Author: John Legendoffzelda
In a regular sci-fi scrolling shooter, the sleek weaponized spacecraft being controlled by the player earns power-ups. They enhance the main weapons, or else stick close to the hull and multiply the firepower. Atlus and AI try for a novel twist on this convention with their arcade port BlaZeon, where this time the power-ups grant the player completely new spacecraft. Shoot a special capturing device at the enemy in front of the piloted ship, get close enough to them, and presto – now the player’s manipulating a giant mech with a three-way shot, or a small battle droid that can turn itself invulnerable for a short amount of time. With several different mechs to possess, the possibilities for enjoyment here would be numerous, except they’re not. In the wake of the giant-robot anime shows and similar works from the decade preceding it, this effort is likely going for a familiar conceit with which to sell itself. Playing off of past successes isn’t a crime, but the developers are only fooling themselves if they think the robot-possessing saves the game from being a cumbersome and uninspired retread of better titles. The truth of the matter is that being able to control those robots only contributes to it.
When outside of those enemy machines, the player flies around in a peanut-sized spaceship that shoots blue laser bullets. In a confounding move by the developers, the ship can either perform a rapid-fire shot or eke out one bullet with each press of the action button. It’s often recommendable to merge with the first mech the player sees, because the initial ship has the durability and aerodynamic skill of a paper airplane. The way it flies through space, approaching enemy territories or maneuvering past rocket-propelled asteroids, it’s arguable that it has the same velocity. Just about everything in this game moves across and happens on-screen at the same glacial, numbing pace. A mid-level boss will appear over thirty full seconds after the last visible object is gone; the walls of a cavernous space station will glide past so lethargically, it’s as if they mean to evoke Kubrickian awe. The interstellar vistas could be excused for their lazy pacing if they really did evoke some kind of awe, but the pipe-covered metal walls and shadowy background planets this game offers are generic sci-fi images that only inspire boredom. The player will see them way too often, not just because of their interchangeability but also because the player can get stuck on the same level constantly. The snail’s pace is complicated by barrages of enemy fire, which the main ship can barely keep up with; its main cannon has a nagging factor to it where the firepower only speeds up when it’s close to the right edge of the screen. This imbalance of action mechanics can send a player crashing to his death, and each unlimited continue puts him right back at the level’s beginning.
As you can see, the game gives a lot of impetus to find a mech and merge with it. Their advanced firing abilities can make easy work of enemies at the right times, and the variety of mechs there are along with the mechanic for capturing them would ideally set this game up as a Pokémon of shoot-em-ups. There’s a major problem with this idea, and it comes down to the fact that putting this specific design element in a scrolling shooter is a poor decision. You have the sluggish space rover trying to shoot a capture-device at the big enemy craft in front of it, while avoiding projectiles (from other enemies, and even from the targeted craft) and trying not to collide with anything. Survival shouldn’t be a higher priority than upgrading – they should have equal importance. Furthermore, what if the robot requires more than one device for capturing, and what if it won’t move adequately into the path of fire or give your ship space to do so? When the ship does merge successfully, then the size and movement properties of the new spacecraft must be considered; many of them are too big not to run the risk of crashing into an impending object and disappearing, and the only small controllable spacecraft there moves so erratically, it might just crash anyway.
Putting aside these new limitations, the robots may as well be the same peanut the player starts with; the majority of them maneuver at the same pace, and they all have the same quirk where the firepower lessens the farther back they go. The firepower also gets weaker whenever the mech gets hit, until it completely explodes and the player must go through the capturing process all over again. Getting forced back to the start of a level with each continue should make this beneficial, since it gives the player advanced information on where to find the mech he enjoys most. But this doesn’t change the structure of how the player can recapture it, and it doesn’t do anything for when they’re already in possession and find a robot that suits the current situation better. It makes no sense that the only method of alternating between giant robots is to let your current robot get destroyed, and the ability to switch between spacecraft on the fly is a move the game could of used instead of that ridiculous function where you shoot a few bullets at a time.
All this nitpicking, though, dismantles the entire game. What’s left to say about its design is pretty much all of the spacecraft are plain machines that emit cacophonic sound effects, and are stuck in a game that moves at a ponderous speed. BlaZeon is enough of a conceptual dud to make a player long for the comparatively genuine pace of BioMetal. By some margin, it probably isn’t the worst scrolling shooter on the Super Nintendo. But it’s surely the dumbest.
Two out of five stars.
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