Platform: Arcade (The New Zealand Story hardware) Other Platforms: NES, Mega Drive Developer: Hot-B Publisher: Taito Released: 1989 Genre: Shoot-em-up - Horizontal Players: 1-2 (Alternating)
Insector X is a strange thing indeed, in that even by 1989 standards it seems a little dated. Compare it to the other big shoot-em-up releases that year- R-Type II, Gradius III, Dragon Breed- and Insector X just feels like it's lacking something. I'll help you out here, chief- it's missing an interesting weapon system that doesn't break the game the second you know how to abuse it, and a fair challenge. It's a shame, because otherwise it's not too bad- it doesn't do anything catastrophically wrong, and actually does everything competently enough, it's just missing a killer edge. Oh, and you can break the game over your knee in seconds. That's a bit of a bad thing too.
As the adorable Yanmer (complete with propeller hat), your mission is to destroy the Burgoid monarch and save mankind from disaster. The Burgoid, as the name suggests, is a tribe of pissed-off insects, and so at least the game has an interesting visual theme- no spaceships or intergalactic battles here, the conflict takes place in your very own back yard, which leads to a hilariously awkward sense of scale, as well as an army of bees, ladtbirds, ants, and even snails join in. It's all very bright and colourful- Taito's trademark in those days- and the goofy expressions make it stand out a little, visually at least, from the other shoot-em-ups of the time.
The thing is, the game itself is pretty average in its execution, and this is the main problem- it doesn't do anything offensively bad, but it's not too interesting or noteworthy either. It's just a typical side-scroller with a few cheap shots here and there, and it nearly redeems itself with an interesting weapon system. As well as the standard shot, you can pick up insect cans left behind by bigger bugs which flash between blue and brown, and these serve as your sub-weapons. Blue cans are your anti-air weapons such as missiles and orbs that circle your ship, while brown cans are your anti-ground weapons like depth charges and cannisters that sit on the ground and spew bullets everywhere. Collecting more than one changes the weapon completely, rather than merely upgrade it. It's nice that they gave you a little variety with your sub-weapon, but they give you the most powerful anti-air attack first, thus defeating the point of experimenting with them. Poor show, Hot-B.
There's also a rather silly 'rank' system where getting a certain number of power-ups causes smaller enemies to start spewing suicide bullets upon death and bigger enemies to take more damage- yes, the maximum upgrade makes enemies harder to kill. When these 'handicaps' are on, the game really gets frustrating, so you eventually learn to avoid pretty much every power-up that comes on screen, which is a strange, terrible way to play a shoot-em-up. So, while Insector X is nothing special, it doesn't do anything horrifyingly bad either- although the rank system is pretty strange, that's pretty much all it does wrong. It's just a shame that it doesn't have the appeal of other shoot-em-ups of the era, or of any era- it's just kind-of there. It's quite possibly the most average shoot-em-up you'll ever play... And hey, maybe that's what you're looking for- something you can play while your brain is switched off. Otherwise, you can take it or leave it.
For being as vanilla as Mr. Whippy, Insector X is awarded...
In a sentence, Insector X is... Distinctly average.