Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Computer Shmups #2

Cybernoid: The Fighting Machine (1987)
By: Raffaele Cecco / Hewson Consultants Genre: Shooting / Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 3,825
Also Available For: NES, Amiga, Atari St, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Before the days of the internet, us gamers had to rely on magazine reviews to tell us which titles we should add to our collections. One that received unanimous acclaim from all of them was Cybernoid, but once I duly purchased it (or received it as a gift, as was more likely the case!), I found myself with a different opinion. Being a Raffaele Cecco game, the quality of the graphics and presentation were a given, but it wasn't as nice to play as it was to look at for me, with the unforgiving difficulty and frustrating nature of the gameplay quickly turning me off. But that was a long time ago and, while I've never been the most talented of gamers and my meagre skills haven't exactly improved over the intervening years, I nonetheless figured it was time to revisit this much-loved classic to see if it finally captivated me the way it apparently did so many other gamers.

These things are the toughest parts of the game for me...
Like most shmups, the objective is simple enough - the 'Federation' storage depots have been raided by pirates and it's your job to retrieve the minerals, jewels, and ammunition they've taken which are spread over three tough flick-screen stages featuring a total of fifty-six screens. These feature a mix of stationary defences like wall-mounted guns and motion-sensitive missiles, obstacles such as destructible blocks and devices with uppy-downy things between pillars (like the one to the right here), and the enemy raiders themselves which consist of small-but-infinite ships. Destroying the latter is the only way to finish the game 'properly' too, as they're the ones that carry the stolen booty. Some of them, when destroyed, will drop whatever they're carrying, and you have to collect enough of it within the time allowed. Doing this gives you bonus points as well as an extra life at the end of the stage.

That thing that looks like a bee hive is a dangerous gun...
If you don't collect enough stuff or the time limit runs down, you can still progress but with no bonuses. Your ship, known as the Cybernoid, strangely enough, is equipped with several weapons. The default, and only unlimited example, is its pea-shooter gun which is enough to take out destructible blocks and the many pirate spacecraft, but the other weapons should be used sparingly. They are selected using the 1-5 keys and include bombs, impact mines, a defence shield, bounce bombs, and seeker (homing missile). Though limited, these can all be replenished (albeit slowly) by collecting any weapon cannisters dropped by the pirates, and if you're lucky you might also find a 'Cybermace', which whirls around your ship smacking up all it touches, or a handy rear-firing attachment, and both last until you lose a life. Despite all these gadgets, though, Cybernoid is still a very challenging game, although inconsistently so.

Looks like a 'bounce bomb' is called for here...
Some screens, for example, are a piece of cake and feature little of concern but others can be brutal. Even some of the easier ones will claim a good few lives before you get the hang of them while others remain super-tough every time you encounter them. Only some of the screens include pirate ships but those that do feature an unending swarm of them, and if the screen also has a gun or a wall-hugging caterpillar thing or some other hazard, they can be a nightmare to pass. A big part of the reason is that your ship is affected by gravity which makes some obstacles much harder than they would've otherwise been. I guess it has to be rather difficult though, since it's actually quite a short game. You'll return to the start if you do manage to finish it but there are only three distinct levels and they could be bested by a more talented gamer than me in a not-too-colossal fifteen minutes. It's a pretty addictive game too, so you may see at least a majority of what's on offer pretty quickly.

Eeek, lots of pirate ships attack!
Unless you end up destroying your computer first, obviously! Part of the appeal, and almost certainly what dazzled the reviewers back in its day, is down to the graphics, and dazzling they are too! Sprites and landscapes are very detailed but even more impressive is the abundance of colour, and there's not even much clash either. Sound is minimal for 48k users but the 128k version has a very impressive (if repetitive) tune that tootles away throughout. Indeed, it's still a mighty impressive game today, and watching a skilled player blast through it would make it seem amazing, but I still found it a bit too frustrating to play for long. It's a bit of an odd mixture of styles actually - mostly shoot 'em up but with gravity game elements (though it's not a 'true' gravity game) and some puzzley aspects to a few of the obstacles, and they work very well together - I just wish it was a bit easier. Cybernoid is still very much a showcase Speccy title but it'll probably have you tearing your hair out too.

RKS Score: 7/10


  1. I echo your opinion and found it too frustrating to put much time into - I don't know what the reviewers of the time were thinking.

    If I remember correctly the 16-bit versions are even tougher!

  2. I guess they were just bowled over by the graphics - it does look really nice after all, even now still. I haven't dared to play the 16-bit versions but I had a quick look at the NES version. It's a bit strange it even made it to that system but it's a weird version too (>.<)