Released: December 1995 Virtual Boy
Although I didn’t grow up playing many 2D space shooter games, I’ve enjoyed a bit of Gradius and Gradius III although I’m not very good at the games. Vertical Force was the other game I got for my birthday over a month ago and like Panic Bomber, was one of the games I was looking forward too for the Virtual Boy.
This game takes place in Space Era 210 where a computer that takes care of the living creatures of the planet Odin malfunctions and sends an army of robotic star fighters to destroy Earth. Citizens of Earth are defenseless against the supercomputer’s star fighters due to a signal the renders all star fighters on Earth useless. Although all resistance seems futile, archeologists discover an ancient star fighter on Ragnarok that is impervious to the supercomputer signal and now you take control of the ancient ship to stop the computer to save Earth.
The rights of Vertical Force as well as Panic Bomber were bought off by Nintendo when they were distributed to North America. The game also has a few references to Norse Mythology.
The game is a 2D space shooter like Konami’s Gradius series and Irem’s R-Type series, but with vertical scrolling levels rather than horizontal and you switch between two different plains to destroy enemies and dodge obsticales. You go through five levels that take place in space, a desert, and a mechanical fortress to name a few locations. At the halfway point in each stage you fight a mini-boss and then at the end of the level, the actual boss. Throughout your journey you’ll find symbols that float around on the screen after you defeat certain enemies, by obtaining them you can upgrade your weapon or get an entirely new weapon all together. You can upgrade a weapon three times, but if you grab an new weapon like a laser, then grab the previous weapon again it will be back to being a level one weapon. Also if you get hit your weapon will be downgraded. Along with the various weapons you can find missiles and option like assistants to help you on your journey.
The game offers the player options to change difficulty to one of three levels, change the brightness to one of ten levels ranging from 5 to -5 with 0 being the normal setting, but the best option they give players is the option to change the control layout to one of two settings. While this may not sound super special, if you’re left handed you can change the controls so they’re comfortable for you; it doesn’t make the control layout feel awkward since the Virtual Boy controller is symmetrical. You move with the D-pad, shoot with either the L or R button, change altitude with the A button, if you press B when you have an option assistant you can use them as a bomb and clear the screen of enemies. START pauses the game and like every Virtual Boy game, when you press SELECT while paused you bring up the Virtual Boy screen if you need to adjust the IPD or the focus.
Since I lack experience in shooters I find the game to be challenging, even on easy. The farthest I’ve gotten was to level four which is farther than I could get in any Gradius game. It can at times be hard to tell what plain a projectile is on, but it’s still easy to see where bullets are on the screen. You don’t want to stick to the bottom of the screen since enemy ships fly from all directions of the screen. Although compared to Konami’s space shooter games, I see Vertical Force as a considerably easier game, especially for an expert of the genre.
Graphically, being a space shooter and the fact that it’s on the Virtual Boy, there’s a lot of black, especially in the first stage, but as you get to other stages the levels are very detailed and show depth. The enemies and projectiles are easy to see, but as I stated earlier, it can be hard at times to tell what plain they’re on. The 3D is limited for the most part, but walls/barriers pop-out with decent 3D, but I find the main gimmick, plain switching lacking since three-dimensional is very limited.
Each stage has their own theme and although it’s not annoying, nothing really stands out to me outside the title theme.
Due to its length you can beat the game in less than an hour if you’re good and although that may be a drawback, Hudson Soft offers the player three difficulty settings and if that’s not enough, one could even change the controls even if you’re right handed which will increase the difficulty even more.
I go back and play this frequently although not as much as Virtual Boy Wario Land.
Games like Gradius have stayed in gamers hearts as classics for all these years and I could see Vertical Force being able to rank up there, maybe not as known as Konami’s space shooters, but deserving of some recognition with its new gameplay style of having a life bar, but due to it being on the Virtual Boy, like all games on the console, it faded away into obscurity.
It has great controls that are easy to understand with multiple difficulties so any beginner could be able to get into the 2D space shooter genre. The game looks great, but is lacking in the 3D department, which for me, isn’t a huge negative.
Vertical Force is a very common game going for about $20 for both the Japanese and American versions of the game (I own the Japanese version). The great thing about owning an imported copy if it’s cheaper, the language barrier is nonexistent and the Virtual Boy is region free.
Vertical Force scores an 8/10 (Great). If you own a Virtual Boy, Vertical Force is an excellent game to own. If you’re new to the 2D space shooter like me, it’s a great game to be introduced to the series. I'd recommend getting an emulator and trying the game out too if you have no interest in Nintendo's red system.
With this review finished, I'm basically done with reviewing Virtual Boy games unless their's a huge demand for a review of Virtual League Baseball.
Thank you for reading my review. Feel free to leave a comment.