Rediscovering: Override

| #16bit | #pcengine | #rediscovering | #videogames |

The first couple of years of the Nineties was the peak of shooter popularity, before beat-em-ups came along and dominated the game scene for the next half decade. The arcades in 1991 were filled with the explosive, sparkling screens of shooters, and players at home were similarly spoiled for choice.

One such title, from small-time developer St!ng was Override for the PC Engine. A 2-megabit HuCard, this game was a tiny bundle of gutsy enthusiasm. What it lacked in polish and sophistication it made up for with energy and a tangible cheerfulness that a player can’t help but enjoy.

It was released in an updated form for the X68000 computer, as Last Battalion.

It’s not a difficult game, but it is constantly assaulting the player with popcorn baddies and dropping a rather excessive number of powerups at all times. There’s no time to relax or enjoy what passes for scenery in this game, it’s full on from the first stage.

And I love it.

This is what gaming is all about, for me. Concepts unencumbered by complication, the perfect game for sitting down and hammering out a few spare minutes. No story, no save points, no chains or combos. Here ya go, pilot: a ship and some shields and we’ll shower you with powerups as you save the universe.

Two things I like about Override, right off the top:

First, it’s relentless and ramps up smoothly. It starts off busy and just keeps on getting busier and harder in a pleasingly gradual fashion. Even the bosses are mostly in line with the difficulty of their respective levels, so that – unlike so many other shooters – the boss isn’t the out-of-place hump that prevents you from progressing.

Second, the weapons are different, if not unique, compared to other PC Engine shooters. Unlike most, there’s no 5-way standard weapon like you’d find in the * Soldier series or Blazing Lazers, etc. Each weapon is about as useful and balanced as the next, and features big bullet sprites that give the impression of actual mass and damage. It doesn’t look spectacular, but it looks solid.

The weapons come in five flavours (red, yellow, green, blue and purple), and can be ramped up through five different levels. Unlike most games, you’re not penalized for changing colours: if you max up your red weapon and change to blue, the red will still be maxed when you switch back to it later. It’s possible to max out all five weapons then switch between them by collecting one powerup of any colour.

Powerups come in cycles, for the most part, released from one-hit cylinders that drop down the sides of the screen: two [P] drops to level up your primary weapon, followed by a colour ball to level up or change your secondary weapon.

An [E] energy refill is also dropped on occasion, but only when your energy gauge is low. If your gauge is full, no [E] will ever be dropped.

The music is nicely enjoyable, and there’s a music test to jump right into any of your favourite tracks:

Hold RUN and reset the system ten times by pressing SELECT. Release RUN, then hold SELECT and press RUN once, and the sound test starts.

Despite being generous with the powerups, Override does not make it easy to power up your current weapon. The colour powerups will always be dropped with the colour immediately after the one you’re using, and so will cycle through all four others before you can grab it, and this is almost always right along the bottom border of the screen. Once you know this, it’s not too hard to be ready for it, but that little icon will be swishing around one side of your screen until it makes its leisurely way to the bottom every time.

The powerups:

– Primary Powerup

– Secondary Powerup

– Energy Powerup

The weapons:

RED: diagonal bits, max power is homing.
YELLOW: reverse bits, shoots opposite player motion.
GREEN: swirling bits, wave shot.
BLUE: chase bits, lasers
PURPLE: side bits, side wave shot

There’s also a massive blast charge-shot, which charges when you stop shooting for a few seconds. When released it kills just about everything on the screen in one go, and will make short work of most bosses.

I do wonder if St!ng set out to make this game, or whether it was an accidental. It’s a very simple game, visually – you could excuse the sprite re-use for space savings, it is a 2Mbit game after all, but every once in a while I look at the graphics and think maybe this was a case of throwing all the assets from half-made games into a game just to clear the space in their heads.

I mean, do these three bosses look like they were drawn by the same guy, or even come from the same era in gaming?

But ultimately these doubts mean nothing to me. Override is a plain but weirdly compelling game that is gobs of fun to play if you like instant and constant action. It sets out to provide a solid little experience without getting bogged down in complex mechanics or, well, anything, really. It’s a nicely pure game that should be in everyone’s library.

But, OK, I just have to ask.

What the fuck is this thing?

It’s an aircraft with a funnel on top? Why?

Download the ROM and give it a go!

[ Apr 7 2024 ]

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