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 Post subject: Mars Matrix: Hyper Solid Shooting (ARC)
PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2009 1:20 am 

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Joined: 17 Nov 2008
Posts: 101
Location: Canada


Year of Release: 2000
Hardware: CPS-II
Horizontally-aligned vertically scrolling STG
Developed by Takumi
Published by Capcom

One button, one stick: the succulent meat in an otherwise tasteless Takumi sandwich.


As a mass of circular pink and light blue bullet patterns constantly barrage your craft, you could be forgiven for mistaking this as the work of Cave. Upon gaining the knowledge that this game involves a reflect barrier and was developed by Takumi, you could be forgiven for seeing it as a brother to the GigaWing games. After several credits, shades of many shooting games will appear in Mars Matrix, but none of them alone can accurately describe the excellence found in their combination.

Many people would have you believe the most interesting thing about this game is its control scheme. It is, however, more important to know that shooting down enemy hordes with a single button and joystick actually works here, and it works brilliantly. Couple this with a deep scoring system and a surprising amount of variety to reach a logical conclusion: Mars Matrix is a special STG.

Mapping four separate weapons to one button sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the result is a deeply engaging mechanic. Each weapon is balanced in terms of risk and reward. The piercing cannon is powerful, but can only be used at point-blank range. The reflect shot makes you invincible, but there is a delay in engaging it. Learning to use all four attacks efficiently takes skill, patience, and experience; it is a steep hill to climb, but one worth the journey. Eventually, the most satisfying feature of Mars Matrix arises out of the need to rhythmically and accurately press the button with varying rates of speed.

Merely surviving this game requires a high degree of skill, but, like any great STG, the scoring system poses an even deeper challenge. Almost all enemies will drop gold cubes when destroyed (more when attacked by the piercing cannon); but reflected bullets that contact an enemy drop cubes as well. Gathering as many cubes as possible appears simple enough, but this process is accompanied by a combo gauge. Shadows of DoDonPachi appear as you must chain cubes together with evenly spaced timing. This system is taken a step further: keeping a combo of cubes will raise your experience points, which in turn upgrades your main weapon (think Radiant Silvergun). Scoring of this kind is addictive, well-balanced, and crucial to your progression in the game.

Once your skill at attacking and scoring becomes nearly effortless, the strategies accessible to you will increase dramatically; simple herding of bullets will not be sufficient. This is one of the most attractive aspects of Mars Matrix: variety in execution. There is no perfect path to survival, no route of ultimate scoring, and no need for exact memorization. Improvised routes will not signal impending death; flexibility is available to exploit as you see fit and even seasoned players will continually find new methods.

Variety in Mars Matrix can be found in your own techniques, but there is also diversity in the stages. Instead of successive levels simply containing ever-more devilish bullet patterns to dodge, there are distinct styles of enemy assaults. One stage includes a slow, repeating circular pattern. It appears over and over again, almost to the point of hypnotization. Another point in the game has enemies that fly extremely fast across the screen; if you destroy them, all enemy bullets will turn into gold cubes. This process takes you from the brink of extinction to madly accumulating points and directly back into dire straits within moments. Aimed attacks, patterned attacks, slow bullets, fast bullets, spam and not spam; each area feels fresh.

It is plain to see other aspects in this game are not of the highest standard. Visually the game is colourful, but not incredibly detailed. Backgrounds are quite simplistic, and some of the enemy designs are uninspired. The music may well be an appropriate type of techno to accompany the futuristic setting, but it is entirely forgettable. Even though it is generally irrelevant in STG, a more interesting story might perhaps add some more life to the game. One more element diminishes the overall polish of the game: it is possible to counterstop the score. While this will only occur in runs by world-class players, it is worth noting nonetheless.

Mars Matrix will not impress you with its audio or visual characteristics, but that is insignificant. This game presents a great challenge, a deep and engaging score system, and a control scheme that is simultaneously unique and flawless. Any real shooting game fan should require nothing more.

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