Occasionally difficult to see what you’re shooting
DATELINE: January 1999 Issue
1980s-Style Shoot-’em-Up Scores Big
By Cameron Crotty
Perhaps Ambrosia Software should consider a name changesomething along the lines of Children of Galaga or Old Skool Software. No other company has gotten so much mileage out of renovating mid-1980s arcade hits. Mars Rising is the latest installment in the series, and while it riffs on a familiar theme, the entertaining shoot-’em-up proves that sometimes it ain’t the song; it’s the way you sing it.
Mars Rising needs a back story about as much as a Steven Seagal movie needs a plot. But for all you arcade rats moonlighting as method actors, here’s an explanation for the game’s mayhem: Martian rebels (or patriots) have attacked and destroyed nearly all Terran military forces on Mars and in Martian airspace. You must counterattack, using the advanced Terran Vac-Fighter to destroy the Martian Defense Forces on the ground and in the air.
With your conscience soothed (or with dreams of conquest stoked), you are dropped into the cockpit of a fighter-bomber winging over a two-dimensional landscape that scrolls at a constant rate from the top to the bottom of the screen. Your mission: as you fly, gun down incoming aerial enemies and drop bombs on ground targets. Completely destroying a squadron of airborne baddies nets you either a star (which converts to points at the end of the level) or a power-up. Power-ups enhance your ship’s capabilities in many ways, including increasing your shield capacity and increasing the number of bombs or bullets you fire per salvo. It’s possible to fly for a while without this assistance, but power-ups are essential to surviving later levels.
Brightly colored and vaguely cartoonish, Mars Rising’s graphics could have been lifted from a stand-up arcade machine. The busy, constantly changing landscape and tendency for enemy forces to explode messily make it difficult to identify live threats and incoming fire, but that’s the price you pay for the game’s fast and furious pace. Ambrosia backs the carnage with thumping techno soundtracks and plenty of sound effects to help you sort out the action.
Play Mars Rising solo or with a friend, in which case you compete for points and power-ups. Two-player action must take place on a single machine, as Mars Rising has no provision for network play. You can control your vehicle with the keyboard or mouse, but if you plan to spend much time with Mars Rising, find a good joystick or game pad.
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