Hey, it's Quartet- another Sega arcade port that's not a port, just like Laser Ghost!
Except this time- in Japan at least- Sega decided to give the game a new name. As you can see above.
(Because we're pedants, we'll be using the Japanese title throughout this article. Hope you don't mind.)
As with Laser Ghost, let's start at the beginning, with the original game.
The arcade Quartet, released in 1986, throws a private rescue team- Lee (P1, blue), Joe (P2, yellow), Mary (P3, red) and Edgar (P4, green)- into a fierce battle against plundering space pirates (read: weird robots and men on fire) who have taken over Space Colony 06. and while you might be tempted to write it off as a weird multi-player Contra rip-off, not so fast- it predates Konami's classic run-and-gunner by a year. Instead, Quartet is Sega's version of- wait for it- Atari's classic co-op dungeon crawler Gauntlet. Not in terms of the gameplay itself- obviously, this is a platforming affair with some gunplay involved, where you have to defeat a key-guarding monster on each stage to open the door and move on to the next- but in other ways. Most obviously, both games support up to four players with each of the four characters differing slightly (in Quartet, they have different weapon upgrades and walking speeds) and rather than a set amount of lives, both games use an ever-decresing energy number, mostly designed to bleed your wallet dry. While Gauntlet drains your energy constantly and kills you the second it reaches 0, Quartet drains it a little slower, takes off a big chunk if you get hit, and lets you live at 0 as long as you don't get hit. Both games encourage you to insert additional credits to boost your energy meter, and both games loop forever (Quartet starts looping after you beat Stage 32).
Although it's supposed to be about co-operation, Quartet- much like Bubble Bobble- is best enjoyed with a friend (or two, or three) with the explicit proviso that you are total dicks to each other. Stealing items from stunned players? Yeah, go for it. Hopping on top of one another to annoy and get ahead? Sure, why not. Finally, getting the key and opening the door gives the winning player a much better energy boost on the Presentation Ceremony screen at the end of each stage, and their character gloats while the others all cry. It is, of course, mandatory to gloat in real life too, even if this may result in real-life violence. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as much fun on your own, where without the gloating and credit-stealing and general dickhole behaviour that comes with multiplayer, the game feels empty, somewhat pointless. It's certainly interesting though, and I'd say it's worth playing because it's one of the most Sega games ever made- the graphics are blue skies, and the soundtrack is insanely good. Seriously, some of Sega's best tunes.
The game was ported verbatim (well, kind-of) to the CPC, C64 and ZX Spectrum, but Sega's own home version is very different.
It's not quite as drastic as the changes made to Laser Ghost when it hit Sega's 8-bit console, mind. The Master System/Mark III version of the game keeps the basic ideas of Quartet in place (Destroy the boss for the key! Only a key opens the door! Open the door!) but everything else has changed. For a start, the game was released as Double Target in Japan because only Mary and Edgar (misspelt Edger) are playable for two-player co-op action (I guess Sega kept its title as Quartet over here to cash in on name recognition, maybe...?) as they fight to save space colony Nine and recover the revered Cynthia's casket, stolen by aliens. Or, as the manual repeatedly spells it, ALIENS. Next, the game's structure has changed- there's now only six stages (one of which is locked unless you collect the five Star Power items from the previous stages), they're slightly bigger now, and from the second stage onwards, they're split into two rooms, which you move between using big doorways.
As for the basic game mechanics, everything feels a lot different- movement is more slippery, and the majority of the power-up items from the arcade are gone, leaving only the Jetpack, an invincibility item, a smart bomb item, and a power drink to top up your energy meter. Yes, the energy number is still in place, but with an extra zero tacked on the end, as you start with 10000 points on it. It also decreases faster, and you actually get extra lives- fall down a pit or run out of energy, and you'll lose a life, but on the other hand there's no continues this time. Fortunately, grabbing the power drink gives you 10000 extra energy points, so it's essentially an extra life. Another change is to the weapon upgrade system- instead of picking up correctly coloured orbs to upgrade your shot, you're given promotions when you reach certain score amounts, which translate into weapon upgrades and extra lives, like so:
Shooting distance extended
Shooting range widened
Shooting speed increased
As we'll see though, getting the required score won't be easy.
We're almost ready to begin. Before we do, though, just to clarify- although Double Target is a two-player game, this'll be a solo mission as I couldn't convince my editor to co-op with me. That means we'll be playing as Mary, as she's Player 1 this time around. Secondly, we'll be playing the Japanese version as it has the most logical title, some slightly different level designs (they're minor changes- we'll go over them at the end) and, er, Mary has a cuter sprite in it. That's the other big difference between the regions, you see- the US/World versions give Mary a really bad 80s haircut with brown hair, whereas the Japanese Mary has black hair and a ponytail. Look, these kinds of details are important, you know?
It's time to save space colony Number Nine- let's play Double Target!