Saturday, October 18, 2014

CHIMERA BEAST!

It's a weird, unreleased SHMUP from Jaleco that's one-part "Evo: The Search for Eden" and one-part "R-Type." It may not exactly have excelled at what it attempted, but it's certainly an interesting little relic from the Clinton Years, regardless.


Back in the 1990s, there were a lot of side scrolling and vertically scrolling shooters in arcades. "Chimera Beast," a Jaleco offering that never got an official release, is certainly one of the stranger offerings from the era.

At heart, the game is your standard SHMUP, but there are some pretty big deviations from the norm. For one, you're not commandeering a space ship, but rather, taking control of an amorphous DNA monster that, instead of launching bullets and lasers, literally spits an endless number of mouths at adversaries. And also, you have the ability to "level up" based on the enemies you devour ... a cool little hook that, unfortunately, isn't implemented as well as it could've been.

An opening cutscene, complete with seizure-inducing purple strobe effects, introduces us to “eaters,” a parasitic space alien breed described in game as both “greedy” and “amoral” creatures that can modify their appearance by slurping up the DNA of other beings.

After you push in your first quarter, you’re treated to a secondary cutscene, which shows a meteorite filled with “eaters” deploying into the ocean.  And cue stage one, which takes place on the “microbe” level.

When the game begins, your avatar is a blob of pink chewing gum with teeth. Your primary attack involves spitting your teeth at adversaries, which work in a fashion similar to your standard SHMUP weapons. As you plow your way through single-cell organisms and some really funky looking eukaryotes, you’ll notice your “DNA meter” on the bottom left hand of the screen slowly filling up. The more enemies you digest, the quicker you “level” up in the evolutionary game. About twenty seconds into my first play through, my little eater had already swollen to double its initial girth … with two cacti like appendages and an additional tail tacked on for good measure.

Obviously, the game plays very much like your typical side-scrolling shooter. Really, if you don’t know how these kind of games work by now, you really ought to be spending your time looking at other websites, amigo.

The first boss fight, against two giant lamprey eels, is rather unremarkable. Chomp ’em a few times and they die, and then it’s time to Darwin our way on up to Stage 2 -- the “fish” phase of our existence.

All I'm going to say is that "Finding Dory" is dramatically different from the first film. 

Now things are starting to get a little more frantic. After eating some defenseless clownfish, clams and seashells that shoot lightning at you for some reason, you’ll see your powers shifting literally every two seconds. You’ll go from “shell arms” to “mutation” to “cancer” to even “child” (meaning, little defensive fish babies encircle you) between breathes, thus making offensive strategizing virtually impossible.

The next boss fight is up against a bug-eyed squid thing, whose  primary attack is sticking its beck, meaty neck out and shooting purple stars at you. As easy as the first boss battle was, this one is WAY more difficult -- if you’ve ever played “Rocky” on the SMS, you know what to expect with this game’s insane difficulty curve dropoff.

Stage three takes it to “bird” mode, and here, the speed of the game really amps up. At first, things are pretty easy, with our little monster guy facilely chewing up defenseless pigeons to a bizarre Calypso beat. Then, the game’s velocity pretty much doubles, as kamikaze falcons in what appear to be party hats start flying out of the background to attack you. It’s a pretty cool, pseudo 2.5D effect, but holy hell, are those things ever annoying.

Following the introduction of flying bobcats, hornets and various squid-bird abominations, you’ll do battle with our third boss, which is basically a giant golden beak that shoots energy rings at you. Like the last boss, this thing is hard as hell, but thankfully, it doesn’t necessitate too many hits to finish it off.

Stage four takes place in the “reptile” phylum, and we finally get a change of pace from the light-blue scenery the game has given us thus far. Flying our way through the jungle, we’ll duke it out with dinosaur-turtle-skeletons, giant purple spiders, Puyo Puyo blobs, little raptors with Yoshi tongues and penis-headed mushroom monsters with teeth.

At this point, your avatar sprite has gotten so big that it’s really difficult to dodge enemy fire. Along with the spastic power-up system, I’m beginning to see why this thing was shelved by Jaleco. Our boss for this stage is a giant crocodile with multiple eyes and a mini-tongue that spits lasers at you. Surprisingly, despite its intimidating looks, it’s actually one of the easier bosses in the game to best.

Stage five is “mammal world,” which starts off amidst a red sky backdrop before trailing off into cavern expedition. New foes here include moles, walking Venus’s fly traps, magma and exploding boulders. Whereas the previous levels all had a fairly fixed left to right pattern, this stage takes you all over the place, scrolling vertically, horizontally and even backwards at one point. The boss battle is against a green rhino-lion hybrid amidst a boiling lava pool -- it’s hard as fuck, and you’ll probably hate it.

You know, you have to wonder if the Obama Administration would handle an intergalactic invasion of microbe monsters as well as its handling the Ebola crisis...

And with stage six, we enter a purple-hued cityscape for the “mankind” level.  We know shit is getting serious, because the music transitions from the other-worldly, tinny soundtrack to something that almost resembles a downbeat dirge.

As far as which city we’re attacking, specifically, I’m not sure. Uh, which city has the most orange and pink skyscrapers in it?  Of course, the bad guys here are your standard fighter jets, tanks and pick up trucks shooting lasers (I guess DARPA decide an alien microbe invasion was a good enough time to break out the MIB tech.) Neatly, you can actually take a chomp out of some of the foreground, which is definitely a nice little touch.

The pace in this stage is much slower, and much more linear, than the earlier levels. Our mid-boss is basically a giant power grid, which can be destroyed by positioning your microbe dude directly in front of it and spamming it, “eyeball boss in Altered Beast” style.

Things speed up, and the “Chimera Beast” theme resumes. After blowing up a nuclear power plant, we’re thrust into stage 7 -- the “Catastrophe” zone!

Visually, there’s not too much going on here. Basically, it’s a purple vortex, which scrolls both up and down, with tons of alien monsters and rockets launched at you from off screen. Eventually, a NASA shuttle shows up and its up to you to bite it four billion times until it explodes. Of course, it’s a bit of a challenge, since four zillion things are attacking you while you do it, but this is a SHMUP after all … what did you expect the grand finale was going to consist of?

And that brings us to the “Last Duel,” an epic final boss fight against … uh, what the fuck is this thing supposed to be?

This is the way the world ends ... not with a bang, but Krang from "Ninja Turtles" fighting a giant armadillo monster with a pronounced underbite during an LSD trip. 

Well, anyway, after you kill it, you get one of two endings. In the bad ending, you fail in your quest to take over the planet. And in the “good ending?” You destroy the ecosystem and you and all your “eater” buddies begin to hop planet to planet like Galactus eating up worlds.

And in the game’s ultimate swerve? The fourth wall is totally shattered as we learn you as the motherfucking player are responsible for the planet's demise, since you facilitated the eaters inevitable journey to Earth! Aw, more arcade games need to end on homicidal guilt-trips, in my humblest o’ opinions.

All in all, Chimera Beast is a neat prototype for what could have been a cool coin-op experience, but it's clear the title had some major problems. For one thing, at 20 minutes in length, it's way too short. But more than that, the "evolutionary" mechanic is pretty much broken, with your avatar's abilities pretty much shifting on their own.

The visuals were okay, as was the music, but they're both kinda' subpar for the era. The character design was neat and all, but the sprites are a tad disappointing. The gameplay is rather solid, but nothing you haven't experienced elsewhere. In short? It's a fun novelty, but not really the bedrock of what would've been a memorable arcade release.

Still, it's a game that's just weird enough to possibly warrant a playthrough one evening. After all; outside of the TG-16 cult classic "Psychosis," just how many Halloween-appropriate SHMUPS are out there, anyway? 

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