Review by Mode7
"The Finest Shooter for Dreamcast to Date!"
Capcom brings us yet another arcade port in the form of Mars Matrix - But how does it compare to the handful of other Capcom shooters that have come before it? Please note this review is based entirely off of the Japanese version of Mars Matrix.
- Gameplay -
Both of the ships available for use in Mars Matrix come equipped with 3 different attacks: Normal Shot, Piercing Cannon, and the Gravity Hole Bomb (GHB). In the original arcade version, each attack was available by using the same button in a different manner: Normal shots were performed by rapidly pressing the fire button, the piercing cannon by staggering the presses, and the GHB by holding the fire button down. While certainly clever, it does make alternating between weapons somewhat difficult and inefficient. In other words: You WILL die because of this.
The Dreamcast port adds the ability to assign each attack to a separate button, as well as an auto-fire. Unfortunately, this does not avoid the same problem the single-button system caused: The delay while switching attacks. This isn't so much of a problem when alternating between normal and piercing attacks, but it does make using the GHB (otherwise the game's best feature) difficult and frustrating.
The GHB itself functions by sucking bullets towards the ship, and then releasing them back to damage enemies - your ship being invincible throughout the entire process. This 'mosquito' technique charges over a set period of time, but once fully charged, allows you to deplete the meter either partially, for a small break in the bullet barrage, or entirely, releasing a devastating blast in the form of the Gravity Hole Bomb. The time it takes to recharge depends on which approach was taken, and is a clever way of avoiding the 'stock up bombs for the boss' style of gameplay which many shooters fall into.
- Graphics -
For a 2D shooter built with extremely dated hardware in mind? Excellent.
But for a piece of software released on a next-generation system? Definitely lacking.
Mars Matrix certainly has it's share of jaw-dropping moments, and bullet patterns do have a psychedelic quality that can at times rival Darius Gaiden, but it still doesn't do the Dreamcast justice. In fact, one can't help but feel this could have easily been done on the Saturn.
Backgrounds tend to have a very flat and static look about them, and are inhabited by poorly animated enemies that fill the screen, spewing visually redundant bullets and patterns. There are exceptions, and awe-inspiring ones at that, but it all contributes to what feels rather like a visual grab-bag of sorts.
Guilty Gear X has shown us just how visually opulent 2D can be on the Dreamcast, and it's a shame that developers such as Takumi and Psikyo aren't developing their shooting titles specifically with the Dreamcast's muscle power in mind.
- Sound -
The music is standard, but perfectly competent, techno fare. While it's probably not the sort of thing one would go out of their way to listen to otherwise, it does do an excellent job as a sonic backdrop. And who can fault that?
Sound effects are generally the same story, but with one glaring exception: Main weapon fire. Accompanying your steady stream of weaponry is a loud, extremely grating sound effect, which gets very old, very quickly. A simple option to adjust the music/sound effect volumes would have been exceedingly welcome.
- Presentation -
Very slick. Right from the first loading screen, it's obvious Mars Matrix isn't just another careless port. Menus are entirely free of load times, chock full of options, and a pleasure to navigate. Mid-level reports and 'mission briefings' are 5 seconds blasts of information and eye-candy. Gunbird 2 may have had character, but Mars Matrix has style.
Also, it's worth noting that anything crucial to actually being able to play the game is presented in English, making this a very import-friendly title. The few parts that are in Japanese tend to be self-explanatory, and certainly don't make the game any less enjoyable.
- Replay Value -
Even the best of shooters can get old quickly, but Mars Matrix has plenty to offer in a variety of gameplay modes and extras. By collecting 'experience matrixes' left behind by decimated enemies you can then 'buy' options such as Extra Credits and Stage Attacks/Selects. And that's just two in a very long list of well thought out additions.
Some options are useful, some frivolous, but they all have one thing in common: They're expensive, and the game stingy. By the time you can even afford the more useful and interesting options, chances are you'll be too sick of the game to even want to make use of them. Still, Mars Matrix has a lot more replay value than most shooters, and an addictive quality that'll keep you coming back.
Oddly enough, one of the main staples of shooter replay, the difficulty level, is nearly useless. After one night of play, I was able to get just as far on the highest difficulty as I was on the lowest. Just bear in mind that there will be no shortage of bullets no matter which setting you might choose.
- Overall Impression -
Despite my nit-picking, this game's only real detrimental fault is the delay between the time you push the GHB button, and when it actually activates. By the time you realize you even need the GHB, it's often too late, resulting in needless frustration and contrived difficulty. Hopefully this will be refined for the domestic release.
Mars Matrix is the best shooter available for the Dreamcast yet: With 6 lengthy bullet-filled stages, and tons of gameplay modes and options, it's a good purchase for anyone looking to get their shooting fix. Just be prepared for a little frustration.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/13/01, Updated 01/13/01
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