One of the earliest 8-meg cartridges for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Gaiares is a horizontal shooter developed by Telenet Japan. Released on December 26th, 1990 in Japan, it was later brought to North American markets by way of publisher Renovation in early 1991.
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, the option-like drone (called TOZ) can be launched outward toward enemy craft with the C button, bringing back one of many weapons for the player's ship to use. To expand on this feature, the game also features three power-levels to these weapons; this means being able to leech from the same type of enemy multiple times to increase its power.
The game also has minimally animated anime-styled cutscenes with dialog at the beginning and end of the game, which serve to frame the game's story 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 parallax scrolling. Each mission has multiple stages, and the environment will change as the player traverses through it. Environmental hazards are aplenty, with guillotines, black holes that pull the ship in, and narrow tunnels filled with swarms of enemies to navigate the ship through. There is usually a sub-boss before the actual boss (or several. Each mission boss is a hulking beast that takes up the entire screen.
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. The player will likely stumble upon one or two of these by accident, and won't know how they got them. The top-left edge of the screen shows both the name of the weapon equipped, and the power level it currently has.
The weapon is fired with the B button, and can be fired continuously if the button is held down. The TOZ works as an Option-like ship in this game, and will fire bullets alongside the main craft. The TOZ plays heavily into some of the powered-up weapon attacks. The ship will always fire 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 an upgrade is leeched 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. If the player has another weapon equipped, they 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 the ship, the amount of which will depend on the weapon level. At level 3, it also shoots from behind.
G-Beam (Giga Beam)
To put it simply, the G-Beam is a big-ass laser beam. It gets bigger depending on level, and the 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 ambushes from those sneaky top and bottom entering enemies won't be as effective.
T-Missile (Tektite Missile)
The T-Missle at level 1 appears to be a single straight-firing missile, but when leveled up, both the ship and TOZ are firing missiles in all four directions, making the distinct "t" shape that inspired the name.
H-Laser (Horizontal Laser)
The H-Laser fires a thin concentrated beam at enemy ships, and when fully leveled up the 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. 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 the TOZ 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 the ship will fire, and will change trajectory in a 360 degree pattern. This means if the player holds the fire button down, they will have bullets covering every direction on the screen, albeit not all at once. At level 3, it fires in four simultaneous directions, and the TOZ gets one of its own.
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 the ship, protecting it from incoming projectiles and ships that brush up against it. At max level, the TOZ gets one as well. Releasing the B button after holding for a period launches all the orbs forward. There are a couple areas where this is pretty much required, as the ship will 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 the TOZ onto an enemy when the last 4 digits on the 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, it starts with its maximum potential. The TOZ will split into five, and they'll swarm around like bees shooting large orange projectiles with high rate of fire.
The T-Vulcan is the second hidden weapon. In order to acquire it, the player has 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, the player 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 the ship, taking up a fair deal of the screen estate with its bullets.
The A-Bullet is a secret weapon with a very specific unlock. At the beginning of the game, the player 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 power-up on mission 1). This is fully powered up upon obtaining it, and it fires a gigantic missile that deals significant damage. It's important to note that this can only be obtained once per gameplay session.
At any time the player has the default weapon (I-Vulcan) they can obtain this hidden weapon. Fire the TOZ into empty space and allow it to return to the ship six times. Don't accidentally capture an enemy's weapon during this or it won't work. After, fire it a seventh 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 the TOZ, which go nuts flying all over the screen, whenever there are enemies for it to home into. This weapon will disappear upon mission completion.
In addition to weapon upgrades, the player can level up two other things in this game. The first of which is the Quark Missile, which automatically fires alongside any given weapon. To start, the ship has one missile that fires diagonally downward. After upgrading, they will then fire two missiles, both of which will home in on the enemy. To do this, the TOZ must be used 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 a shield, which provides three hits of vitality on the ship instead of the usual one. BUT, if the TOZ is thrown at the power-up, it'll "level it up" in a sense. After, pick up the power-up and it'll provide five points of vitality instead. This isn't anywhere visible on the HUD, however.