And so we start the game in the Desert region. Right away you can see the rather paradoxical nature of the Mega Drive version of this game- on the one hand, everything looks so different, but at the same time, it's all the same... Weird, eh? Anyway, the Desert is your introductory level and, according to the utterly insane story in the Mega Drive manual, this is the desert where Kait was looked after by 'a human boy' and decided "I am not going to escape any more!" and began to lay waste to whatever the hell the enemies are actually called (I've seen them called Belzers, The Burgoid, Sovereign Baglon and 'The Evil Insects of Shokai' but I couldn't tell you which one it's supposed to be).
Anyway, this introductory segment is pretty standard so far. Lots of bugs fly in and attack, introducing some of the recurring enemies of the game and more generally, the genre at this point in time- the 'fly in your general direction and shoot' Fly enemies, the 'looks sort-of menacing but not really' Middle Boss enemies (which, at this point in the arcade version, drop your first sub-weapon, but not so in the MD game) and finally, the most irritating, the 'dash on screen at the speed of light and take a pot-shot at you before running away' Bee enemies. Trust me, you'll learn to hate those guys pretty quickly.
Before we continue further into the game, though, there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
Let's take a closer look at Yanmer (from the arcade game) and Kait (from the Mega Drive game):
Yanmer is a particularly stout and sturdy little warrior. And, dare I say it, that little propeller hat he's got looks sort-of cute. Hell, he looks like one of those fat guys from the NES Ice Hockey game. Kait, though, just looks... Unsightly. And, even more unappealing is the fact that he's in such an awkward flying position (ooh-err) and he takes up so much of the screen that it makes dodging through bullets absolute hell with him, and much more difficult than it is with Yanmer in the arcade version. Also: he just looks stupid in comparison, which is quite the achievement.
So whatever, now that's out the way, we enter the next segment of Stage 1...
Eww! What's up with that?! The first screenshot has what appears to be either a whole row of rotting snail things or it could well be a retroactive Earthworm Jim cameo, and that's the Evil Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug for a Butt's... Butt. Might be wrong on that one.
This segment, inside a pyramid of all places, also introduces another extremely irritating enemy... Or, rather, a squadron thereof. The Laser Bee Death Squad, as I delightfully refer to them, always moves in packs, ranging from a handful (in the arcade game) to about a dozen on screen at once (in the MD game, oh joy) and they fire, as the name implies, lasers that whip across the screen at a blinding rate, and before you know it, BLAM, back to the last checkpoint. In the arcade game, you can usually shoot them as they appear on screen and get away with it, but try this in the Mega Drive game and you'll soon taste the sweet nectar of demise, because there's too many of them. Unless you've got the best weapon (which, as we'll find out later, is a bad idea) you're best to stick to the bottom of the screen and stay there. Except that there's usually enemies above the Laser Bee Death Squad that fire at you and kill you and rarrrgggghh.
The journey into the pyramid continues on, and since the above screenshots are pretty boring, I might as well make mention of some of the less-obvious changes between the two games. The arcade's pyramid is pretty short, but the Mega Drive game adds in a rather infuriating 'maze' section, pictured above, where those annoying mushroom enemies show up in very awkward positions. Fortunately, a handy sub-weapon cannister appears just before this segment (the first in the MD game) which makes it considerably easier to hit them. I suspect that this section was put in to serve as a pseudo-tutorial regarding how the sub-weapons work- the instruction manual actually makes mention of this section and details how to get through it. In any case, it's actually a pretty useless addition, as it makes the level just the tiniest bit too long to slog through.
WARNING! HERE COMES THE BOSS! Note the difference between the artwork on the back wall- the Mega Drive game goes for a particularly badly-drawn and boring piece of hieroglyphery, but the arcade game has a totally bitchin' piece of art depicting the forbidden love between a generic Egyptian guy and a gigantic, oddly mournful wasp. Or maybe I'm just mis-interpreting it. This is, rather obviously, a giant wasp you're fighting, although the one in the MD game loses the odd hat, and looks less like an old woman. Another difference between the two games rears its rather ugly head here- in the arcade, it's not blatantly obvious when you're actually hitting the boss characters, as they'll only flash in pain occasionally. It's far more obvious in the MD game, as they flash every time they're hit.
... Oh, you wanna know how to kill the boss? Well, that'd be useful. The weak-spot is the head, and the wasp moves up and down, firing a spread of three projectiles, which you're given just about enough space to fit through. The cramped nature of the Mega Drive version (seeing as the wasp is a little big bigger) makes this fight very infuriating, but the wasp is slower than in the arcade. It'll also occasionally spurt fire from its stinger. It'll go down pretty quickly, though, so keep at it and try not to get killed.
Let's get to the next stage already.
So now we're on the Plains level, and it's here that Insector X's hilariously wacky sense of perspective first makes itself really apparent. Check it out, the flowers in this craaazy world are actually smaller than the blades of grass. Ahahaha! But beware, just because the plants are small doesn't mean they're not here to kick your ass- they've got small turrets tucked away in the stigma, which really ought to be taken out just to prevent the screen being overtaken with bullets. We also get to see another new enemy type, the Ladybird, which is a pretty standard unit- they travel closely together in packs, and snake their way across the screen.
Oh, now screw these guys. Yet another infuriating enemy, the, uh, Whatever-The-Hell-This-Is (I'm terribly sorry, it's just I never took Biology past GCSE) dashes on from behind you and fires off two three-bullet spread shots, then a laser, then two more three-bullet spread shots, all from the rear, then takes off. The first time you meet him, he'll probably get nicely acquainted with your posterior and cost you a life. The total dick. It seems, though, that the arcade version of this creature is by far the more annoying of the two, because seriously, you can't even see him and then suddenly he's there holy Mother Hubbard! Enemies like this should be banned from shoot-em-ups forever. (see also: Truxton, which is another game that plays this cruel joke several times.)
Now, for more differences between the two games! While the arcade game seems content to just throw a couple more enemies at you before the boss, the Mega Drive game adds in a little mini-gauntlet with these red, uh, appendages. They actually appear throughout the level, but there's one more set after the 'open air' segment. They'll rise up at set moments to try and squash you like the bug you are, and can only be taken out by shooting the metallic centre. This wouldn't be so bad if the annoying "hit and run" Bee enemies didn't also butt in every now and then, often leaving you either trapped between two tentacles and being killed, or being stuck at the top of the screen, unable to avoid their shots. Best bet is to shoot them before they can attack, even though that's much easier said than done. Get past this, and you have the honour of fighting the boss:
Back when I was only aware of the arcade game, I hated this boss. Hated, hated, hated this boss. On the few occasions when I played this in the arcade (See, I'm not solely one of those ROM whores! I play the games on the real hardware when I can- I even own a copy of the Mega Drive game- so I'm the real deal, just like the Neo-Geo, man!) this was the guy I could get to, and his unpredictable nature kept killing me. Especially since there aren't really any safe spots, you have to keep moving both to avoid him ramming into you, and also avoid the mini-crickets he fires at you... Which, since he keeps boxing you in, are very hard to avoid. Eventually, you realise how his movement works- if you're level with him, he'll rush you, if not he'll slowly rise up and down- but it's still quite difficult in practice.
In comparison, however... The Mega Drive one is a total pussy. The bloody instruction manual even points out the 'safe spot' where you can simply hide for the entire battle, peeking your head out every now and then to shoot the lance, the weak point. Actually, one thing I do have to say, the manual for the game is surprisingly good. It has a full break-down of the enemy units and their stupid names, and comes with a mini-guide for the first two stages. It's surprisingly robust! Getting back to the game, it's really not hard at all. I beat it on my first try, compared to the dozen-or-so lives I lost to the arcade one. A point to the Mega Drive version, then.
What mild inconveniences await us on the next stage? Well, you're going to have to find the will-power to click below!
More wacky hijinx with Kait and Yanmer on the next page!