Thursday, 28 August 2014

PlayStation Shmups #1

Airgrave (1996)
By: Santos Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sony PlayStation First Day Score: 156,200 (one credit)
Also Available For: Nothing

Foom, peeyoww! The greatest title screen of all-time?
Sony's debut console might not be most famous for shmups but there are quite a few available for it, many of them exclusively, and yet one that I've barely heard anything about is Airgrave. This could mean that it sucks arse of course but, whatever the reason, my curiosity to learn its secrets has hastened the start of this series of features! It was a Japan-only release so the story is largely incomprehensible to me but it's clear that we're in the usual territory. It's a military-style vertical scroller (as opposed to a spacey one) and it seems your objective, as laid down by some gruff-looking general type, is to destroy various targets on a pre-stage map screen, presumably bases and strongholds of some dastardly evil dictator or something. You get to choose between four different craft for this testing mission, each varying in terms of its ground attack, air attack, mobility, and defence, as well as its pilot.

The Mitia bombs the crap out of some tanks...

The Arys (as piloted by a dashing fellow called Aine) is the standard all-rounder, the Gamma (flown by Randy) has strong attack and defence but poor manoeuvrability, the Swift-C (piloted by a young lady called Reny) is agile and has strong air attack, and the Mitia (flown by Vel, a purple-haired girly) excels at ground attacks and also has strong defensive abilities. As you might've now guessed, that means Airgrave features both airborne enemies such as jets and helicopters, and less mobile ground based counterparts like tanks and missile batteries. All four of the selectable aircraft can therefore fire a forward cannon to take out the former, as well as drop short-range bombs for the latter, although some aircraft fly at lower altitudes and need to be bombed as well. Holding down the fire button rather than pressing it rapidly will also bring up a target area which enables you to lock on to any enemies within.

Lots and tanks and gunboats on this stage...

Handily, the cannon and bombs are fired simultaneously and both are unlimited too, but each craft also has a few 'special attacks' which definitely are limited. More can be found by collecting the relevant coloured orb things left behind by certain destroyed enemies and there are others to power-up your weapons (the cannon evolves into a spread-shot) and restore part of your shields, the strength of which is determined by your chosen craft's 'defence' rating. Destroying some targets, usually ones on the ground, also releases gold, silver, or bronze icons for bonus points. Most enemies are fairly easy to take out too, and many are found on several stages of which there are eight fairly short examples in total, named thus: Attack on the Front Base, Sea Side Base, York City at Night, High Up in the Sky, Fly Over River In the Vally [sic], Sky Fortress, Inside of the Sky Fortress, and The Final Mission.

The Swift-C is indeed a swift and agile craft...
The presentation throughout the game is fantastic including superb title, menu, and options screens, decent between-stage cut-scenes relaying the story (anime-style and in Japanese of course), there's some nice attention to detail such as soldiers running around on the ground (and yes, you can bomb them) and passing over lovely 3D skyscrapers, and each boss gets a flashy 3D flyby too, while their various statistics are displayed. Even the cover art and instruction book artwork are top-notch. It all creates a great first impression but the actual game is a bit less impressive. The terrain through each of the stages is pretty samey, consisting of all the usual stuff like fields, forests, rivers, seas, rocky areas, and of course the odd enemy base or installation festooned with defences, and the enemy army, whilst well drawn, is also made up of few different types of craft (although they do look cool).

The Gamma's special attack takes out a group of bombers...

Even the larger bosses are mostly just generic large aircraft - they all look slightly different but most of them use very similar attacks, and they're not actually very tough to defeat either. Indeed, Airgrave is a surprisingly fair game for its type. There are five difficulty levels to choose from (although this only appears to affect the number of credits), the collision detection is forgiving, and when you use a credit you keep your power-ups and restart from the point you died (but lose score). The stages aren't too bad either. There are bursts of more intense action when the screen is awash with enemies/bullets, but much of the time things are fairly manageable. The only problem is that it doesn't stand out in any way as a game. Visually it's pretty nice but a bit repetitive, and the same goes for the audio, but there's really nothing here that hasn't been seen in numerous other titles before.

Eeek! Scary giant cannons are a familiar sight here...

I suppose it must be tough to keep coming up with new ideas for so many shmups but there's nothing distinctive here at all. About the most unusual feature is the lock-on system but I didn't really find it nearly as useful as equivalents in other games - it's more effective to just keep pumping the cretinous enemies full of normal bullets. There's actually a bit of a doujin-ish air about this game at times, I found (albeit one of the top quality ones), but despite all this apparent mediocrity I still found that I rather enjoyed playing through it. Admittedly this could well be because it's not as insanely hard as most shmups from the same era - more skilled shmuppers than me (ie. most!) might even get bored before reaching the climax of the already-fleeting experience, but I'd still recommend giving it a go. Just don't expect anything special...

RKS Score: 6/10


  1. Never heard of this one! Looking at YouTube, there's a nice mix of sprites and polygons going on - I'll love anything even remotely Raiden-ish, so it's currently getting downloaded in order to be converted to the PSP. Should be worth it.

  2. Hey man :) You're not alone, I hadn't heard of it a couple of months ago and most people I've spoken to since posting the review hadn't heard of it either! It's not a bad game though, hope you enjoy it :)