Gaiares - Telenet / Renovation


Reviewed by Jacob Shaw

Ah, the sidescrolling shmup, a genre within a genre, capable of putting smiles on our faces, but equally capable of delivering mass amounts of frustration. Unlike the overhead brethern, the side scroller usally takes much more memorization. There aren't many side scrollers that can be beaten on pure reflex. Simply put, either you learn the levels, or die.

Having said that, I think it's about time we had a look at one the early Mega Drive shooters, Gaiares. Being one of the first cartidges to use the new 8mb format, Gaiares is a technical monster. However, Gaiares wasn't just about graphics. Nope. For a shooter to be considered a classic, it has to have more than flash. Thankfully, Gaiares is a real meat and potatoes game. It's a real man's shooter that deserves a piece of every Shmuppers time.

Graphically, Gaiares is solid. It holds up very well compared to some of the later shooters that appeared on the Mega Drive, like Greylancer and even Thunderforce 4. The graphics look very colorful, despite the Mega Drives weak color pallete, and there are generous amounts of 3d in the backgrounds. Enemy models look solid, though a few too many of them look as though they were ripped out of other games.

Gaiares has some pretty decent Anime scenes as well, coming at the beginining and the end of the game. While these scenes look pretty primative by todays standards, they still manage to tell get the story across, and as corney as they seem, they are basically just filler, so you don't really mind it too much. If you saw these scenes on a cd title, you'd laugh your ass off, but this is a cartridge, so it doesn't have to be so great.

The game also has some cool effects, courtesy of some great wave effects that fill some of the backgrounds, and even some of the foreground surfaces like the water or lava. Considering that this is a 1990 game, and one of the earliest shooters on the system, that graphics are surprisingly good. While it's nothing that'll rip Axelay or R-Type 3 to shreds, it looks far better than some other shooters from that same period, like Thunderforce 3 and Air Busters.

However, like I said, a shooter doesn't need to be glitzy to be good, and thankfully, Gaiares has enough in the other areas to keep you coming back.

The biggest plus in this game is the challenge. Make no mistakes about it Gaires is hard. It's damned hard. It's not that the pace is wicked, like a TF game, or that it throws too many bullets at you. The main reason for the challenge level is that you're only allowed to play each section through once, unlike most shooters, where you continue where you die. In Gaiares, everytime you die, you're forced back to the beginning of the section. Now, this has been going in shooters forever, especially in the R-types, and even more recently in games like Einhander. However, it really doesn't suit Gaiares well because of A) super long levels B)lots of enemies with strange weapon patterns C) cheap bosses.

Simply put, unless you've played every level and memorized each and every section, you'll die. It gets a little frustrating to be killed by an enemy, causing you be forced back to the beginning of that level with weak weapons. Chances are, even if you do make it back to that same enemy, you could die again, and again, and again....etc. However, while many people frown upon these types of shooters, for me it just enhanced the replay value. I still won't touch R-type with a ten foot pole, yet I come back to Gaiares every time, showing the game what I've learned, and even throwing some new tricks at it.

Then we have the weapons. Now, I don't like the weapon system in Gaiares at all, but I know many do. Gaiares' weapon system revolves around the TOZ pod, a pod that circles your ship, can destroy various bullet types, and can also steal weapons from enemies.
While in combat, the TOZ can be fired at certain enemies, and once it attaches to them, it collects data about the enemies weapon system. This means that there are no weapon icons or floating powerups.
The only way to enhance your weapon to figure out which enemies offer the best weapons, and steal them. Now, it wouldn't be so bad if the weapons were decent. Unfortunately, most of the weapons in Gaiares are pretty crappy. They range from the standard spread shot, to the typical thick laser, and even weak homing missles.
Problem is, despite the way they look, most of them are damned underpowered. I can't count how many times the enemies flew onto the screen, pelted me with god knows how many bullets, then just flew off the screen. All while under constant fire from my lazy weapons. It gets tedious, and until you figure out what enemies fire what weapons, you'll often find yourself with a weapon you don't want.

Even though the game offers a wide varity of weapons, it's better to just get the one you want early on and don't bother experimenting. Most of the bosses in this game have small damage sectors, and the wrong weapon could mean fighting 20 minute boss battles. Don't waste time with the weapon system if you don't have to.

The TOZ is also good for firing into certain enemies that don't have weapons to steal. Again, you really have to know every enemy and level before you can take advantage of the weapon and TOZ system, which is kinda lame. Oh well, you can't win them all.

One aspect of the game that seems to seesaw is the music. Gaiares has some very good songs at times, but during others, it has some absolute stinkers. Many of the songs fit the levels perfectly but, but then sometimes you'll find yourself thinking "wtf?". It's weird when you find yourself getting into your groove during one level, then hitting the mute button on the next. Decent in most regards, but even the weakest songs in this game aren't as bad as some that I've heard. Basically, Gaiares has an average soundtrack. The soundeffects aren't really revolutionary either. If you've played one shmup in your life, you've heard most of the soundeffects that this game has to offer.

Gaiares does control rather well. Just like Thunderforce, the ability to change speeds is present. However, it seems overdone. The max speed is just too fast, and most of the game can be beaten by just staying in med. In fact, the speed change seemed like an after thought, but it is extra, so I can't complain. The ship has the usual 8 way control, and the TOZ comes off instantly. Since the weapons need to be stolen, there is no weapon change button, and there aren't any special attacks either. Just the basic fare.

Gaiares is a great shooter, even if it is a bit on the hard side. It may seem cheap at times, and the music may get on your nerves, but it's nothing that really hurts the game too much. Being such an early shooter, many of the flaws are forgiven, at least in my book. Gaiares has it where it counts, with great level design, cool enemies, a great challenge, and even damned solid graphics. Easily one of the best shooters on the MD. If you've never played it, what are you waiting for!!! If you have, give it another go. You won't be disappointed.


Thanks for Gaiares, Jacob! At last, someone has reviewed it...

I (Felix the Cat) have to add my comment here though. I have owned and played Gaiares to death, and I was distinctly unimpressed by it. I'd be inclined to claim that this review is slightly biased (although it is a good review).

Gaiares isn't exactly the dog's bollocks on the Megadrive and there are plenty of better shmups out there (Task Force Harrier, Thunderforce 4, Gleylancer etc). It doesn't have the best graphics in the world, and the music is kinda lax and cheesy. The weapons are really weak (even more so than XEXEX's weps), and the TOZ isn't the best thing in the world. I do admit that Gaiares is fun to play at times, but it doesn't quite deserve a score in the nineties, more like the mid seventies... but I guess that everyone is inclined to have their own opinion...


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