It's a popular theme - a lone man facing incredible danger, battling against insurmountable odds in situations that would have most normal mortals fleeing for the lavatory.
Recently it's been taken to a kind of logical conclusion. With a spate of games like Gunrunner, Exolon and now Sidewize, our hero has no space-ship or moon buggy to protect him. It's just the guy and his trusty laser, and maybe a backpack somewhere along the line.
In Sidewize at least, this return to good old-fashioned play values pays dividends, and the feeling of genuine vulnerability injects a degree of panic that's been somewhat lacking in the current crop of single-seater-space-ship games.
Sidewize comes Dusting out from the highly talented minds of Steve Wetherill and Colin Grunes, the guys who worked on Heartland (Classic SU 53), and while the graphics occasionally show similarities to the Odin game of last summer the play is wildly different. Where Heartland was a graphic adventure with cute elements and puzzles (of sorts), Sidewize is a down-to-earth space blast with nothing to think about except dodging the aliens or blowing them away.
The game is set on four worlds, each with differing attributes and characteristics. Your mission is to simply wipe out everything that gets in your way.
In between each world you get to travel through a stretch of space and at the end of each level you meet a serious looking monster which takes a heck of a lot of blasting away.
Omnicron (the forest world) starts off fairly easily with your little guy in his spacesuit drifting over a background of stars which are happily scrolling from right to left. There's no sign of the ground at this point - you've got battle through lots of levels of nasties before you get down on to the surface.
Shortly a row of remarkably un-menacing circular things flies on to the screen from the right-hand side and sits in the middle of the screen. Employing your standard machine pistol affair, you destroy the entire line.
The sound effects are wonderful - you can almost hear the little suckers burst when you hit them - it's a bit tough over the roar of your gun. The bad guys are upset now, and they send on a diagonally- flying row of serpent's heads. They look worse then they are, and you can clear the screen in a couple of short bursts.
Take out the remaining of attack waves - easy (ho-hum), and you'll find yourself down on the planet's surface.
At this point, it's probably sensible to talk a little about the graphics. They're all single-colour (green on the Forest World for example) on a black background. Everything scrolls from right to left, on separate levels, giving an impression of depth into the screen - rocks in the foreground move faster than trees so it looks like the trees are further away etc.
The actual gameplay draws, very neatly, on elements from a host of coin-op classics. There's a little jetpac, a smattering of Scramble (in the later levels in the caverns), a bit of Centipede (the movement patterns of some of the aliens are very much like the big bug) and more than a couple of tads of Phoenix (the twirly-swirlyness of the aliens). There are also walls which crop up very fast and unexpectedly here and there which will kill you quite happily should you collide with them.
Sidewize is certainly remarkably difficult, and you'll need a good deal more than just a handgun if you're going to reach the head-honcho bad guy at the end of a planet level.
Just as well, then, that there is a while host of other accessories that you can pick up which will make life a little more tolerable if not exactly easy.
First off there's the laser, which is completely great and lets you cut through almost anything like a razor through butter. There is also a tri-directional fire affair which causes you to fire at 45 degree angles, as well as directly across the screen - very handy for taking out those double-line flight formations.
On the defence side, you can collect a very strange sort of shield which is constructed from two spheroid things. They cycle round your body and will take out most things that attempt to get at you. Then there's extra lives you can pick up, and an extra fast speed option.
After working through the ground part, you come to the inevitable climax, which involves being attacked by a monster of some sort that is at least three times bigger than you. Depending on which level you're on the most will look vaguely appropriate.
On the first level, your foe is an extremely tall version of yourself, and he fires extremely madly. On later levels you encounter a wind god and finally, for some reason that is too hard to fathom - a giant prawn! Each opponent has to be defeated in a different manner, which means either shooting it in the head or the bum or the middle.
After the forest world, you move to the desert, then the ice world, and so on. While the aliens look essentially the same from planet to planet, their flight paths alter quite considerably, and a type of rather Ultimate-esque alien, that you might expect to act in a particular manner may catch you uncomfortably by surprise.
Sidewize is the slickest no-messing shoot-out in a long, long time with a strong coin-op style feel. The graphics and movement are extremely polished and what it lacks in complexity it more than makes up for in speed.
Reviewer: Jim Douglas
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