Review by PUhler
""Better than a crowbar" "Let's have a barbeque""
Mars Matrix is a shooter of a different breed. One where the emphasis is more on surviving seemingly insurmountable quanities of enemy firepower headed your way, where your only option to survive is to rely on a force field or reflect shield of sorts. Now, while there may only be a few games with this reflect shield feature, you also must remember that the shoot-em up scene is just about dead, and then take into consideration three of the last six shooters released in the US sport a reflect mechanism. It's a rather sad state of affairs, as I am a bit disgruntled at being forced to rely on something other than my own other-worldly (yeah, right) skill. Nothing like heading into a bullet-choked melee with nothing more than your regular old blaster, and manuevering your way out unscathed. Unfortunately, this is border-line impossible to pull off in Mars Matrix, but it's ok in this case (unlike the ill-fated Gigawing), because there are so many other things done right, I just can't bring myself to fault it in such ways.
Too much, that is.
If you were to grill me about the point of Mars Matrix, I guess I'd just tell you ''You shoot, dodge and reflect bullets, and shoot some more''. Of course, that much is obvious, and you were probably trying to get info on the story out of me, and in that case, no dice. I myself didn't pay any attention to the meager backstory after glancing at it, as it is just that, meager. Something about a colony on the planet Mars striking back against a 'oppressive' Earth, or something. To be quite frank, I honestly don't care about the story, and to be even more frank, I don't think you should be caring either.
Now on to the game itself. As I've noted earlier, Mars Matrix's point is for you to shoot stuff, and dodge incoming enemy firepower. The action is viewed from a top down, vertical-scrolling viewpoint, and when I say action, I MEAN action; if there are any moments in this game where there is a serious lull in the action (outside of the moments leading up to a boss fight), perhaps you could drop me a line and let me know, because I certainly haven't noticed any yet. It's quite a rush, really, guiding your ship (you can pick either the red one, with the spread shot, or the faster blue one, but with a more straight-forward blaster) through loads upon loads of onscreen bullets, over the various landscapes of ... Hell, I guess it's Mars. It's classic shooter gameplay, but you get some neat twists. For one, the only thing which can hurt you is enemy bullets; You can fly over anything else undamaged. Second, your ships 'level up'; the more experience cubes you grab (which generate after killing enemies), the stronger your blaster will get. Third, you get a rarity in a shooter; a melee attack, called the piercing cannon. It only extends to a certain length in front of your ship, but even so, it is amazingly overpowered, almost rendering the regular blaster useless. And finally, you don't have a conventional bomb attack. Instead, your ship is equipped with a ''Mosquito'', which is a device which sucks in bullets, and with some deft aiming, launches them back at your unlucky foes. It's powered by a meter located in the bottom of the screen. When the bar fills up, you can use the Mosquito. One of the best parts is you can use it in limited amounts, unlike Gigawing, where you have to go all the way to produce the reflect shield. Also, if you charge it up to the maximum capacity, you'll release a ''Blackhole Bomb'', which damages everything on the screen (the closer you are, the more damage it does). Too bad that you lose the whole meter, because it reduces the Blackhole Bomb to something you'll really never use, for it is so detrimental to your welfare.
Another cool feature is the shop, which allows you to unlock all sorts of fun features (like different ship colors, more credits or opening up new levels for score attack) with the points you earn in the game; it gives a lot of incentive to keep playing, and combined with the arranged mode (Arranged A allows you to play the arcade game, but with special options turned on, and Arranged B mixes up enemy placement through-out all the levels, essentially making it almost like a new game), well, let's just say Mars Matrix has the beefiest palette of extras I've ever seen in a shooter (A GOOD THING). There's also a two-player mode, but I never tried it out, so I really can't comment on it.
That leads to Mars Matrix's two flaws: The fact they made some of the extras so inanely expensive (get ready to play through score attack Level 4 A LOT), it becomes very tiresome. The other problem is the aforementioned Mosquito; Takumi (developer of Mars Matrix) made it so you have to rely on it. Not fun. I do not like it when a developer places such a limitation on the player. What if I don't want to use this damn reflect shield? Well, I could go ahead and not use it, but then the game is literally impossible. That really deflates a lot of the fun to be had, so I just grudgingly go back to the Mosquito, really wishing that Takumi had made things a bit more manageable. Still, it's easy enough to overcome, and it's a flaw that not all that many are going to care too much about.
On the graphics front, Mars Matrix looks pretty sharp, if not unspectacular. I like the special effects used so prettily, but the animation is rather lacking in all areas, and the enemy and boss designs are uninspired, and dull. The sound is solid, with some very nice and loud sound effects, but the music sucks bad. It's like some kind of crap techno, and is pretty annoying (especially that awful track in the first level).
Still, despite some flaws, Mars Matrix is one of the most fun, most addicting games to ever be released for the now-dead Sega Dreamcast, and considering the game's twenty dollar price tag, also one of it's biggest bargains. Go pick up a copy today.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/05/01, Updated 07/05/01
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