen – stomping inexorably towards the base at the right hand edge of the play area and, if they complete that journey, the player is overrun and the game over.
Each camel takes a significant number of hits before “de-rezzing” and defends itself with the aforementioned laser-infused spittle; some of these are merely fired in a fixed direction but the nastier ones track towards the player’s jet and need some manoeuvring to avoid. Each jet gets nine shields and loses one to collisions with both bullets and camels, something that comes in handy on the later stages where it’s possible to end up accidentally pinballing back and forth between objects as the game speeds up.
When a stage has been cleared the Faster Than Light Hyperwarp drive system can be engaged in order to travel to the next; the jet starts at the right side of the screen and accelerates to the left, dodging fast-moving rockets heading in the opposite direction – smacking into one will destroy the jet so the current level needs to be played again – until the drive kicks in and it’s protected for the remainder of the journey to the next sector, where things start over but with the overall difficulty increased and new background colours.
Attack Of The Mutant Camels is early Jeff Minter at his very best, perhaps not as surreal or indeed involved as later titles like Iridis Alpha or Batalyx – which also contains a beefed up version of this game with multiple camels on the screen which can also jump – on the C64 but still fast, colourful and endlessly playable. It’s one of those games which can be picked up for a quick ten minute blast and there’s a range of difficulty settings to suit most folks – the power of the player’s bullet can be tweaked as well – although starting at the default “fer sure” setting seems to be about my speed these days even if I remember nudging it up a level or two as a teenager.
The C64 has been blessed with a huge number of decent scrolling shoot ’em ups over the decades , but one of note which was completed but not actually released Alloyrun by Ash & Dave who were also behind Mission Monday. There’s a far more in-depth account of why this game wasn’t released at Games That Weren’t, but the short version is that the intended publisher ran into financial difficulties before going under without a release happening. That’s something of a shame because the game itself is pretty solid with some nice if somewhat unusual parallax background scrolling, two simultaneous players flying craft that look suspiciously like the Silver-Hawk and some fantastic title and high score tunes from the Maniacs Of Noise.
There are two parts to each level, the first has scrolling backgrounds which must be avoided – easier said than done especially since there are a few “cheap” spots where a dead end doesn’t reveal itself until there’s no way out – which are inhabited by waves of swirling enemies and, once the end of the map has been reached, the action moves into deep space for more enemy waves before culminating in a boss fight which, rather unusually for this kind of game, can actually be avoided by dodging around the large craft as it crawls menacingly across the screen.
When certain enemies are downed they leave behind spheres which contain weaponry power-ups, the colours denote which option is available for collection and the game helpfully displays the weapon name on the status bar as well, although picking the item up can be tricky since they continue to follow the attack wave’s movement pattern. Trying to keep hold of the bouncing laser is sensible since it fires a couple of angled beams which rebound off the top and bottom boundaries of the playfield and pass over the landscape; these make dealing with hard to reach enemies easier – especially when paired with the front laser even if that stops at the walls – and can be used on the boss’s shields from above or below without being in the line of fire. Care needs to be taken even when fully armed though, because, although it doesn’t just leave the player with the default pea shooter, losing a life also powers down the weapons.
I’ve enjoyed playing Alloyrun ever since I received the Legend crack which was doing the rounds – since the game was never commercially released that’s pretty much how anybody would have got it – and, whilst not quite up there with C64 classics like Armalyte, Io or Enforcer, it still plays well. My only real complaints would be the one mentioned above – those unfair dead ends which have stolen my precious bouncing laser so many times over the decades – and the slightly lacklustre bosses, but they’re not deal breaking issues so I still go back to this one regularly.