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Line of Fire (SMS) — Exploring what I overlooked

Soldier Steals Special Shooty Device And Hopefully Escapes With It And His Life: The Game

Recently it occurred to me that there were quite a few Master System games that most would consider classics, yet I never even so much as considered giving them a shot. So after perusing the venerable Sega Notebook and making a list of games that seemed interesting enough, I then committed a little yarr-harr-fiddle-dee-dee, and now I’ve got a bit of a backlog to work through.

And then I remembered I had this journal, and that I might as well use it to talk about my unfiltered and untainted experience with these games that I’m only now playing for the first time.

My first pick ended up being Line of Fire, which also happened to be last week’s game for 8BitBoyUK’s Master System Challenge. Thinking about it, I haven’t participated in those in months…

Anyway, the story of the game is that you’re a soldier of the allied forces who’s infiltated the enemy base and is now making off with their special weapon. What exactly that special weapon is doesn’t seem to be explained in any particular detail, but the opening cinematic and the title screen itself would make you think it’s just a regular-ass machine gun.

Oh well. It’s a shmup. Who plays shmups for their story, anyway? (says the Touhou player)

This particular screenshot was borrowed from SMS Power. Check out this page for even more screenshots!

My first impression after starting the game was: Wow, these controls feel kinda sluggish.
My second impression was: Wow, the music’s actually pretty nice.

Granted, I got used to the controls pretty quickly (and maybe it was just the fact that I hadn’t touched a Master System control pad in a while). What did turn out to be a thorn in my side, however, was just how little of the playing field you were actually allowed to move around in. The game confines you to the bottom half, which, given the vertical size of the vehicles you control, just isn’t enough room to maneuver, especially when you’ve got walls limiting your horizontal range on top of that.

Looking on the other end of the control pad, button 2 fires your machine gun, and I was quite deligted to find that most enemies only take one or two shots to kill. Button 1, on the other hand, fires a surface-to-air missile (or air-to-surface in the stages where you control a helicopter), which has limited ammo (but the game’s still really generous with ammo pickups) and was kinda tricky to get the hang of at first. Basically, once the missile gets going, you can control its horizontal trajectory with the d-pad, but since you’ve still got to move your actual vehicle for various reasons (lining up your shots, dodging obstacles and enemy fire, etc.), it happens quite often that your missiles just veer completely off-course. Personally, I would’ve much preferred if the missiles were either homing or just moving straight forward, but oh well.

Stage 1 is pretty easy, although it does have kind of an annoying midboss. Stage 2, on the other hand, is where I started dying on my first playthrough, and it’s all because of the ramps it introduces: You need those to jump over the rivers, but it’s kind of disorienting because of the slow scrolling speed, so it feels less like jumping and more like you’re just floating in the air for several seconds before you come crashing down. My first life lost was trying to jump over the first river and landing right in it, which is instant death. My second life was at the river immediately after because I was trying to hit a helicopter with a missile and couldn’t get to the ramp on the other end of the screen in time.

Not my finest moment.

Stage 3 isn’t much to talk about, other than being the most annoying section of the entire game. You switch from a tank to a boat, and your primary cannon fodder is scuba divers. Those are invulnerable to your shots unless they surface for maybe two seconds in order to fire at you. Unfortunately, they’ll likely only surface a total of once or twice before they leave the screen, and since your stage bonuses depend on the percentage of enemies killed… yeah. Still, it’s more hard than annoying, and the boss at the end makes up for it because you can just unload into it nonstop.

Stage 4 is where the difficulty starts to pick up a little…

This is from the demo, which pretty much just hits buttons at random.

This stage, at least the first half of it, basically gives you no room to maneuver. There are turrets on the cliffs that have to be taken out with missiles, which means having to hug the walls in order to steer the missiles into them.

That’s how I got my first Game Over. I got crushed between a piece of cliff and the edge of the screen without even realizing it. And even then, look at the screenshot above and imagine how hard it’d be to dodge bullets when you can only move around in the bottom half.

The boss itself seemed kinda tricky at first, shooting a constant stream of aimed bullets and air-to-surface missiles, but I quickly realized that the missiles can’t even reach you as long as you’re hugging the bottom of the screen.

So much to that, at least. I thought the game would be fairly easy, seeing how the first three stages were basically a snoozefest… but then stage 5 happened, and oh boy is it a difficulty spike. The first section has turrets and tanks everywhere, and I’m pretty sure the helicopter you’re controlling has an even bigger hitbox than the tank. The section immediately after keeps firing homing missiles at you, and misdirecting them in the limited space you can maneuver in might as well be pure luck. But at least it eases up afterwards, and the boss is a cakewalk.

Then comes the final stage, which is surprisingly easy, not to mention surprisingly generous with life and ammo refills. The final boss has two phases, each of which is pretty much just a matter of destroying all the turrets (standard shmup boss fare, really), but phase two is immensely crowded and caused my second Game Over that run.

Patience is key here, especially since every single turret is a massive bullet sponge, and there’s an infinite supply of jets further suppressing you with aimed shots, but I did beat it eventually — on the last life of my third (and possibly final) credit.

Right after, I tried another run on Hard. I could tell that there were a few more enemies and shooting more frequently, but there was surprisingly little difference between Hard and Normal, and in fact that second run was a 2cc already, with my one Game Over being in stage 5. Honestly not sure if I would’ve even wanted to continue if I’d Game Over’d to the final boss, right at the end.

That’s all for Line of Fire, though. I’d say I enjoyed it, even if it’s a bit too slow-paced most of the time and the limited range for movement is kind of inexcusable. Most of the other games I grabbed seem to be shmups, too, so get ready for more of the same soon.

Got an SG-1000 II! (Part 2)

In which I attempt to hook it up to the TV — with predictably fruitless results.

A bit late on writing the follow-up, given that I did what I’m about to recap last Monday, but things took a bit of a disappointing turn so far, anyway.

What you see in the picture above is the cables I neglected to show previously, which I didn’t even unpack until now. Starting with the AC adapter…

…which, as you can probably tell, is not only not first-party, it’s not even going to fit into any power outlet in this neck of the woods. That, and while it does have variable output voltage (including the 9V that I need) and polarity, the current just isn’t enough to use it safely: the SG-1000 needs about 850mA.

Luckily for me, the AC adapter for my Master System just so happens to fulfill the necessary requirements perfectly, so that’s what I’m going to use instead. This? I dunno, maybe I can sell it on ebay or something.

Next up, you’ll notice that the console came with two RF switch boxes. The Sega one looks perfectly fine, thankfully, but the other one for what looks like a ColecoVision…

…yeah, definitely beyond salvaging. The cable is so rusty and loose that it’s only held to the box by a few loose metal threads.

Like I said, though, at least this one still looks fine — and works fine, too.

Anyway, got all the cables, hooked the console up to the TV and a power outlet, it didn’t blow up when I turned it on… but, unsurprisingly, I didn’t get a signal at all.

There are two potential points of failure here: the card catcher and/or cards might not make proper contact, or the TV simply can’t decode an NTSC-J signal. I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter, which means I have two options going forward, neither of which are kind on my money or time:

  1. Buy soldering tools and learn how to use them, then get the necessary components to mod the console and add composite output. I’ve never soldered anything before in my life, though, and in addition to not necessarily wanting to use a rare, expensive console as a guinea pig, I also have reservations about modifying it at all.
  2. Find something — anything — that can decode an NTSC-J signal and convert it into composite or some other kind of output. I was told that, for instance, a VCR player from Japan could do the trick, but whatever I’m getting my hands on, it’ll no doubt be expensive to purchase, and even more expensive to ship and import… and considering the amount of money I’ve already spent on obtaining all this in the first place…

But yes, until I find a way to hook it up to a TV that’ll get me a picture, I’m at an impasse and the console will be useless aside from maybe as a decorative piece. It’s pretty frustrating to be so close, yet so far, but it’s not my first time owning a console I can’t play.

Just need the patience to wait for the golden opportunity to get what I need in order to play it. After all, I’ve waited probably over 10 years to get my hands on one — I think I can wait for a few years longer.

On a slightly more uplifting note, I got to test the controllers, at least, and while they’re still not perfect, they do work considerably better than before after a bit of cleaning. One still has a very unresponsive button 2, though, and the other seems to not register right presses unless the lead is held a certain way. I actually have the latter issue with one of my Master System controllers, too, as you may recall, and the one thing they have in common is that the lead comes out of the right hand side.

I wonder if that’s just an inevitable issue with the way they’re manufactured. Not that I’d know where to even begin troubleshooting it, either.

Got an SG-1000 II! (Part 1)

Biggest retro tech cleaning project I’ve undertaken to date, and I’m still not done.

This journal entry is gonna be quite a bit different from the usual, since it’s not about any game in particular…

It’s about the console you see in the pic above.

The SG-1000 was Sega’s first ever home console, even before the Master System. I’d had a vested interest in it ever since I learned of its existence over a decade ago, and having that very console in my possession was a dream I never thought would become reality until very recently.

Turns out that a close friend of mine, who lives in Malaysia, has a friend who runs a flea market — and that friend just so happened to have an SG-1000 II for sale for 900 ringgit (around 215 USD). It seemed a bit steep to me at first, but then I realized that the price wasn’t just for the console. It also included two controllers, four games, a Card Catcher that would make those games fit in the cartridge slot, and all the cables to hook it up. I’d been scouring ebay for listings from time to time, and this easily blew everything else out of the water in terms of how much of a bargain it was.

Of course, once you add shipping and import taxes, it became quite a bit more expensive (it set me back by a bit over 300 euros), but I’d say it was worth every cent.

The package arrived yesterday, January 5, 2022. And boy, was everything filthy. I knew I’d have to give it a good cleaning before even thinking of trying it out, but luckily I have some experience with that by now.

First things first, though, I went ahead and tested the controllers, since I have a USB adapter for Mega Drive controllers (though it also works just fine with any Sega controllers from previous generations). One controller worked fine for the most part, though button 2 was a bit unresponsive. The other controller, on the other hand, exhibited some pretty worrying behavior: as soon as I plugged it in, it acted like both face buttons were held down at all times. The d-pads worked nicely for both controllers, though, and I held out hope that none of the issues presented were something that a thorough cleaning wouldn’t solve.

Since the games didn’t come with any packaging, I folded paper sleeves for them, origami-style. Took a bit of trial and error because I used too little paper for my first two attempts, though. If you know about making CD sleeves out of regular DIN A4 paper, that’s what I did here, but with different dimensions.

That was all I got done the day I got the console, though. I figured I’d leave cleaning for the next day, i.e. today, and got to work as soon as I had food in my system and space for myself.

This is the circuit board for the controller that kept acting like buttons were pressed. Luckily, none of the solder points or traces seemed to be broken.

I started with the controllers, since that was a procedure I was already well-acquainted with: undo the screws, open up the casing, scrub all the plastic and rubber parts with warm soapy water, and clean the contacts on the circuit board with q-tips and rubbing alcohol. The contacts for the face buttons of the controller you see above were exceptionally filthy, and I suspect that that’s the reason behind the way it was acting out. No matter how much I scrubbed, there just seemed to be no end to the amount of dirt, but eventually the q-tips did stop getting dirty.

Thankfully, the second controller’s circuit board was much less filthy and I was done with it a lot sooner.

This is how many q-tips I ran through just cleaning the controllers. Don’t worry — I burned through a lot more later down the line.

On the other hand, as crusty as the controller shells looked, they cleaned up with surprisingly little effort and I was done with them in no time.

…Though, of course, they still need to dry fully before I can start putting them back together again.

Next up was the Card Catcher. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of it during cleaning, but there also wasn’t much I could do for it. It’s held together by screws, except the screws are hidden behind a label, and while I do have some WD-40 that should be able to get the label off without damaging it, I don’t think I have the right kind of glue to put it back on after I’m done. Therefore, I just used q-tips and rubbing alcohol to clean as much of the casing as I could, as well as the contacts on the bottom, which were predictably caked in filth, too.

Same deal with the cards. Rubbing alcohol and q-tips. It was tedious work and the stickers on the back were already yellowed beyond saving, but as long as the console can read the games, that’s fine by me.

And speaking of console… that’s what was up next. Seven screws held the case together (four in the corners, and then three longer ones in the middle), and then I got to take a look at the circuit board.

Loooooooots of dust bunnies.

I tried to remove the circuit board from the bottom half of the case, but it wouldn’t budge for some reason (that I’ll explain later), so I left it there for now and tried to do what I could with it in there. First things first: compressed air to clear off as much of the dust as I could. Then I took the top half of the case to the sink and gave it a good scrubbing and rinse, and it looked so much better afterwards.

While I really, really wanted to do the same with the bottom half, I obviously wouldn’t be able to do it with the circuit board still lodged in there. It wasn’t until I did some googling and stumbled upon this thread by Simon Lock where he’d clearly taken the circuit board out that it occurred to me that it would have to be removable somehow. I tweeted at him, and after some back-and-forth and me sending him a photo, it finally turned out that I forgot to remove the screws to either side of the cartridge port. Oops.

I assumed that they held the cartridge port in place somehow, but in hindsight, that was one hell of a brain fart on my end…

Anyway, got those screws undone and then the board came right out without any further issue. Needless to say, the bottom half of the case was just as dirty as the top half, if not more. Fortunately, it cleaned up just as easily.

…And that’s where I’m at right now. As I’m writing this, I’m just waiting for everything to finish drying up, and odds are I’ll be letting it dry overnight. Tomorrow I’ll put everything back together and then give it a test.

I’ll keep you updated!

Castle of Illusion (Mega Drive) — I was so close…!

Gave Hard mode another shot, and had a really good run at first: several close shaves, but ultimately no deaths in the first three levels.

Come level 4, and I realize that just walking past the “A”s is a viable and safe strategy, after all. I even managed to beat the boss this time, although I feel like that was mostly a case of dumb luck. Throwing apples at it helped speed things up, and I’m glad I didn’t miss any shots, but I also went in with four units of life. If I’d died on my first attempt, I don’t think I would’ve made it past.

Level 5 is, surprisingly enough, not that much different. Less items scattered about, more bats, the usual, but they didn’t get in the way as much as they could’ve, and the boss fight itself was still very straightforward.

And then came the final boss, who should’ve been a pushover, but when you only get two hits per life and the boss can take way more than she ought to, the pressure very much adds up… and the iffy collision detection on the ghosts (fireballs?) didn’t help, either, as I would arbitrarily take damage even if I butt-bounced off of them.

I ran out of lives, then ragequit on my last life when I took a hit before the fight even started.

My Series of “Full Playthroughs”

I actually record some of the games I play! Who’d have thought?

Way back when I was in my teens, I would record myself playing through games I liked, add text commentary, then post the videos to my YouTube channel. Sadly I stopped doing that after a while, due to a shift in interests, but last November, I began rediscovering that hobby, and indulged in it some more.

You can see a playlist of all my recent playthroughs here. The old ones are still up on my channel, too, if you want to take a look at those, but many have cringy, tasteless, or downright offensive commentary that I no longer approve of, so I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m just keeping them up for archival purposes.

Alternatively, here is a brief introduction to each video one by one:

Kenseiden (Sega Master System)

An open-ended platformer in which you play as a samurai named Hayato, traveling across Edo-era Japan in order to kill an evil warlock and restore peace.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Sega Master System)

An absolute classic for the system. Alex Kidd, formerly Sega’s mascot, is a fella with big ears and big fists who sets out to save his kingdom with the power of rock-paper-scissors and a wide assortment of vehicles.

Fantasy Zone (Sega Master System)

A shoot-em-up with bright graphics and a fun soundtrack. I used rapid fire in this playthrough, but I have another video here in which I didn’t.

Snail Maze (Sega Master System)

A small hidden game that was built into the BIOS of every model 1 Master System released outside of Japan. Boot up the console without a cartridge or card inserted, then press Up+1+2 when it tells you how to play a game. If your BIOS version has other games built-in, simply hold down that button combination on the Sega screen.

Enduro Racer (Sega Master System)

Race against the clock, earn points by passing other vehicles, and then use those points to upgrade your bike. Just by happenstance, I managed to record my best time yet.

If I find the time to record and post more playthroughs, I’ll probably blog about them, too. We’ll see.

Castle of Illusion (Mega Drive) — Specifically Hard Mode

More specifically my inability to clear it at this point in time… though I do have a lot to say about it.

It occurs to me that I kinda stopped using this blog after I gave up on 1cc-ing Space Harrier. Granted, it was starting to turn into a chore, and I was running out of ways to say “I’m still dying to the same shit every time” day after day. I took to Twitter to talk about the games I was playing instead, feeling like I’d set a standard for this blog that was too high for casual rambling.

But you know what? Fuck that. My blog, my rules. I’ll talk about whatever I want to, going into as much or as little detail as I want to. I won’t necessarily introduce the games any more than necessary, either, nor will I litter each blog post with screenshots if it’s too much of a hassle to do so. This is primarily meant to be for me to look back on, anyway, so from here on out, raw, unfiltered thoughts galore.

And we’re starting this new era of the blog with a game I’ve been biting my teeth out on all morning and afternoon: see title.

Normal is a simple enough difficulty, and one I can get through casually no problem with only a few lives (or tries, as the game insists on calling them) lost. Hard, on the other hand… is stupidly difficult. Here’s a list of differences (although I probably missed some):

  • You start with only two units of life (although you can still fill it up to a maximum of five).
  • Much less items scattered throughout the levels, specifically 1-ups and throwing items.
  • If you lose a life, you lose all your throwing items.
  • No continues.
  • There are a lot more enemies, especially flying enemies.
  • Bosses are faster, trickier, and take more hits to defeat.
  • Changes to the level layout, such as additional moving platforms or collapsing floors.

This actually completely changes the way you increase your score. On Normal, most of your score really comes from defeating bosses (10,000 points) and level clear bonuses: a flat bonus of at least 10,000 points, 1,000 points per unit of life remaining (or 10,000 if you’re at full health), and 1,000 points per throwing item you have left (up to 30,000). Given that you earn your first extra life at 40,000 points and subsequent ones every 50,000 thereafter, as well as the fact that Normal is very generous with the amount of throwing items it gives you, and it’s quite easy to rack up lives this way.

On Hard, however, things are a lot different. Because throwing items are so rare, the only time you can even get a full stock (30) is in level 2. Other than that, you’re not getting much out of the level clear bonuses. On the other hand, enemies yield double the points when defeated, and since there are so many of them, they add up and very quickly pick up the slack. I wouldn’t be surprised if the scoring potential on Hard is considerably higher than on Normal, but I can’t yet play good enough to confirm that.

Level 1 is still simple enough, aside from section 3 (spider webs and leaves). The addition of moving platforms makes things extremely tricky, and there’s one section where a moving platform actually intersects with a static platform, which confuses the game engine and has actually gotten me killed once. The other issue is a nearly unavoidable leaf butterfly that comes at you from below right as you land on a platform that will start moving as soon as you land on it. The boss messed me up a bit, too, but you’re safe on the left edge of the screen, and even if you wait for the acorns to drop, you’ll still have just enough time to get a hit in.

Level 2 is absolutely swarming with enemies, but the only ones that are an issue are the clowns on unicycles. The boss can probably be cheesed by just sitting at the left edge of the screen.

Level 3 is the first major difficulty spike. Bats everywhere, especially around where you need to bounce off some mushrooms for two much-needed life pickups. Section 2 has some tricky platforming, but is tolerable. Section 3, on the other hand, is a nightmare: you’re moving through a corridor which gets flooded periodically, at which point you need to retreat to higher ground until the flood subsides. If you get caught in it, you take some damage and — worse — get flushed back a significant distance (the current moves much slower on Normal). There’s one section in particular that requires cruelly tight timing to get through, and you pretty much have to abuse the fact that you move faster by jumping, otherwise you simply won’t make it to the next platform in time. At least the boss is fairly simple.

Level 4 is as far as I got in all my attempts. Your worst nightmare are the “A”s that jump at you at just the right time that you would jump on them. Sure, you could just let them sail over you, but they’d still come at you from behind, and with how small and agile they are, they’re really difficult to actually jump on. And then there’s the boss, which is the first one that’s genuinely difficult not just for the fact that you probably only get two hits before you die. It’s difficult to predict, so unless it has a pattern that it follows every time, I don’t see myself getting past it anytime soon.

May provide an update if I get past this point.

Space Harrier (SMS) — Day 6

Made three attempts total today. Could’ve done more, but I was starting to get tilted. And given the fact that I even did that many attempts in one day, you can probably predict that most of them weren’t very good…

Starting off attempt 10 was two deaths in stage 2 and a Game Over in stage 3 — already a horrendous start. Another Game Over immediately followed in stage 4, then, predictably, stage 6, and my attempt ended for good in stage 9.

That said, though, I felt like I was starting to develop something resembling a strategy. See, just blindly mashing the fire button doesn’t do much good, since you can only have about 4-5 projectiles on-screen at any given time, so there’ll inevitably be gaps in your fire. Thinking back, this is probably what got me killed several times. So what I’m trying to do instead now is to not fire unnecessarily so I don’t get screwed over by stray shots that haven’t left the screen yet, instead opting for short burtsts of fire that so far have proven much more reliable.

Attempt 11 had me Game-Overing in stage 2 in a pretty bullshit way (I got hit by the boss’s remaining faces from behind), so I didn’t even bother continuing and just started over.

Which brings us to attempt 11. Another early Game Over in stage 3, but much to my utter amazement, I only died a single time throughout all of stage 6. Needless to say, my aforementioned strategy was beginning to bear fruit. Other continues were bled in stages 8 and 10, though, and my tilted ass was finally put out of its misery in stage 11.

For stages 4 and 9, I really should stop bothering trying to shoot anything. Lining myself up where the shootable enemies spawn usually ends with me running into a tower or getting caught between one and a bullet. I’m better off just dodging everything. As for the stage 9 boss, positioning is key, because it gets really nasty if I don’t speedkill it.

All things considered, I didn’t get any farther than before, but I did learn a few new things. Only a matter of applying them now.

Space Harrier (SMS) — Day 5

I made charts to gauge my progress.

Finally had the opportunity to hook up the console again, so after some initial starting difficulties (due to dust somehow getting onto the cartridge’s contacts again despite the fact that I keep it stored in its clamshell case at all times), I sat down for another attempt.

Died once each to the bosses from stage 2 and 3, so that run was off to a very wobbly start already. I did surprisingly well in stage 6, though, all things considered. Sure, I still ended up continuing, but I only had two deaths total. I’d say the right mindset definitely helps.

Stage 9, on the other hand, was a trainwreck. I lost count of exactly how many times I died in it, but by the time I got to stage 10, I’d already used a second continue and was down to my last life for the current credit. Nevertheless, despite my previous complaints about stage 10, I somehow got through it pretty smoothly, no deaths whatsoever. I did end up using my third continue in stage 11, though, and my run ended very early into stage 13.

I was a bit disappointed, but reading back on my previous notes, this is only the second time I actually got to the second bonus stage, which makes this one of my best runs to date — possibly even the best run, since I finished with a score of about 12 million. Still no second extra life, though… I wonder if you get that at 15 million, but if so, that wouldn’t be until nearly the very end of the game.

That said, in order to see whether or not I was really improving, I used the data from my journaling in order to create some graphs:

…and overall, I’d say that what I’ve got here so far does actually hint at some improvement.

Starting with the graph for my overall progress. Ignoring the valley where I got an early Game Over in stage 2 and pretty much just gave up on that run, you’ll notice that I started off using my first continue fairly early on (generally stage 3), but it’s been fluctuating pretty wildly ever since, with the usual trend being a Game Over in stage 6, though at one point I lasted as long as until stage 9. It is my assumption that, as I continue making attempts, this blue line will start converging further up the graph, signifying that I’m becoming more consistent with the first half of the game.

Interestingly, I seem to be a lot more consistent with where I use my second and third continues, given how the red and yellow lines look. The current range seems to be around stages 8 to 10, so it’s the middle of the game especially. You’ll also notice that usually not a lot of time passes between the second and third continues being used, with me always using them within 1-2 stages of each other, as opposed to the amount of time I can potentially last before or after using my first continue.

Obviously the goal at the moment is to spread those credits out as much as possible. It’s readily apparent looking at the orange bar chart right next to the one we just looked at that this might take a while, though: The biggest takeaway from that is that stages 6 and 9 are the biggest difficulty spikes so far, with the Game Over counts gradually increasing from stage 7 onwards.

Time will tell if I’ll be able to overcome those spikes eventually. After today, I’m cautiously optimistic with stage 6, at least. Mastering stage 9 might be much further off still, but I’ll consider it a victory for myself if I can get to a point where I don’t lose most of my first continues until then.

Space Harrier (SMS) — Day 4

Not all days can be filled with progress.

This is gonna be more of a vent than a journal. I made two attempts, but haven’t made any significant progress or improvements in either of them.

The one thing I did find that I was doing better at was the first bonus stage. In both attempts, the counter ended up at three large trees and one small tree (I didn’t pay particularly close attention to how many small trees a large tree equals), which I’m pretty sure is my highest yet. I’m playing for survival, though, not score, so just getting through the first bonus stage earns me an extra life either way.

On the flipside, stage 6 continues to be this stupidly insurmountable difficulty spike out of nowhere (seriously, the game doesn’t actually get that hard again until at least stage 10). I can deal with the jet planes — provided I can anticipate them — but it’s the god damn robots that keep eating my lives. I know I’m repeating myself at this point, but it can’t be overstated how dumb they are: they move way too fast to reliably hit, but if you don’t shoot them down in time, they start rapid-firing bullets that I swear are aimed ahead of you sometimes. I’ve yet to find any way to consistently dodge those bullets, and to add insult to injury, whenever the robots do stop moving for a while, it’s usually just beyond the edge of the screen where you literally can’t even hit them with your shots.

And since I brought up stage 10 in passing, let’s talk about that, too. It’s got those huge mushrooms that are indestructible and have to be evaded, but they’re packed so densely at times that I tend to get funneled into situations where either they form a dead end or I just don’t get enough time to move out of the way. Add enemy bullets that have to be dodged at the same time, and you’ve got the recipe for endless frustration.

Although my views for today might be tainted because I honest-to-god got tilted towards the end. All the game’s jank is starting to get to me, it seems.

Overall, I just have an unreasonably hard time hitting literally anything, even perfectly stationary ground obstacles. I can be mashing the fire button until my thumb gets blisters and still end up running head-first into a rock or a mushroom and lose a life because ?????. And flying enemies? Forget it. By the time I get to, like, stage 7 or 8, it’s like they just stop having a hitbox half the time.

It feels like all the memo in the world isn’t gonna help me if I literally can’t even hit anything. Am I going to get any better at this over time at all? It does suck that I can’t practice individual stages, otherwise I’d probably just spend an entire day grinding stage 6… but on the other hand, all the practice in the world won’t help if I just end up getting tilted.

Maybe I should just write today off as a bad day. Take a few days off from the game — not like I have much of a choice, anyway; I won’t be getting the opportunity to hook up the console for a while.

Space Harrier (SMS) — Day 3

Only had time for a single attempt today, which we’ll dub attempt 6, but it was far and away my best attempt out of them all.

For starters, I got to the first bonus stage without a single death, which is already a first. Too bad stage 6 was being stage 6 again and proceeded to steal all my lives from me, though fortunately I managed to get through it with all my continues still intact.

Stage 9 is where I eventually bled my first continue. Dodging bullets in addition to the towers coming at me at breakneck speed is proving to be a bit much, and I’m going to have to work on my positioning for this one, maybe start memorizing where the enemies come from so I can at least try to spawnkill them.

The boss of the stage wrecked my shit, too, costing me another two lives, and two more continues were used in stage 10 (died to a ground obstacle I’m pretty sure was in my line of fire the whole time) and 11 (to robots — what else?).

This is, however, the first time I actually reached the second bonus stage. Despite my expectations, though, I didn’t get an extra life at 10 million. Wondering if maybe I got it at 9 million or so without even realizing it, or if you get it at a later score threshold… or if there even is a second extend to be had. If there isn’t, and I can only afford to die a total of three times over the course of all 18 stages, then whew.

Anyway, run ended on stage 13, due to — you guessed it — more robots. It’s insane how fast their projectiles are, to the point where even constantly moving in one direction isn’t enough: if you’re moving in the wrong direction, you get clipped, plain and simple. It might be easier to dodge them vertically, though. I’ll have to see about that next time.

Never got this far before, though, and it’s only the third day of me playing. Hell, I didn’t even use continues until just shy of halfway through the game.