One of the earliest 8 meg cartridges for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Gaiares is a horizontal shooter developed by Nippon Telenet. Released on December 26th, 1990 in Japan, it was later brought to U.S. markets by way of publisher Renovation. Other than being fairly difficult, Gaiares is most known for its unique weapon-leeching mechanic. Instead of relying on traditional power-ups as shooters usually do, your option-like ship (called TOZ) can be launched outward toward enemy craft with the C button, bringing back one of many weapons for your ship to use. To expand on this feature, the game also features three power-levels to these weapons; this allows you to leech from the same type of enemy multiple times, to increase it's power.
The game also dons minimally animated anime-styled cutscenes with dialog at the beginning and end of the game, which serve purpose to the player, and provide a satisfying conclusion to the mayhem. The back of the box can tell it best:
"Mother Earth has been turned into an environmental wasteland by careless humans: Now, the human race has one last chance to save the Earth...with your help.
The United Star Cluster of Leezaluth, the governing empire of the Galaxy, has sent a warning to the Earth: "To any surviving Humans--An inter-galactic terrorist group known as Gulfer--led by Queen Zz Badnusty--is planning to invade your planet and use your polluted waste to build weapons. You Humans must stop Gulfer, or we will be forced to super-nova your sun and destroy the earth to stop them. But if you can stop Gulfer, we will give you a new planet like Earth to live on."
Unfortunately, Earth can no longer afford to maintain a standing army or military. But there is still one brave hero willing to fight for the survival of Earth. He is Dan Dare, a young ace-pilot. Alexis, the messenger from Leezaluth, was awed by Dan's fighting spirit and decided to stay with him. She modified Dan's spacecraft and is no the navigator of the TOZ weapon system on Dan's ship.
The last epic struggle for the survival of the Human Race and Mother Earth has just begun...all our fates rest in your hands."
Graphically, Gaiares is heavy on the parallax-scrolling. Each mission has multiple stages, and the environment will change as you traverse through it. Environmental hazards are a plenty, with guillotines, black holes that pull you in, and narrow tunnels filled with swarms of enemies for you to navigate your ship through. There is usually a sub-boss before the actual boss (or several), which serves as a nice warm-up before you encounter these massive sprites. Each mission boss is a hulking beast that takes up the entire screen, which was quite impressive for the time.
Featuring 13 weapons in total, most of the excitement regarding the weapons comes from actually discovering how to obtain them. Most of them are on certain types of enemies, but a few require special conditions to get. You'll likely stumble upon one or two of these by accident, and won't know how you got them. The top-left edge of the screen shows both the name of the weapon you have equipped, and the power level it currently has.
Fire your weapon with the B button, you can hold it down and the fire will repeat indefinitely. Your TOZ works as an Option-like ship in this game, and will fire bullets alongside you. The TOZ plays heavily into some of the powered-up weapon attacks. Your ship will always fire a missiles diagonally.
I-Vulcan (Ionic Vulcan)
The I-Vulcan is the default weapon in Gaiares. It's always listed as "Normal" on the HUD, but when you leech an upgrade of it off an enemy, it'll say the name for a brief moment. This weapon is usually found on tiny, early-level enemies of no significance. Keep in mind that if you have another weapon equipped, you can't leech back the default weapon. This fires one straight shot at level 1, and can upgrade to three shots at level 3.
P-Cannon (Plasma Cannon)
The P-Cannon shoots balls of energy in several directions from you and the TOZ, the amount of which will depend on your weapon level. At level 3, it shoots behind you and your TOZ in addition.
G-Beam (Giga Beam)
Too put it simply, the G-Beam is a big ass laser beam. It gets bigger depending on level, and your TOZ will shoot one as well at level 3.
S-Laser (Somersault Laser)
The S-Laser fires multiple homing lasers simultaneously, and these will track anywhere on screen where an enemy is. This means that those sneaky top and back entering enemies can't get the jump on you.
T-Missile (Tektite Missile)
The T-Missle at level 1 appears to be a single straight-firing missile, but when leveled up, both you and your TOZ are firing missiles in all four directions, making the distinct "t-shape" the name obviously spawned from.
H-Laser (Horizontal Laser)
The H-Laser fires a thin concentrated beam at enemy ships, and when fully leveled up, your TOZ gets one, and they increase in width.
V-Laser (Vertical Laser)
The V-Laser is a good defensive weapon as it shoots out a vertical wall of light, eating up enemy projectiles and ships while it's at it. This weapon seems to be one of the more powerful in the game, especially for a normal weapon that can be captured regularly. At max level, your option helps out, and the vertical beam is taller, covering more area.
R-Collidere (Rolling Colador)
The R stands for rotation, as two bullets on either side of your ship will fire, and will change trajectory in a 360 degree pattern. This means if you hold the fire button down, you will have bullets covering every direction on the screen, albeit not all at once. At level 3, it's increased to 4 simultaneous directions, and your TOZ gets one of his own. This one is a pretty particular catch, so don't expect to run into this weapon a lot.
E-Smash (Energy Smash)
This weapon features a shield mechanic. By holding down the fire button (B) a circular pattern of energy orbs will swirl around your ship, protecting you from incoming projectiles and ships that brush up against you. At max level, your TOZ gets one as well. You can release the B button after holding for a period, to launch all the orbs forward. There are a couple areas where this is pretty much required, as you'll be surrounded around enemies and unable to maneuver in an enclosed space.
One of the four hidden weapons, score in multiples of 10,000 points. Deploy your TOZ onto an enemy when the last 4 digits on your scoreboard are all '0' (such as 10,000, 40,000, 450,000, 1,250,000, etc). As with all the secret weapons, there are no upgrades for it, you start with the maximum potential of this weapon. Your TOZ will split into 5, and they'll swarm around like bees shooting large orange projectiles with high rate of fire.
Hidden weapon no. 2, you have to deploy the TOZ and leech an enemy 128 times. It doesn't have to be consecutive times without missing, and it doesn't have to be a new weapon or level-up every time. On the 129th capture, you will receive T-Vulcan (probably towards the last stage of the game, as 128 is a lot of times). This will fire a 7-way split of bullets at an obtuse angle in front of your ship, taking up a fair deal of the screen retail with its bullets.
The A-Bullet is a secret weapon with a very specific unlock. At the beginning of the game, you must pause and unpause the game rapidly, for a total of 8 pause screens. Afterward, deploy the TOZ at an object that is not an enemy (the first being the enemy clear powerup on mission 1). This is fully powered up upon obtaining it, it fires a gigantic bullet/missile that deals significant damage. It's important to note that this can only be obtained once per gameplay session.
At any time you have the default weapon (I-Vulcan) you can obtain this hidden weapon. Fire the TOZ into empty space and allow it to return to you 6 times. Make sure you don't accidentally capture an enemies weapon during this or it won't work. After, fire it a 7th time, this time capturing an enemy weapon. That weapon will be T-Braster. The weapon is fully powered up upon receiving it, and it fires balls of energy in a spread formation from your TOZ, which go nuts flying all over the screen, when ever there are enemies for it to home into. A good trick to pull out in the clinch when you've just died on a stage and aren't satisfied with the weapons in the area. This weapon will disappear upon mission completion.
In addition to weapon upgrades, you can level up two other things in this game. The first of which is your Quark Missile, which automatically fires alongside any given weapon. To start, you have one missile that fires diagonally downward. After upgrading, you will then fire two missiles, both of which will home in on the enemy. To do this, you have to use your TOZ to capture this power on certain grounded enemies, usually gun/turret looking things.
The other upgradable item comes in the form of a power-up, called Break Defender. The power-up itself offers you a shield, which gives you 3 hits of vitality on the ship instead of your usual one. BUT, if you toss the TOZ at the power-up, it'll "level it up" in a sense. After, pick up the power-up and you'll find that you have 5 points of vitality. This isn't anywhere visibly on the HUD, you'll just have to take the hits and find out for yourself.
The game features 8 multi-staged Missions, taking you over a variety of environments beyond the typical space shooter. Expect tunnels, under water sequences, environmental traps, temples, and all sorts of cool looking stuff.
This mission starts after a cutscene, and has a non-controllable sequence involving launching your ship and its faithful TOZ companion into space. The mission is relatively easy and is considered a primer for things to come. This stage features some large asteroids, a sub-boss (which you can steal a weapon from) and a giant anime robot for a first boss, named the "Steel Valkyrie". One of the "oh shit" moments a child would have playing this game is seeing this first boss.
A quick change of scenery descends you into the atmosphere of an icy planet, blasting ships right out of the gate. The sub-boss is a serpent creature in this level, and you can steal the fantastic V-Laser by attaching your TOZ to his head. This can prove to be difficult as he moves around the screen like a game of centipede, but it's worth it. Afterward, head underwater and prepare for battle as you fight what appears to be a clamshell with guns mounted on it. Once you deal significant damage, the shell opens to reveal a giant robot mermaid, who of course is still mounted with guns.
Another non-controllable sequence of coolness leads you into this level, and immediately you're dropped into the first of two sub-boss battles (you read it right). After defeating this foe, you head into the deepest reaches of space, where black holes wait to foil your plans, and suck you in. You have to fly against resistance here, and also worry about space lightning strikes (go figure). Then you head through a space temple filled with all sorts of booby traps, like spikes coming from the ground/ceiling, wrecking balls swinging like pendulums, and even giant space guillotines. At the end you encounter a giant reaper-like creature, appropriately named "Death Ghetto". He changes things up by teleporting behind your ship, firing sickles at you for a period of time before teleporting again. The T-Missiles come in handy here if you have them powered up, as they shoot backwards.
You begin in a debris field, forced to swiftly navigate through junk and enemies alike. After, you have a split path top or bottom, which lead to the same point ultimately, but has significantly different routes there. You will encounter different enemies/weapons on each of these branches, so experiment and see which one suits. You encounter several large non-boss enemies, that have shields and pose a serious threat. Eventually you find your way to a tunnel, where you're trapped and forced to fight a tunnel snake. You don't have to defeat him, and it's hard to get clean shots on him. After a while, you can advance to the boss, which is frankly...indescribable. It hovers around the screen in a counter-clockwise fashion as he chases you, shooting energy rays at you that you can dodge. There is a core in the center which you'll want to hit.
This is where the game gets serious in terms of difficulty. Mission 5 is a planet that is both fire and ice based, and you face hazards regarding both. On top, ice chunks will fall and damage your ship, and on bottom, fireballs leap out of the lava pit, combined with enemy gunfire for you to avoid. You can shoot the fireballs to split them into several smaller pieces, but you're better off avoiding them. After combating the sub-boss inbetween both of these hazards, you come to a giant space dragon. A good defensive weapon like V-Laser is good here, as it'll thwart both the hand missiles and the energy shooting from his eyes. His weak point seems to be the neck region.
Mission 6 takes you to the Gulfer base, and features several mini-bosses from past stages to contend with. At the end, you fight a shield-wielding female robot warrior. She fires waves of light from her shield, and presses you towards the wall at which point she tries to stab you with her sword. The more you damage her, the harder it will be to dodge her attacks as they get more involved. The sword swipe begins to shoot energy that splits into 3, making it hard to out-maneuver. Ideally you want to hit her face region, but that's hard to do with a shield in front of her the whole time.
Further into Gulfer base, it's now time for the boss gauntlet. As with any classic game of the late 80's and early 90's, they throw every previous boss you've fought up until this point in this level. The bosses have updated patterns and are generally more aggressive, so more care is advised. At the end of this level is yet another boss, this one never before encountered. A large wall of weaponry, with eyes on it and a mechanical arm that outstretches to damage your ship. There is generally a sweet spot on the screen where you can lay waste to him without fear of his laser beams and arm attack.
The final stage is the confrontation with Queen Zz Badnutsy. She's piloting a mech of course, and she has a far more advanced version of the TOZ at her disposal, which will replicate any normal weapon that the player can use. You can steal all 8 of the normally obtainable weapons from her, it seems to be random as to which you get. Whichever you decide on, you'll eventually turn her to dust and beat this difficult game.
In addition to all the secret weapons with special conditions to get, there are a plethora of cheats available to the player.
Hold A, B, or C, and press START at the title screen. This takes you to an options menu that allows you to raise the difficulty, listen to BGM/SFX, and toggle the language between English and Japanese. But more importantly, it opens up the ability to cheat.
To access the ability to cheat, set the BGM to #18 in the options. Using controller 2, HOLD A, and then exit the menu. Upon starting a new game, you'll have several options.
- Level Select: Start the game normally, you'll be thrown into the level select screen. You can start at several points in a given mission, as they have several parts.
- Invincibility: To be invincible for the level, pause the game, HOLD LEFT+A+C, and hit START to exit the pause.
- Weapon Select: when paused, HOLD UP and press A. This will change to the next weapon on the list. Fire your TOZ into emptiness once to see the name appear on the screen.
- Weapon Level Up: when paused, HOLD UP and press C to raise your current weapon to level 2. C twice raises it to 3. Exit pause menu, fire TOZ into empty space.