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Astro Trooper Vanark
Platform:  Playstation
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Bit Town
Publisher:  Asmik Ace
Features:  Dual Shock
Ratings:  Rating Pending
Memory Req.:  
Info:  http://
Over the past few years, Japan seemed to go through some sort of nostalgic phase, in terms of videogame ideas. The trend of creating new console titles either based on, or inspired by older science-fiction, sentai, or anime series produced some really memorable and amazing games. Gamera 2000, Kamen Rider, Remote Control Dandy, Geppy-X, Space Cruiser Yamato, and K(Tech Romancer) were a few of the many games that lucky import buyers got, and U.S. gamers have been left out in the cold, until later this month when Astro Trooper Vanark blasts its way onto store shelves. While it's far from original, or perfection, this game has more pure excitement in it than any Playstation game i've played so far this year.

The game opens in the year 2200 with an amazing CG cinema of a colonized Mars being bombarded by huge meteors- whole cities are smashed to flaming dust, despite worldwide attempts to shoot down the huge rocks with hundreds upon hundreds of missles. Meahwhile, in space a massivedefense fleet (and I mean THOUSANDS of ships, wait 'til you see them) is launching an assault on some even bigger asteroids, which seem to be controlled by a central planet-sized mass. Lets just say that nothing works, and the survivors barely escape with their lives, in a transport of sorts with one fighter ship in the cargo bay... the aliens are now headed toward Earth- can you stop them?!!

Yes, Vanark is a shooter, and a great one at that. It tries to mix two distinctly different types of gameplay, and falls flat there, but the shooting action is all good. The main game resembles a cross between Starfox and the old arcade shooter Astron Belt (10 points if you remember that one!), but there are no annoying wingmen to blip-blip-blap at you here. There is a cute robot sidekick co-pilot (who's a bit annoying), but that's the extent of the comic relief. Actually, the game borrows loads of references from other shooters, but it's done so well, that you'll most definitely forgive the programmers' indulgences. Each of the seven stages has you soaring about assorted locations blasting a wide variety of mostly well-designed enemies and massive bosses. The game is a bit on the short side, if you're a die-hard shooter maniac, and you'll probably finish it in a day or two, but you'll be playing this game to death almost daily, until you see everything it has to offer.

In between stages, your character gets to run about the transport ship, courtesy of a third- person, Resident Evil-style control scheme, but don't expect too much from this. With the exception of walking in on one of the female characters while she's in the shower (tastefully done, by the way), and a brief maze sequence that actually affects one of the levels played, these sections are a bit weak. It's as if the developers were doing two games at the same time, and decided to combine them to save money. Maybe they realized that the game was too fast paced, so they decided to extend things by adding the walkabout areas, but except for the nice music in the bar (yep, a bar!), there's not much excitement onboard. Well, you do meet and choose your navigator, and loadout weapons for each mission, but you don't buy a shooter to stand around and look at your shoes between levels.

Vanark's strongpoint is it's dynamic, on-rails action, over and through some really amazing, though derivatively designed levels- there are multiple paths, and you'll always feel as if you missed something after each level ends- this is where the replayability factor comes in. The feel of the game is a cross between an old Japanese sci-fi film (the ship design and overall visual style), combined with today's polygon technology, and the result is so distinctive, yet highly accessible. You'll streak over and through raging, sea monster filled seas, flaming caverns, and deep space areas, each filled with cinematic action and incredible effects. For everyone who complained about Omega Boost's lack of background graphics, Vanark more than makes up for it in the first three levels. There's even a nod to Gamera 2000, as you get to pilot a speeder bike in one level! Like in Panzer Dragoon, you're graded accordingly after each area, and it seems that this affects the number of continues that you get, and perhaps weapons selection.

Musically, the game is near perfect, with appropriately heroic tunes to blast those aliens to powder to, as well as some nice ambient music in the transport scenes. Sound effects are also very well done, and you'll also be well served if you have a dual shock controller to really get you into the action. There's a flight simulator training level, which is VERY Starfox-inspired, and i was a little disappointed there, until the actual game began. But I ended up back in the simulator after every level, if only to see if i could beat my previous score. This is the sort of game that deserves a wider audience that it's probably going to get, but I can see some of the "pro" magazines not doing this one justice at all.

In the end, Astro Trooper Vanark is a really well done, fast-paced and involving shooter that doesn't break any new ground, but is solid enough to find it's way onto your game collection. When it comes out here later this month, do yourself a favor, pick it up- play it, and tell a friend about it- that's how legends are born.

Greg Wilcox

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