Allow me to share with you a short email conversation between myself and Niero.
Niero: Got a nomination for games time forgot.
[the above picture]
this game was so f*cking hard, but so awesome.
Anthony: That mullet ALONE just scored it a spot.
Niero: I think that guy was an early 90’s video game high score celebrity sponsorable whore type. His name was Chip, or something.
Now, this Genesis game isn’t quite as good as the above picture might lead you to believe (were that to be the case, it’d have to cure cancer and print money), but it’s still pretty enjoyable as far as shmups go.
Hit the jump for details as you try to erase the image of Chip’s mullet from your mind.
If nothing else, Gaiares wins the “worst character and location names in videogame history” award. Just look at this Wikipedia plot summary:
In the year 3000 the Earth has become a toxic dump ravaged by careless humans, leaving an uninhabitable, polluted wasteland. The space terrorists, Gulfer, led by the evil Queen ZZ Badnusty, plan to harvest the pollution to create weapons of mass destruction.
The earth-defending United Star Cluster of Leezaluth sent a warning to the Earth about Gulfer’s plans, stating that if they could not stop them, they would be forced to supernova Earth’s sun to do so themselves. But if they succeeded, Leezaluth would give them a new world to migrate to. Dan Dare, a young pilot from Earth was chosen to be the pilot of a new fighter ship to combat Gulfer. The ship is armed with a powerful experimental weapon from Leezaluth called the TOZ System, which would be operated by Alexis, the emissary from Leezaluth.
Honestly, who, outside of porn directors and Battletoads designers, would name a villain “Queen ZZ Badnusty?”
Some sort of genius, probably.
Interestingly, Gaiares plays pretty much like your average shmup in most respects (namely, in that it is balls hard), save for the implementation of the TOZ weapon. Rather than blasting away at dozens of enemies and physically flying your ship into the powerups in order to collect them, Gaiares removed floaty powerups entirely and forced the player to use the TOZ to upgrade his ship.
Basically, the TOZ (that little circular thing which follows the main ship around) can be fired out in front of the main ship at any time like a yo-yo. If it comes into contact with an enemy ship, it absorbs that ship’s main weapon and powers itself up. The TOZ starts off firing only one piddly little laser, but after attaching it to a number of random enemy grunts, the TOZ can turn the main ship into a blue-spiral-firing death machine.
As you can tell from the above video, Gaiares is reasonably fast paced, and quite pretty considering how early it showed up in the Genesis’ life cycle — you’ve gotta love that blast processing. It is, perhaps, the combination of the gorgeous visuals and the coolness of the TOZ weapon that makes the game so damn fun, despite being so incredibly unforgiving.
The guy in the embedded video makes the game look hellishly easy, but certain levels really adhere to the “make the player feel completely inadequate in all aspects of his life” school of shmup design. The final level, for instance, constantly moves up and down between fire and ice areas, where the player has to dodge huge ice shards while killing bad guys, then dozens of fireballs while killing enemies, then both. While killing enemies. Gaiares still holds up even today, as far as difficulty is concerned.
Also, one of the bosses is named Death Ghetto.
If that doesn’t make you want to play the game, I dunno what the hell will.
Why you’re probably not playing it:
I’m sure there are loads of legitimate reasons Gaiares hasn’t been fondly remembered — its extreme difficulty, its being a shmup during a time when shmups were a time a dozen, Chip’s mullet, etcetera — but I personally have to wonder if the name had anything to do with it.
When your name is so weird that even the advertising has to explain how to pronounce it (if you can’t tell, Chip’s shirt says “CAN YOU SAY GUY-ARE-US”), then you’ve already made the consumer expel some unnecessary effort on a game they know nothing about, thus breeding resentment. Mildly Japanese titles like Onimusha and lovable Pixar films about French rats are, of course, the exceptions to this hypothesis.
And by “hypothesis,” of course, I mean “theory I just made up out of the blue.”