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Monday, September 26, 2011

Esoteric Retrospective: Cyber Core

TITLE: Cyber Core
CONSOLE: TurboGrafx-16/PC-Engine
The TurboGrafx-16 didn't have half the library it's Japanese counterpart the PC-Engine had, thanks in Large part to Nintendo's borderline-monopolistic exclusivity practices. That said, we still managed to see some prime Shoot 'em Ups make their way across the Pacific, such as Blazing Lazers, R-Type, Air Zonk, Aero Blasters; the list goes on and on. One title that always stuck out to me, but usually falls under the radar of most jaded SHUMPS fans, is Cyber Core.

The fate of the world depends upon the mysterious entity 'Chimera.' The United Force has elected the enforcer Rad Ralph. Now, on with the mission!” When I was 7, I was completely taken by this intro. Why does Rad Ralph's face now resemble a smashed raspberry? Who did this to him? Am I trying to simultaneously save humanity and avenge myself? Have I become the ship I'm flying around in? Though it doesn't make much more sense, the missing line of dialog from the Japanese intro helps shed some light on Rad Ralph's situation: “A.D. 2269: The Earth was occupied by unknown being, 'Hyper Insect.'” So there you go, you're an average joe (with an idiotic monicker), who must save humanity from “Hyper Insect.” If you have the manual for this game it expands on that to tell you how you've merged with "Chimera," upon discovering Earth's fate at the hands of Hyper Insect preceding your return from Deep Space. I suppose I could have guessed that from the charming metamorphosis animation, but again, I was 7. It's not exactly Frank Herbert caliber canon we're dealing with here, but since when have you played a shooter for the epic story?

Cyber Core is, a standard top-down SHUMPS game with a story clumsily wedged in to give us an excuse to annihilate giant bugs (as if I needed an excuse). The more unique aspects of the game come to light when you start playing. For starters, the playing field, like Dragon Spirit before it, is split between ground and Air combat. Skyward enemies fall to your standard button II attack, while you must bomb ground-dwelling enemies with button I. This typically degrades into cranking both Turbo switches up and just holding down both buttons, but that can also interfere with certain upgrades, so you do still have to think somewhat. Along with ground and air enemies being split up, the field is actually somewhat wider then it initially appears. You can move over to the left and right sides of the screen to either grab enemies as they appear, or knock out extra baddies to push your score higher. What I admire most about this game is the power-up structure. Your ship which sort of resembles a winged insect at start can metamorphose between 4 alternate types: Beetle, Swallowtail, Mantis, and Hornet. To change your fighter to these types, you must collect the appropriate “radioactive eggs,” which fall out of another bug's ass when you shoot at it and are color-coded to your insect type. Each class has 3 stages of metamorphosis that can be achieved, giving you up to 3 shield batteries and increased attack power. What's great about this system is that the overall look and size of your fighter changes along with your attack. Along with having extra bombs and a deadly, screen-filling main weapon, your ship (and by association, your hitbox), becomes 3 times bigger than when you started! It's now far easier to get cornered by enemy fire, and far more difficult to avoid mid-air collisions. For some, this was a downer because increasing your power to the max was no longer equivalent to enabling “cake-walk mode,” but for me, it added some much needed challenge to a game that could be somewhat predictable from repeating patterns.

Though it's no Ikaruga as far as difficulty goes, Cyber Core is still frantic enough to keep even the most hardcore shooter aficionados on their toes. I have yet to beat this gem, but I have made it to the nightmarish final stage. Compounding the difficulty are the ground-based bosses that can only be hit with your bomb attack. It makes you think differently while playing the game, and, though it's a refreshing change of pace, it can still be difficult to get into the rhythm before you find yourself back in your “Precambrian Cyber Core” state, which is fancy talk for “Weak-Ass Default” state. Though it doesn't hand your ass to you like a modern-day “bullet hell” shooter would, prepare to be challenged nonetheless.

Does this game hold up today? The short answer is yes. Even though I may be looking at it through glasses rose-tinted by 20-years of nostalgia, it's one of the few games I always come back to in my collection and still have a hard time putting down. If you've got a PC-Engine or TurboGrafx-16 and haven't played Cyber Core, you owe it to yourself to try it out. Copies can typically be found on ebay for around $20. Or you can try picking it up at eStarland.

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