|[ Writer ] = BAD
|[ 02/22/03 ] = Ecocide
I have chosen to cover Capcom's shooter EcoFighters not only because it was re-released somewhat recently in Japan, but also because I don't see the game too often on other sites. Not to say I pity the game at all, but rather than doing a Musha or Ikaruga article, I have decided that EcoFighters should get the attention it needs. EcoFighters was given a limited run in 1994, but because of its rarity, the game could only be seen in what magazines chose to print on it (if anything), while some never even knew the game even existed. I myself have to admit that I had stumbled over this game on accident, and after the titled had lingered a bit in my brain, I realized it was one of the shooters that I had always heard about and had never been lucky enough to find or play. Fast forward to the year 2003, and among a few other re-releases Capcom has given us another chance to play one of its older CPS-II shooters. Hopefully this article will inspire some to put down Ikaruga, dig this game back up, and play it for a few weeks. Under its decieving design, EcoFighters is a serious shooter that fans of the genre might find challenging (and interesting).
To start, EcoFighters takes place in a time of interplanetary space travel that has resulted in the emergence of enterprises milking planets dry of their resources. In EcoFighters, it is your job to stop the most successful enterprise, Goyolk K.K., from wreaking any more havoc. That is, you must stop Goyolk K.K. from turning more planets into "dreadspheres" at any cost. Dug out of a junk-yard and sent by a friendly scientist guy named Dr. Mori, your little owl-looking ship sets off to stop the further natural destruction of the planet.
EcoFighters is a horizontal shooter similar to that of past titles like Gradius IV, Sol Divide, and R-Type Leo. The control of EcoFighters, in addition to the joystick, consists of three buttons; rotate left, shoot, and rotate right. The two ships (1P and 2P) in EcoFighters are equipped with a weapon called an "Arm." The "Arm" weapon is always on the two ships, and is similar to R-Type Orbs in the fact that the weapon can be used to block shots or deal damage in close range battles. The arm also differs in the fact that it is controlled by the rotate buttons, so the Arm is capable of swinging freely around the ship to attack in any direction. However, the Arm weapon in EcoFighters does not detach as the weapons in R-Type do, but each has instead their own lengths of reach.
There are four different Arms in EcoFighters to use; Arm 1 (Default) rapidly fires energy balls with a good charge shot, and the Arm 2 (Hammer) is a giant ball that is slow but powerful, and effective in protecting your ship from shots and collisions. The Arm 3 (Laser Sword) is a gun that will satisfy close range pilots that like power, while the Arm 4 (Wheel) is a spread gun that is capable of destroying many ships at a time. The Default, Hammer, and Wheel can be charged to release a power shot, while the Laser Sword gun is constantly firing, therefore it has not charge shot. The charge shot that Arms 1, 2, and 4 have are essential to survive in EcoFighters, as each has some very useful functions; the Default Arm charge shot can go through lots of powerful shots, the Hammer Arm is strong and can go through anything in the game to hit a target, and the Wheel Arm has homing shots that are weak but charge quickly. In addition to the four different Arm guns in the game, Vulcan, Bomb, and Homing alternate weapons are available to fire from your ship (not the Arm).
The Vulcan fires shots forward just as in other shooters, the Bombs are a continuous ground assault, and the Homing shots seek the enemy and destroy. Also in EcoFighters are crystals that are collected to level up your ship's Arm weapon (as can be seen in the screenshots); for every 20 collected you get a level up, and after so many levels you can max out your ship's Arm, making your ship very powerful (but not invincible). My favorite maxed out Arm is the Default Arm; it's absolute chaos in the sky once this thing starts to distribute chaos in rapid balls of orange death (just look at the pics).
EcoFighters, under its playful design and audio, is a serious shooter with a steep learning curve. It takes a lot of practice to use the aforementioned Arm weapon effectively. Because the weapon can shoot in any direction, enemies come from everywhere on the screen, requiring you to rotate the Arm fast enough in the direction of the enemies to shoot them while dodging or swinging the Arm to block bullets. Those who have played any R-Type title will feel somewhat at home with the shooting of this game, but it is such a unique style that for others it will take patience to get used to. In my case, it has taken me weeks just to effectively use the Arm weapon to shoot the enemy while swinging it in the other direction (to block incoming shots).
Somewhat like Psikyo's awesome Zero Gunner 2, in EcoFigters you can circle around the bosses, mid-bosses, or enemies and rotate your Arm weapon to shoot them while you are circling around them to consistently deal damage. This is an especially difficult but essential aspect of the game to learn, as it helps when bosses chuck out bullets at the speed of light. However, unlike Zero Gunner 2, where you can rotate around an enemy ship and shoot until expiration without having to worry about other ships smashing into you, in EcoFighters when you try the same thing you get obliterated by enemies that conveniently appear too close to even stop. This aspect, combined with the difficult usage of the Arm weapon, makes EcoFighters a difficult shooter to grasp. The alternate weapons (Vulcan, Bomb, Homing) help in dealing damage, but the Arm still has to be utilized fully to keep your ship from bursting into flames.
Set the steep learning curve of EcoFighters aside, and you got yourself a solid shooter. The seven stages of EcoFighters are fairly quick, neither too short nor too long, scroll horizontally and vertically, and feature frequent boss fights (like Treasure shooters). The length of the stages in Ecofighters is one of the game's good points; it's not one of those shooters where the stages are so damn long that you are asleep by the time you get to the boss. Those who like lots of variation in shooters will probably like the stages in EcoFighters because of the mid-boss fights Capcom put into each; rather than continuous enemy-blasting, enemies are dispersed inconsistently and spaced by frequent mid-boss battles until the boss is reached. The mid-boss fights are fun, and are a good change of pace if you play primarily the type of shooters that throw at you continuous battling followed by the stage boss. The game reminds me of a Treasure shooter, in the way that mid-boss battles are a crucial part of the game's stage layout. Some of the mid-bosses are good, while others are just downright cheap all the way around. The most terrible fucking mid-boss in the game is a swirling scrap heap that, after you destroy most of it, flies directly toward your ship and takes you almost everytime. Bullshit. This boss could have been left out of the game.
The enemy uses standard bullets, lots of missiles (that can thankfully be shot), various unstoppable lasers (oh man..), bombs (that explode into the standard bullets), big flames, bubbles (think Gradius), and tons of stray rocks to dispose of you in a timely manner. The variety in all those different hazards is good, but man, when I get killed by a stray rock that shot out of a pipe, I can't help but thinking of the word cheap (in Japanese and English). Enemies can be destroyed either by shooting them with the Arm weapon, shooting them with the ship gun (via Vulcan, Bomb, or Homing), or by hitting them with the Arm up close. Arm Power-ups are plentiful in this game, and thankfully, so are the level-up crystals that make your ship stronger. The abundance of Power-ups in this horizontal shooter is not nearly as bad as that of R-Type titles (where you get too many), and the game is still challenging even when you are maxed-out. Plainly put, EcoFighters is a challenging shooter. Even as early as the first stage, the player is given some tricky enemy formations to shoot down, and in later stages boss fights can get really ugly. At first glance, one would write EcoFighters off as a mere kid's game by looking at its design, but that couldn't be farther from the reality that this game is a serious shooter that will rip your ass apart.
Unlike the most recent shooters Capcom has released (Mars Matrix, Progear, Giga Wing, Dimahoo), the gameplay of EcoFighters is more like the older Capcom shooters (U.N. Squadron, 1941, Forgotten Worlds) in the way that it focuses on the number of enemies on screen rather than the number of bullets on screen. EcoFighters usually has a good amount of enemies on the screen, and sometimes you will get a good amount of shots flying around, but it's nothing like the shot madness you see in 19XX, Mars Matrix, GW2, Progear, or Dimahoo. I'm not sure if some classify this as a manic shooter or not, but I don't think it really resembles the constant bullet-flooded screen of a manic shmup. Ecofighters could be seen as a mix, with elements of both manic and technical shmups rolled into one. Of course, with this kind of shooter, one of the most common ways you will lose ships is not by shots, but by collision with the enemy (just as in the R-Type titles).
Especially with two players on the screen, collision is very hard to avoid, and it becomes almost second-nature to be strolling in the park, enjoying a nice Summer day with birds singing until an enemy ship rams into you. In manic shooters you have to worry about finding safe spots in waves of bullets, but in EcoFighters you have to worry about not running into or getting smashed by stray enemies. The gameplay of EcoFighters is that of a solid shooter, but the game loses a bit of its appeal when you find out that 90% of the time your deaths will be not from enemy fire, but because some bastard ship that your shots somehow missed flew directly into you. Your Arm weapon can stop some ships before they collide with yours, but in the later stages it is very rare to see an enemy ship stop dead in its tracks before it hits you.
The visuals of EcoFighters are pretty good, and surprisingly are able to keep up with that of other newer titles that I have seen running right next to it. The player's two ships have a somewhat odd design, and some of the enemy ships are really different than what you see in other shooters (some look like they just walked out of a Megaman game), as well as a few organic enemies here and there, but you get used to the game's uniqueness and come to appreciate it. There are tons of little animated tanks, trucks, and tractors (similar to that of U.N. Squadron) on the ground, as well as various other flying contraptions and mid-bosses that animate in the fluidity we have come to expect from the CPS-II hardware. EcoFighters contains a fairly big set of enemies to destroy; some enemies are common and show up in nearly every stage, while others show up only once or twice in the whole game. There is a nice variety of enemies big and small, to blast in this game. Some of them aren't as cool or sleek as that of other shooters that bear Capcom's name, but I guess it makes it easier to destroy them without feeling guilty.
In addition to the animation of the various enemy ships, the mid-bosses and bosses go through aesthetic changes as you shoot them. For example, some of the fish enemy ships can get their faces blown off, while other ships leave gears and other parts exposed after lots of abuse. Some enemies even go through more than two or three aesthetic changes before expiring; this is definately a visual plus, because it's just cool to see enemies fall apart when you give 'em hell. Maybe some animation had to be sacrificed to actually make the enemies show damage, but it is well worth it to see the enemies show damage because it looks cool, and because the player can actually tell they are making progress. The various aforementioned shots, missiles, beams, and other hazards animate well, in addition to the many explosions you'll encounter in close boss battles. Not completely sure about this, but a lot of the explosions in EcoFighters look like they may have been used in 19XX as well. Also, some of the shot collision sparks seemed to look a bit familiar, like they came from Capcom's CPS fighter, The Punisher.
When Capcom designed EcoFighters, it didn't turn out as good as their other efforts (19XX, Mars Matrix, Giga Wing), but the game looks, sounds, and feels good. The game's cinema scenes are good, and the theme of the game is unique. The audio of the game is good, but falls second rate to the audio treats of 19XX (and the later ProGear) on the same hardware. The audio isn't bad; I am just more of a fan of the serious, end-of-the-world, monumental-type music that makes you feel like you have to beat the game. Anyway, for those who like a dash of reading in their shooter goodness, at the beginning of each stage, Dr. Mori (your buddy) briefs you on the progress of your mission, and gives you your mission objectives. The strict gameplay of EcoFighters is conveyed oddly through sweet aesthetic touches like rainbow font, brightly-colored ships and shots, Bust-A-Move (Puzzle Bobble) -style music, cute voices, some funny (and cheap) bosses, and a hillarious continue screen. The continue screen almost makes you think the game is a joke...that is until you realize that you are you are on the continue screen because the game kicked your ass. Another small touch that Capcom's designers must have been laughing at for hours after putting in, in the Acid Rain stage after hitting a flying turtle mid-boss enough times, his robot head explodes, and he gets dizzy like the characters in Street Fighter do. Hillarious. I thought I was seeing things the first time I saw it, but after the second, I just shook my head and proceeded on. This game allows you no time for laughter; the few seconds of one smirk earns you the pleasure of being destroyed by a stray enemy or rock. The battle locales of EcoFighters include, but are not limited to, toxic waste-polluted oceans, grassy plains turned to deserts, acid-rain clouds and storms, resource mines, and space. The game supports the theme with some nicely drawn and colored stages courtesy of Capcom's own tried-and-true CPS-II hardware. In what other shooter do you aggressively fight asshole corporations from raping planets of resources? As far as I know, only in Eco Fighters! The theme of EcoFighters is great because it deviates a bit from the norm and tries something new. Or is is just the fact that I am a militant defender of the environment that makes the theme of this game so good?
At any rate, under its half-serious skin, EcoFighters is a solid shooter that combines elements of manic shooters into the gameplay of a technical shooter. EcoFighters has Capcom's signature distinct style of quality, with some good animation, good sounds, unique gameplay, with even a bit of humor thrown in. Although the game doesn't offer more than one ship, the various Arm weapons allow playes to pick the attacking style that best suits their stategy. The weapons in EcoFighters aren't some of the coolest we've ever seen in a shooter, but nonetheless take lots of practice to master. While the game is easy to pick up and start playing, EcoFighters is a pretty challenging shooter that even veteran players might find a bit on the difficult side; not as hard as any of the R-Type games, but not one of the easier shooters that I've played. If you've had enough of saving the galaxy in other shooters, try EcoFighters out and save the planet.