One of my favorite things to do as a gamer, is to look for older, forgotten titles, or maybe even ones that are unheard of. I always enjoyed discovering games that flew under the radar, since I usually find something that is, at the very least, interesting, and besides: big names like Super Mario, Final Fantasy and similar wont go away and are usually easier to find, making them games I can play any time I want. This lead me to also discover consoles I did not get to experience much, such as the Turbografx-16. It was an interesting underdog that was overshadowed by the Super Nintendo and Sega Megadrive, and understandably so. We did not have many titles for it in the NA or PAL regions and many other great games for it never left Japan. However, unlike say the Virtual Boy or other consoles that are hard to recommend because of their library of games, Hudson’s TG-16 had much more to offer in this regard and was a solid system on its own. And thanks to the Virtual Console being readily available, I can finally talk about one of the best system-sellers for this console: Blazing Lazers.
Back to the basics at its finest
Before anyone asks: Yes, I know it was originally based on a Japanese film called Gunhed and changed for localization, and no: I don’t care. Both versions of the game have little to no story, due to the manual only setting up a reason for you to be killing thousands of creatures and ships, and nothing more. This is why I will skip directly to the gameplay-department, as the story is not a focus.
Blazing Lazers is a horizontal shooter, where you will venture through 9 stages, killing everything on your way, dodging shots left and right, picking up power-ups to increase your ship’s strength and eventually fight a boss at the end of each stage. Throughout the game you will have the possibility to get upgrades for one out of four different weapons. The first possible one is the Photon Blaster, which will make you shoot smaller shots that will go in multiple direction and affects the homing missile power-ups by adding more missiles. The second is the Powerwave which will have a wide attack with rapid-fire functionality. Third is Thunder, which has a strong, devastating attack that is more stationary, but a bit slow. Lastly, are the Rings that fly around your ship as a barrier, as well as giving you a few photon-shots. You can upgrade these by collecting either the same type of weapon power-up again, or getting purple GE capsules which will upgrade your current weapon slowly.
If you have a stronger weapon, but want to change up the tactic, picking up a different weapon will make it the same level as the one you had. Getting higher level of shots, which can be upgraded all the way to level 6, won’t just make the shots stronger and cover more of the screen, but it will also grant you a small shield. This can protect you from smaller attacks and only downgrades your weapon if you are hit. Getting a direct shot or a plane going kamikaze on you, will make you lose a life.
Other power-ups are secondary, but just like the shots you can only have one of them at a time and there are again 4 different types. “Full fire” will give your attack a more interesting pattern, such as making Thunder into a homing-attack or changing Photon Blaster into a charge-shot that will explode and shoot in multiple directions. “Homing missile” will scatter multiple missiles and search out other enemies and will be fired alongside your normal shot, “Multi body” will spawn a clone of your ship and can be upgraded to 2 by collecting another, and eventually make them temporarily invincible. They will fire a shot similar to yours, just smaller. Last one, is the “Shield”, which will make you able to take more hits before your ship’s power will decrease.
Collecting any of these will also grant you a bomb for more devastating cluster-attack, that can be shot at command. However, due to them easily being available, getting a different item can mean the difference between life and death, as this is a game about forming a clear strategy and finding your preference. So picking up weapons and power-ups should not just be for the sake of more bombs or points, which can lead to extra lives as well. This is a very nice setup, as you must create the strategy that suits your play-style and how you feel an approach works, but at the same time, the game gives you the opportunity to change up your strategy if you feel like you are up to the task. All items and weapons are also useful, making me want to replay stages to use different strategies.
Your ship controls beautifully, with Button 1 used to automatically fire your shots, so no button-mashing is required, and you can select the speed of your ship up to 5 levels, making it easy to find your preference. Each stage has a good and balanced challenge, getting increasingly more difficult as the game goes on. The first stages sets up a nice introduction, but by stage 5 it expects you to be ready for harder challenges, and the last stage is an incredible gauntlet of bullets. They all give you a slightly different approach, such as stage 3 where you are most likely to upgrade ship from just purple orbs, and level 8 where bubbles come forth that exhale and deflate, making maneuvering trickier. Enemies also complement this by being different from each level and all having different patterns, attacks, strength and weaknesses. The increasing amount of bullets that can be on the screen alongside the enemies should also indicate that you can’t get too cocky! It was never cheap with the enemy-setups though, which is very impressive when the screen can be filled with danger.
Bosses are well made and enjoyable, due to having weaknesses you must aim for and dodge while dodging at the same time. For example, the first boss shows its weakness in its eyes and changes which eye can create the most dangerous shots, and another one had its weakness exposed right before a laser-attack. They are unfortunately more often than not easier than the stages you ventured through, but still keep you on your toes. You most likely will bite the dust sooner or later, as this is a challenging game. You have 4 continues, so the game gives you a fair chance to reach the end. The punishment for failing and losing a life is also balanced, as you will be set back to a checkpoint, but start with no power-ups and will have to collect them once again. It is clearly possible to get back on top again, but due to you starting at zero it will require some skill, making this feel perfectly fair and thought out.
That might actually be the keyword here. Blazing Lazers might not be the most creative shooter, but it is incredibly fun with balanced difficulty, nice risk vs reward when it comes to choosing your approach, and it knows how to make everything not just work, but exceptionally so. The only real issue are the bosses and really: this is only a minor thing as well. After a bit over one hour of playing through and finally beating it again, I remember why I loved it so much and can honestly see what other TG-16 owners might have seen in this one.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
Such beautiful horizons
This is a very impressive showcase for the system, especially taking into consideration how early it was released. Every enemy, obstacle, and even your own ship has a great and unique style that displays the imaginative world you are flying through. Everything is detailed and well animated. The same can be said for the 9 stages. While they aren’t as impressive, they all are unique and looks well, without being a distraction from the projectiles and creatures you will be fighting against. It says something when you are flying over a space-ship one moment, then in a dessert, only to then end up in an area made out of flesh, and it still feels believable. The most impressive of all the visuals, however, are the bosses; my personal favorite is the decapitated head that looks like it is going to melt. Bosses also shows signs of weakness when you shoot them, such as losing limbs, or changing colors, which is definitely a nice touch.
Everything moves at a high speed as well, and I never encountered the game slowing down. I can only remember it flicker one time. By being colorful, giving small touches to all the levels and creatures, and by being creative with the variation and design, we have one beautiful game to look at here. The soundtrack is also great, with each stage having different music and giving a good tone for the action ahead. Each gets a different music piece, but all of them feel upbeat and suitable for each stage, and are memorable with clear tunes. Sounds consist mostly of explosions that are satisfying and different depending on who you are shooting at, however, the voice that calls out the names of the shots you pick up is very bit-crunched and honestly not needed.
Presentation Score: 9/10
Blazing Lazers is a fantastic shooter and considered by many to be the best of its kind, at least for the system. I can definitely see why, despite the system being packed with plenty of shooters. It knows what it wants to do and how to make everything work. I usually love it when a game strives for creativity, but this one clearly shows that there is nothing wrong with going back to the basics, as long as you put your heart and mind into it. It is highly recommended to anybody, even if you are not a fan of the genre. Thank God the Virtual Console can bring back hidden gems such as this.