Anyone who plays this game will say it's a bit of an Alien B'stard, so let's look at its parentage. Motherbase is something you'd call a hybrid. Influences of all sorts of past blasters and blasts from the past have found their way into the latest shoot-'em-up for a machine not exactly short of them; Star Wars, Stellar Assault, Space Harrier, Metal Head...
The principal influence is clearly Zaxxon, well over a decade old, and the first blaster to use the isometric 3D viewpoint. Talking Viewpoint, Motherbase clearly has inspiration from the game of that title, a Zaxxon homage on the Neo Geo, and one of the few decent games for that system. They have in common the use of polygons to construct the sprites and bosses of the game (though Viewpoint's, it must be said, are rather more complex). Finally, there's a definite resonance with Xexex, a lukewarm coin-op that featured a strange tentacle device that attached to your enemies and nicked their powers. So what does all this cross-breeding product? Mongrel or Pit Pull?
It's odds-on the Motherbase team were inspired by the seminal Zaxxon, and the excellent Viewpoint on Neo Geo.
Fly on, fly on, dark angel, bringing death and destruction to all you encounter. And nick lots of enemy "motors".
Most of the levels seem to have a distinctive plotted feel, with major enemies recurring, and recognisable sequences developing. Level two, for example sees you under attack from a squadron of transformer robot-bombers on a narrow landing strip, and the mega robot of level one is a particularly sticky customer:
- You find your robot waiting, and he launches a surprise bomb attack.
- After you pass, robot flies on ahead and knocks out ventilators, leaving deadly gaps into space.
- Robot attacks again with hand-launched blue fire attacks.
- Whilst battering at the end of level door, you concentrate on the floor supports.
- With the supports destroyed, mega robot plummets into deep space.
The core feature of Motherbase is the ability for your little ship to leapfrog from ship to ship, using their features to power-up. There are a selection of power-up ships that descend throughout the level, but even more striking is that you can hijack just about any enemy ship for your own purposes. Literally turning the enemies' guns upon them. This space 'jacking' takes place in four stages.
Your ship gets into a position to leap on the exposed core of the enemy ship.
Once in, thereis a brief period of invulnerability, while you assume control.
A signal of 'Ready' shows that you have learned the enemy's weaponry. If you leave now you will retain its attacks.
Jump to abandon the enemy, which resorts to hostile control. You can propel the craft you leave into other enemies.
Motherbase mixes both conventional sprite scrolling and polygon graphics. The backgrounds look familiar, but all of the ships, and many landscape features like pylons, are polygons. The flexibility of polygons is exploited with scaling effects and complex manipulation, like the impressive sharks of stage four, or huge, scary boss of stage three.
This constitutes just about every other ship in the game! The range of shapes and sizes is huge. Some are big and extremely powerful, others small and fast. All but a few disintegrate after a single hit. This is just a selection:
Fire slow-moving circular shots in sprays.
Shots are fired three-way, with a bouncing bomb special weapon.
With the memorable power-up bolt. Fast-moving.
A huge, resilient machine with diagonal shots and a huge laser, but very slow.
Tiny, but nippy craft with a neat exhaust-trail weapon.
Distinctive ringed weapon, with protective fire on all sides.
A real daddy craft. Poor offensive capability, but sustains huge damage.
Preposterous, but tops edifice. Fires feathered emissaries of doom.
There is no limit to the number of times you can jump ship, in fact the more you do, the higher the end-of-level bonus, You may even re-enter the same ship. When a ship is damaged, smoke gives you a few seconds warning to eject. There is a vast range of ship models, split into three types:
These are your own ships, and are quite rare. They appear during the levels. They will not attack. If you do not enter they will escort you, but are vulnerable. They normally take a few hits before exploding.
Fires double lasers and special homing spikes. Quite fast.
Big and slow, but has immense powerful forward weapons.
Strong forward lasers and homing missile attachments.
Sprightly little single laser craft. Not bad at all.
These appear as stationary red dials. You can move with them, but they are slow and poorly armed. However, the dials confer bonus items like extra lifes, smart bombs and flank protectors. Scoop these up and jump out.
Initially, Motherbase looked as if it had as much chance as Wales in the Rugby World Cup. But, wait, we have a contender! Although some of the backdrops look a bit grim, and the scrolling is jerk-esque to say the least, it's actually a rollicking good blast, as demonstrated from a lot of hours spent just cracking the first few levels.
The game pivots around this idea of nicking the enemy ships, and it works brilliantly. There are so many strategies to develop with the range of potential firepower, and constant temptations to go for something a bit more upmarket. There's a hell of a lot going on at the quietest times, and the game offers a rock challenge. The undeniably scruffy visuals of some parts are completely redeemed by some parts are completely redeemed by some well-impressive polygon manipulation. This is distilled blasting, and firmly recommended to fans of Nemesis, Viewpoint or any of the old-style Megadrive blasters.
From the screenshots I saw of this during its development, I thought Motherbase was going to be a polygon-based Zaxxon clone - no bad thing, as Zaxxon was a cool coin-op, but not the stuff we want to grace 32-bit machines.
However, whilst Motherbase is an isometric blaster like the classic coin-op, it takes the basic idea and adds a brilliant 'ship-hopping' feature, breathing new life and strategies into a pretty shoot-'em-up.
The game features a host of smart ships, and leaping into them allows the player to pick up extra weapon functions and withstand crashes, and whilst this sounds a little clunky in theory, in practice it proves very simple, meaning that the frantic blasting action is never interfered with as the player progresses to the equally-stunning bosses. This is a true 32-bit shoot-'em-up, and Sega have finally added a classic blaster to a machine which looked on its way out.
P. Some well impressive polygon bosses, and a vast range of armaments.
N. Some of the graphics look scrappy and a bit grey.
P. Intersecting scaling of sprites into the action.
N. Appalling background scrolling, which gives the game an unpolished look.
P. Tons of pumping rave tracks, some of which are quite good.
N. Muffled 'rap' samples, which were a bit of a bad idea.
P. Nice wooshes and klaxon effects.
N. The explosions are poor samples and the weapon sounds pretty unimaginative.
P. Despite its ugly duckling appearance, a gripping shoot-'em-up with some great ideas. Each level has been designed to test the player's nerve.
P. Very tough, but progress is gradually made, and the amount of continues stops you from getting discouraged.
A somewhat ugly blaster whose playability far exceeds its looks. The most concentrated action the 32X has seen yet.