Author: John Legendoffzelda
On the opening screen of Sunsoft’s Firepower 2000, a silvery dune buggy and a golden helicopter attack a fortress in the middle of a desert. The yellow starburst on the fortress’ outside emits a direct laser, clipping the helicopter’s landing brace. The title’s logo doesn’t just appear, it slams onto the screen with the sound of a bomb going off in the distance. One thing is for certain: this shoot-em-up means business. An export of Swift Sales Curve’s action title Super SWIV, originally released in Europe, the game is a well-paced thrill dominated by machines. It’s an atmospheric bombardment of missiles, lasers and military vehicles made for power and built to last. As the game was released in America fourteen months after U.N. Squadron, it works effectively as a sort of response: both are stories of pseudo-realistic fantasy war, except the sci-fi-tinged Firepower is told with seriousness and intensity.
There’s a thin layer of a plot where in 1997 (a popular time setting for sci-fi stories), an anonymous army is stealing special remote-controlled military technology to carry out their own nefarious deeds, and the heroes must go and stop them. The heroes command advanced crafts named Special Weapons Interdiction Vehicles (SWIV); like the opening suggests, these vehicles are a modified helicopter and an armored jeep with a mounted turret. The player must choose between one or the other, and both have different advantages. The jeep can fire in multiple directions and perform short hops across barriers. The chopper, meanwhile, can fly over oncoming trains and other ground obstacles to better focus on the enemies ahead. The player controls the direction of the jeep’s fire by tapping the directional pad, and the high rate of enemy attacks combined with the speed of the vertically-scrolling screen means dexterity is key if the player wants to keep going.
The levels are thick with enemies, along with train tracks and other such hazards to watch out for, but the SWIVs don’t go into battle unarmed. Their arsenals include missiles, plasma-bullets, and a flamethrower as the main weapons. Along the way, they pick up useful secondary weapons that include homing missiles, lasers, and explosives that create rings of destruction. Green canisters on the ground can be blown up to reveal power-ups that grant the secondary weapons and extend the power and range of the main weapons. Round canisters, also on the ground, grant glowing circles that can either be picked up as shields or fired at to blow up every enemy in sight.
The perilous levels are both long and wide, and they permit a surprising amount of exploration. One side of a level may have a specific arrangement of enemies, and another side might have a useful power-up that facilitates a good stretch of the game. Veering far left or far right helps to get a strong layout of the path ahead, and apart from that it helps to show off the neat level design. Crossing these levels while blasting away at oncoming planes, missile silos, and tanks is complemented with polished game feel. Enemies (and the SWIVs, for that matter) give off loud explosion sounds when they’re destroyed that have a satisfying crunch. As the enemies come in, wave after wave, from the top of the screen, this crunch is plentiful and continuously enjoyable. But the most enjoyable explosion sound comes from shooting at the glowing-circle shields, which generate a sound of such magnitude that it rattles the earth.
Taking out the enemies is a raw and powerful feeling, a reminder of the game’s serious attitude and the graphics do a spectacular job of capturing it. The explosions are rendered as thick plumes of fire and smoke. The sprites are crisp and detailed, and they allow the player to take in the tangibility of the objects – from the small power-up canisters to giant, intimidating laser cannons. While mostly reserved as end-level bosses, those laser cannons are scary, and just as intimidating is the soundtrack. Where the music to some shoot-em-ups flies through the air, the music in this game crawls across the ground. It’s full of pulsing synthesizers and rigid percussion, played with stone-faced seriousness and tightened until it’s ready to snap. The presence of a composition previously used in The Terminator indicates the kinds of thrills that Firepower 2000 aspires to show, and considering all the aforementioned details about this game, the comparison is deserved.
It’s a little unfortunate, then, that those thrills don’t amount to very much, and the game feels less significant for it. It’s brutally difficult, as hard as Contra III; dodging enemies and multitudes of projectiles takes serious concentration, and learning to aim the jeep’s turret while still moving is not the easiest skill. Working in tandem with the difficulty is the format, one that strongly evokes an arcade game. There are a handful of levels in all, and each new round of levels grants four lives; additional ones are earned after every 50,000 points, and losing all of them ends the game completely. When the game ends, one of two things happen: either the player gets plopped back onto the title screen, or they’re told they got a high score and their score is ranked against nineteen totally anonymous people. Firepower 2000, for all of its action-packed quality, doesn’t really hold the warmth of a console title. Its primary concern is high scores, without a real resolution to its already inch-thin plot or even a credits sequence. These details just make the game as a whole feel impersonal.
But this shouldn’t bother everybody, least of all players looking for some good shooter action. Firepower 2000 still delivers in spades. The satisfying feeling of blowing stuff up and the intimidating ambiance isn’t to be trifled with. Because of its flaws, the game doesn’t reach the quality level of more popular Super Nintendo shoot-em-ups, and being released after several games of that description doesn’t help. It’ll still appeal, though, to those in the mood for arcade-style action, however literally it interprets that designation.
Four out of five stars.
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