Originally released in 1989, Blazing Lazers was an early vertical shooter on the TurboGrafx-16 that helped cement the system as the console of choice for hardcore shooter fans. Besides having an awesome title (it could even function as an exclamation – start saying it when you’re surprised), Blazing Lazers flatout kicks ass. It might just kick your ass, too!
The game still looks outstanding. The enemies, the scrolling, the level design, the powered-up weapons – they’re all topnotch from a visual standpoint. Additionally, even when the screen gets very busy during every stage, there is hardly any slowdown. I must emphasize “hardly” because other reviews have incorrectly claimed that Blazing Lazers never has slowdown. The truth is that it does, though the slowdown is extremely rare and not as egregious as what you might see in, say, a SNES shooter.
The music is superb. Each stage (nine in total) has a different personality based on the music alone. The personalities are quite varied, too. From the urgency of the first stage to the out-of-left-field quirkiness of the eighth stage, every level has a tune that fits it perfectly. As an aside, if the drum beats in the second and seventh stages don’t pump up any shooter fan, I’d be surprised.
Although the sound effects aren’t as legendary as the soundtrack, Blazing Lazers contains a nice array of explosions, along with voice-overs that are charmingly muffled. And that’s pretty much it. Perhaps the developers could’ve added something else, but the game isn’t exactly lacking in the audio department.
The greatest strength of Blazing Lazers is its gameplay. Like many shooters on the TurboGrafx-16, the game has smooth, simple, and responsive controls. One button fires the primary weapon, another shoots a bomb, and another controls the speed of your ship. You are blessed with a wide variety of power-ups. You can pick up one of four primary weapons, and each one can be leveled up to a maximum level of six. (Interestingly, a level three weapon might be more suitable than a level six weapon in certain situations.) You can also pick up one of four secondary power-ups: a shield, homing missiles, an extra ship, or a firepower upgrade that gives different effects to each primary weapon. With all of these options, the game compels you to strategize constantly and avoid certain power-ups. At the same time, the weaponry is incredibly balanced. Each primary and secondary power-up has its own strengths and weaknesses, which allows you to develop your own offensive style as you progress through the game. A brief sampling of YouTube videos reveals an array of different ways to dominate the game.
Although the game constantly evolves and challenges you, the power-ups are sprinkled generously throughout most stages, making the game very encouraging and borderline addictive. By the time you reach most bosses, you’re usually the one with the advantage. The last level really punishes you, however. Imagine wreaking havoc through the first eight levels and saving up a multitude of lives and bombs, only to lose everything in a few minutes during the last stage. You do get four continues, but without the right power-ups and a lot of trial and error, you’re more than likely going to lose all hope more than once trying to beat the final level. The Wii Virtual Console’s save state isn’t going to help much this time, padre.
The game’s combination of accessibility, mind-blowing survival, and heart-wrenching defeat is almost impossible to resist. Interestingly, the game offers no options, but the reason for this is apparent: you already have enough options built into the ocean-deep gameplay. It’s a blast trying out all of the power-ups and experiencing the game’s nine distinct levels in another way. Some might criticize the lack of a multiplayer option, but this game runs fast and smooth and has the right amount of challenge to satisfy one player. I truly believe a multiplayer option would have been a negative in Blazing Lazers, as counterintuitive as that sounds.
I was going to conclude with a bunch of bullshit about how old games aren’t necessarily outdated, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. With almost nonexistent technical issues and topnotch design in every category, Blazing Lazers trumps most shooters, old and new. It’s as essential as any great video game in history.