For the arcade game fan who plays arcade games at home,Jess Ragan's "MAMExpose" presents you with the many joys - andpitfalls - of emulation, specifically those found while using our favoriteprogram in the universe: MAME.

If there was one toy from the 80's that was just begging to star in a video game, it had to be those transforming androids that went from mighty robots to mighty vehicles in six to eight easy steps. As popular as those toys were, however, you very rarely saw video games based on them. Only a few game designers were smart enough to make the connection between the two, releasing the following titles...



It may feature a new title character, but there's no hiding the fact that this is a sequel to Nichibutsu's fantastic Terra Cresta. If you're not familiar with Terra Cresta, it's a vertically scrolling shooter with a twist... the player controls not just one, but many ships, which dock inside each other to create a heavily armed flying fortress. These ships can be detached from one another and put in formation at the player's discretion... the main advantage to doing this is that the ships' combined firepower spreads out, and while the ships are in formation, only the tiny lead ship can be destroyed. Dangar UFO Robo uses essentially the same play mechanic, but this time, the ships combine to form an enormous, fist-launching robot. If the player can keep the robot in one piece (a difficult task considering the number of enemies the game throws at you), they'll eventually be able to arm it with a gun and even transform it into one of several devastatingly powerful flying saucers. Most of the ship formations in Dangar UFO Robo aren't as exciting or imaginative as the ones in Terra Cresta, but nevertheless, the game still continues the tradition of excellence we've come to expect from the Cresta series. I give it a seven.



One of MAME's greatest joys lies in finding arcade games you never knew existed. Exzisus is one such game, originally released as a Japanese exclusive. Now that it's available here in the United States, you can't help but wonder why Taito didn't take a chance on this fun shooter and distribute it in America as well. Sure, Exzisus isn't as polished as the games in the Darius series... the characters aren't as slickly drawn, and some of the boss encounters are just downright ridiculous. However, it makes up for this with more intense gameplay... the screen is often full of enemies, and halfway through each stage you'll discover a deadly new obstacle such as meteorites or ice walls which demand quick thinking and reflexes. The power up system is pretty unique as well... our hero can earn loyal pets by collecting items, which in turn become useful upgrades once he transforms into a jet. Finally, the music is surprisingly upbeat for a shooter, giving the game a campy feel you'd expect from an old episode of Flash Gordon. I give Exzisus a seven, and recommend that you give it a shot.



It's tough to give this one a fair rating. It's got everything I love about early Capcom games, and everything I hate about shooters, wrapped up in a single package. First, I'll discuss the good stuff. Side Arms is the quintessential Capcom game from the late 80's, filled with gorgeously shaded, imaginatively animated graphics and a wide selection of strange power-ups, ranging from strawberries to cows, hidden in the detailed backgrounds. There's even a clever play mechanic which helps keep the game from being as frustrating as it could be... the player can fire both behind and in front of them, insuring that they're never cornered by the bad guys.

With all that out of the way, it's time to tackle the game's problems. First of all, the weapon system is very flawed. You have to fire at the power ups to change them into the weapons you want, which is a frustrating and imprecise process. Adding to the frustration is the fact that the power up icons don't always resemble the weapons they'll give you. Worst of all, there are an overabundance of POW symbols which increase your speed. Speed ups are already obnoxious enough in a shooter, but your fighter is already plenty fast at the beginning of the game. There's no point in making it any faster, yet the game practically forces you to do just that by throwing dozens of speed ups at you. Here's the kicker... to slow down your mech, you've got to fire at a power up over a dozen times until it flips over, and naturally, the enemies won't just sit around waiting for you to do this. It's completely annoying, and the reason that I give the game a six despite its more appealing qualities.



Bleh. This game looks and feels like it belongs on the Master System, not in an arcade. From the ugly character designs to the pastel colors to the uninspired levels, you'll be totally convinced that you accidentally booted up MEKA rather than MAME. Anyway, as the title suggests, Transformer stars a ship with two different forms. The first form, a jet, offers the player greater speed, while the second form, a well armed robot, covers the screen with a spread shot that keeps the player better protected from enemies. Both forms gradually improve as you destroy enemies... instead of power ups, there is a bar at the bottom of the screen which fills as you blast enemies. Once the bar fills to a certain point, your ship is automatically upgraded. Unfortunately, you can never upgrade the transformer to the point where it's preferable to remain in the faster jet form... you'll generally rely on the more powerful robot form to get through each round, making the transformation gimmick useless. I give Transformer an average rating of five... it's not a terrible game, but the other games I've reviewed here are much more entertaining.

MAME TIPS: If you've got a full set of MAME ROMs and have trouble keeping track of them all, try using the categories listed in the left pane of the main window. For instance, if you want to play the newest games available for MAME, double click VERSION, then scroll down to .72 and click it once. If you're just interested in playing Neo-Geo games, double click HARDWARE, then scroll down until you find SNK/NEOGEO.

You've played plenty of bad games on game consoles, but what about bad arcade games? In the next MAMExpose, we'll look at a few titles that aren't worth a second look, let alone a second quarter.

A new "MAMExpose" can be found herearound the 10th of every month!

For "back issues" of this column, click HERE.

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Last updated: Saturday, April 23, 2005 07:48 AM