Red Alarm
  • Genre:
    • Shoot 'Em Up
  • Platform:
    • Virtual Boy
  • Developer:
    • T&E Soft
  • Publishers:
    • JP T&E Soft
    • US Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 07/21/1995
    • US 08/14/1995
Score: 70%

This review was published on 07/26/2016.

Red Alarm is a space shooter video game developed by T&E Soft for the Virtual Boy. It was originally released in Japan on July 21, 1995, and North America on August 14, 1995. The game was published in Japan by T&E Soft and by Nintendo in North America. Launching simultaneously with the Virtual Boy, Red Alarm takes some heavy inspiration from Star Fox, which was a 3-D rail shooter game developed by Nintendo and released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1993. Developing such a game was a strange departure for T&E Soft, as the company was mostly known for making golf games at the time. You'll be alarmed by Red Alarm's quality, because it looks so bad and yet it's so good. Well, maybe "so good" is a bit of an overstatement, but it is surprisingly decent. This is definitely one of the better games on the Virtual Boy.

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Towards the end of the 20th century, the Earth was engulfed in a cataclysmic World War that went on for seventy excruciating years. At some point during the war, an automated battle system called the Killer Operating System, or K.O.S., was created. Thanks to its highly sophisticated neural network that had access to all biotechnology data available, K.O.S. evolved into a highly efficient weapon able to neutralize any external threat. K.O.S. later became known as KAOS, and it completely turned the tide of the war. Eventually, the grueling war ended and a new government was established on Earth. The new government wished to create a utopian society entirely devoid of war, and so KAOS was shut down and almost every single weapon was promptly destroyed. However, KAOS had become sentient, so it resisted deactivation and responded by building a massive army of new weapons to attack humanity. Humanity had only a single weapon left: a lone Tech-Wing Fighter. It's now your job to use the Tech-Wing Fighter to destroy KAOS.

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While the Virtual Boy is able to simulate 3-D depth with stereoscopy and parallax, most games on the system are still predominantly 2-D. That's not the case for Red Alarm. Yes, this game is fully 3-D, meaning it contains actual polygons. There is a rather big catch, however: none of those polygons have textures. That means nearly every single thing in this game is literally a wireframe model. Coupled with the Virtual Boy's red and black color palette, this gives the game a very eyestrain inducing look. On the one hand, these graphics are technologically impressive for the Virtual Boy. On the other hand, they're not terribly pleasing to the eye, and can be downright confusing. Due to the lack of textures, it's sometimes difficult to make things out, as objects have a tendency to blend in together. This is particularly troublesome when avoiding obstacles in the environment. The draw distance is also quite bad. It's pretty obvious the Virtual Boy wasn't meant to handle true polygonal graphics.

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Having said all that, the wireframe models do occasionally look good, usually when there isn't too much happening on the screen at once. Despite the lack of detail, the game manages to convey a lot with the wireframes, like how you can tell stage two is a cave due to its craggy nature. In some ways, the wireframe models give the game a highly artistic look. It's kind of surreal, seeing a whole world being rendered completely in red wireframe. You could even go as far as to call this a unique visual style. Nowadays, you'd probably see an indie game sporting these kinds of visuals. Does that justify the graphics in Red Alarm? Well, that's entirely up to you. No matter how you slice it, these graphics won't be tolerable for everyone. Some may see it as cool and artistic, while others will see it as unappealing and archaic. The graphical style is definitely the most divisive part of this game. Personally, I think they're mostly gross. The music's pretty radical, though.

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Piloting the Tech-Wing Fighter is a little complicated. Under the default control scheme, the left d-pad is used to ascend, descend, and turn left and right. Normally, you're constantly moving forward, and the A and B buttons are used to increase and decrease your speed. If you slow down enough, you'll eventually come to a full stop so that you remain hovering in the air completely stationary. Additionally, holding down the B button will put you in reverse. The right d-pad is used for evasive maneuvers, which allow you to quickly strafe into the pressed direction. Holding down the L shoulder button allows for faster turning, while pressing the R button will fire your main gun. If an enemy is within your sights, you'll automatically target it, and pressing R at that point will shoot a homing missile towards the targeted entity. Pressing select will change the camera angle slightly, eventually culminating in a first-person view. As complex as the controls are, they work quite well and aren't too difficult to learn. They also give the player an incredible amount of control, pun intended.

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The speed settings give you plenty of freedom in how you want to approach things. You can either fly through the environment at high speeds, or take your time to carefully pick off enemies. Staying stationary is particularly useful against certain enemies that don't move around much. However, if you're stationary, then you'll be exposing yourself to lots of danger; your Tech-Wing Fighter's shields can only take a certain amount of hits before they wither away and the ship explodes. That's when the right d-pad becomes mighty handy. Using the right d-pad allows you to quickly dart out of the way of enemy shots without changing your overall position, allowing you to keep your sights on the target. This is where the controls truly shine. It's a wonder why future Star Fox games never adopted controls like these, because they allow for lots more flexibility without sacrificing intuitiveness.

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The game plays a lot like Star Fox, except without the rails. You could say it's off the rails. Terrible puns aside, you fly the Tech-Wing Fighter through various stages, shooting down countless opponents along the way. Every stage is a mostly linear 3-D tunnel filled with enemies and obstacles. Tunnels may curve slightly to the left or right, in addition to sloping up or down. Because you're not restricted to rails like in Star Fox, it's entirely possible to crash into the walls, ground, and even ceiling, so you actually have to pay attention to where you're going. That adds an extra element of challenge to the stages, as you aren't exclusively worrying about the enemies. Occasionally, there will be branching paths and dead ends, giving the game a little exploratory edge. You can't spend too much time exploring, however, because you have limited fuel that slowly ticks down as you fly around, and you die when it hits zero. Interestingly, you can also watch a replay of your performance after winning or losing a stage. Sadly, the game is pretty short at only six stages long, and the last one is simply comprised of the final boss.

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From ships that fly around to robots that walk on the ground, there's a good bit of enemy variety here. Blasting enemies feels great, because their wireframe models burst into a bunch of stray pieces once destroyed. Enemies don't come back after you kill them, so it pays to be meticulous when taking them out. Another additional benefit to exterminating enemies, besides ensuring your safety, is the occasional power-up, which include things like homing missile upgrades, turbo boosters, and shield recharges. There is also a boss situated at the end of every stage. Bosses are often accompanied by smaller baddies that will pester you during the fight, so it's wise to take them out before actually taking on the boss. While the stages themselves consist of narrow corridors, the boss fights take place in wide open areas. As a result of that, you may have to chase down the boss as it moves around the environment. This is where the poor draw distance becomes a problem, as it can be hard to locate a boss when you can't see six feet in front of you. They're fun to fight otherwise, though.

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This game is a lot better than it looks. It's surprisingly fun to play; blasting enemies with your homing missiles is incredibly satisfying, and the controls allow for many possibilities while still being easy enough to learn. However, the graphics do have a negative impact on game play, since they make it hard to distinguish one thing from another. The bad draw distance doesn't help matters. If you can get past the visual problems, then the game is reasonably enjoyable. It's still easily bested by Star Fox, however.

Word Count: 1,501

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