It is officially summer, and for the gamer not far removed from high school or college, there is still a part of you that yearns to shut the brain down and indulge in purely non-intellectual pursuits. That might explain the impulsive gaming session Chi and I enjoyed last week in which we vegged out and played whatever games sat in front of us. We were not looking for groundbreaking gameplay or engrossing storylines; what we were looking for was looking for a fun time and hoped these games would provide it. High on our list were cooperative and competitive two-player games. One that we were eager to play was Capcom's Cannon Spike—a game that promised manic gameplay and featured the cast members from popular Capcom franchises. It looked to be just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, though it showed promise very early on, Cannon Spike simply failed to live up to expectations.
Cannon Spike received a lot of attention a year ago because it let you play as Capcom characters outside of their own respective universes. Naturally, any premise that brings such an eclectic group together would be totally contrived to the point of irrelevancy so it is best not to ponder it. Nevertheless, Arthur of Ghosts n' Goblins fame, Cammy and Charlie from Street Fighter II, Mega Man and even DarkStalkers' B.B Hood have banded together, slapped on "Motor Boots" (futuristic inline skates for better mobility) to take on evil robots. Each character comes with his or her own unique fighting techniques and attributes to fit any particular playing style. Mega Man, for example, is better with projectile attacks while Simone is better suited to close encounters. It doesn't matter who you choose because you can essentially choose your favorite character and do well for yourself.
Gameplay borrows heavily from the old arcade game, Smash T.V.—one of the better examples of condensed "twitch-gameplay." It had two joysticks and required that you use one joystick to fire and run around the screen with the other. Cannon Spike adds a bit of strategy to that formula by requiring that more enemies need to be wiped out with more varied attacks. Offense comes in the form of two basic attacks—one shooting and the other of the hand-to-hand variety—along with a more powerful variation of the each. To boost your offensive power there is also a Special Attack, which grants you temporary invincibility as you lay waste to whatever unlucky enemy is in your path. Since a character can only shoot in the direction he or she is facing, Psikyo provides a lock-on button clumsily dubbed a "Mark" feature. This button allows you to lock onto different enemies via a psuedo-laser sight as you zip across the screen.
For all the potential its gameplay promises, Cannon Spike is bogged down by its very arcade roots. Cannon Spike is ridiculously hard even in two-player mode. After an easy time is had on the first two or three levels, the difficulty is increases greatly, leading to your eventual demise. It's made worse by the absurd number of continues. It is bad enough in the single player mode, but once you play with a friend you are forced to share continues. I can't stress enough how difficult it is to get anywhere in the game with a scant three continues to share between two people. It usually meant that one of us would be going it alone through the rest of the game.
It is as if Psikyo forgot that a two-player mode for the arcade market is drastically different than such a mode in the home market. It's no longer about wringing gamers of their quarters in order to continue to play. In the home market, you can't start again fresh from where you last died, you have to continue from the beginning and Psikyo doesn't appear to be aware of that distinction. And that's the biggest shame because in the two-player mode, Cannon Spike really shines. There is nothing like blowing away countless hoards of baddies with a series of flip-kicks and projectile attacks with a friend. But you can't do that if one of you is long gone before the game has even begun. The only positive here is that the game's hidden gallery can be unlocked even if you beat the game on its easiest mode.
Outside of each character's offensive moves, the game doesn't offer much in the way of variety. The missions or stages are little more than a succession of rectangular screens to be cleared before moving on to the next. There is no interaction with the backgrounds to speak of and they change very little to break up the monotony. After a while you're just holding down the button and shaking the analog stick and waiting for the next screen to load so you can repeat the process. There is a decent mix of enemies and bosses—some taken out of other Capcom franchises, but nothing really stands out or shows any real effort or imagination on the part of the developer.
As far as graphics and sounds go, Cannon Spike is what you've come to expect from the Dreamcast. The graphics are sharp and colorful and there isn't a hint of slowdown even when the screen is flooded with enemies and pyrotechnic explosions, but to be honest, there really wasn't ever anything in the game that would tax the Dreamcast anyway. The music is the usual loud and quick paced—but utterly forgettable—noise you'd find coming out of a random arcade cabinet. It is all very standard arcade stuff.
Cannon Spike proved to be a good time for a short while thanks to the two-player mode, but it cannot escape the limitations of being an arcade port. Generic enemies, bosses and environments might have made the game progressively unenjoyable, but insufficient continues and a steep difficulty curve made it unbearable relatively quickly. It's amazing that after I set my sights low, expecting nothing more than a fun multiplayer experience, Cannon Spike still managed to disappoint. What's worse is that had Psikyo addressed some of these issues, Cannon Spike might have scored three or four full points higher, instead it was quickly relegated to the bottom of the stack—and will probably be sold back to the store we got it from.