Genre: Reflect-em-up | Developer: Takumi | Year: 1999

Two games by the same developer, on the same CPS-2 arcade system, released within a year or two of each other. Giga Wing and Mars Matrix. Two games with a similar “reflect” mechanic, in a vertizontal orientation – a generally cursed orientation that actually makes tons of sense with the reflect mechanics in mind. One of these I admire greatly, and the other is the one I actually enjoy playing.

Mars Matrix’s design commits to putting four different functions on one fire button, and somehow manages to avoid feeling awkward to play as a result. Why did they do this? Any CPS-2 cabinet going around was surely guaranteed to have at least two working buttons. It’s beyond me – maybe the reason the controls aren’t awkward is because everything’s on the same fire button1.

It’s also a bit of a masterclass in what point items should look and sound like – they’re all gold, all shiny, all over the place, and the biggest value ones are 24x24 pulsating golden Rubik’s cubes that take up like a quarter of the screen space. And to cap it off, I’m a real sucker for the rough-as-ready, 90s-as-fuck presentation and music.

But, and I hate to say it, Giga Wing is the game I actually like to play.

It’s rather easy to bury yourself with a mistake in both games. These enemies and their patterns (though far less so the bosses) were not intended to be faced without the reflect force – but just one mistimed reflect and this is exactly where you find yourself. This counts all the more in Mars Matrix, which has a variable cooldown for your reflect based on how you use it, topping out at a truly painful ten seconds. Where to go from there? You can make a vague attempt at micrododging in a game with a somewhat large and irregular hitbox, and then you can die.

But in Giga Wing, that’s where you have your secret weapon – the second button – it exists! Bombs. Screen-clear, invulnerability for a few moments. 3 per life and a few top-ups along the way. Now, I can cover for a misplay here and there, which is certainly good because that’s not really the role of the reflect force.

While Giga Wing is certainly easier2, and certainly less elegant than Mars Matrix, I don’t play STGs to be buried by how much of a fool I am. This is the same reason I have no interest in another undoubtedly elegant STG about switching polarities. I play them to go up against impossible-looking challenges and somehow survive, with every rotten scam in the book.

  1. Dreamcast port lets you bind the various firing options however you like, if you don’t like tapping. Me, I love to tap. 

  2. I generally don’t have a huge interest in which games are easier or harder than others. Both games are arcade shmups – games that are forced by nature to not suffer fools gladly – and are therefore Hard enough to make the mechanics actually matter and to demand a little respect. Good enough for me.