Last Hope Reader Review
Welcome back to the 80's!
We're well acquainted with third party releases, but this one is considerably stranger than the usual fayre and bares closer examination. That strangeness doesn't so much stem from it's homebrew roots, but rather NG:DEV.TEAM's choice to first give it a limited release on the aged, yet powerful collectors piece, the Neo-Geo. The team managed to get their hands on 60 unwanted AES cartridges, burn their own roms onto the PCBs, print their own stickers and went into business with one of the most mysterious games which has been released for a while. Even those scant few people that pre-ordered and paid large sums of cash didn't really know what it was all about until after they'd blown on the cartridge's connector, plugged it in and played it. But finally the time has come where anyone with a Dreamcast can get their filthy mittens on it - and I've got a Dreamcast and my mittens are the filthiest around, so here goes.
From the scanlined outset it becomes clear that this is one of the most nostalgic games you'll ever see on a console. Shooters from the 80's and early 90's waft up at me as I die repeatedly. R-Type is the biggest and most obvious influence, even down to the introductory waves of spinning red ships that waver up and down the screen, introducing you to the challenges that follow. But there's so many more games that haunt me as I play. Last Resort, Cybernoid, Xenon, Pulstar, Truxton and Vanguard to name but a very few have found their way into this in some fashion and not one of them is more recent than '95.
In fact the only thing amongst all this to remind you that you're not stood in some seaside arcade wearing pastels and Hi-Teks is the music, which takes full advantage of the hardware and delivers an able and atmospheric technoesque soundtrack instead of some repetitively bleeping ditty. The spot effects are rather disappointing however, with generic laser noise #4 and explosion #7 and not a great deal more. I would have liked to have seen a twist of lime in this area for the sake of variety, but it does it's job. The sprite based graphics also take advantage of a few pieces of technical wizardry afforded by the original Neo-Geo hardware, but somehow it lacks the imaginative excecuted style of it's major forebears. Everything is colourful and busy in the extreme, with all sorts of non-interactive things going on in the background, but it looks a little basic at the same time. The art design is by no means fresh or particularly inspired, but it does frequently have it's moments, albeit from a cacophony of things rather than individual details.
The game itself is, as you've probably gathered, a side scrolling shmup in the classic style, so you can expect the usual melee of enemy waves, bullets and scenery to dodge, shoot or die by the hand of. That doesn't make it any less difficult, and it's excruciatingly hard even for a rabid shmuptard like me. The difficulty lies in the fact that there are more enemies, bullets and scenery to dodge than in any other shooter I've played. So much so, it's bordering on the ridiculous at times. The waves seem unrelenting at points, with perhaps five or six separate things threatening to swat your little ship out of the air or space or whatever it is at any given moment while you desperately dodge around all this whilst trying not to crash into an unfairly placed wall. Needless to say, it all gets a bit much at times and frequent death is pretty much the norm, transporting you back to the start of that section of the level to try, try again.
Anyone but the most hardcore enthusiast will have considerable difficulty making it even halfway through the first level. In true 80's arcade-style it throws every dirty trick in the book at you and even manages to devise a couple of surprising new ones. For example, the enemies explosions spray what look exactly like bullets in all directions, and while they're harmless, they effectively blind you to any real bullets that may be happening your way. And there generally are a few bullets headed in your direction, so unless you're completely aware of everything, you're likely to lose a life in the confusion. While the Dreamcast mode goes a way to relieving some of these kinds of hardships that are noticeably more pronounced in the Neo-Geo version which is available in arcade mode, it doesn't get away from the fact it's still nigh on impossible at times.
Thankfully you do have one other thing on the screen to help you out of the tighter scrapes, and anyone familiar with R-Type will recognise your force ball. Although this incarnation is called a satellite and takes some mastering due to it's operation being not quite as intuitive as it's spiritual ancestor's blast and recall mechanics. Instead you can rotate the satellite around your ship at 45 degree inclinations with your controllers triggers, angling and firing from it towards your foes and their bullets which can zero in from any direction. The R-type parallels don't end there either, you also have a rather familiar looking charge shot which you can unleash after holding down fire for a short time. A bar at the bottom will tell you the power of the shot before you let rip.
This is definitely not a game for the faint of heart or easily frustrated, but if you persevere for an hour or so, it'll reward you with everything you might want from a game that has it's feet firmly planted twenty years in the past. The complete lack of originality isn't so much of an issue, it should more be viewed more as a homage to past greatness and by rights be well received by gamers either wanting to revisit their youth or to simply try something away from the madding crowd. It has it's flaws, but all in all it's a remarkably solid game with enough action and variety to keep most people quiet for a couple of hours here and there and keep them coming back for another blast until they've mastered it.
7 / 10