TGOJ Retro Reviews – Hyperzone

by Josh
Get ready to shoot things all hyper like

Get ready to shoot things all hyper like.

The Super NES (or SNES) launched in 1991 with only a few games. Super Mario World, F-Zero, Pilotwings, SimCity and Gradius 3 were it. These were great games though. Gradius III, SimCity and Super Mario World allowed us to revisit familiar franchises re-imagined with the power this new console had to offer. F-Zero and Pilotwings were basically thrown into the mix to show off the SNES’s Mode-7 capabilities. A month after it launched, the SNES was heating up with releases such as Populous, Super R-Type, U.N. Squadron, Final Fight and Hyperzone (to name a few). Derek and I were late to the console’s launch, receiving our SNES late in the year of 1992. That didn’t stop us from buying SNES launch titles. One of those games we ended up with was Hyperzone.

Even the title screen was hyper...HOLY SHIT!


To everyone saying "this looks like F-Zero" are right.

Hyperzone was a straightforward 3D scrolling shooter developed by HAL Laboratory, Inc. (much like Space Harrier 3D on the Sega Master System). You were in control of a spacecraft, you could shoot laser like projectiles, and you had shit flying at you trying to destroy your ship. The goal was to just reach the end of each of the 8 stages, destroying a “boss” at the end of each stage. Your ship came equipped with shields to keep you alive after being hit just once (shield power was represented by a standard “power” meter at the top of the screen). That’s basically all there was to the gameplay…but let me elaborate more as to not make this game sound like a complete piece of shit.

Why would I bother reviewing a game that had the same game mechanics dating back to games like Star Wars Arcade in 1983? Hell, we could even argue that the game mechanics originated even earlier than that with Maze War or Battlezone, although those games were less of an “on rails” shooter (like Hyperzone) and more open…but I won’t get into the origins of the shooter. What HAL did with Hyperzone is harnessed what power the SNES offered and made an early yet impressive tech demo for Nintendo (much like what F-Zero and Pilotwings did). Considering the console was only 1 month old at the time of Hyperzone’s release, we ended up with a good looking game that played as well as any other arcade 3D shooter at the time. I have to admit, F-Zero was a much better game than Hyperzone and used the SNES’s Mode-7 capabilities a lot better, but I got my hands on Hyperzone first and it hits a nostalgic chord with me every time I see the game in action.

Giant fire snake of balls!

Hyperzone can easily be finished in about 30 minutes. The game is meant to be finished fast and is an arcade game through and through (the game loops after you finish the final stage, and will continue to loop infinitely until your SNES blows up or your thumbs blister and you can’t play anymore). The game is littered with cliches of the genre. You have your standard pool of extra plays, where 1-ups are governed by your score, and each extra play is consumed upon explosion of your spacecraft once your power meter is exhausted from incurring too much damage. The name of the game is dodging and shooting here (as is with any shooter). There is a lot of space debris to avoid and all you have in your defense is your projectiles and cat like reflexes. Much like F-Zero, your movement is limited to a “road”. Stray away from the given path and your ship will lose power quickly causing your controlling to be hurled across the room in a fit of rage. Your ship also comes equipped with some handy space brakes. The brakes allow you to slow down and maneuver around enemies more precisely but there is a catch, brake to long and your ship begins to take damage just as though you were off the road. This game has one speed, hyper…and the breaking damage was a nice touch in that the developers want you to stay in SUPER HYPER MODE! The game can be frustrating since the screen can get pretty full of crap to avoid and sometimes the only way around all said crap is directly off the road.

A giant SNES controller looking boss battle...nice!

There are only a few components of this game that keep it from becoming even more repetitive than it already sounds. The levels gradually increase in difficulty with more objects on screen to attack and that attack you back. Roads begin to have more forks in them and become narrower making dodging assholes even more difficult than it already was. Each level ends with a boss fight which, although a very standard affair, break up the monotony you may be feeling by stage 4. There is one last aspect of this game that I found pretty bad ass when I was a kid (and still do), and that is getting a ship upgrade. I forgot exactly how it was broken down, but know that when you get a high enough score, not only do you get an extra play, you also get an upgraded ship at the start of the next stage. The upgraded ships move quicker, travel at a faster more hyper top speed, look more bad ass then your previous ship and come with an upgraded gun that has an overcharged burst shot capability. Don’t think for a moment this means the game gets easier. The developers fucked with me as a kid. The game gets even more challenging! Each new spacecraft you get moves faster than the one before it. This means the game moves at a faster pace, which means shit flies at your face at hyper speeds. If you can survive long enough to get the final upgraded ship to max speed, the game does give you a great sense of speed, and the graphics looked great when doing so. For an early SNES game, I wasn’t let down by the bright colors and sci-fi settings of each stage. Even the music and sound effects were great for the time (Stage 7 had a bad ass tune that made me want to punch rocks!). The graphics looked great then, and if you can forget about what ever it is your playing looks like graphically now, and put yourself into the shoes of an 11 year old who saw this game for the first time on his SNES then…Hyperzone may be worth checking out.

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