Review by Overdrive
The forgotten child of R-Type and Gradius
If I must open this review with a positive comment about SNKs side-scrolling Neo-Geo shooter, Andro Dunos, then let me simply say that the programmers were very good at picking the right games to lift elements from.
You arent going to get a great deal of original gameplay ideas from Andro Dunos (Id be willing to guess that more creativity went into naming the game than making it), but if youre a huge fan of shooters in the same vein as R-Type or Gradius, this game might be worth a play or two.
Lets just look at the seven stages of this jaunt. For the most part, the first stage (titled The Moon) is a standard opening jaunt across the surface of.....the moon, with a slight detour through an underground cavern.
From there, you go to Mechanized Unit, which is a pretty run-of-the-mill base level. The third stage, Alien, puts you in the innards of a giant being, while Cavern is a pretty self-explanatory stage.
Finally, you finish with Meteorite (outer space with plenty of meteorites to dodge or shoot), Secret Base (through a cave and over a futuristic city) and Core (a final base level). Heck, after you destroy the actual core, youll even have a short escape-the-collapsing-base level, culminating with the final battle with the evil force behind whatever evil plot youre trying to stop.
Add to the mix some graphics that are pretty bland by Neo-Geo standards and a very uninteresting soundtrack and you have a game with a bunch of strikes against it right from the start.
All is not lost, however, for Andro Dunos does have a few excellent attributes that come very close to redeeming it mainly the games weapon system, which (in my opinion) is an improved version of the Gradius way of life.
You start the game with four main weapons, which you can switch from with the click of a button. You start with a normal shot, which fires straight ahead, and can move to a tiny, but powerful laser; simultaneous front and rear shots and a spread shot which will hit just about anything that is NOT directly in front of you.
But the primary weapon you choose to use will affect a lot more than your main source of fire. Your ship also has three other weapons, which are determined by the primary weapon you currently have equipped. For example, lets say youre using the spread shot (named WAY) as your main attack. By picking up the proper icons, which are reasonably plentiful, youll be able to add lasers to attack foes above and below you, homing missiles to go after enemies in those tough-to-reach spots and rear shields to protect your backside from enemy fire. If youre fortunate or skilled enough to gain more icons, the corresponding weapon will increase in power, giving you more bullets, missiles, lasers, etc. to assault enemies with. It seems like each set of extra weapons were devised to complement each primary weapon perfectly allowing a powered-up ship to attack in most directions and be protected from attack in that one vulnerable spot. And, as I said before, you can switch weapon sets on the fly, allowing your focus of attack to be virtually anywhere on the screen.
After playing for a little while, youll realize that this is a very good thing. Sure, The Moon and Mechanized Unit arent the most challenging stages out there (although the elevator sequence in that second level did cause a couple of *ahem* casualties on my part), but after youve advanced past those preliminary levels, things start to get fast and furious.
Maybe youll be besieged by swarms of quickly-moving foes coming toward you from all angles in Alien (or any subsequent level). Maybe the flying meteorites (in Meteorite, for those who skipped my summary of the levels) are providing an effective distraction, giving the enemy the upper hand. Maybe youre finding out that the boss of Secret Base just cant make up its mind whether it wants to attack from the right or left side of the screen. Whatever the situation is, youll be thanking the deity of your choice that your ship has so many firing options. Then again, you also might be cursing said deity as you suffer an embarrassing death or two while attempting to hit the switch button two or three times to get to that weapon you need for the current situation take my word on it, those things do happen at times.
On another positive note, the game doesnt immediately cripple your ship when you have the misfortune to die. Youll simply lose one power level from all four weapons. Since your main weapon cant go below level one, youll be assured of having some firepower, and if you were lucky enough to collect multiple icons for one or more of the support weapons, youll still have it or them (just at a reduced level). If you lose all your lives and are forced to continue, youll start with your main weapon on the second power level and all three sub-weapons on the first power level. At least you wont have to agonize over how one mistake instantly turned your unbelievably powerful, planet-shattering ship of destruction into a pathetically weak vessel that would struggle to topple the least of Parodius penguins.
Andro Dunos also allows you to fire off a charged shot....for a price. If your main weapons level is two or better, you can hold down the fire button until the charge meter is completely full. Releasing it now will unleash a brutally powerful attack at the cost of one power level for your main weapon. Sadly, this attack can turn most boss encounters into pushovers (much like the special attack in the Genesis Arrow Flash). With the exception of the final boss and the boss of Secret Base, all the level-ending baddies were all to quick to collapse under either one charge attack from the WAY gun or one charge attack combined with a minimal amount of bullets.
So, to sum up Andro Dunos, what can I say? On one hand, this game has a deep and engaging weapons system that is far superior to those implemented in many shooters that are far more familiar to the general populace. On the other hand, that weapon system is somewhat wasted, as it is used in an unoriginal game with bland graphics (by the standards of the Neo-Geo) and poor music. A game which derives much of its difficulty from assaulting you with as many enemies and bullets as the system can seemingly fit on the screen at once. A game that seems to be a pale imitation of genre classics like Gradius or R-Type.
If Andro Dunos was ranked solely on the virtues of its weapon system, it would be excellent. If it was ranked solely on most everything else, it would be pretty terrible. Mix excellence with terribleness and youll wind up with something in the region of mediocre which is probably the best word to describe this game.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
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