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)
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 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.