Retro Gaming Spotlight
Ranger X – Generic title, great game.
Many people probably picked it up based on the cover illustration alone, not knowing just how varied the gameplay was. It’s certainly not your typical shoot ’em up.
The presentation is superb – you’re never in any doubt of what’s happening or where to go, as the beginning of each level is preceded by a wireframe 3D video (!!) explaining your objective. There are little cinematic cutscenes here and there, too.
The controls may take a little getting used to, but once you have the knack they’re intuitive and precise. Ranger X himself can float around with the aid of his jet-pack, or walk forwards and backwards along the ground. Pressing either A or C will make him spin 180 degrees to face the left or right. It sounds odd at first, but the game is halfway between shooter and platformer, the traditional controls of either would have been frustrating to use.
You are followed by a little motorbike called “Ex-Up Indra”, and it scoots loyally around your heels like a robotic puppy. It goes where you go, and shoots when you shoot. If you so choose, you can take manual control or have its movements dictated by a second player for some co-op action. You can also combine with it, Transformer-fashion, to burn rubber through the levels or navigate small tunnels. Later in the game, it’s replaced by Ex-Up Eos, a sort of gunship. Not half as cool, as you can’t control this one.
Ranger X has a large array of weapons at his disposal, although most have to be found in later levels. From the off, you’re equipped with a standard laser rifle. It’s ammo is unlimited, and the rate of fire high. Naturally, it doesn’t do much damage to most enemies, meaning that you have to bob and weave your way through the hordes, strategically deploying your stronger weapons.
Flamethrower: Does what it says on the tin. Strong, but rubbish.
Seeker Mine: These explode on the ground and leave a trail of hot blue fire. Good for heralding your approach and taking out ground-based enemies. Can also be thrust down the gullet of anything in your way, blowing them up from the inside.
Seeker Charge: Most players will default to this weapon. It sends out rapid-fire twin lightning bolts. Tapping the button will launch them dead ahead, holding it down will cause the lightning beams to rotate 360 degrees until they lock onto a target. Useful for covering your back.
Seeker Falcon: A robotic falcon that perches on your shoulder. One of the most powerful weapons in the game. Fly, my pretty! Fly!!
Plasma Blast: A weapon that fires crescents of burning plasma. Rather reminiscent of Alex Kidd’s power bracelet, but without the cool sound effect.
Photon Storm: This is the mandatory BFG. A one-shot wonder that destroys all in its path. Feels good. Your mum will come in just to check you haven’t blown up the TV.
The weapons are powered by sunlight (very environmentally-friendly) and using them will deplete the charge. As long as you’re above ground the weaker weapons can be used liberally, but the more powerful ones will, of course, use more power. When empty, you must retreat to a sunny spot to recharge. If you’re underground or inside a building you will have to improvise.
Weapon power can also be sacrificed to refill your life meter by standing in one of the ‘recharge chambers’ hidden throughout the levels. Inexplicably, Ranger X can also shoot apples off trees and eat them for a little life boost.
The maneuverability Ranger X’s jet-pack offers is incredible, but you must take care not to over-heat the engine. Use it too much and it will cut out, causing you to (harmlessly) plummet to the ground. It adds a flair of strategy to an already complex shoot ’em up. A later level will see you scaling a gigantic skyscraper, leaping from window ledge to window ledge, with the ground perilously far below. Misjudging your flight will often mean starting the whole ascent again.
The levels run the gamut from traditional scorched desert, to technological fortresses, to lush forests. Each one is guarded by an intimidating boss character such as the giant crawler robot from level one, or the squid monster on level three. Some will require cunning and patience to defeat, others just a good old ass-kicking.
You’ll burn through the whole game pretty quickly, but unlike contemporaries Thunder Force or R-Type it remains a varied and interesting experience that never repeats itself and constantly throws new things at you. You won’t regret adding this one to your Mega Drive collection.