Thursday, 17 May 2018

Arcade Shmups #25

Plus Alpha (1989)
By: Jaleco Genre: Shooting Players: 1-2 (alternate) Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 254,500 (one credit)
Also Available For: Nothing

It's unusual for me to find a shoot 'em up I've never heard of, what with them being one of my favourite genres and all, but here's one from Jaleco which popped onto my radar only recently thanks to the RGF Shmup League. It wasn't very popular with those guys as I recall, but I quite liked the look of it so... let's take a look! Lord only knows if it has a back-story - I assume so judging by the title screen film reel which shows a few stills of stuff happening - but it was released in Japan only as I understand it, and converted to no home systems, so it's likely I'm far from the only one who has never heard of it, and detailed info on the game and/or its background appears to be rather on the scarce side!

I should be able to tell enough just from playing it though. It's quite clear that it's a vertical-scroller, for example, with a playfield slightly wider than one screen. I can also confirm there are seven stages in total, most of which follow rather generic themes. The first, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a grassy stage with nice trees and occasional cloud-cover, while later examples are based around watery, snowy, and sandy themes to name a few. Your transport through them is a stubby little red plane which splutters along at a fairly slow pace but it's armed quite well. As has a twin cannon as well as diagonal-firing rockets as standard and can also unleash fiery doom by way of its bombs.

It only carries a few of these of course, but they can be replenished in addition to your guns being powered-up. This is where I start getting a bit hazy. There are many collectibles - shooting certain enemies leaves fruits, hearts or stars drifting around the screen and you will also find tiles on the ground bearing the likeness of certain vegetables. As far as I can tell, these are only for points. You will also regularly encounter a floaty capsule marked with alternating letters which determine the configuration of your plane and its 'side' weapon. The rockets you start the game with are 'P' while 'J' and 'H' replace them with wibbly blobs and darting arrows of death (my preference) respectively.

The last pickup I can think of looks a bit like those inkblot things psychologists use to test patients, and these replace your twin shot with a couple of similar alternatives. All these power-ups do offer a number of different weapon shapes/arrangements at varying power levels, but they all seemed quite similar to me if I'm honest and their confusing nature means you'll probably keep changing weapons when you don't want to at first. It's pretty good fun anyway though, at least to begin with, thanks to some pleasant audio/visuals. The varied backgrounds might not be original in theme but there are a few interesting features here and there and some of the enemy sprites are great.

Some of them are pretty cute with many as stumpy as our hero. We're not too far from full-on cute 'em up territory here, actually! Some of the bosses are great too - I particularly like the hermit crab creature on the second stage who lobs almost danmaku levels of bullets at you if you give him the chance, and the stonking fire dragon of the fourth stage which appears from atop a live volcano! There is also some nice plinky-plonky music to accompany the action which reminded me at times of a golf game rather than a shoot 'em up for some reason, but it's pleasant anyway. You may find, however, that appreciation of these things decreases the further into the game you manage to get.

This is mainly down to the game's rather punishing difficulty which really picks up by the third stage. It isn't helped by occasionally sticky and generally rather imprecise controls but I think it's more down to an uneven difficulty curve and some questionable stage design as well. As mentioned, the stages are themed and named thus: Wind Country, Sea Colony, Flower Town, Snow Country, Sand City, Dark Sodom, and Eden. They should last a skilled and/or determined player around 30 minutes, although about half of that time will be spent on the final stage, but most of us probably won't even reach it. None of the stages are super easy to begin with but most have difficulty spikes too.

This is usually when there are some mid-sized enemies about which sometimes seem to take as many hits as bosses to destroy. Perhaps they are even intended as mid-bosses but the sections in which they appear are a right pain either way, and you'll probably end up using at least one bomb (which take different forms depending on which aircraft config you're using, by the way). The backgrounds can occasionally obscure enemy bullets too - the fluttering petals in the rather garish (though still pleasantly-themed) Flower Town are a great example of this. On the plus side, the game is pretty generous with restart points and extra lives (the latter, amongst other things can be earned in a weird twirling panel bonus game) so progress isn't impossible if you like it, and I'm sure some players would as it's not a terrible game. For most of us though, its lack of innovation means it does little to stand out from what - let's face it - is (or was) a very crowded genre, and its irritating flaws and high difficulty after the third stage (perhaps unfairly so) make it frustrating to play. I guess it's okay in short bursts if you have the patience, so give its stumpy little plane a test flight if you like the look of it, but I think I'll pass...

RKS Score: 5/10

Gameplay Video: here's a video of the whole game being played by a talented fellow called Zolpidem. Don't watch if you want to avoid spoilers!



  1. Looks more like Cute Em Up (Mushihime, Twinbee etc)

    1. Yeah, it definitely isn't far off that sort of thing :)