Friday, May 21, 2010

World Ten: Methods of Flight

I'm sitting here at Pearson International Airport, just about to head out to Regina from Toronto as YYZ by Rush constantly plays through my head. I've got about 40 minutes to kill before my flight, and then even more time to write stuff up while I'm on the plane, so I figured I'd write up a post. Inspired (or something) by the surroundings, I thought it would be a nifty World Ten entry to go through my personal ten favourite methods of flight from classic video games.

Obviously there are many. Ships in shoot 'em ups, power ups in adventure games, various other weird shit...and I can already think of a handful to list off. So without holding this up any further, I'm gonna dive right in:

10) The Arwing - the Star Fox series

I bet you saw this one coming from a mile away. Fox McCloud's staple spacefighter is certainly a no-brainer. Perhaps the coolest thing about it is that it was the first 3D modeled creation that came out of Nintendo, but it's also a damn sweet vehicle. A fighter ship that can travel in atmospheric and non-atmospheric conditions is always a good one to have around.

Functions include a Gravity Diffuser which allows it to...you know...diffuse gravity (fly), as well as a nose cone blaster which can be upgraded to twin wing blasters, a warp-like drive, and nova bombs. Later on, Star Fox 64 would introduce the charge shot from the cone of the ship, which lets you scrap multiple enemies at once in a specific radius of the detonation of the bolt. Not only did this clear the way for you, but it also increased your scores like crazy, which is sort of what SF64 was all about.

You know, it's iconic and stuff, and really stands out, but I don't really have much to say about it so I'm done! Oh, except that it also made a neat cameo in F-Zero X and GX, and you can also see one in Super Mario RPG if you look carefully...

9) Flamethrower - Duke Nukem II

The interesting thing about this method of flight that I'm sure you've noticed already, is that it happens to be a weapon. A little weird, eh? Well let me get into the nitty gritty.

Before the Duke Nukem series was known as mainly an FPS or third-person view experience, the original two entries were classic sidescrollers for the PC. Their levels were quite interesting in that they weren't simply left to right, but also could be vertically scrolling. Duke Nukem I didn't really have much to do for vertical movement besides jumping, so the Duke was quite limited to the use of the platforms that were laid out throughout the levels. Well, they certainly fixed that up in Duke II.

While Duke Nukem I involved you using the same, but upgradeable, projectile weapon throughout the game, Duke Nukem II had various different weapons that you could acquire to take out your foes. Your standard weapon was a blaster, but guns you could pick up include a fast-firing laser, a slower but extremely powerful rocket launcher, and of course, the flamethrower. This gun came loaded with ammunition and was also quite powerful, but the coolest thing about it is that by pointing it downward and firing, the Duke is actually propelled upward. This gives you the ability of flight at the expense of your ammunition, which was actually not too bad because by the time you were outta ammo, you'd probably be able to locate another flamethrower nearby.

And don't forget that you toast everything below you as well. Jetpack, eat your heart out.

(props to Tron for reminding me about this one a while ago)

8) The Arrowhead - the R-Type series

R-Type is a lot like Gradius in that it's a side-scrolling shooter that has you blowing through legions of aliens to protect the earth from. These aliens are called the Bydo, and oddly enough they were actually created by humans as a failed biological weapon. The organisms started to multiply rapidly and threaten mankind, so we sent them to another fucking dimension...but they came back, as mistakes often do, to bite humans in the ass. They expanded and evolved, and eventually figured out how to get back into our dimension to exact revenge.

That's where the Arrowhead comes in. This is your ship for the duration of R-Type, and rather than focus on versatility like the Vic Viper of Gradius, it seems like the Arrowhead is based on power. This ship can charge up its beam weapon to deliver a massive blast almost as wide as half of the screen (in R-Type 3), making quick work of almost anything that's on the receiving end. Add in a Hyper mode to the series that puts your weapon into overdrive and things really have a hard time standing in your way...or so you'd like to think. The Bydo are resilient assholes, and they take a lot of firepower to wipe out so it's a damn good thing your ship is outfitted for just that. You have missile powerups and speed powerups as well, but perhaps the most interesting part of the Arrowhead's arsenal is called a Force.

Somewhat like Gradius, you pick what kind of Force you want at the beginning of the game. A Force is actually a controlled and contained piece of Bydo that's been outfitted with special abilities, and each different kind has its ups and downs. Your Force is where your special weapons come out of, so whenever you pick up a laser weapon, for example, your force shows up and attaches to the front of your ship and starts firing whenever you hit the button. The more laser powerups you acquire afterward, the more your weapon upgrades. Not only this, but you can actually launch the Force itself at your enemies, and with the right positioning you can get it stuck in areas that waste bosses in no time. There are numerous kinds of Forces, and one type of weapon will have much different effects depending on what one you've chosen. Gives you a bit of strategy, which is cool.

You also get option devices, but these remain stationary above and below your ship. They can absorb hits from above and below as a result, and depending on what Force and weapon you have, they might fire, or they might do something else.

It's a weapon system that you really have to use and get a hang of to appreciate, but when it comes down to it, the Arrowhead is a beast of a ship if you know what you're doing.

The fully charged beam is your best friend. EVER.

7) You turn into a fucking ship - The Guardian Legend

Here's a damn cool game from the NES lineup. A tough one, too. The Guardian Legend starts up and you're a piloting a ship and flying through space, blowing away debris and enemies and picking up powerups and such, so you're having some damn fun. Space shoot'em ups are amazing and test a gamer's reflexes to their very extremes, so you're all ready to have them tested! You get to the end of the first level, fight a relatively simple boss, and you're on to the next space shooting level.


Oh wait...no you're not.

The damn ship that you've been controlling turns into a woman and all of a sudden the game is played from a top-down perspective. What the HELL is with that?!?

So let's get this straight. Not only do you have solid, tried and true elements of a vertical shoot'em up, but also elements of a game much like the Legend of Zelda. The top down perspective allows you to explore the labyrinthine surface of the planet you've landed on to destroy, called Naju. When you're in this mode, you attempt to locate new items and weaponry, as well as the entrances to dungeons, which are played as vertical shooters. VERY cool.


But this post is about the flight...and the neat thing is that all the upgrades that you find when you're in humanoid form are taken with you into battle when your character turns into a ship! This doesn't really take much explaining to explain the coolness when it comes down to it...you're a robot woman who outfits herself with a ton of weaponry and can also turn into a ship. So in essence, while you're off running around in top down mode, you're just collecting mad upgrades for your ship form to obliterate the bosses with.

I'm done with this one. You just go ahead and think about it for a while...a robot chick who turns into a spaceship...with tons of weapons. Actually if you need to think about that for any amount of time to realize how awesome it is, just leave this blog this instant.

Oh, and overall the game is amazing. Killer soundtrack to boot. Try it out!

6) Super Leaf - Super Mario Bros. 3

Okay, so this one isn't too spectacular when it comes down to it...but when you think about it, it really took Super Mario Bros. in a pivotal direction for the series and changed the way people looked at their surroundings when playing a Mario game.

Sure, you could argue that the first instance of flight in Super Mario Bros. was Princess Toadstool's method of floating in Mario 2. I dunno how that worked, but I can only assume that she'd been nomming on the turnips and various vegetables scattered around SubCon and getting horrendous gas, allowing her to hover in the air for about a second and a half. Unfortunately for her, anyone with a brain can tell you that hovering/floating/being gassy and flying are completely different things. Also Princess Toadstool blows in that game and Luigi can actually manage to jump farther with his flutter kick thing...whatever that is.

Anyway, back to the leaf. You pick this thing up and for some random reason, Mario sprouts a raccoon tail from his ass and ears appear on his cap. I assume that it's painful but who the heck knows. Anyway, after you have this powerup you can fly after gathering some speed for a while on the ground, much like an airplane actually. Seems like a simple concept, but the fact of the matter is that this complicated and shook things up a bit for level designers in that secrets and alternate paths and powerups could be hidden in the sky. Enemies could even be in obscure locations. Things were now very, very different.

I remember one of the first things I did in Mario 3 when I had my Game Genie was plug in the "Start and stay as Raccoon Mario" code and be sure to check out every vertical corner of every level in the game, and I tell ya...there're a lot of secrets in that game. If you've played it to death like I have then I'm sure you already know that, but yeah. Sure, the Cape Feather in Super Mario World is a bit more useful because you could just parachute through entire levels...but I really didn't like it for that very reason. The good thing about the leaf is that it's limited...you have to come back down to the ground and face an enemy at some point. The cape feather took that all away and you could just traverse entire levels without encountering a single foe, which ruins the Mario experience for me. People designed the rest of the level for a reason...for it to be experienced, not skipped over and ignored. That's also why I like the Propeller Cap in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. It has the same functionality as the leaf and you can't just soar over the entire play field so it's still challenging to keep the powerup throughout the entire level.

Also, yes, Mario 2 had vertically scrolling levels, but that was different in that sections of the game were either restricted to horizontal movement or restricted to vertical scrolling. There was no mix. Seriously, go back and check...it was the same deal with Metroid for NES. Sections had to be one or the other...not a combination, and so exploration was still limited in Mario 2.

5) Rush - the Megaman series


There are numerous amazing things about Rush. Not only are they a progressive rock group that happen to kick a lot of ass, but they als...oh wait, I'm supposed to be talking about Rush from Megaman 3 and onward. SILLY ME!!!!

Unless you're a classic gamer who has been living under a rock for the last...oh, 20 years or so, you should likely be aware that Rush is Megaman's red-coloured robot dog friend who was introduced in Megaman 3 and appeared in every game onward. Dogs are cool on their own, so Rush is already in my good books, but there's way more than meets the eye to this mechanical pooch. To put it simply, Megaman's dog is pretty much a walking Swiss Army knife, providing numerous tools to access numerous places scattered throughout the levels of the Megaman series. The Rush Coil allows the Blue Bomber to jump on Rush's back (likely a little bit painful) and launch upward by a spring in his spine, and the Rush Marine turns your favourite mutt into a sub for easy travel in underwater areas (which can certainly make areas of the games a lot easier to get through, particularly Gemini Man's stage in MM3).

Perhaps the coolest one of all though is the Rush Jet, because this valuable upgrade turns Rush into a rocket-propelled platform that Megaman can stand on and control to fly right through difficult parts of the game, or over a particularly daunting pit. Those damn grasshopper robots that take you over long rows of spikes in Bright Man's level of Megaman 4? Rush Jet. The area of Tornado Man's stage in MM9 with the magnetic rotating platforms? Rush Jet! Megaman 10's sandstorm regions in Commando Man's stage? RUSH JET!!!! Tons of levels in Megaman 3, particularly the pumped up Shadow Man's stage after you defeat all 8 robot masters? YOU USE YOUR DAMN RUSH JET!!!!! Actually in that case you have to, but you NEED that damn dog to be able to get through, making the Jet all the more important. There is no other option in this case.

Most iterations of Rush's flying ability simply propel you forward, with limited up or down navigation until Rush collides with a wall or something. However, Megaman 3's Rush Jet allows you full control, giving the player an extra option to tackle whackloads of challenges throughout the course of the game. When used correctly in Megaman games, Rush is an indispensable tool at your disposal and the Rush Jet in particular can make those tough platforming sections a breeze.

Not that I need to use him for the tougher platforming in Megaman games...just sayin'. Sometimes you get lazy! STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!!

4) Space Jump - Metroid 2, Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, Metroid: Zero Mission


The Metroid series has always been my personal favourite of the Nintendo franchises because of its science fiction setting, incredible use of atmosphere, and the sheer genius of the layout of each game. Moving from one area to the next, exploring the gigantic and intricately-designed worlds, blowing away shitloads of nasty aliens, and acquiring powerups to make yourself an unstoppable killing machine has never been more entertaining. Any Metroid veteran (which I may now call Meterans...hmm) knows how the games play out, and that exploring is key to finding every last powerup, or that not exploring is key to beating the game in a record time. Depends on your play style, really.

Because of this, I feel that one of the most important items in the series is the Space Jump. This beauty of an upgrade gave Samus the ability to jump repeatedly in midair, as long as you can time the jumps correctly. A skilled Metroid player can easily use this to pull off as many consecutive jumps as he or she wishes, basically giving the ability of flight. So once you have the Space Jump, you can do a couple of things:

First off, you can explore almost every damn area of the map. You can jump wherever the hell you want! The sky's technically not even the damn limit! Unless the areas that you want to check out require something to access them that you don't have yet (such as say, that yellow door above the landing area in Super Metroid), the SJ can get you there. And even if you do jump to someplace that's blocked off, at least you know it's there. This item is key for discovering every little nook and cranny that a Metroid game has to offer.

The second thing is that you can get around really, really quickly. The Space Jump, when timed correctly, is not simply limited to mostly vertical exploration. A series of shallow jumps in sequence can let you traverse a completely horizontal area. Couple that with, say, a full speed run via the use of the Speed Booster, and you can traverse a long room in record time. This is great for speed running. If you couple this item with the almighty Screw Attack (which makes you able to destroy all small monsters when you somersault into them), not even the most impeding of enemies can really do anything to you.

The Metroid Prime series has a Space jump that's only limited to one extra jump, so I'm leaving it outta this list because two jumps =/= flight.

3) Pyro GX - the Descent series

I need to play through these games again. Badly. I've explained Descent in one of my previous top 10 entries, so I won't get too much into the game except that it's pretty much a Doom-style FPS where you control a ship and take out robots that have gone berserk rather than demons. Add in the fact that you can fly in all 360 degrees and you have a pretty cool game.

The Pyro GX is the ship that you pilot (except in D3...that's the Pyro GL), and man is it ever a beauty. Pretty much every damn weapon you can think of under the sun and some other nifty little functions and you have yourself a ship that's not nearly as complicated as those found in dogfighting games, but also not as simple as controlling the marine in Doom. It gives you a happy medium, and you have lots of options at your disposal.

First off, it's got weapons out the exhaust port, of both energy and bullet variety. Add your secondary weapons onto that (missiles and bombs), and you have a flying arsenal at your disposal. Plasma Cannons, Gauss Guns, Smart Bombs and Guided Missiles are only 4 of the 20 (!) tools of robot destruction to fuck around with. So this ship is already badass. If you want more information about the weapons, just go look at my report on the EarthShaker Missile in the first World Ten entry. I am now drooling everywhere.

The other functions it has are pretty cool too. The ability to warp between solar systems is a nice feature, for example...but while you're playing the game, there are a bunch of tools you can use besides your weapons to aid you in your robot-busting rampage. Too dark? Fire a flare and light up the place a bit. STILL too dark? Turn on your massive fucking headlight! Low on shields, but have energy to spare? THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT! It's called the Energy-to-Shield converter! Not going fast enough? Fire up that Afterburner you just picked up and get the piss outta there or ram that last pesky TRN Racer (that's an enemy) into oblivion. Your ship can also strafe in any direction and reverse, has a fucking cruise control if you're too lazy to make the ship move yourself, and with the right powerups can cloak and become completely invulnerable.

Like I said. A flying arsenal. I love it.

2) The Vic Viper - the Gradius series

Ahh, Gradius. You've inspired so damn much in space shoot'em ups that I don't even know where the hell to start with you. If you've not heard of Gradius, it's a pivotal horizontally (and sometimes also vertically) scrolling shooter where you control a tremendously versatile ship called the Vic Viper (or Warp Rattler in Gradius 1...but it's been the Viper ever since). It started out in the 'cades, but home versions eventually showed up. The cool thing about the Vic Viper is the amount of customization you can subject it to, both before you start the game AND on the fly during a level. Allow me to explain...and this might take a while so bear with me because it makes this spacefaring ship one of the coolest additions to this list.

So before you start up a game of Gradius (2 and onward, not the original), you choose from a certain number of configurations for your craft. These all have an upgrade for your standard weapon that doubles it in some method, a missile, a different weapon from your standard called a Laser, an option, a shield, and a special effect (in some cases) to pick from. I would like to point out that an option in Gradius is a red spherical entity that does the same thing as your ship. You fire, it fires. You move and it moves...so basically it's another Vic Viper that doesn't sustain damage.

So let's take this layout screen from Gradius III (my personal favourite) for example:

In this screenshot I've taken (of a ROM that I downloaded, but it's okay because I have the actual game myself SO FUCK OFF), you can see that I've selected 6 different abilities. A standard missile, a tailgun that fires behind the ship, a ripple beam for hitting things at a wide angle, a formation option, a reduced ship size as my ? (shield) function, and a full barrier for a ! (special) function.

Now, for a screenshot of when you're actually playing the game:

See that little bar at the bottom? Those represent the functions you've selected at the start of the game. Also, do you see that orange spiky thing near the bottom? Those are powerup pods, which show up when you destroy either specific enemies, or entire formations of enemies. If I were to pick that thing up, it would highlight the "Speed Up" function. At this point, I can either press a button to activate the Speed Up and make my ship move faster, or I can wait until I pick up another orange pod, which would highlight the Missile function...at which point I could select that and acquire my missiles, but not the previously highlighted speed boost. The next would highlight the double (tailgun), and then the laser (ripple beam), and so on, which you could then activate at any point. Do you follow?

Basically you pick the powerups you want to be able to acquire over the course of the game before you play it, and then choose which ones you want to activate in which order during the game by storing up energy pods and spending them on your selected powerups. It's a neat concept and I can certainly explain it in more detail...but this whole system of your choosing your abilities and when to activate them in what order gives the Vic Viper incredible functionality tailored to the needs of the pilot (player). You can have options that either form a V-shape around you or follow your ship in a line, or you can choose between a standard shield or a size reduction of your ship, making you harder to hit. The world is your oyster in these games, and once you learn to exploit that facet of the Vic, you can really start to sink your teeth into the Gradius series.

In general though, it's good to go with a couple of speed ups to begin with or you're pretty much toast.

PHEW! Next!

1) Riding a giant anti-aircraft missile - Contra 3: The Alien Wars

That's right. You fucking heard me.

The Contra series is obviously known for being tough as nails, and C3 is no exception (particularly on hard mode...give that a shot sometime). In order to tackle such a hard game, you obviously need hardcore characters to play as...and what the heck, you may as well throw in some ridiculous stuff at the same time. Contra has never been realistic (thankfully) and fighting off waves and waves of Red Falcon's army is just awesome.

Contra 3 was the Super Nintendo Contra game, and it really was awesome. Wicked graphics, unparalleled run and gun gameplay, two-player co-operative modes, adjustable difficulty settings to give newcomers a chance and veterans a challenge...you really can't go wrong with this game. Whenever I think about Contra 3, however, the level that always comes to mind first is stage 4. Stage 4 begins with you riding a hovering motorcycle of sorts, blowing down a highway at a ridiculous speed while aliens attack you. Eventually a giant mothership passes over you, attacking you with various armaments and cronies that hang below. Clearly this damn thing needs to get blown outta the sky somehow, but you're just one man! Or potentially two! How can you possibly do it? Well, you're playing as a couple of the biggest badasses in vidjagame history, and in a true example of manliness they jump onto a missile attached to the bottom of the helicopter and are LAUNCHED DIRECTLY AT THE MOTHERSHIP.

My eyes melted when I saw this the first time. Couldn't fuckin' believe it! So you hang off of the bottom of this rocket, which is slowly gaining on the mothership, and you open fire on its giant red weak point...but eventually the missile hits it and blows up and you fall off and die...

Unless, of course, you JUMP BETWEEN MULTIPLE MISSILES WHILE FIRING GIANT GUNS AT THE GIANT SHIP OH MY GOD!! More rockets catch up to you to give you other places to go. This is an epic, epic fight...jumping from missile to missile as you fire at a giant ship's red baboon ass to take it down. Retarded...but AMAZING!

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