SHMUPS





Border Down - 2002 - G. Rev









BORDER DOWN

2002 G.REV

Reviewed by Randorama

A BRIEF INTRO:
OR, LET'S TALK ABOUT PROCO AND TIAT

Border Down, in case you wonder, was produced by a bunch of ex-Taito guys: the president of the company, Mr.Maruyama, was one of the project leaders on G.Darius and started working at Taito on Metal Black. Yack (Yasuhisa Watanabe) is an ex-Zuntata member and also worked on Metal Black. This explains why the game, basically, plays like a sequel of the two games, more or less. No,sorry, no giant fishes, but many ships look like they were taken from Rayforce, and in fact Mr.Katoh (the designer) worked on that series too.

WE ARE IN THE† AGE IN WHICH† THE UNIVERSE IS NO LONGER JUST " A PROMISED LAND".

Mars, 325 years after the colonization and terraforming of the planet: "The seed" have sown. Aside the funny engrish, the game is set in the future, when Mars is a planet inhabited by millions of human beings. One day, like in all good hard sci-fi shmups, the bad aliens show up and try to kick in the ass the poor humans without even talking ( too many games to quote here ;Q ). The alien force is then named "F.A.", acronym for "First Approach": the first encounter happens in the Vesta mining camps, outside the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.Thy don't try to make any contact at all: just attack everything human-related. To fight this new treat, the " S.D.F.", Solar Defense Force, has been formed. The Solar Defense Force then uses the new "R.A.I.N", Remote Artificial Intelligence Network, force: a trio of ships controlled via virtual reality by a human pilot. These three ships are the "Antares XX-Wasp", whose insect name is like "Mosquito" from Mars Matrix, another game set on a colonized Mars.† The story revolves around those weird alien beings attacking Mars with some unknown weapon, without any reason at all.So, S.D.F. sends their new weapon against them...

The three main characters are :

  • Lt.Frank Boyd, the blonde hero;

  • Maya Komarov, the mysterious girl† which seems to have some commander grade, but whose role isn't revealed during the game;

  • Colonel Eiji† Bowman ,Frank's superior and mischievous schemer.

Now, the stages are also integral to the plot: well, actually the first three stages are a simulation, the last three are the real† (and first ,for Frank) battle. Stage 1 and 2 are simulations based on the first approach, while stage 3 is a simulation of† a space fight between S.D.F. and F.A. fleets. At the end of this stage, you basically fight your other vehicles: this is actually an hint of things to come...I can't tell you more. Stages 4 and 5 are actual fights against F.A., the first in an abandoned colony, the second on the orbital elevator . Now, every of the four ending stages add something to the plot, so i can't tell you more...

A very interesting thing is that you get a different "game over" screen based on the stage you died in, whereas the four different endings seem to hint that (provided that you complete them in the alphabetic order) they're actually connected...or perhaps not.

GRAPHICS
OR:"SO,HOW SHEFFIELD LOOKS LIKE IN THE 325TH YEAR OF MARS COLONIZATION?"

Well...A characteristic of Taito games that G.Rev make theirs is the lack of very defined graphics. Starting from the first Darius, Most of Taito games have always got a nice design but usually not excellent graphics. Let me clarify this issue: the Darius series, and also the† Rayforce series had a very cool design style, the former with their fish-like enemies and the latter† with their retro mechas and† Harlock-like ships. These games also had lots of nice graphical effects, like rotations, scalings and stuff: still, the basic drawings weren't the best you could find around. Now, this bad habit continued in this title: While the graphics are all polygon-based, in many points their quality isn't excellent. Just one example: the first stage is set in Sheffield, the capital of Mars Federation.

The design is excellent, a nice city rendered with many details and a a nice parallax effect. In the second section, you get down in the sewers ( I think) to battle the mid-boss, then back in the street level to fight the boss. If you change borders, you'll get a yellowish sunset on yellow and a nice night view on red. If you choose the remix version, you'll also get a nice snowing effect on the border set at night (yellow one). Now, what you will notice while playing the game is that the graphics aren't ultra-smooth: here and there you'll get the sensation that they (the gfx staff) could have worked a bit more on details, taking out some pointy edges here and there. Second stage is set in the said Vesta mining camps: this is where details seem scarce, especially in the second section of the stage: nonetheless, the general design is quite good, and heavily reeks of the 80's horzies, especially of a little known series known as Thunderforce (eh, just kidding! Actually source is so obvious, you should have lived in a black hole not to know it ;) ) .

The stage ends with a claustrophobic boss battle, where you fight an alien-like thing which stands upside down and then falls on the floor, where you should finish it off. After that, you go in the third and final part of your fight simulation, a battle against two enemy fleets (one of them probably are is yours, but you may not be sure of it... );and the game finally starts to shine. Backgrounds in this part rock ,either you have the cuiper belt and its asteroids on the background, or the two fleets fighting fiercely, with ships blowing while you blast up stuff (and having some slowdown): in case you don't get the various homages, the green border, in its first section, is basically an homage of Vulcan Venture† and later Gradius chapter, obviously the ice blocks stage (third one, in said Vulcan Venture).On yellow and red borders, the battle pays homage to tons of anime and games with such themes, but the closest reference is Raystorm, fourth stage.

By this stage you should have noticed what's the problem with G.Rev: they seem not to be able to do smooth bigger objects. All of the bigger objects in the games seem to be a bit edgy and "squared", making me think more of a late psx game than a Dreamcast game (more on this later).Still, the rest of stage, especially the boss battle, is excellent: during the boss battle youíll either have a breathtaking Mars rendition of nebulosae and ships moving around you, while you have an intense fight with some ,uhm, weird thing similar to your ship but with an helping pods and then some gigantic rotating arms. Aside this weird boss, you move to your first real mission (perhaps), where you move around the various sections of an abandoned space station: first section is different, and equally good, for all borders: in the second section, you'll fight a huge space ship/rocket, which is actually very impressive, graphically-wise: in the final part, you'll† see it exploding and the boss coming out of it: highly dramatic cinematic sequence, weird and cool boss, and...look at the circular panel on the background. It isn't circular actually, but a figure with "n" sides .I mean: the boss battle is beautiful, you fight a weird disk-like thing while moving in the central toroid of the station, you can see deep space and debris floating, and the details appear rough in places...Bah.

Stage 5 is indeed beautiful, and problems are the same. First section is a view of your ships going up the orbital elevator (the thing you seeing covered by fog in the intro and in the first stage) with a propulsor rock under their belly, like in Metal Black's first stage and first bonus stage (NOTE: this isn't the only Metal Black homage, but the only one quite obvious).In the second section you have different routes to enter in the top part of elevator: as always, you'll notice rough details and beautiful ideas (on yellow border, you'll circle around the tower while battling a Corona Coronet and seeing others of them moving in the background. Boss battle is actually well done, even if the boss follows the "weird ship" concept: if you figure out what it is, let me know. Now, to avoid spoilers, some brief words about the final stages: 6a and 6b, since they're set in the enemy's lair, have a nice Side Arms homage, and a marvelous intro. 6c and 6d have a beautiful setting for the final battle, and that's all I can say. So...

SUMMARY OF SUBSECTION:

The game could have been better in the graphical department, in some points it really shines, While in others it's a bit rough: same thing can be said for design. Bottom point: it could have been better, still it's very well done and solid.

PARTIAL VOTE : 8.
AUDIO
OR: "SHEFFIELD SHUFFLE"

(NOTE: Names are taken from the CD that comes with LE).

The BGM is perhaps the most difficult and trickiest part to do in a game - luckily G.Rev could count on one of the Zuntata founders, its guitarist (unless I recall wrongly) Yasuhisa Watanabe, known as Yack.

His most famous works are Metal Black (91), Dan-ku-ga (95) and Elevator Action Returns (96).Back in the '90s, Zuntata were famous enough to launch their own discographic label and put their symbol on Taito games as a trademark of good soundtracks. While the most famous Zuntata guys are usually OGR (Hisayoshi Ogura, he did ninja warriors(87) and all the Darius games, and Tamayo Kawamoto (she did all the Rayforce games), Yack has been using the the most diverse styles in his soundtracks. Border Down is probably the best example: basically what this soundtrack misses is some hip-hop and heavy metal, if we want to make a list of possible genres for a BGM. Most of the soundtrack, so to speak, is basically a light form of modern jazz and fusion, catchy and simple enough to fit the game's atmosphere without being too complex and distracting.

Stage 1 and 2 have nice Zuntata-like themes (what I would basically define as " '80s j-pop with a strong arcade flavour": sorry, if you're not a Taito fan from their early days, you may not get what I mean),named "Upon the new raid" and " Girl of Power". First boss theme, "Eyes", is also in this style, and reeks heavily of earlier Zuntata works. The second boss has instead a nice and hypnotic jungle/drum'níbass theme, "Blade action", that fits nicely with the cramped fight you have with the said baddie.

On stage 3, you have an excellent jazzy theme for green border,"Bye Bye Mars":if you don't like it, you may border down to yellow and red borders, where you get a trancey tune that sounds like Underworld made it :then you have another dance tune for the boss, which also sounds very Zuntata-ish. In stage 4 style changes to suit the "space-themed tv series" setting, and thus you get two different orchestral themes: "Lost temple" and "Border Line".

The boss theme ("Cage") is† something completely different: it sounds like an Aphex Twin song, especially the children's voices and other weird sounds popping up here and there, and it blends perfectly with the "weird space thing" battle setting. Stage 5 has an incredible fusion theme, "Snow fox": easily the best song in the BGM, with its melancholic mood and its splending refrain. Just to avoid other spoilers, let's say that 6a and 6b have a nice and dramatic orchestral theme, whereas 6c and 6d have a lullaby-like theme and the reprise of one song not related to any stage for the final battle. The Border Down BGM is basically a collection of styles, very atmospheric and original. While it's not by {insert name of fanboys' favourite artist here}, it still manages to suit perfectly the various settings present in the game, albeit it may be a bit too "dispersive" if you don't like some of the genres. Some notes on the BGM CD that comes with the Limited Edition: what the hell...couldn't they have put the "remix versions" songs too? Bah...rest is sweet, especially the rearranged tunes. If you want the said missing songs, please let me know.†

SUMMARY OF SUBSECTION:

Perfect soundtrack, it does flawlessly what every BGM should be: providing an atmospheric and pleasant musical comment to action. You may not like it if you're not into many of the genres used in it, or you basically don't like Zuntata.

PARTIAL VOTE: 10.
GAMEPLAY
OR:"CRUSHING BLOW"

Ok, everything you would like to know about the gameplay is explained in detail in the ST I wrote in the strategy section

At any case, I'm writing a synthetic description of gameplay in this section. You basically have two normal attacks (A button),one special attack (B button) and a speed control (C button). Now, all attacks depend from your power level, the nice yellow bar at the bottom of the screen. This bar automatically refills with time, and every time you shoot down an enemy with normal shots. Its level ranges from level 1 (pea shooter) to level 5 (powerful stream).You have two normal attacks: if you tap A button, you will shoot a central laser and some homing lasers (1 and 2 for levels 1 and 2, then 4,6 and 8 homing lasers for levels 3,4 and 5 of power).If you hold down the button, you will shoot a coherent frontal stream. The closer you're to an enemy, the higher the fire rate (like in Darius games!).If you use the B button, you will use the special weapon, the Break Laser.

Break Laser automatically consumes half a bar of energy per usage, plus roughly another bar every 3 seconds.The first four seconds you use it, you will be invincible, then you will be vulnerable again. With the break laser, you can cancel bullets (see the ST to see the advantages) and destroy enemies, and you can do a laser fight with other enemies shooting laser (in a G.Darius alpha/beta beam style, but creating a giant sphere of energy like in Metal Black).Using the laser to cancel bullets is the key for big scores: you will get a multiplier per every bullet cancelled, and it will go to destroyed enemies' points. For instance, if you cancel 10 bullets and destroy an enemy worth 300 points, it will be worth 300x10=3k points.

Now, the game is named "Border Down" because it has a new approach to level design: you can choose, at the beginning, your border to start the game on. Every stage has 3 borders: green, yellow and red ("easy","middle class","maniac" difficulty).

Every time you get hit, you will move one border down, and thus go from green to yellow border, then from yellow to red, then it's game over if you get hit on red border. This doesn't mean that the game becomes more difficult: this because it has a rank system, which will increase difficulty the more time you're alive. Also, you will have a "Norm clear" value, which is a way to go up one border after a stage: it's basically a given score to get on a single stage. One example: you start from yellow border on stage 1. You clear the stage and do 12M points, enough to get the Norm clear (which varies: red has always the highest score for Norm Clear). At stage 2, you can choose to move up one border (and start on green),remain on yellow or go down on red. It's obvious that at the beginning you will like to stay on green as much as possible, since it means you can die (border down) two times before losing. Now, we said there's rank: the more you survive on one life, the harder the game gets. Also, every time you get a Norm Clear (you extend, basically), the rank will go up. The more Norm Clears you get, the higher the increase: at the sixth norm clear, you get a +60% (rank is a percentual ranking from 0 to 100%). At least, you get a x2 multiplier on everything on yellow border, and a x3 on red. Also, the amount of time you spend on a single border will determine what final stage you get:

  • Less than 4 Norm Clears and/or less that 50% of the time of any border: 6A.

  • More than 4 Norm Clears and at least 50% of the time on green border:6B.

  • More than 4 Norm Clears and at least 50% of the time on yellow border:6C.

  • More than 4 Norm Clears and at least 50% of the time on red border:6D.

Since every stage is divided into 3 sections (first half, second half, boss), if you clear more than 75% of a section, you will border down to the next section. Last but not least, you can choose your own speed: speed one is raiden-like clumsiness, speed 2 is good, speed three is usually the way to go. Be careful! you won't explode immediately if you collide again a wall, but the faster you are, the less time of collision you need to explode. Also, your hitbox is the cockpit, regarding bullets. One thing: it's a one-player matter, so no team shmuppin', sorry.

SUMMARY OF SUBSECTION.

Gameplay and scoring system are nicely intertwined and work smoothly, they're easy to grasp and hard to master. The style is more like early '90s games, where the "strategic" elements and original mechanics played a more important role than huge chains. It's basically a perfect mix of old and modern "skools", so to speak, or perhaps a "modern classic". Highly recommended for everyone, but be careful of boss battles, they †can be very tricky and rewarding at the same time.

PARTIAL VOTE: 10.
LONGEVITY:
THEY'RE STILL FLYING...IF I "DOWNLOAD" IT NOW

Well: I'll be honest. If you click with the game, you may it play for ages. If you don't, it will collect dust after a few tries. In between, it largely depends on your skills. Rank system and the different paths basically can give you a constant and growing challenge, but still...it depends on your skills. The game is basically one giant boss battle with nice stages in between, and this may also not be your cup of tea: of the half an hour you should take to complete the game, at least 15 are spent taking down the bosses (70+100+130+120+180+240/300 seconds=14/15 minutes spent on battling big baddies!).

Now, boss battles can be fun even if you just want to blow up stuff quickly: you can go on practice mode and blast those baddies. Speaking of practice mode, you can get exercise on single sections by using this mode and choosing the proper rank level. There's also an entire remix mode (the equivalent of "extra" versions of the past),which works in a slightly different way...There are cosmetic changes, most of the mid-bosses and bosses have different attacks, there are no green carriers releasing energy, instead all violet ones do this, also most of the enemies shoot more bullets, and finally the true mission stages have borders "shuffled" ( 4.1 G is 4.1 R of normal mode).

Now: I would like to give a 10 to this section too, but an objective consideration is this: if you're not a score whore and you can't manage properly the intimidating rank system, chances are that you won't get past a completion of the simplest route, 6a, if you care of course. Boss Battles are what you'll play most if you just want a quick blast, something akin to the psx port of G-Darius. If you liked Zuntata and most of Yack's work, and you didn't buy the L.E., you'll also play the game just to listen to the music, every once in a while.

SUMMARY OF SUBSECTION.

The game has lots of replay value, but at some point ,if you're not obsessed with score, you may be interested just in boss battles, milking given sections and listening to the Soundtrack. The remix version offers some more new challenges, but once you've done with it, the same principles for normal version work.

PARTIAL VOTE: 9.
FINAL NOTES:
WE DON'T KNOW...THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER YET.

Border Down for Dreamcast is an excellent port: aside being arcade-perfect, it has a lot of† "omake" (extras, but it's not the right translation!), an extra version, a Limited Edition with a Soundtrack CD. The game is an unofficial descendant of the glorious Taito lineage, and it plays like a† modern version of some of the classic shmups of early '90s, more of all of G.Darius. The game may not appeal to people who diss horizontal shmups not based on memorization (like the R-type school), or people that don't like rank (see above).Anyone who liked the Taito shmups of the past will probably like this one: also, the fact that G.Rev, its programmers, are basically ex-Taito programmers is pretty obvious once you play. Last but not least,the game offers lots of fun for those who like epic boss battles.

FINAL VOTE: 9+.
Not perfect, but above the minimum threshold for a masterpiece, in my book. Buy it now and have fun =)


  

Lovely sunset, isn't it?


Things may get tense in some situations

  

  

Sheffield at night


Second stage requires some careful manouvering

  

  

I just adore the first stage on yellow border and its lovely sunset.


The screen appearing when you border down

  

  

A break cancel sphere, as you can see it's pretty big!



Wow - what a big and detailed review there, Rando - thanks very much for that! I need to go away and play it properly now :D - malc

For more info, don't forget that Border Down Strategy Guide!

*Thanks to NeoGeoMan for pix!!



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