Thursday, 2 January 2014

Hades Nebula

Once again, I take another look back to the older days, the days before Xbox 360s and PS3's (Yeah I know Xbox ONE and PS4 but honestly, not really giving a fuck there about the new stuff until it's made AFFORDABLE, I do not consider consoles costing over several hundred pounds to be worth my money, especially when other consoles still offer great games that are enjoyable, you know what, bollocks, I'm getting the Commodore 64 out again.)

Right, starting over, C64 time and a look at one of the first bullet-hell space shooters that I can remember from my childhood. Hades Nebula, apparently there's some sort of plot but given I only had the cassette (If you have to look up what that is, you're too young for this), and no manual. But that never stopped a kid from enjoying a game... unless it was Elite or Valhalla, then you had a few things to look up.

Oh and don't forget young 'un's, no international computer system was readily available for people to use until 1994, so no way to look up guides unless a) you bought one or b) you read one in a magazine. This game arrived on the gaming scene in 1987 and so you're a long way from home and the internet. Enjoy your cold, disconnected, solo experiences. (Unless of course you like that, in which case, just enjoy!).

Hades Nebula is your vertical scrolling shoot-em-up, featuring a rather plucky little one-hit-wonder spaceship, piloted by captain OnlyShootsForwards (Maiden name...), who of course is the very last defence against the giant ass-hat that is the Hades Emperor. Which always makes me wonder, why didn't they send Captain ShootyShip out first and have him wipe out most of the known enemy, as the player YOU'RE certainly more than capable of doing it.

Armed with a basic laser/bullet, you'll have to contend with veritable armadas of enemies, waves of opponents spawning and shooting at you while others will phase into existence and try to crash into your ship, or at the very least, prevent you from running backwards - which will kill you fairly quickly when you can't move out the way of new enemies coming in from the top of the screen. Before shooting the hell out of the occasional boss and then arriving at the biggest ship with the biggest number of guns and blasters etc, the much sought after, Final Boss.

Game play wise is very simple, the joystick moves the ship while the scrolling maintains a constant speed through levels, and enemies will spawn in at pre-determined places but in random spots. So just after the first level, you WILL fight your first wave of the skull-faced homing enemies but where they turn up on the screen, is randomly allocated within the code. As are all the waves of enemies, so each wave itself is specifically determined as to WHEN it turns up, just not WHERE on the screen. Randomisation does help replay-ability, ask any rogue-like dungeon player.

You do have some hope however, across the 15 levels and bosses, in the guise of power-ups. On the first level you'll just be given speed ups, while later levels will furnish your craft with shields (front and side versions, never both) side wing blasters, dual lasers and tri-lasers. The downside, one hit; one impact; one randomly spawning enemy appearing ATOP you; means death. Death then also means that you have to start over with NO speed, No powers. You're back to basic bog-standard ship and it's time to build it all up again. This in the later levels is a ... nightmare. Actually in the first level it's a fucking nightmare of some degree.

This brings me to the odd system of the game’s powerup supplies. You get to shoot background pods/objects, which will do several things. 1) Blow up with nothing inside, 2) blow up with a bullet fired back AT you or 3) give you a power up. But it's not the pods that have the power-ups and the order/sequence of the powerups depends upon the ones that you SHOOT, so the first level, first speed up power up WILL spawn when you shoot your first pod. No matter WHICH pod. So powerups appear on every Nth pod shot, not pod that exists.

It's an interesting system perhaps implemented for memory reasons, or an oversight on coding and references. Hard to say at this point but I've not really encountered many other games that use similar ones. Imagine Zelda where you got the master sword after the 8th chest you open, irrespective of the actual chest, so you could grab it in the hometown if you opened 7 other chest somewhere else. Not ideal for every game. But it works in this game to a degree.

The majority of enemies within the game will fly in, pattern formation, then disappear off, or fly in, shoot repeatedly and try to ram you at the same time. Fun bunch of bastards. Then there's the odd system of those enemies that turn up and home in on you, but will happily sit right behind you if you're higher than them on the screen, but you can't go backwards, you don't have anything that shoots backwards, so you have to out manoeuvre them, which is almost impossible at the point of having no speed power ups.

The game is heavily punishing for mistakes. BUT, having said that, it is rather generous with the lives, boosting them regularly on the score multiples.

Having said that, I could happily play the game for hours and do NOTHING but listen to the music within the game, be it the introduction or the main music, or even the piece accompanying the name entry sequence for entering in a high-score. The musical score and composition is amazingly well presented and would be worthy of anybody's time to listen to, which most players will do while playing the game anyway. Though the "electric synth" solo does feel a little out of place, but it's the 80s so grind that axe away!

That said, the game isn't R-Type, nor Gradius/Nemesis, it's not complicated enough to be that and not fluid enough to warrant the attention some of the more smooth games can muster, but it has its charm and those looking for challenge on the C64 that isn't about not biting your own arms off in frustration and bashing your genitals with them, could do worse than looking to Hades Nebula.

Or you know, use some poke and peeks and cheat your way through.