Reviewer: Chris McMullen
"I hunger - run, coward, run!" These words may well be familiar to you if
you spent time in any amusement arcade in the mid-eighties. They came
not from the mouth of some spaced out, burnt out arcade freak, but from an
actual arcade machine - the much played Sinistar. This
scrolling space shoot-em-up had you flying around in a little ship through
several enemy-inhabited zones, trying to gather enough crystals to destroy
the Sinistar, a huge flying death star-style baddie which lurked in each
zone, and, once built, pursued the player relentlessly.
It was a lot of fun to play, and was enjoyed by all. Except, that is, for those in the seaside town of Southport, where a strange turn of events occurred. The machine delivered
to one arcade had the board put in backwards by mistake. So instead of pursuing the player, once completed, the Sinistar would try to be friends with the player, and if that failed, flee sniffling until it was cornered. At which point, it would just accept its fate and sit there while the player mercilessly annihilated it. This display of pacifism proved unpopular with the bloodthirsty juvenile players who wanted some proper blasting action,
and resulted in the arcade, which shall remain nameless, shutting down due to bad business. Don't believe it? A friend of a friend of a friend told me, so it must be true.
There are no such pacifist tendencies displayed in Sinistar Unleashed, GameFX's 3D follow-up to Sinistar, just buckets and buckets of mindless brain-warping blasting. This sequel once again casts you as a lone pilot fighting against the might of not one, but an entire fleet of somewhat Gigeresque Sinistars. This situation develops after you are sent to check out a fluctuation in the shield grid protecting one of the evil aliens' Sinistar production facilities. You sneak in through the gap to take out the facility - all well and good - except that when the dimensional gate contained therein is destroyed, you're sucked into the Sinistars' universe.
Having watched these events occur in the intro, this is where the game begins in earnest, with you having to blast your way through a total of twenty-three alien sectors, kicking Sinistar bottom, and trying to avoid being obliterated by the alien inhabitants. This is made especially tricky by the fact that the aforementioned shield gap helpfully closed after you, so you're on your own, just like every other pilot forced to take on the forces of evil. Still, at least you don't have to worry about friendly fire here - you can happily blast everything that does and doesn't move. Who needs tactics when you've got a big pair of lasers?
Crystal Tips and Alistair
Well, unfortunately, you do. Why? Because while you can obliterate most of the enemies in the game with a few well placed laser blasts, the big Sinistars that you have to defeat to progress to the next level are completely immune to your lasers. Instead, you have to zoom around each of the 3D levels, and blast the floating asteroids found there, which release crystals. Once you have enough crystals, you can fire a Sinibomb which can damage Sinistars. The trouble is that you're not the only one after these crystals - the aliens are after them too. Why? Because at the centre of each level is a giant green gate - the portal through which the Sinistars enter - and to activate this gate, the aliens need to collect crystals (about twenty in total) and attach them to the sides of the gate to turn it on. At this point, the gate will energise, and the Sinistar will enter the level, setting its sights on you. And if you don't have enough crystals to take it down, you're in big trouble.
Should you not feel quite like taking on a giant laser firing alien dreadnought yet, then you can reduce the number of crystals attached to the gate by firing Sinibombs at it, giving you more time to build up your arsenal. Or alternately, you can try taking out the workers, the small alien craft which zoom around each level, picking up crystals and attaching them to the gate. New workers do appear to take their place eventually, but you can slow down the aliens' progress by smacking their xenomorphic faces in.
Naturally, the aliens aren't just going to sit around and let you kick their workers' heads in and generally impede their plans to conquer the universe. Aside from the worker aliens, you also have to deal with an assortment of warrior aliens, who become progressively nastier and more heavily armed as you make your way through the levels. These warrior aliens, while not being too bright, are many in number and will try to blast you into oblivion while you're blowing up asteroids and their worker pals. Using an assortment of weapons, they fly around blasting you and do their best to see you leave your giblets floating around in space.
Luckily, whereas in the original Sinistar, you died if your ship was hit once, in Unleashed, you can take a fair battering from the enemy. Each hit drains your shields, and you only die once your shields are used up. Plus, the crystals you gather can be used for more than just making Sinibombs. If you have any crystals stored, they'll automatically be converted into shield energy till your shield is full, and they can also be used to power the weapons you can pick up by blasting the occasional weapon transports that head through the levels. These handy bits of equipment can initially only be used a limited number of times, although after a few levels you get versions that stay with you permanently. The weapons include a lightning gun, long and short range missiles, and other bits and bats - and all of them completely useless against the Sinistars. You can't have everything.
While you can delay the arrival of the Sinistars, you can't prevent them from putting in an appearance. In fact, when you're tooled up properly, you may actually find it useful to hasten their arrival by blasting a few asteroids and releasing enough crystals for the workers to activate the gate. The Sinistars arrive in a flash of green light, and begin giving chase to you straight away, using lasers, missiles, and other sharp pointy objects to dispatch you. They all look different but are equally nasty, and while your initial reaction may be to run like the clappers, you have to take them out to progress to the next level.
To make things a bit more difficult, most of them can't be taken out just by chucking a Sinibomb into their faces - instead you may have to fly at them, zoom around behind or above them, and bomb them from there. This is rarely a simple task when they're trying to obliterate you and have a tendency to knock half your shields off if you stray too close. Still, it's all in a days work for an ace intergalactic pilot. Defeat the Sinistar and you go onto the next level where you take on another Sinistar, and another, then take on a bonus level, and then another Sinistar, and another, and so on.
Chorlton and the Wheelies
Sinistar Unleashed not only sounds and looks good, (it's great watching the scary Sinistars taunt you while trying to decimate them), it's also fun to play and strangely addictive. Unfortunately, the game's repetitiveness (or did I say that already?) is what stops Sinistar Unleashed being a must-buy game. Even with the bonus levels, things can get rather samey very quickly. If you weren't a fan of the original Sinistar, you're probably best off trying the demo version of the game first before buying. Nevertheless, Sinistar will appeal to fans of the original game, and is a more than competent attempt at updating a classic. It's definitely worth checking out.