One of the first games I reviewed for my college newspaper and for my esteemed collegue Chi Kong Lui back in the days of The Art Of Videogames Homepage was a little Sega Saturn game called Galactic Attack, developed by old-school game masters Taito and published by Acclaim. To this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite action games. Though much wasn't written about this game since it was released in 1995, it appears I wasn't the only one who thought Galactic Attack was cool. Working Designs has revealed in the translation notes of the games two sequels that it was aware of Galactic Attack for some time as well.

Galactic Attack was originally released in Japanese arcades under the title RayForce. However, when the game was first ported to Saturn, the name had to be changed due to copyright reasons, so it became strangely known as Layer Section. At the time, U.S. publisher Working Designs was in Sega's corner and was looking to import an action game to start up its upcoming action-exclusive label, Spaz. Working Designs wanted to publish Layer Section in America, but Acclaim already had the release rights, so it had to wait for another blast fest worthy enough to launch Spaz. As luck would have it, there were no immediate takers for Taito's follow-up to RayForce-Layer Section-Galactic Attack, released in Japan for Saturn as Layer Section II and for PlayStation as RayStorm. Not surprisingly, Working Designs jumped on the game, and since its relationship with Sega had gone sour by that time, RayStorm became the first Spaz game and the first PlayStation title for Working Designs.

All of this brings us to the final game released under the Spaz label, and oddly enough it's also the final game in Taito's "Ray" trilogy—RayCrisis: Series Termination. A prequel to Galactic Attack in the overall storyline, RayCrisis combines blazing-fast gameplay and great graphics to mark a fitting end to Taito's best shooter franchise. Unlike the generic Darius series, the "Ray" games are inventive in their approach to action. The aforementioned "Ray" and "Layer Section" namesakes come from the unique lock-on weapons system in the games, which allows you to blast enemies on a lower plane using homing lasers while shooting enemies at your altitude simultaneously. The first game was basically created as an answer to Seibu Kaihatsu's The Raiden Project for PlayStation, but RayCrisis, like RayStorm before it, has abandoned the realm of 2D in favor of 3-D polygons, while keeping the same destructive gameplay intact.

While RayStorm was more of a 3-D remake of Galactic Attack, RayCrisis is a full-fledged sequel. It keeps the same overall look as its predecessor, but the graphics are even more impressive—featuring beautifully rendered 3-D environments and dazzling special effects. A theme that's proven to be popular in recent shooters is the "inside-the-computer-brain" level, or some kind of simulated computer interface that is placed over all the action. We saw it in full effect in the two excellent Sega Saturn imports, Thunder Force V and Radient Silvergun. RayCrisis takes this idea further than any shooter I've ever seen. The entire status display during gameplay is designed to mimic the look of a sophisticated Heads-Up Display, and in every level you're fighting your way through a computer mainframe. This appears to be the direction in which the new shooters are aiming toward in terms of graphics. It certainly provides for some interesting visual possibilities. The outer space thing has been done to death, and it's nice to see an action game that shows us new things. I enjoyed the look of RayCrisis immensely. You combine such a copious amount of eye candy with non-stop action, and you have a game that can't help but look cool.

The gameplay is familiar shooter stuff for the most part. The objective is still to destroy everything you see, the only difference is in how you do it. Enemies directly in front of you can be blasted with your main cannons, while enemies below can be targeted with the lock-on weapons. Power-ups are available for both weapons, and of course its possible to increase your firepower to insane levels. Like the rest of the games in the series however, there are no speed power-ups, so you're stuck in first gear through all of the crazy action. RayCrisis does differ from the other two games in the series in a few ways. Before you start, you can select from three different "Wave Rider" fighter ships, each with its own unique weapons system. You can also choose which three of the five available levels you'd like to attack in arriving at the final boss confrontation. All of the levels look great and are fun to play. I especially enjoyed the underwater level with the muffled explosions and the desert stage in which you can lay waste to numerous oil refineries. Another notable departure in RayCrisis is that there is no two-player cooperative mode as in the previous games. This game is for one player only.

RayCrisis offers many options to extend its play life—more than the typical shooter anyway. There are two main game modes—the Original Mode, which mirriors the arcade version of the game, and the Special Mode, which changes some of the gameplay rules to provide a stiffer challenge. Completing both game modes unlocks hidden game and conceptual artwork, while high scores will reveal other goodies. The Special Mode is similar to the "survivor" or "survival" mode that most fighting games use. You start off with a fully powered-up Wave Rider and no continues to see how far you can get through seven levels laid out in a predetermined order. The only icons you can collect are for points and extra lives. RayCrisis is also unique in that its an American release thats compatible with the PocketStation—a PlayStation peripheral similar to Dreamcasts VMU thats only available in Japan (or your local import gaming source). The mini game, PocketRay, can be downloaded to a PocketStation and played on the go.

Like all the shooter franchises, RayCrisis has its own look and unique gameplay features, but the objective is interchangable with every other shooter ever made. RayCrisis merely refines the ideas that were laid out in Galactic Attack and RayStorm and packages them into a more complete, more compelling game. It offers a serious challenge to even the most hardcore shooter fan. This is one of those shooters in which its possible, though very difficult, to make it to the final boss without losing a life. However, the final confrontation in RayCrisis is ridiculously hard and unfair on the player. The ending is really cool though, as it ties together all the games in the trilogy. We get to see to beginning of "Operation: RayForce," which of course is where the first game, Galactic Attack, picks up. For someone like me, who holds Galactic Attack in such high regard, it's a pretty rewarding moment.

Overall, RayCrisis is a finely crafted action game. It's most definitely a testamest to Taito's lasting standard of action-game excellence. Taito, the creators of the original Space Invaders, is a developer that's been there since the beginning. It shows with RayCrisis that after all these years, a good shooter can still entertain. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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