Thursday, September 1, 2016

HyperZone (SFC) Review

Written: August 28th-September 1st, 2016
Hope everyone had fun watching the 2016 Olympic Games transpiring at Rio, or should I say "American Games" considering how many medals they won this year?  With that said, looking forward to the ones in Tokyo come 2020.  =)  Aw, look at me being topical and crap, that's not going to date this review at all.  >_>  Sorry, I digress.
Received: April 11th, 2016
Year: 1991 | Developed and Published by: HAL Laboratory | [|O|]
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here, passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  I feel I have forsaken my blog, not having posted a review in over a month's time; let's remedy that (if only for a moment).
Images from Wikipeda
1985 saw the debut of Sega's Space Harrier in arcades, showcasing an abundant color palette and "Super Scaling" processing at very high speeds (influenced by Sega's 1982 arcade game Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom); and on November 21st, 1990 the Super Famicom debuted in Japan with both launch titles Super Mario World (subtitled Super Mario Bros. 4 there) and F-Zero, the latter of which was a futuristic single-player racer which fully incorporated the innovative Mode 7 rotating and scaling graphics and was one of the first games in the system to do so.
But what would happen if you combined these two different games into one?
Enter HyperZone, HAL Laboratory's second Nintendo 16-bit venue (after Jumbo Ozaki no Hole in One in February 1991, which came out in America seven months after the fact as HAL's Hole in One Golf) which they released on the Super Famicom on August 31st, 1991, came out in America the next month in September, and eventually saw a European release in 1992; at a time when companies were giving their Mode 7's worth early in the Nintendo 16-bit console's lifespan this is one of the most prominent examples of that trope.  But has it aged well a quarter of a century later?
You'll notice on the Super Famicart and the Japanese box cover there's tiny white wording beside the title; so you won't have to squint your eyes to read what it says I'll write it down for you because I'm generous: "Welcome to Hyper Zone.  This place is the most exciting amusement-park, established 1991.  The great park has rather hazardous and tricky three-dimensional cirkits.  The years pass away un-noticed.  Hyper Zone people regard nothing as impossible, they are strongly self-motivated and have an uncommon drive to glorious goal."  .........  Your guess is as good as mine, to be honest.

Oh man, HAL must really have it in for gamers;
they included their Halken logo in the enemy roster
The gameplay in HyperZone is largely influenced by Space Harrier in that it is a 3D rail-shooting style game where you can maneuver yourself around in all directions above you, below you, to your sides, diagonally, or straight ahead; but instead of controlling a human being you take control of a ship.  And while in Sega's rail shooter you had the freedom of movement in that you could roam around with no restrictions (unless there was a towering obstacle to avoid) in this HAL title you must absolutely roam within the confines of a path (a la F-Zero)--wide or narrow or branching lest you want to sustain damage from the borders (also like F-Zero).

Healing strip
Unlike Space Harrier whereas in that title it was a one hit and you die affair, in HyperZone your ship has a "power" gauge like in Nintendo's futuristic 1990 racer; and if you lost some of your health occasionally you will find some healing strips which will slightly replenish your health (again, like F-Zero).  At the end of each stage is a boss that awaits to do battle with you, but before that you must make do with the hordes of enemies that are in your path and take them down before they take you down.  Should you lose all your health your ship will blow up and should you have at least one life left at your disposal you'll resume your progress from that spot; however should all lives be lost it's a game over.

The controls themselves are very simple enough: you can fire with the Y, A, or right shoulder buttons; and by holding down the B, X, or left shoulder buttons you can slow down your ship during precarious situations, but don't slow down too much or you'll wind up damaging yourself.  From the third stage onward and after every subsequent stage or two your ship will be upgraded to something more powerful; and it is also from the third stage onward that'll enable you to charge your fire by holding down the Y, A, or right shoulder buttons and then you let go to fire.  The stronger your ship the faster the "charge" gauge fills up, so make sure not to be in the enemy crossfire when you plan on using the most powerful blast in the earlier stages as it fills up slowly then.

Those are balls alright; S Balls!
HyperZone's music was composed by none other than Jun Ishikawa; whose other credits comprise of New Ghostbusters II, Jumbo Ozaki no Hole in OneCard Master: Seal of Rimsalia (Arcana), Alcahest, and the majority of the Kirby games.  Any time that name appears in a HAL soundtrack you know your ears are in for a treat, for it's one of the highlights of the package (especially with that trademark Ishikawa touch).  =)  The songs are very well-composed and really augment a sense of atmosphere in each of the eight various stages, and all the songs are very engaging to listen to.  The title theme, for one, really gets you pumped up for what's to come and does a great job at setting the tone for the futuristic endeavor you're about to partake in.

Sooo much foliage  =)
Other good songs that come to mind are the Material Factory stage (third in the Super Famicom edition) which has got a great build-up going for it before seguing into a nice finish, the fourth stage's theme is a bit woozy-sounding but it gets the job done well, the fifth stage's theme sounds exotic and light, and the Bio Plant theme is frenetically dark and fast-paced.  The titular final theme in the Hyper Zone is so inspiring and epic in terms of sound that it's one of my favorite songs; unfortunately losing a life means the background music starts over again (awww) which means if you want to listen to the whole theme in-game you must stay alive.  The boss themes are good, and the ending credits theme is well-earned after the final fight has been conquered.  =)

Flame on!
The biggest selling point for HyperZone during its initial release was the Mode 7 rotating and scaling capabilities that the console was becoming known for, which is put to great effect throughout the whole experience.  When it comes to '90s video games the visuals hold up when it comes to exclusively 2D fare because they're designed, and because the Mode 7 was an early form of 3D it tends to become dated in places if it's used extensively (half of the stages to Konami's Axelay to name one example), but in the case of this game they're really dazzling to behold as your ship flies at high speeds shooting at enemies that are coming from far ahead of you (or in some cases behind you).  =)  The scaling in the start of each stage is seamless as the camera gradually centers on the ship you're flying (going from small zoomed-out to normal-sized when the camera becomes fixed) and as it flies off to the distance after the defeat of the boss in the end of each stage.

See, unlike Nintendo of America's representative
during the start of the '90s I actually like color as
opposed to just two boring hues of purple  -_-
The areas, despite the non-changing third-person perspective, are well-designed and each stage presents differing design aesthetics that it makes them stand out.  The Material Factory stage is rainbow-colored with sometimes flashing blocks with a very fitting Super Famicom button boss (not so in the Western conversion, but more on that shortly), the fourth stage has got pleasant shades of green with green worm-monsters or plant-themed enemies, and the water effects during the fifth stage are so relaxing and exhilarating to look at; Hyper Zone's look and feel is sublimely mesmerizing to look at despite its simplicity that it actually ranks as the best-looking stage in the game for me (but the less said about Bio Plant's constantly fading on and off lights that are enough to elicit epileptic seizures to some, the better).
Best game ever, in my opinion!  ^~^
Speaking of the Super Famicom's colorful buttons, during the Bloody Mary battle in Quintet's 1995 Magnum Opus Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma (another game that utilizes Mode 7 magnificently, if only for its Underworld and Overworld segments aaaand a couple special occasions) there are four little orbs that surround her that sometimes come after you which have the same clockwise order red-yellow-green-blue no matter the rotation (just like the Super Famibuttons).  Coincidence or purely intentional?  You make the call!  =D
Fire salamander looks menacingly at you
The varying ships' designs and their varying poses are well-designed (I also loved how all of them had different HUD designs and warning messages for being low on health); and the bosses that you face (particularly as they scale towards and away from you) look great and are imposing in their own way.  The fire salamander and the water salamander in the second and fifth stages respectively are eerie to look at (particularly when their faces are up close) but they do scale in and out beautifully, there is a meatball-like brain worm boss which looks grotesque but sometimes causes flicker to your ship if it's close, and the design of the final boss in the Hyper Zone stage is so ominous in stature and scope, but it's nice to know that a certain Stanley Kubrick flick served as inspiration for it.

Upgrading to a superior ship  =)
I remember first hearing about this game on FlyingOmelette's website over a decade ago when I read her review of it, and I do recall the idea of Space Harrier combined with F-Zero to be enticing (even though I wouldn't play the latter and the Genesis sequel to the former Space Harrier II on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console until 2007) and since I started my Nintendo 16-bit collection after one of my cousins loaned me his SNES console two days shy of 2009 I have sometimes considered wanting to try HyperZone, but I didn't want to choose the NTSC edition on account that I looked up on FlyingOmelette's shrine dedicated to the game and its page on The Cutting Room Floor that for the American version the Old Capital and Material Factory stages were flipped between regions (so Old was now the third stage instead of the first one and Material was now the first one as opposed to the third stage) with the same bosses regardless of whether it made sense in the context of the environment or not.  Why would HAL of America do that?  I mean, yeah, I prefer the Material Factory's colorful vibe and setting as well as its theme more than the plain-looking Old Capital; but really, that's incentive enough for them to change the order of the stages?  That's rather childish, don't you think?  o_O

Yeah, this isn't going to give gamers with sensitive
eyes epilepsy at all, thanks a lot, HAL!  =P
So this year I asked for the Super Famicom version of HyperZone as one of my gifts for my 25th birthday (April 5th) this year so that I would experience it as it was originally meant to be presented, but I got it as a belated gift as it arrived six days after the fact.  Definitely worth some years of curiosity now that I got a chance to play it for myself; as a showcase for the system's Mode 7 prowess it's absolutely fantastic and the differing ships' power level/HUDs/warning messages really keep things on the fresh side (during the first loop, anyway) while it lasts.
Not to give anything away but HyperZone's template would serve as an influence to a brief solitary moment in a couple post-2000 Kirby games; plus it would pave the way for Argonaut Software's Star Fox on the Nintendo 16-bit (which I have still yet to catch up with).  Speaking of Kirby,...
you know, I was wondering why a couple levels in Kirby's Dream Land 2 and 3 were named "Grass Land" and "Ripple Field",...
those were the names of HyperZone's fourth and fifth stages respectively.
Also, it must be real gratifying for today's game to have the final level in Kirby's Dream Land 3 named after it six years later.  =)  You can't help but respect nods to previous games like that, it shows that they care.

Midarmas ahead
That said, HyperZone has got an easy difficulty when all is said and done (though the final boss might take a few tries) and is ultimately a very short game.  The thing when it comes to rail-shooters like these is that you need quick reflexes in order to avoid incoming enemy fire, because it can be so easy to not see it coming if you're not aware; so considerable ship maneuvering is a must in order to prolong survival.  Also there to prolong your survival are the healing strips here and there (except the final stage) and enemy/path memorization.  After you defeat the final boss in the final stage Hyper Zone you have a choice to start the loop again by pressing Start at the Halken logo after the end of the credits but with the most powerful ship at your disposal which can alleviate obstacles quickly thanks to the fastest-charging firepower; once you lose all your lives however it's over for there is only one continue.  At least I can actually reach the end of this game unlike Taito's horizontal shoot'em up Darius Twin where I can play through the most of it but wind up struggling in the end on account that it too only has one continue; but, you know, apples and oranges.

Sentient plant life wants to destroy you
Another difficulty setting would've helped it overall as opposed to simply the option to reverse your movement controls if you wanted to try something outside of normal.  I'm the kind of gamer who plays games to have fun rather than play for score, although I do see the appeal of trying to see how high you can score while you last (and it can be exhilarating sometimes); too bad HAL neglected to include a high score card which kinda makes the score system a moot point, really--but like arcade games that take thirty minutes at least (despite its console-exclusiveness this is really an arcade game) to beat I suppose such things are mandatory.  Like some early Nintendo 16-bit tech demoes HyperZone is really more of a style over substance kind of game where it has got more style than it does substance (there's no plot in-game, only in the manual and the cover, nor is there an ending resolution); but at least it qualifies as a game (only barely) unlike Kemco-Seika's heavily derided Nintendo 16-bit port of Infogrames' Drakkhen where it succeeded more as a tech demo than it did as a game.  I do think HyperZone is fun to play once in awhile, but honestly it's more preferable to play it in short bursts than through long sittings.

To boldly fly where no ship has flown before
If you wish to experience a Nintendo 16-bit title with all its Mode 7 glory this isn't a bad game to play, though there are better titles to choose from.  If you're looking for challenge from this game don't expect too much of it, but if you're searching for a game with an easygoing nature then HyperZone will deliver in that regard.  If you're a score attack kind of gamer it is cool to see how high you can score depending on how long you last, though it's not going to be recorded; if you just want to have some non-demanding fun in brief spurts, I'd say give it a go.  HyperZone may not be HAL's finest achievement, but on its own terms it's not bad; however as a visual tech demo it succeeds with flying colors.  =)

My Personal Score: 6.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Yeah, I wanted an excuse to reference Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma again.  I mean, taking into account the outstanding quality of that flawless A-RPG, who wouldn't?  =)
P.S. 2 Man, I still need to review Brandish, Castlevania: Dracula X, Final Fight 2, and Pop'n TwinBee before 2017 arrives, and there's only three months of 2016 left.  I don't know if I can pull it off at this point, but I want to try.  ={
P.S. 3 My current high score: 678220
Happy 25th Anniversary, HyperZone!!  =)
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great day, take care!  =)