Thursday, 8 November 2012

COIN-OP CLASSICS - Volfied (Taito) 1991

Volfied is the strangely titled follow up to Taito's earlier arcade titles, Qix, and Super Qix. Released back in 1991 Volfied took the line drawing aspect of its predecessors and set it in a futuristic theme not too dissimilar from their later Space Invaders sequels and spin-offs.

Whereas Qix has a very minimalist approach to its graphics, with basic sprites and geometric shapes as enemies, Volfied looks more like the space shoot-em-ups from that era of arcade gaming. Backgrounds consist of planet surfaces and space installations, while enemies are mostly mechanised or robotic in some way or another, this is especially true of the bosses that inhabit each single screen level. These behemoths are usually very striking, from huge robot hands and skulls, to centipede like creatures that snake their way around the screen. The smaller enemies that accompany them are either generic space ships, many of them looking quite similar to your own craft, or a smaller clone of the boss.
The sound is functional, with only title screen music, and a short riff that plays as you enter a stage, and sound effects consist of humming and basic sfx for the ship movement. To be honest, presentation is not Volfied's strong point, though it gets the job done and feels fitting to the basic nature of the gameplay.

The aim of the game is simplicity itself. Move your ship around the 4 edges of the screen, holding down the fire button to move into the play area, drawing a line behind you. Once you touch the side again, or previously drawn line, they link and the shape you have created fills in. Fill in 80% or the play area and the level is completed, the more above 80% you go the higher your bonus score. Sounds easy, right? Well not quite, you see life is made difficult for you by a huge robotic boss who inhabits the play area, moving a random path and occasionally firing projectiles. Should he, his projectiles, or any of the smaller enemy ships you encounter touch you or your line inside the play area, a fireball zips along it, killing you. It makes for tricky and extremely tense gameplay as you find yourself waiting for the exact moment to enter the game area and begin drawing, frantically making your way to another side. It is this pure risk vs reward gameplay that is the key to Volfied's playability. Should you make a dash for it, trying to fill as big an area as possible, or play cautiously, going for smaller fills, working your way around the enemies? You will find yourself pushing your ship that little bit further, praying you will make it to another side, desperately watching as the enemies and projectiles glide and fire their way around the screen. When you reach your destination unscathed it is extremely satisfying, but when you push your luck, remaining in the play area too long and are destroyed, you will adopt a more cautious approach, making smaller fills and taking your time.

Luckily you are not defenseless, filling in an area containing the smaller foes will destroy them, giving you more breathing room in the play area. This lends the game a more strategic feel as you try to create small areas that the enemies will fly into, resulting in you finishing the final line and boxing them in. Pickups also appear in the form of grey boxes and must be drawn around to collect, these can be either bonus points, a laser gun you can use to shoot and destroy the smaller adversaries, a speed boost, or even one to slow down the enemy movements for a short while. They are a great help and so you will find yourself trying to obtain them as soon as possible. It all adds up to make an extremely addictive experience, there is something very satisfying about filling in the play area, doubly so when destroying enemy craft in the process. The bosses can prove tricky due to their size and the projectiles they fire, but careful planning on the player's part can see trap areas devised that, once the boss moves into, can be sealed up with a final line, causing him to explode and completing the stage.

Describing Volfied can make it sound more complicated than it actually is, but after a few attempts you will get the hang of it, quickly learning what you can and cannot get away with, and soon you will be devising your own strategies for completing the stages as quickly as possible. It is a timeless classic, simplistic in nature but exceptionally satisfying and addictive to play. Like many of the old arcade games of the 80's and early 90's it is pure pick-up-and-play gameplay that can be enjoyed by anyone, but takes a great deal of skill and time to master.

To enjoy Volfied nowadays you have multiple options. Firstly, there is the excellent MAME Arcade emulator which is the closest you will get to playing the original arcade cabinet. Volfied is also featured on the Taito Legends compilations that were released on many platforms; Xbox, PS2, PC, and PSP, all offering a great port of the arcade original. Home conversions consist of a Sony Playstation port known as Qix Neo, featuring the original arcade mode as well as an arranged version with tweaked graphics and sound. There are also solid ports available on the Sega Mega Drive and PC Engine, though the Mega Drive version is known as Ultimate Qix. One thing to note, however, is that while the arcade original ran at 240x320 resolution, the home conversions ran at 320x240, this results in the home ports looking as though they have been flipped on their side, widescreen rather than vertical display. It doesn't affect gameplay though, and in some instances it can actually feel more natural to play in this mode. Whichever way you chose to experience it, they are all worthy of the arcade parent's name and I urge you to play it if you haven't already. Hell, even if you have, just go back and replay it, you will soon be chasing those high scores all over again.

The home conversions flipped the screen onto its side