It's been too long since we had a classic 2D space shooter; something like Gradius or Life Force. Fortunately developer Hudson Soft chose to gift us with just such a shooter for the Virtual Boy in 1995. Entitled Vertical Force, the game follows the same cliched plot as shooter cousin Red Alarm: the master computer of the planet Odin, Mittgard, gained sentience, ran amok, acquired control of all the machines on the planet, and began exterminating the human colonists. It's up to you and your ship (the only ship Mittgard can't control, incidentially) to strike back and bring peace back to the planet. You'll be doing this through a top-down viewpoint in which there are two levels: upper and lower. You can switch levels as your leisure to avoid waves of enemies or obstacles with a push of the A button. The L and R buttons fire your primary weapon, the left control pad steers your ship, and should you happen to enslave any drones that are floating around the levels, you can control them with the right control pad + Select buttons and detonate them with the B button, causing all enemies on the screen to take damage.

There are a total of five stages in the game, with the first four being divided into four parts: first half of level, midlevel boss, second half of level, level boss. The fifth level is the showdown with Mittgard. The levels go by quickly, but with three levels of difficulty to the game you'll probably be busy for a while. Each stage is loaded with enemies that shoot at you, so obviously you'd going to have to shoot back. There are three different classes of weapons available to you and each has three levels of power. Your arsenal includes the laser, (denoted by L icons) which fires a vertical beam straight ahead of your ship; the shield (denoted by S icons) which form a protective barrier around your ship; and the wide shot (denoted by W icons) that shoot wide angle bullets from various directions. By picking up the aforementioned icons, your ship's weapon power increases. Taking damage decreases the weapon power, and too much damage causes your ship to explode.

Vertical Force is certainly enjoyable enough, but like most Virtual Boy games there is not outstanding features that makes it a must-have game. Its graphics are collections of scaling sprites as opposed to the wire frame of Red Alarm, but there's nothing very spectacular about them. If you're searching for your own copy of the game you'd best check eBay or other online auctions, and even then you're more likely to find the Japanese version distributed by Hudson Soft as opposed to the American version distributed by Nintendo itself. There's no text in the game, however, so your language skills don't matter. Get moving; Mittgard is waiting.


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