Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Games 176-177: Bosconian & Time Pilot

There's something very appealing to me about progression through multiple periods of history. Not a lot of games follow this trope - it's not merely time travel, but to begin at the dawn of history, or whenever the developers deemed an appropriate starting point, and to work your way forward in time, gradually seeing things become more advanced, and concluding in present day or perhaps the future. Some examples that come to mind include Time Commando, Sega GT 2002's "Chronicle" mode, E.V.O.: The Search for Eden, Eternal Darkness, and Time Gal. As I wrote this paragraph, I thought about what I'm doing here right now, and said to myself "duh, of course there is."

Konami's Time Pilot, then, is one of these games, a five-stage multidirectional arcade shooter about blasting your way through aviation history, for no apparent reason.

The historical record states that its fledgling designer Yoshi Okamato was tasked with creating a driving simulator, but enjoyed Namco's Bosconian so much that he surreptitiously developed a 2D scrolling shooter instead. Time Pilot tested well, and proved the old adage that it is better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission, provided you also make your supervisor money.

Though Bosconian didn't meet my requirements to play during the 1981 phase of Data Driven Gamer, its connection to Time Pilot makes it relevant here.

Game 176: Bosconian

Bosconian - a title I assume to be a reference to the Boskone of Lensman - looks like a logical evolution from Galaga, moving the playing field from a single vertical screen to a wide open asteroid field, with radar showing you the approximate locations of the enemy bases which you must destroy.

There are at least two distinct versions of the game, and I opted to play the "old version" which features different map layout orders from the "new version."

Gameplay centers around finding and destroying these bases, while dealing with swarms of enemies that initially pose more of a distraction than a threat, but tarry too long and they'll spawn and attack with increasing aggression, launch in formations (which can be broken up by shooting the color coded leader), and eventually will go into "RED ALERT" mode, where their speed doubles and they will make every effort to ram you.

The bases themselves are most easily destroyed by firing a single shot into their missile bay when it opens. You could also take out the six individual orbital cannons, but this seems needlessly slow in comparison, even on later rounds when they'll fire E-type missiles at you from said bays.

Bosconian's most famous precedent might be having a continue screen, making it one of the first, but I didn't see much point. It's an endless game, and even though the stages have different layouts, they all kind of feel the same.

GAB rating: Below Average. I just found this game tediously dull. The arrangements and orientations of the enemy bases do provide some strategic depth, and you can use the asteroids and mines as cover for yourself by luring enemies into them instead of going out of your way to shoot them, but this wasn't enough to make the game interesting. I didn't feel challenged at all while playing Bosconian, and if it gets challenging later, I wouldn't know, as I lost interest well before reaching that point if it even has one.

Game 177: Time Pilot

Time Pilot spans five time periods with increasingly challenging opponents and their deadly weaponry:
  • 1910 - Biplanes drop bombs in parabolic arcs
  • 1940 - WWII fighters accompanied by armored bombers
  • 1970 - Helicopters armed with homing missiles
  • 1982 - Jet fighters slightly outpace your own vehicle
  • 2001 - UFOs have two types of energy weapons, and their radial design makes it difficult to read their heading

In all stages, your goal is the same. Blast 56 of the fighters while avoiding their fire, and at some point after that, a boss vehicle shows up. Destroy it, which is frankly much easier than killing the basic fighters thanks to their slow speed and inability to change directions, and you time warp to the next era.

Unlike a lot of multidirectional shooters, your plane has a fairly wide turning radius. It's risky to try to turn around 180 degrees and gun down a pursuing squadron; it will take time, they'll close some of the distance as you're turning, and trying to dodge fire during a wide turn is tricky. The Copernican perspective can also throw you for a loop, as you may not be used to judging your own turns relative to enemy fire from this uncommon point of view. Thankfully, the enemies (and later on, their missiles) have even wider turning radii, which is crucial in the later stages, as homing missiles and jets will fly faster than you do and will beat you in a straight chase.

Sometimes you'll see parachutists - between these and the WWI bombs, the game seems to have a hard time deciding whether the perspective is top down or side view - and collecting them is the best way to score points. They're also a game breaker if you're more interested in scoring points than clearing rounds. The fifth parachutist and beyond are worth 5,000 points each, regardless of stage, and the optimal high score strategy becomes deliberately not advancing past second stage, where parachutists spawn forever and you don't have to deal with homing missiles. Every 10-12 parachutists are worth an extra life, and consequently you could play forever.

Even with an orthodox playstyle, Time Pilot's surprisingly lenient for an arcade game. It's a bit slow paced, things aren't too difficult to dodge, and the action never feels overwhelming. I had no trouble at all reaching 2001 on my first try, and I beat it on my second. The above video depicts my third attempt, and although I lost on stage 6 where it loops back to 1910, I feel this had more to do with my attention span waning than with the increased difficulty.

GAB rating: Average. Time Pilot's mechanically sound and looks really nice with its spritework and parallax-scrolling clouds, but personal thematic appeal aside, it's not very exciting or deep, and by 1982 we've had multiple arcade shooters that manage to be both. The game's fine, and it's more interesting than Bosconian, but I'm more than ready to move on.

1 comment:

  1. That "progressing through history" vibe is what got me hooked on the first Civilization game back in '96 or '97. Every time your people let you add a bit to your castle? Loved that!


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