PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating
RELEASE DATE: 12/22/85 – (JP); 10/86 – (US); 08/87 – (EU)
Pour one out for Orguss, the SG-1000 horizontal shoot-em-up that could have been great. The ability to mutate between ship and robot whilst flying was a novel idea ruined by a needless time limit. If you try flying through the game strictly as the robot, you won’t make it to the end before you run out of time. Use the traditional ship and you’ll (barely) make it to the end, only to be forced to transform into the robot to beat the final boss. If the robot indeed hampers your progress and is only useful for one portion of the game, why bother giving gamers the option to morph into it? Yes, the illusion of choice was indeed strong with Orguss. And yet, had the time limit been excised, the game would have ranked alongside Star Jacker as one of the SG-1000’s more creative shooters.
The foundation of Orguss was good enough for Sega to develop a followup of sorts for the Mark III: Astro Flash, or TransBot as us Westerners call it. Gone are the imposed time limit and the ability to transform into a robot at will. Indeed, TransBot begins like any other traditional horizontal shooter with you controlling a ship while enemies hurtle themselves recklessly in your direction.
After a few seconds of mindless button mashing, a truck drives across the bottom of the screen. Shoot it and collect the question mark bubble to kick off a roulette of power-up options at the top of the screen. Your power-ups are brought to you by the letters ‘B’ through ‘F’ (‘A’ is your standard weapon, while ‘G’ is ammunition refill). ‘B’ and ‘D’ represent lasers and torpedoes respectively, while ‘C’ ‘E’ and ‘F’ transform your ship into a robot with all the benefits that entails: triple shot, wide laser, and Front and Back fire.
All of the power-ups have a limited amount of times you can use them (as seen on the ARMS meter at the top right of the screen), but the power-up trucks appear often enough that you never really need to use the standard weapon. Not all of these power-ups are created equal, though. Torpedoes are the only power-ups that can destroy mines, for example, and you’ll need them to progress to the second stage and the eventual end of the game.
Yes, TransBot only has two stages before the game repeats with harder enemies. I’m sure I’ve ranted about short game lengths before, but two stages is ludicrous, even for 1985 standards. When 1942 emerged in the arcades in 1984, it had thirty-two hard-as-balls levels. Heck, even when you compare shooters on Sega systems, the SG-1000 Star Force had close to a dozen levels. But I digress.
The two stages included are, to be fair, perfectly dark and atmospheric. The first takes place on the surface of an alien planet, while the other occurs in a metallic tunnel underneath the planet’s surface. To even access the second stage, you must make it through the first by not dying once while also destroying the otherwise indestructible mines with the torpedo power-up; I didn’t know about these conditions at first, so I went in circles for awhile, wondering if the alien surface was the entire game. The second stage is shorter than the first, with slightly tougher enemies in an enclosed space. It also ends with an AT-ST Walker boss who shoots baseballs at you. Destroy this Nolan Ryan/Star Wars mashup, then prepare to Do the TransBot all over again.
Despite the game’s repetitious nature, TransBot is still an improvement over Orguss. The action is much faster than the latter game (more than two enemies on-screen at once? I do declare!), and the varied power-ups add some spice to the potentially bland proceedings. It’s a shame Sega couldn’t have thrown in a couple extra stages, but as early Mark III/Master System shoot-em-ups go, you could play a lot worse.