While most developers are scrambling to come to grips with their next generation tools ("more polygons than ever before!!!"), it's good to see a few publishers out there keeping old school gaming alive and kicking. Working Designs (still fighting the good fight) brings us Ray Crisis, Taito's final game in the series that started with Layer Section (Galactic Attack on the Saturn) and Raystorm. You can call me crazy, but I think that software developer Taito is run by aliens- how else to explain their seemingly endless fascination with and top-notch quality of their futuristic shooters? From the classic simplicity of Space Invaders and Night Striker, to modern classics like the Darius series, it almost seems as if the programmers were themselves created simply for the purpose of making games like this. Ray Crisis continues the trend, and shooter fans will no doubt lock on to this one as well- it's another great one.
Yes, there's the usual "aliens out to destroy all" storyline, but the game throws a few interesting curves your way, such as a stage select that lets you play the same stage over (if you want to) until you reach the final boss. There are also two modes of play that make the game somehow keep ending up in your PS on a regular basis. Like Layer Section, movement is primarily vertical, but the game also has a few nice cinematic camera changes like Raystorm thrown in for good measure. In addition to the stage select, you can also choose the number of ships per game, which affects your overall score and whatever bonuses you acquire at the game's end. Interestingly enough, in Original mode you only get one Special weapon per ship, so proper deployment of this is a bit crucial, as you can imagine. Unfortunately, the game is only single player this time out, so forget all about having a friend join in on the fun, except as a cheerleader. Well, you can always take turns to see who does better…
The environments in the game vary from futuristic 3D cityscapes, to a desert with a lethal lake of lava at the end, to a wild, confusing cyber-grid construction- all loaded with enemies out to ruin your mission. Things get way too chaotic to actually stop and enjoy the scenery, however. You have a choice of 3 ships, each with different weapon loadouts and targeting ranges. The gameplay in Ray Crisis is all about encroachment (and I don't mean that awful movie with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones-Douglas, har de har). Success in the game comes from keeping the encroachment level down as low as possible by sweeping the screen and target multiple enemies and taking them out with a single shot from your lock-on weapon.
The bosses however, are another story altogether- Even if you're fully powered up, expect to spend some quality time avoiding death by micro-inches, should you be so skilled. After each level, you're given a letter grade, which is tallied up and averaged at the end of the game. Sounds a lot like a college course, no? Anyway, you have to defeat the final boss with a set number of attempts or you get the bad ending after he blows up. At least you'll get to listen to some choice techno-lite as you play through the game. The music is good in that it never gets in the way of the action, but I don't think Zuntata has ever done a score that didn't make someone smile.
The main game itself seems pretty short, but this is a bit deceptive. First of all, you'll be getting D's and C's the first couple of times you play, and you can do SO much better than that (I'm so disappointed in you). So you'll have to go back and learn all the patterns and keep theat encroachment low until you can better your score. This is also sound dating advice, and proof that video games are truly an educational experience. The more times you play, the better you get, and you'll open up more pictures in the Art Gallery section. Also, Working Designs really loves you- they even left in the super cool mini-game Pocket Ray, for those of you who have Japanese Pocket Stations handy. All this, and the game gets the usual WD treatment: a foil-stamped, full color manual with some interesting translation notes, and promises of more quality ports to come.
This is also the last game under the Spaz label, as Working Designs has gone back to the sweeter-smelling Ultra Series tag for their newer ports. This may confuse the pocket protector wearing types for a few minutes, but I like the sound of the new old name better anyway. Besides, with games like Gun Griffon Blaze and Silpheed: The Lost Planet for the PS2 on the way, it's great to see that WD is committed to bringing gamers here in the States great titles we wouldn't see otherwise.
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