Review by Retro

"I don't like obeying the law of gravity"

When the Genesis was the hottest ticket in town, I found myself in dire need of new games. I saw Subterrania's cool box art and the back of its box, and I wanted it badly, even though this type of game (using aircraft to complete missions) wasn't one of my favorites. But it's always nice to try something new.

The relationship between aliens and humans has gone haywire once again. Men who work in mining colonies have been terrorized by these aliens' unforgiving antics. It's your job to take control of an experimental attack ship in order to terminate these pests' hopes of taking over, and to save the various workers that alive, but trapped somewhere hundreds of feet underground.

Before beginning a game of Subterrania, you can configure the controls just the way you want them, and you can also toggle the game's difficulty. This may be irrelevant information to some, but as bad as the controls are in this shooter/adventure, it's very relevant. Once you configure the controls the way you want them (they suck no matter which combinations you try, but you can make them a bit easier I suppose), it would be best to go to the option called Training. In this mode, you can fly your ship around a small area and even practice shooting your weapons until you think you've gotten the hang of it.

Before each level begins, a radar copy of the level you're about to challenge will come up. It's called a Mission Report. Mission Reports tell you exactly what you need to do to successfully complete the stage, and it'll also show you where everything is located. You better pay close attention to these reports or you won't stand a chance in most areas, particularly the much larger environments that are to come later.

The aliens have stolen something that would enable your ship to go underwater. In the first six stages, you must find an item called a Sub-Module in order to be able to take a plunge beneath the murky surface of the water when the seventh level comes around. You'll also need to rescue a certain amount of miners in the form of tiny men running around in a certain stretch of flat land. Sometimes the workers and Sub-Modules are hidden in fairly easy to find places, but other times you'll have to use a bunch of firepower to destroy walls or even towering buildings in order to locate them. In the beginning levels, those two things are pretty much all you need to do, along with shooting and destroying a humongous alien boss every now and then. The boss fights that I've experienced are fairly memorable and even fun, especially the first bout: an encounter with a huge floating creature that has three faces and fierce-looking spikes hanging off of it.

Subterrania may sound fairly easy so far, but it's far from it. I haven't even told you half of the things you need to worry about yet. As you probably figured, there are other minor enemies such as guns that unleash bullets in your direction, weak flies that can be destroyed by simply ramming your ship into them, and robotic foes that can punch you out. But these enemies are simple when compared to the other hazards that you must watch out for.

Since you're controlling an experimental (not fully completed) ship, it's not very strong. If you touch a wall or other barrier for just a few damn seconds, your shield will quickly run out, causing your ship to explode in fragments. You also have to keep your ship full of fuel, which is a hassle because it runs out pretty fast. Now here's the kicker. Your biggest enemy in the world is the law of gravity itself. At all times while your ship is airborne, and even worse when you're underwater, it will be slowly falling down. For example, don't press any buttons for a few seconds. The ship will slowly descend, allowing gravity to take the reigns. Let's say you're facing the left, needing to stay in place to shoot down a wall. You'll have to turn to face upward and give it a little gas just so you won't fall down too far and be killed by the rocky ground. You'll get used to this scheme after awhile, but it never ceases to be a sharp pain in the ass.

Subterrania isn't a side-scrolling or vertical shooter; you can maneuver your ship 360º in any direction. During gameplay, there will be several other things that must be done in order to stand a chance to perform all the rescues and even to reach certain bosses. One of these 'other things' is to carry heavy reflector shields and cores around to perform feats such as deflecting enemy lasers in a certain direction to break through barriers that are otherwise impenetrable. To give your enemies a taste of their own medicine, drop a reactor core on a hungry alien lifeform to destroy it. In a few places, there will be rails that you can literally place your ship onto and ride, which can make for easier targeting against bosses and barriers. While stuck to the rails, you'll be safe from losing fuel or - GASP - having to obey the law of gravity!

While you play Subterrania, your ship's stats are always there on the screen for easy reference. This is one game where you need to look at them as often as you can, especially for seeing how much fuel is left in the gauge and how much shield (life) you have remaining. More powerful weapons, such as missiles and lasers can always be collected, even though none seem to be as strong as you'd like them to be. One neat asset is how your normal weapon recharges. When the Mega Shot Power line is full, you can shoot and unleash a multi-directional laser blast that seems to come out of every direction from your vehicle. But again, it's not very powerful at all. Even with weapon updates, most of the seemingly weaker enemies have to be shot several times before death takes them over.

At least Subterrania's title is fitting; each stage is underneath the earth's surface. The beginning levels are fairly wide open without any tight, claustrophobia-inducing spaces, but as you get farther into the game, these open areas become more complicated mazes with tight turns and closed-in spaces that look more uninviting. To complete a stage, you just have to do what it tells you to do in the Mission Report and then return to the base (the place where you started at in the current stage). Then it's on to the next one.

I've heard a lot of people say that they hate Subterrania. To be honest, I also hated it with a passtion up until last year. Before that time, I could never pass levels one and two. My problem was that I didn't read and pay that much attention to the Mission Reports. When I finally spent some time checking them out, I nearly reached the end of the game. I learned that Subterrania isn't a totally terrible game; it just has sucky controls and unfair characteristics, such as not being able to touch walls for more than a few seconds before dying. This is the game's falling point. What could've been an original, engaging title is a mediocre, frustrating game, all because the programmers didn't spend enough time playing the game for themselves and perfecting the controls. Even on Easy mode, the game is overly difficult because of this.

The only thing that's easy is losing a life. Whether you run out of fuel right when you spot a fuel capsule, barely bang against a wall and explode, or get killed by an enemy, it's just too easy to die in this game. But somehow, Subterrania manages to be fun for awhile, and its graphics, sounds, and originality are pretty nice.

GRAPHICS - Subterrania has some excellent graphics, at times. The beginning sequences and the radars look a bit grainy, but they also have excellent detail. Just turn the game on and watch the screen for a few seconds, and then when you start, look at the detail of the dorky-looking guy who serves as the pilot and the almost lifelike miner screaming in terror as he gets killed. Nice. The levels themselves look a little plain, though, with walls and enemies that look more like they should've come during the 8-bit era. Also, most of the backgrounds seem a bit dark in the early stages, but some have a decent amount of detail included.

SOUND - The sound effects of the game are a mixed bag. Explosions and weapons sound very mediocre, with none that particularly stand out. On the other hand, most of the music is excellent. Whether it's a slow, suspenseful tune or an upbeat techno track that will have you bobbing your head, the music is very well done, and it's probably the best overall aspect of the game.

REPLAY VALUE - Of all the games I own for the Genesis, Subterrania is definitely the one that I've played the least. I play it every once in awhile when I feel like I'm up for an overbearing challenge, or when I think I can handle getting majorly pissed at a game, but those times are few and far between.

OVERALL - Subterrania certainly isn't the worst game I've ever played, and it's not as bad as you've probably heard that it is, but it's not good either. It's a prime example of how something can make or break a game, controls in this case. The makers certainly had a nice idea for a unique title, but their execution wasn't sharp enough to make this a good game. Subterrania has some original, memorable attributes, and it's playable, but at times (the water stages toward the end!), it's not even that. Should you get it? Hmmmm, perhaps if you're a hardcore fan of this type of game or if you think you can get over the offbeat controls. But if you're looking for only the best of the genre, skip it.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 07/20/01, Updated 07/21/03


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