Sunday 20 November 2016

Aerial Assault for the Sega Master System

Awful games typically have rubbish graphics and sound, unresponsive/oversensitive controls, too easy/hard enemies, cheap deaths, and illogical level design. And don't get me started on broken games ... But how does one define an average game? For bland isn't necessarily bad, it's just a bit meh. Why is it that one title can grab you and pull you into its compelling universe, while another that is very, very similar and involves the same gameplay elements cannot?

These thoughts occurred while getting stuck into Aerial Assault, a relatively rare-ish 1990 number for the humble Sega Master System. The plot, which is as memorable as the game itself, basically provides an excuse to climb into a super advanced fighter and shoot all-comers: enemy jets, helicopters, air mines, tanks and rocket launchers. You know, all the nonsense you can expect from a military-themed shooter. As per normal, your craft starts off pitifully slow and is armed with but a pea shooter. Killing particular enemies yield power ups, some of which are very helpful. And there are others possessing the efficacy of a rabbit hutch made of carrots. Provided you don't pick up the dodgy weapons and make it through the level, at the end awaits the usual meaty nemesis.

Coming out shortly after UN Squadron made a splash in the arcades, Aerial Assault can be considered an example of me-tooism. That is a game "inspired" by a popular title and seeks to cash-in on its popularity. For instance, the trusty old ZX Spectrum was awash with Pac-Man and Space Invaders clones early in its life. When Street Fighter II was utterly inescapable a quarter of a century ago, it was hotly followed by a legion of one-on-one brawlers. There are similarities between Aerial Assault and UN Squadron, particularly with regard to its environments. Scramble against the enemy navy and end in a tussle with a battleship? Take wing in the upper atmosphere as you glide over a parallax of cloud? Fly into the enemy's secret underground base/factory to sort them out once and for all? Yes to all these things.

The one relatively (then) original feature the game has is denying access to the full game on the lower levels of difficulty. If you ratchet it to the top, unexpectedly you access a "secret" fifth level set in space. It's a touch tougher than your previous adventures (as one might expect), but this time you meet an end-of-game baddy who passes a resemblance to the final bad 'un in Toaplan's Hellfire. More "inspiration".

What makes Aerial Assault bland is, well, its blandness. It doesn't bring much, if anything, new to the table. UN Squadron for its part was packed with original features, including non-linear progression and RPG elements. Other shooters lacking these bells and whistles usually have something to commend them - interesting power ups, imaginative graphics and sound, a gimmick, playability demanding one more go. Alas, here everything is underwhelming. The boss battles are (mostly) quite easy. Enemy patterns aren't tough to learn, once you get over a few cheap shots here and there. It's the gaming equivalent of elevator music, the sort of thing you can breeze through without thinking much about it. Some games are simply forgotten because they are entirely forgettable. And that's Aerial Assault. It goes through the motions, reiterates the base mechanics gamers were already familiar with in 1990, but brings nothing new to the table. Therein perhaps lies quality of the average game.


Amanda said...

I still have a fondness for the Star Wars game I used to play in the enclosed machine. I got a lot of play-time on it as I was working on a YTS scheme for an arcade/bandit game renter break times were awesome :-)

Phil said...

I had plenty of fun on that after I used to go swimming. Our baths upgraded their Space Invaders booth to Centipede and then this. Fun times. All of which are more memorable than poor old Aerial Assault.