SHMUPS



MARS MATRIX - TAKUMI - DREAMCAST
Reviewed by Louis Gorenfeld

After GigaWing, I didnít expect much from Mars Matrix. GigaWing was of the quarter-sucking school of game design, which, while is fine in the arcades (if you donít mind losing money), doesnít exactly translate to a good home game. Mars Matrix is related to GigaWing somewhat; that is, they both have a reflect shot weapon, have tons of objects on the screen at once, have hugely inflated scores, are both horizontal-friendly vertical shooters (you wonít break any TV sets playing them), both run on CPS2 hardware at the arcade, and are by the same developer. But the similarities end there (besides genre conventions of course).

Mars Matrix offers six hard levels of relentless bullet storms. While initially the game looks to be impossible, the player soon realizes that a degree of strategy and planning is what it takes to conquer this game-- not inserting an endless supply of credits (though that doesnít hurt). More specifically, it takes careful use of your craftís four methods of dealing electric death.

Even though the playerís ship is equipped with so many weapons, the controls couldnít be simpler. In fact, the game only uses one button. This is how it works: Tap the button to use a destructive short range blast (Piercing Cannon), press it continually for long-range rapid fire (either spread or laser pattern depending on the ship), hold it down to suck in enemy bullets and spit them back out (Absorption Barrier Mosquito, which also doubles as a short range weapon), and hold it down until your meterís drained to unleash a bomb that destroys many objects on screen at a time-- but leaves the ship vulnerable as the charge meter fills (Gravity Hole Bomb). The trade-off between longer relief from enemy fire (which drains your meter) or having it available sooner makes for intense split-second desicion making since the longer you hold down the button, the longer it is before you can use your Absorption Barrier. The only downside of this control scheme is a tiny moment of lag when using this weapon. Some consider having to anticipate using the Absorption Barrier in advance a design flaw, though I like to think of it as part of the challenge.

If the strategic use of weapons isnít enough to keep you busy, Mars Matrix uses a level-up power system in which you collect experience cubes. When you collect enough of them, your shipís weapon gets more powerful and you Ďlevel upí. Itís not as easy as it looks, especially since your experience points increase exponentially. When a cube is collected, it boosts a multiplier meter. As long as this meter is somewhat full, each cube collected increases the value of each subsequent cube collected. This encourages the player to fly madly between shots trying to collect cubes before the multiplier meter runs out in order to gain score and firepower-- one of the most fun aspects of the game.

The gameplay is pretty hectic. Most of the shots donít move very quickly, but there are so many of the colored, patterned bullets that it makes the Dreamcast slow down at times. Occasionally, some of the shot patterns are so complex and the manuvering required to avoid them so precise that the game becomes tedious (most notably some of the boss encounters). Fortunately, most of the game is designed rather thoughtfully and seems to slowly complicate the level as it goes on instead of throwing everything at the player all at once. For example, in Level 3, just when youíre getting used to one of the shot patterns, turrets pop up and add another layer to the challenge. In addition, each level has a distinct personality, usually with very different enemy patterns. I should probably point out at this time that if you are easily frusterated, you may want to stay away from this game. Though it doesnít feel unfair or like itís a quarter-muncher (like some other shooters I could mention), it is a hard game. Itís nothing practice wonít cure though.

Like any good home port, it gives the player more than just the arcade mode. Extra unlockable features (purchased with score earned in the game) are available, including alternate enemy patterns (which makes it play almost like a whole different game), a score challenge mode (unlimited lives given in order to rack up the highest score on a given level), tweakable player ship rules, an art gallery, and one of the best features: a strategy mode in which you can view a movie of how to play through the levels to get the highest score, uncover secrets-- all without losing a life (easier watched than imitated).

However, every game is not without its problems. The graphics of Mars Matrix are a mixed bag. Some of them are very good: the fleet of ships among the coulds in the beginning of Level 2 stand out. But some of the spritesí edges look too dark and donít seem to mesh with the background right. Most graphics in the game lack color, with gray and shades of brown being the main background colors throughout most of the levels. As in GigaWing, the graphics are stretched to fit the Dreamcastís screen mode, which causes slight ripples as the game scrolls. If the screen height in the game is set to 448, at least it wonít ripple vertically (and the graphics look much better this way).

Mars Matrixís music has more problems than the graphics, consisiting mostly of unmemorable techno grooves, with little I would want to listen to away from the game. But much in the same way that the background is obscured by bright blue and pink bullets, the music is drowned out by the loud, and good, gun and explosion sound effects.

Though the audio and visuals wonít floor you, Mars Matrix offers solid, addictive gameplay. Not only did Takumi do an excellent job with this game, but Capcom had the guts to release it in the U.S. Arcade game fans should ask themselves: ďHow often does this happen?Ē


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Thanks Louis! Lovely review there.
Yep, it would seem that Capcom are puttling out all the stops to bring shooties to the masses, what with their many collaborations with Takumi, Cave and Psikyo, and some of the games brought out are excellent works of art. Mars Matrix is one of Takumi's better games, being a few million steps up from the two Gigawing games, making great use of the reflect weapon and serious firepower. Like Dodonpachi and Feveron, this game pioneers insane blasting and collectivity, as well as constant score beating. Get while you can! - Felix the Cat


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