Review by yyr57695

"An amazing shmup-like experience that hides its true difficulty, but not its pure fun"

Quick pros and cons:
+ The action is fast, furious and above all, fun!
+ Sharp, smooth and detailed graphics
+ Can be either super easy or ultra hard, or anything in between
+ The 7 characters all play differently
+ Randomized stages and patterns make for a different game every time
- Many players will falsely think the game is too short or easy, but you can't blame them--the game hides its true difficulty

Cannon Spike was released as a $30 game a few years back. I haven't found too many games that have given me more pure fun than this treasure, a near-perfect shooting game with some beat-em-up elements mixed in.

Psikyo has developed plenty of shoot-em-ups, but most of them followed the same old formula: use your shots and bombs to blast a bunch of things that move on rails and occasionally fire back, fight a level boss that fires in essentially the same pattern every time, and move on. Cannon Spike follows a similar "clear the level, beat the boss" formula, but the gameplay is both more complex and more randomized than your typical shmup--and the result is fun, plain and simple.

So here's how it works. Story: save the world by blasting the bad guys, or something like that. Who really cares? Any shmup fan knows that the story is unimportant; the action is key. Here, the action consists of blowing your way through 10 fairly short levels (or so it appears at first) populated by a bunch of low-level flunkies, followed by a mini-boss and then a larger level boss.

You may choose to control one of 7 characters. Most are recognizable from other Capcom games (Cammy and Charlie from Street Fighter, Arthur from Ghosts 'n Goblins, B.B. Hood from Vampire Savior and the instantly-recognizable Mega Man), while two are all-new. The characters differ in their movement speed and their sets of weapons and attacks, which are almost completely different from one another--which radically changes the gameplay depending on who you pick.

Every character shares a standard shot weapon. It has a fast rate of fire, can work effectively from any distance, and can even push an enemy away from you. Plus, there's lock-on capability: if you target an enemy using the R button, your shots will fire towards them automatically until you let go of the button, or until about 3 seconds have passed. The disadvantages of the standard shot: you can only attack or lock onto one enemy at a time, and the shots are very weak. So if you need to do a lot of damage quickly, or a large group is attacking you, you might want to try something else--like your character's unique quick attack. Usually, it's some sort of melee attack. Some characters can even tap the button a few times and bust out a combo attack that will move them forwards a bit. The quick attack usually does significantly more damage than the standard shot, but you need to be up close to use it.

You'll also have both a heavy shot and heavy attack at your disposal. These attacks are also completely different for each character. Generally, the heavy shot is fairly powerful and can hit multiple enemies at once. You can't use the lock-on feature to fire it, though, and you can't move while using it either, so it shouldn't be used when you're potentially vulnerable. The heavy attack--the most powerful normal attack you've got--is usually enough to kill most enemies in one hit and do heavy damage to bosses. The disadvantages are the ones you'd expect: you have to be within close range to use it, and the recovery time is fairly long.

If all else fails, you have a limited number of special attacks (equivalent of bombs) to use. Each character's special attack works differently; range, power and type all vary considerably. During use, you'll be invulnerable (of course).

So basically, there's a best weapon for most every situation, which adds a nice bit of strategy to the game. You'll usually need to decide what to use pretty quickly, since you're almost always being attacked by enemies. There are basically two categories of non-boss enemies: close-range attackers, and long-range attackers. They will come at you in groups, and their strength/skill/agility depends on both the game difficulty setting and what stage you're on.

The mini-bosses and even the stage bosses (who are all well-designed and fun to battle) will be greatly affected by these two factors also. One of the remarkable things about Cannon Spike is the difficulty scale. You can play at eight different levels, from "Baby" to "Very Hard." Baby is really, really easy...and Very Hard is just that. You'll notice a distinct difference when moving from one level to another, even when they're one apart. Also interesting: you will play the first four levels--and then, levels 5-7--in a random order, and the order they're played in determines their difficulty, with dramatic differences. You may find yourself having to use a totally different playing style for the exact same level in two separate games.

Another aspect that makes the game more enjoyable is the fact that enemies do not always appear in the same positions, unlike in most shmups. They don't fire at the same moments every game, either. It makes Cannon Spike more about reflexes and skill than about memorization.

Adding to the enjoyment further is the wonderful audiovisual presentation. Especially through a VGA Box, Cannon Spike looks great. The characters don't use as many polygons as what you've seen in more recent games, but what's there looks pleasing and moves smoothly. The backgrounds are loaded with interesting textures and little details. And the frame rate only drops below 60 when the screen is loaded with explosions, usually after boss fights (when you don't care anyway). The sound effects are all appropriate and effective, and while the music is not the most memorable, it's not repetitive and it does its job.

This is a pure action game made for shooting game lovers. So if you're not a shooting game lover, you may miss the point. There isn't a lot of ground to cover in each level--actually, each level only consists of 3-4 screens. But that's because the action focuses on shooting, not on covering ground. The game is short and can be completed in 15 minutes--but shoot-em-ups are SUPPOSED to take that long, and then you're supposed to attempt to complete them with all of the different characters and improve your scores. And then there's the real kicker: some will think that "the game is too easy, even on the Very Hard level."

Any shooting game aficionado can tell you that these games were made to be played with one credit. Continues are there if you feel like using them for some reason, but the main goal of the game is to finish without having to reach for your pocket. Cannon Spike rewards those who follow this philosophy by offering them the true ending--but only if they can finish all 10 levels a second time, in one one credit! If you continue even once, or play on a difficulty level below 4, you are disqualified from this, and the game will end after stage 10. Ask anyone who claims the game is too easy whether they've cleared a full two "laps" on one credit, and they'll most likely ask you what you're talking about. Such a feat is extremely difficult and will only be completed by true experts.

Even years after its release, I still enjoy Cannon Spike like I bought it yesterday. It's a truly excellent pick-up-and-play game that anyone can enjoy, but that shoot-em-up fans can truly appreciate. While it's not everything to all gamers, it does what it does--and what shoot-em-ups do, in general--really, really well.

Graphics: 9
The smoothness that a shooter needs is there, along with lots of details you wouldn't ordinarily expect. Textures and models are nice-looking, especially through the VGA Box.

Sound: 7
The music fits the action well and doesn't repeat very often at all. The sound effects are all very good. There's nothing outstanding about the sound, but there's nothing bad about it either.

Gameplay: 10
Pure, solid action that isn't identical every time, totally customizable difficulty and seven different characters with different playing styles...this all translates into FUN. Period.

Features/Replay: 7
If you're a diehard shmup fan, you can easily jack this score to 9 or 10, because you'll likely play it again and again. If you're totally not into shmups, you might lower this score somewhat. Or perhaps this game will get you to like them more...

Overall: 9
Cannon Spike is an amazing game. There's not much more I can say. Used Dreamcasts are readily available and pretty cheap these days, and it's worth buying one just to play this game.

Also try: Espgaluda, Ikaruga, Shikigami no Shiro II, Border Down

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/14/04

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