Saturday, June 13, 2009

Genesis look: Ranger X

An important aspect in developing a great game is identity. Without an identity a game has nothing that helps it stand apart from possibly hundreds of other titles in the same genre. Sega/Gau was well aware of this when they put together Ranger-X. While it is at heart an action-shooter game there are so many unique aspects and different approaches to mechanics and game design that it makes for a great game.

In the far future society will fail and it is up to a man and his mecha to set things right. Each of the six stages involves hunting down numerous objectives through moderately-sized environments and then facing off with a big boss at the end. Our buddy doesn't have to go it alone however as a cycle-like vehicle follows him through three stages while a flying vehicle covers him through the other three.

The Ranger-X has quite an impressive arsenal. He has a main cannon, the ability to fly for a short period of time and an ever-increasing collection of sub-weapons that he can switch between using his vehicles. While the flying vehicle only follows along and tosses lasers at nearby enemies, the cycle is quite the interesting creation. The cycle fires a main cannon along with X and if X gets inside the cycle he can control it directly as well as strengthen the main cannon with double firepower and homing capabilities. His sub-weapons run the gamut of flamethrowers, lasers that directly target enemies, a blast that rolls along the ground, a flying mecha-eagle of death, a wave shot, and finally a super-blast that drains all of X's energy but makes quite an impression on the enemy. Add in a pretty lengthy life meter for both X and his cycle and they're ready for action.

Energy is restored by light. Where the player gets light is usually pretty obvious. In caves he may have to shoot loose rocks in the ceiling, maybe while scaling a tall building at night he'll come across a random room with the light still on. Energy is needed for the sub-weapons as well as recharging health from the handy stations or from one-time-only pickups. This can be problematic if you're doing poorly in some stages since that means constantly waiting for energy to recharge and then going back to the station to heal up. the stages are rather short so one never has to wander far.

A flying mecha needs a mecha-army to fight against and Ranger-X certainly delivers. Rather than focus on filling the screen with enemies at all times the stages are designed with certain enemy-sets in mind. If you're stalking an enemy base and searchlights are scouring the area it'd be a good idea to take out the wandering patrols and hibernating attack-pods. The objectives that you have to destroy are by no means defenseless as they're well-guarded and can put up a fight of their own. The bosses follow in the mindset of the level designs and tend to do more than offer up a huge wave of bullets to dodge. Some require a bit of ingenuity and restraint and some others might be quite a hassle if you don't use the environment to your advantage. I guess this could be considered a "thinking man's action game" if it actually required a lot of thinking. No it's more about simply understanding that there's more to succeeding than blowing everything up.

Aside from the aforementioned vehicles Ranger-X's offers some very creative uses in mechanics. Though your jet-pack is limited you can prolong its flight by tapping up instead of holding it. If you let the jet-pack empty all the way you'll drop like a stone with no way to recover. Furthermore if one holds down while in the air they'll drop even faster, making a useful technique for dodging attacks. Also since X is the only one that takes damage from enemy-fire you can ride on top of the cycle to get where you're going faster and it can be used to cross a handful of dangerous areas. Most attacks are targeted directly at X so if something's flying at you you can always duck inside your cycle for a quick dodge. Most of the sub-weapons can also be used to cancel out many of the enemy's bullets. Obviously this is a good thing. Taking damage is also handled well since although you don't get an invincibility period after taking a hit you have so much maneuverability that you can quickly get out of large attacks. Collisions with most enemies don't result in damage either. In fact you can shove some enemies around to put yourself in a more advantageous position. The main cannon fire button is tied to both the A and C button(one for left and one for right). This is good for a number of reasons and makes X great in any situation.

Score really doesn't matter at all in this game since unless you fly past a bunch of enemies you're bound to destroy everything(respawnable enemies don't give out any points). This is sensible as additional continues are tied to score. In addition when you destroy the final boss you're rewarded with a completely ridiculous amount of points. So for the most part it's really meaningless.

There are two perceived faults with Ranger-X. That is it's short and easy. However by perceived that's what I believe most people will say after they beat the game on normal without using a continue. While there are additional difficulty settings above normal let's go beyond that. There are still a number of ways for the player to challenge themselves further. Try going without certain sub-weapons or even all of them, try going through the game taking as little damage as possible or only destroying the objectives/bosses. Yes the game is still short but the levels have a bit of open-ness to them and it's safe to try new things. Another important aspect of a great game is that it should be made yours. By this I mean that if it makes sense it should be do-able and if it works it should be successful. If the player wants to get more life out of their game by trying a variety of challenges they've made for themselves the game should be designed to allow that freedom. Under no circumstances should the game force the player to change their idea of how the game could be played. Ranger-X is definitely a game that can be made yours if you think the gameplay is worthwhile. 

I'll be spending more time looking at the essential concept of making a game yours in the future but for now consider checking out Ranger-X. This is one of the better titles available on the Genesis and like with nearly everything else I've talked about in this blog it's affordable no matter your budget.

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