There's nothing videogame developers love more than taking classical mythology and using it as a framework to hang their games around. That's the reason I've been able to write about games where King Arthur fights a samurai or forest creatures with scrotum-based powers try to take over the world, and why not? Mythology provides ready-made casts of characters and epic confrontations just begging to be turned into platformers or brick-breaking games or what have you, and no library of gods, monsters and legendary deeds has been so thoroughly mined as the tales of Ancient Greece. From Kid Icarus to God of War, inaccurate representations of Hellenic lore pop up time and again through the history of gaming, and here's another: the 1990 Genesis / Megadrive conversion of Namco's 1988 arcade shoot-em-up Phelios. Sadly, it contains no Eggplant Wizards.

All the rich texture of the tales of the Olympian Gods to work with, and Namco went for a "kidnapped girlfriend" plot. Were there “damsel in distress” quotas that had to be met in the Eighties or something? In this case, the villain with the Bowser complex is Typhon, father to most of Greek mythology's monsters and general angry thing. He's kidnapped the goddess Artemis, presumably to piss off Zeus because that seems to be Typhon's whole shtick. He chains Artemis up in the most fan-servicey pose he can manage and then... well, he doesn't do much, really. Guess he just figured having a goddess hanging in the corner was that one piece of ornamentation he needed to really tie his lounge together.

None of the other gods show much concern over this, but lucky for Artemis her cries for help are heard by her beloved, the mighty sun god Apollo. That'd be Apollo who is Artemis' twin brother? Alright then. I could rag on Namco for creating a videogame where the aim is to further an incestuous relationship, but this is based on the mythology of Ancient Greece; after all, when your dad is the kind of guy who thinks that turning into a swan to get his freak on is perfectly reasonable behaviour you're bound to view relationships differently to the ordinary run of man.

Apollo hops onto Pegasus (I assume I don't need to explain Pegasus to you) and flies off to save his sister-lover from Typhon's clutches. Well, this should be easy, what with Apollo being a god and all.

Oh crap. Three screens in and already I'm being overwhelmed by a squadron of birds who are firing radishes at me.
So obviously Phelios is a standard vertically-scrolling shoot-em-up, where you control Apollo and Pegasus as they shoot swarms of monsters that appear in front of them. You know how this works, and Phelios doesn't really overcomplicate the core mechanics any. You can fire your piddly little shots, but a better bet is to hold down the fire button to charge up a much more powerful attack. In fact, using the charged shot is almost mandatory for defeating all but the most basic enemies, because to say your regular shot is weak would be like saying that the Atlantic Ocean is a bit damp.

I wonder how Pegasus feels about having his status as a miraculous flying horse undermined by these plum-coloured lancers? This is the point, roughly three minutes into the game, that your regular, uncharged attacks become useless. These jousting guys? Not fazed by Apollo's divine power in the slightest, unless he's held the button down for a second or two.
You might have noticed the "Attack the head of Ladon" message at the top of the screen, but who is Ladon?

Why, he's that red dragon over there. In Greek myth, Ladon was the serpent who guarded the golden apples until Heracles came along with his checklist and put an end to Ladon's tree-protecting ways, which must have been a much more enjoyable task than all the stable-cleaning. Ladon is described as a serpent-like dragon, so Namco get ten out of ten for accuracy on this one, because that's definitely what Ladon looks like here. No word on whether the Ancient Greek texts mention Ladon's ability to fly and shoot projectiles from his gob, but it's probably in there somewhere.
By the way, that thing at the top-right of the screen is a power-up container. It's supposed to be an owl, but it looks more like the result of a three-way teleporter accident between a bat, a pigeon and a small pile of gold bullion. If you shoot it a power-up will fall out, although it's very rare that this is a new weapon.

For example, while I was fighting the flock of Ladons I collected a "beam" weapon that fired faster and with a wider beam. It was great, until it suddenly ran out and I didn't see another one for the remainder of the game. In the screenshot above, the crescent-shaped projectiles are homing shots that fire independently of your main weapon. They're also useful, until they disappear at the end of the stage. New weapons are rare in Phelios, and for much of the game you'll be relying on your main weapon - there isn't even a traditional screen-clearing smart-bomb attack, just Apollo's ability to charge and shoot, charge and shoot, over and over again. At least it stops your trigger finger from collapsing under the strain. A much more common power-up is the Option, which works like Options in shooters usually do - it's a small blue orb that follows your movements and fires when you fire. Much like the charge shot, having one or more Options becomes something of a necessity later in the game.

Here's the first boss, and it's a sight plucked straight from Simon Belmont's nightmares: a giant, floating Medusa head the size of a minivan. Somewhere just off camera, Dracula is taking notes.
After the surprisingly tough first stage, Medusa is pretty easy and offers an almost relaxing respite. Just dodge the eye-lasers she fires at you and shoot her... I was going to say "in the head," but as she's all head that's pretty redundant.
Accuracy Rating: Not sure that Medusa was know for possessing the powers of head levitation, but other than that, yeah, she's pretty accurate. You show most people this snake-haired demon-woman and I reckon they'd know who it was supposed to be. 9/10.
Before we move on to the next stage, do you know what the most amazing invention of the Ancient Greek age was? Pythagoras' theorem? Water mills? Hell no, it was the miraculous yet rarely-discussed discovery of rug-o-vision.

Between stages Apollo flies over a large blue carpet that becomes a screen via which Artemis (or sometimes Typhon) can relay a message to you. In this case, that message is "save me quick." Or possibly the message is "breasts." Either way, you're not making progress fast enough for Artemis' liking, so let's move on to stage two.

It's called "Death Dungeon," so I'm not expecting marimba music and cuddly toys. Those purple warriors standing in a line represent an unusual type of enemy that pops up fairly often in Phelios, and that's the bad guys who are impervious to Apollo's fiery blasts of vengeance but not so tough when it comes to falling six feet to the ground. These guys can't be killed just by shooting them, but each time they're hit they move backwards slightly until, after enough hits, you force them off their platform and down to their death. Yes, one of the deadliest weapons in your arsenal is Ancient Greece's reluctance to install safety railings.

After a while you head underground and hey look, I found a new weapon. It shoots boomerangs that rebound when they hit a wall, making them incredibly useful in the narrow corridors that make up the second half of stage two and proving especially handy at clearing those (frankly adorable) green lump-monsters from the walls around you.

Straight from the cover of a heavy metal album, or possibly the grimy depths of my local fish market, comes stage two's boss: the Graiai. They're a trio of crones who share one eye and one tooth between the three of them, but they've put their usual bickering aside to work on killing Apollo. While you can attack them directly, and doing so causes some nicely gory details like writhing neck-stumps, you're supposed to be shooting the crystal behind them. You know what that means: lots of cat-and-mouse as you wait for them to get out of the way. On the whole, not too difficult.
Accuracy Rating:  They may not swap their facial features about like a coven dedicated to the blasphemous worship of Mr. Potato Head but they are definitely three grey-haired old mummies with magical powers. 7/10.

Next is a stage set high above Ancient Greece's well-known network of floating buildings. Who would have thought that the Olympian skies would have looked like a close-up of a K'nex model? Yet more winged horses are deployed in an effort to further demoralise Pegasus (who by now is about as rare and remarkable as a four-legged dog) and much of the stage consists of our heroes negotiating their way through a series of narrow passageways. Phelios, unlike most shoot-em-ups, works on the health bar principle - you can see your health as the orange blocks underneath the big sword - and thankfully you can take a couple of hits before dying. Unless you touch a wall, that is, because that leads to instant death. One of Zeus' mightiest children, laid low by masonry. They should have sent in the Vic Viper, at least that way I'd have some more interesting weapons to use.

"Seiren is a dreadful witch." Like, really bad at the witchcraft. Couldn't even magic herself up a costume that didn't make her look like she'd wandered in from a nearby carnival.

She can transform into a more menacing "giant bird" form, though, so maybe my analysis of her magical powers was a little off. This is Seiren, who is presumably supposed to be a siren - she's got the bird-features but isn't near the sea and does no singing. What she does do is try to kill you by firing feathers at you. Feathers. Yup. A god from right up near the summit of the pantheon of Greek deities turned up for a fight, and Siren decided that the best way to defeat him was with the power of feathers, a weapon notorious for its destructive capabilities. I think she should probably stick to serenading sailors.
Accuracy Rating: She is bird-like and not mermaid-y at all so she has more in common with the original myth than you might think, but the lack of singing, the feathery projectiles and the fact that she morphs into a giant cockatoo rather take away from her innate siren-y ness. I don't care how good you are at singing, love - if you look like a massive parrot you're going to struggle to lure anyone in. 5/10.

Stage four is a standard fire level, with lots of lava, fire-breathing dragons and flaming kamikaze skulls. It's not terribly interesting and I don't have much to say about it, so let's get straight to the boss, shall we?

This is Antios, and for the first time I'm not which member of the Greek pantheon he's supposed to be. The most likely candidate seems to be Antaeus, (or Antaios,) the half-giant son of Poseidon who was known for challenging people to wrestling matches, killing them and then harvesting their skulls. I don't know where he was hanging about that there were enough people who saw a half-giant son of a god and thought "yeah, I reckon I can take him" for his skull-collecting hobby to get very far, but his reign of terror was ended by Heracles, who killed him with a bear hug. Ancient Greece, folks - a land of democracy, culture and roadside wrestling matches that end with ruined spinal columns.
Quite how Antaeus (if that is who this is supposed to be) made the transition from big wrestler to fire-monster is never explained, but that's how he appears in Phelios and boy does he love fire. His only real attack is to drop a curtain of flames at you, so just dodge around them and shoot him in the face. He's simple enough to beat, but the problem is that he takes so long to kill that your attention begins to wander and you end up getting hit by attacks that you really should have avoided. This brings me to one of Phelios' more brutal gameplay mechanics, and that's when you die, you go back to a checkpoint instead of respawning where you died like in most shoot-em-ups. Spending ten minutes whittling down a boss' health, only to get sloppy and die right at the end and have to do the whole fight again? That feels like a real kick in the balls. My advice? Don't die.
Accuracy Rating: Assuming this is supposed to be Antaeus, none. There is no accuracy. 0/10.

What comes after a fire stage? Why, the obligatory ice stage, of course! Although, this stage is icy only in decor and you don't fight frost titans or anything like that. No, your main foe here is balls - big, spiked balls that roll through the level like it was Typhon's own pachinko machine, providing obstacles to dodge while you try to shoot the goblins down from their perches. It's a noticeable shift in gameplay, and it makes a nice change from the bland previous stage, and it also marked the point (for me, at least) that the game started getting really difficult. The upswing in challenge is continued by the toughest boss so far, the dreaded sea-monster Scylla.

Sea-monster, a bunch of flying purple heads... eh, close enough. You can't damage the outer ring of heads and that where the challenge of this battle lies: you have to wait for the circle to expand enough for you to fly between them and shoot the vulnerable three-faced head in the center. That's all well and good, but when it comes to shoot-em-ups I pilot my craft - be it spaceship, anime witch or mythical winged horse - with all the skill and grace of a soap-box go-kart driven by a bag of cement. I crashed into those heads. I crashed into them a lot, and when I wasn't getting Pegasus' face intimately acquainted with them I was wasting my charged-up shots by firing at the wrong time and blasting the smug purple bastards to no effect.
Accuracy Rating: According to her description on Wikipedia, Scylla had four eyes, six long necks with heads on the end, tentacles for legs, dog's heads bursting from her waist and (most bafflingly of all) a cat's tail. A cat's tail, really? "Damn, I'm looking pretty monstrous. Maybe an accessory will help to balance out my hideous appearance! Everyone loves cats, right?" At least this Scylla has the multiple heads, but mostly I'm just disappointed I didn't get to fight the tentacled horror of the mythological Scylla. 1/10.

All hail Artemis, Goddess of Fanservice! At some point, Typhon undressed her. That's not creepy at all, Namco. Thanks for that. Apollo better get a move on before Typhon starts trying to get her into a fursuit or something.

And lo, mighty Apollo travels to the gates of Hell, a dismal land populated by fat trolls who would defy the very gods themselves by throwing potatoes at them. Seriously, this is pretty much the entire stage - a horde of spud-chucking monsters who can only be killed by shooting them off their platforms and into the sea. And you know what? It’s really hard. Probably the hardest part in the game, because if you miss with a charged shot then you'll quickly be overwhelmed by airborne tubers while you wait for your sword to power up again. I won't be defeated by flying carbohydrates, though - I must push on, and reach the stage's boss...

...who is Cerberus. But not a dog. Oh no, Cerberus is now some kind of space lizard, and I have to say he looks much more like something you'd find lurking on the threshold of eternal misery than a dog does, even a dog with three heads. Given how much I struggled with the previous boss and the stage leading up to Cerberus I was expecting to be swiftly and brutally destroyed, but this fight is much easier than the preceding two stages. Phelios doesn't really have a difficulty curve, at least not a smooth one, and as a result the game never really settles down into a satisfying rhythm. The whole thing feels a little disconnected, and any sense of mounting urgency or tension is ruined when you reach someone like Cerberus and it doesn't result in the epic encounter you were expecting.
Accuracy Rating: Pros: Three heads, is guarding hell. Cons: Not a dog, looks like a rejected entry into the Aliens toyline. 4/10.

Artemis finally does something other than pose for the cover of a Sixties fantasy novel by informing you of Phelios, a magical sword that probably would have been handy six stages ago but hey, whatever, I guess I'll go and find it.

Alright, I'm in space now, and you know how I mentioned that the ice stage was like being trapped in a pachinko machine? Forget that, this final stage is truly the pachinko zone. Balls drop down from the top and bounce off the green pegs and I think the whole thing might be a front for the Yakuza. During the development of Phelios, someone at Namco was clearly jonesing for some hot pachinko action, but at least they remembered to finish the game off before they ran out into the night, desperate for the deafening din of the rattling steel balls.
Apollo's task is to find Phelios (the sword) but it's not as simple as pulling it out of a rock or anything. No, you have to find the letters that make up its name, floating in deep space.

There's one now! After much searching, I've managed to collect all the letters and assemble the holy sword. Was it worth it?

Yeah, I'd say so. Once you're all Phelios-ed up, your charged shot becomes this big fat beam attack, which I'm sure you can imagine is very useful for clearing a path (particularly through those destructible green orbs that block your way through the level.) Now that I've finally got a weapon that matches my godhood, I suppose it's time to go and defeat Typhon.

Oh, he's conveniently labelled, that's handy. It's a two-part fight, as shoot-em-up boss battles so often are, starting with the floating robed guy. He's really not a threat, especially with the mighty power of Phelios on my side, and he's quickly dealt with. Next up is the big demon thing, and you know what? He's not that much of threat either. I've struggled through the entire game, dying frequently, suffering humiliations at the hand of rogue pachinko balls and potato-launching horrors, but once I reached the final boss I don't think I died once. He just doesn't seem that into the whole thing - he's had his dress-up fun with Artemis, and now he's bored. He listlessly fires some orbs at you which can be destroyed with your charge shot, usually hitting Typhon in the process, and occasionally a laser fires from his navel in a random direction. Other than that, you just have to make sure you don't fly into him. It's a let-down, basically. A long, boring, pointless waste of a final battle, and once it's over Phelios is complete.
Accuracy Rating: Much like Scylla, the Greek version is much cooler than the fairly generic muscle-Satan that we have here - Typhon's traditional mass of snakes for a lower body, his covering of wings, fire shooting from his eyes, all replaced in favour of a standard demon that looks like something the Power Rangers would have fought. 2/10.
Artemis is rescued, and I'm sure Apollo is very excited by the whole thing. A little over-excited, maybe.

I'm not touching that one.

Namco just had to cram in some more goddess-ogling with the ending, which is mostly just a screen of Artemis looking at you all doe-eyed for what seems like waaay too long. I tried pressing a button, thinking that maybe I needed to in order to advance, but the game just displayed a message at the top of the screen that said "BE PATIENT." Namco really wanted to make sure you got a good, long look at your scantily-clad sister, but after a while this screen does fade away, leaving this behind.

I don't think Artemis understands lined paper. Actually, this was all I could think about when I saw this little note.
So, Phelios is over and Artemis - the chaste, virgin goddess of the hunt - simpers after her lover and sibling Apollo. Nice work, Namco. But what about the game itself? It's odd, but I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. I like the setting, I like the graphics (especially some of the cuter enemies, like the skeletons) and the core gameplay seems fine, but I can't really say I enjoyed the overall experience that much. One reason is obvious, and that's the utter uselessness of your uncharged weapon. Beyond the first stage every shot needs to be a charged one, otherwise you're not going to kill the enemies quickly enough to avoid being swarmed, and it's not a style of shooter than I enjoy. That's just personal preference, though - maybe it'll be right up your street. Aside from that, there's the wonky difficulty level, the anticlimactic final stage, the uninspired enemy attack patterns and the reliance on enemies that can't be killed, only knocked over. It's not a terrible game, and I'm sure there are people out there who would really enjoy the Megadrive version of Phelios, but sadly I'm not one of them. If you're looking for a Genesis / Megadrive shooter set in a fantasy world filled with magic and monsters that ends with you receiving a more powerful charged attack, I suggest you stick with Elemental Master.

Of course, the real lesson here is that when you're adapting Greek mythology for your videogame, whatever versions of the gods and monsters you come up with will always be less bizarre and less interesting than the "real" thing.



You know what I hate? When I think to myself "oh boy, I sure would like to play some Contra," so I turn Contra on and then I realise that I've played Contra a thousand times and I need to get some variety into my running-and-gunning experiences because all that happens when I play Contra is that I die over and over again and that kind of repeated failure is detrimental to a person's self-esteem, you know? That's got to be a common experience which we've all shared at some point. Luckily, Sunsoft have us covered with their 1989 arcade bullets-solve-all-the-world's-problems-em-up Bay Route!

According to this title screen, the game starts with you piloting some kind of aircraft directly into the sun (or possibly Big Bird). I do like the logo, something about the metallic fade effect just lifts my heart. Anyway, why are we here, and more importantly who do I need to shoot to accomplish my mission?

Get to the "airtrip," sneak into the embassy, take out the hostages, gotcha. Sorry, take out the hostages alive. Look, when we're in this kind of life-or-death situation you should try to use less ambiguous phrases than "taken out".

Our hero Tom arrives at the start of the first stage in style, dropping into combat from a jump-jet. I'm sure you're all wondering why Tom doesn't just fly the jump-jet to the enemy headquarters and land there, but I'm sure he has his reasons. I'm going for "a terrible bloodlust that must be sated through the death of hundreds of enemy combatants," and that also explains why Tom is being sent on this mission alone (unless you're playing two player).

Here we are, then. Bay Route is a run-n-gun title that lacks anything in the way of innovation, so you know the score - move from left to right gunning down anything in your path, unless it's un-gun-downable in which case you should probably jump over it. Try not to get hit, because Tom comes from that proud line of heroes with brittle bone disease and an allergy to any kind of physical contact that manifests as instant death. He's not just the best agent we've got, folks: he's the only agent. None of the others managed to fill out their written exams without dying due to the exertion of lifting their pens or having to think or metabolize food or breathe.

I'd put Tom's weakened state down to the fact that Bay Route takes place after the standard videogame apocalypse. You know the one, it's the end of the world scenario where God turns around and says "ha ha, I was just kidding about that virtue stuff, only psychos, scumbags and human effluent get to live," leaving behind a world where the ruined cities and barren soil are home to thousands of evil gang members and, like, one decent human being. Oh, and lots of things that post-apocalyptic gang members need, like motorcycles and guns that use large grey spheres as ammunition and vast wardrobes filled with nothing but white vests and brightly-coloured trousers.
Mind you, no matter how badly the world has been devastated it's no excuse for handing important missions to someone who dies because of this:

In case you can't tell, that's Tom dying because a goon gently bumped into him. The goon also dies. Man, the porn studios of the post-apocalyptic age are going to have a real hard time keeping profits up. My favourite thing about this is that you still get the hundred points for killing the bad guy, the numbers posthumously added to your score as Tom's corpse lies twitching in the dust. I'm sure that'll make him feel much better.

So on you go, moving through the desert and shooting people. It's difficult to talk about Bay Route without comparing it to Contra, because that's all you can think of if you've ever played Konami's classic before sampling Bay Route's overly-familiar delights. It's honestly just a helluva a lot like Contra. You can shoot diagonally and straight up, there's a bit of light platforming, you can collect a power-up that gives you a spread-firing weapon and cannon-fodder enemies are constantly swarming all over you. This is only the first stage, though, and judging Bay Route already seems a trifle harsh - it still has plenty of time to put forward its own unique take on the run-n-gun genre. Here comes the first boss, and hopefully this'll be where Bay Route begins to find its own voice. Stage one boss, come on down!

I'm terribly sorry, I'm not sure how that got in there. Here's Bay Route's actual first boss:

Oh, come on. An armoured wall with guns stuck on it? How terribly passé. You know the drill, shoot all the guns off and then destroy the door. It's hardly the most mentally taxing foe I've ever faced, even in the "hurr hurr I shoot things good" genre of gaming. Open Sesame, you big, immobile prick, and let's get to stage two already.

Bay Route at least has one difference from Contra, and that's the weapons system. You see those four icons at the bottom of the screen? Well, unlike most shooters of this ilk you don't collect a power-up that gives you a specific gun - you actually start with four different weapons that can be scrolled through at the push of a button. This is a system that moves Tom up a few notches in my estimation, because he knew he was embarking on a dangerous mission and he had the foresight to realise that it might be helpful to have a few different options for murder at his disposal. Far too often, the run-n-gun hero will merrily bound into battle with naught to defend themselves but their personal sidearm and a jolly demeanour, working on the principle that if they need a new gun they can just prise it from the gore-slicked hands of their fallen enemies. Not Tom, though - he's a forward planner. It's just a shame that two of the four weapons he brought are next to useless.

Nice to see you can still get "ICE CREAM cookies" in this blasted wasteland.
Where was I? Oh yeah, guns. The first weapon is a basic machine gun. Okay, so it's a machine gun that fires slow-moving gray spheres but it's definitely in the machine gun mould. Next is a grenade launcher. I know what you're thinking, and having access to a grenade launcher normally would be "totally sweet," but the "launcher" part of that description is a little misleading as it only fires the grenades about five feet away from you. Gentle Grenade Depositer would be a more accurate name, and this gun actually gets worse because for some bizarre reason you can only fire it while you're crouching. You will use the grenade launcher, because explosions are cool, and it will get you killed when an enemy is running towards you and you're pressing the fire button but nothing's happening and then you're dead because you forgot that, for whatever nonsensical reason, in the Bay Route universe grenades only work if you drop to one knee first. Are you just that dedicated to shooting people in the groin, Tom? Is that what this is? High-explosive rounds are too precious to waste on any other target but the unmentionables? You're a weirdo, Tom.
Weapon three is a flamethrower. It throws flames, but not very far, and it's the only weapon that lets you hold down the button for continual fire. The final weapon is a weird one; it fires a single shot that splits when it hits something, the resultant four shots travelling in a cross pattern. It's an interesting idea, but this weapon's effectiveness is limited by the fact that it fires so goddamn slowly. I suppose it's not completely pointless, it's just hard to justify using it (or the grenade launcher) when the faster-firing and more powerful machine gun and flamethrower are available.

I'm at stage two's boss already? Man, that was fast. The levels in Bay Route are short and a little empty, the only think that really mixes up the gunplay being the few vertically-spaced platforms you can hop round on. The boss is also bland, being the "robot snake" design that I'm sure will be familiar to you from many other games. Shoot the snake in its end pieces as he flies around you, (because for some reason, robot snakes in videogames can always fly,) stage complete, let's move on.

Stage three, and you didn't think we'd get through this ruined, futuristic landscape without heading through an abandoned factory, did you? For shame, you should know by now that all criminal enterprises in videogames consist of a series of dilapidated factories connected by elevators and the occasional outdoors section.
You might have noticed that there's a bad guy standing in front of me, and yet my flames are harmless passing though him. It took me a while to figure this out, but he's supposed to be hiding around the corner (that is, further into the background) where my flames cannot go. This guy should be the leader, he's the only member of this evil organisation who's shown any kind of planning beyond "piece of cake, I'll just run right up to him. My face can absorb bullets, right?"

This stage is pretty good fun, on the whole. It's more involved than the first two areas, with some added variety in the routes you can take and the occasional fire pit that you can watch enemies wander into like particularly dense moths. It even has a miniboss!

Granted, that miniboss is just ED-209 but it's better than nothing, even if you can beat him by just crouching in front of him, switching to the flamethrower and holding down fire. Well, intelligence never was ED-209's strong suite, was it?
Just as Bay Route is getting a little interesting - not innovative, not surprising, but kinda fun none-the-less - Sunsoft bring out a boss battle that is sure to go down in gaming history as one of most heart-pounding, nerve-shredding encounters of all time: it's Tom vs... The Box.

Seriously, it's just a rectangle that travels around the screen on a rectangular path, all rectangular like. Has there ever been a less enthralling boss battle? Even that wall at the start of the game had visible guns, this thing just spurts out the occasional bullet from somewhere deep in its rectangular guts. On the plus side, this is the only part of the game where the grenade launcher comes in useful, because you have to shoot down onto the top of the rectangle and the best way to do that is to use the arc of the grenades. Just remember, you know, while crouching.

Stage four bursts into life with a pointless and boringly-implemented side-scrolling shooter section where Tom suddenly remembers that he had a flying motorcycle this whole time. Coulda saved some time if I'd know about your flying goddamn motorcycle a little earlier, champ. This isn't necessarily awful, it's just dull - an incredibly basic shoot-em-up where enemies appear with no consideration given to making the combat interesting, just "oh hey look, an empty space into which Tom will soon be firing some bullets, I'll fly over there! Or failing that, I'll jump straight down this giant chasm!” Whatever organization these goons work for must be an awful employer, because these guys have the suicidal tendencies of a lemming book club who just finished reading The Road.
On the plus side, I like the background art here. It's nothing stellar, even by 1989's standards, but it has a pleasing grittiness to it that I appreciate.

No, it's fine, just leave the bike with the mounted guns in the middle of the desert. I'm sure it'll be there when you get back.

It's a hovering robot lobster boss. Shoot upwards into its glowing purple orb. It's not complicated.

At least this mansion survived the apocalypse intact. Yes, that is an angel statue on the right, yes, you do have to have to fight him and no, I have no idea what he's all about. Every enemy so far has either been a man in a vest or a boring robot, so the sudden appearance of living statues embodying the Lord's divine punishment was rather unexpected. I'll take it, though - Sunsoft appear to have otherwise completely run out of ideas at this point and the whole stage is just a long, flat trudge through waves of enemies who are tired of living and seek only the final solace of Tom's flamethrower. Going back to the Contra comparisons, part of the reason that Konami's game is a much more enjoyable experience is that the level design rarely consists of these featureless, single-plane corridors: there are always platforms to negotiate, bad guys popping from all angles and it hardly ever boils down to "hold right on the joystick and tap fire".

There are also chandeliers that drop on your head when you walk under them. This shouldn't be a surprise, because almost every large light fixture in almost every game ever was apparently installed by Del Boy and Rodney and will collapse at the slightest provocation. Except in the Castlevania games, but that's probably because Dracula is so fed up of the Belmont boys whipping all his candelabras that he takes extra care when installing new lighting solutions.

The mansion has a secret high-tech base underneath it, because underneath mansions is always the best place for this kind of scientific research facility - just ask the Umbrella Corporation. It also has fire poles. At least, I hope they're fire poles and this isn't the bad guys' attempt to raise some extra capital by opening a science-themed "gentleman's club".

Here's another boring robot boss, this time some kind of scuttling wall-mounted chameleon thing. The boss fights have been a major downer throughout Bay Route, all of them lacking invention, scale or, in the case of the first boss, lacking the ability to not rip Contra off wholesale. This boss was even more pointless that usual, because for some reason - be it a programming error or the blessings of the gaming gods - I managed to stand in a particular spot where he couldn't hit me despite walking through my body several times. To beat this boss, all I did was stand still and press fire, and that about sums up the experience of Bay Route's larger battles.

We're into the home stretch now, and things are starting to get a little biomechanical - although they're definitely sticking more to the "mechanical" side of things, even with the weird little maggot creatures that drop from the ceiling. They're small and annoying to hit, or at least they would be if I hadn't powered up my flamethrower recently. You see, sometimes enemies drop a power-up which upgrades your currently-equipped weapon when collected, making them much more useful. The machine gun becomes a Contra-style (natch) spread shot, the grenade launcher gains the ability to be fired from a standing position and the break-apart shot changes from a cross pattern to a spinning circle, but best of all is the flamethrower. Powering up the flamethrower changes it from a powerful weapon hampered by a miniscule range to a screen-covering beam of fiery justice that you can spray around like Satan's own garden hose to incinerate everything in your path. I actually kinda like this weapon upgrade system - it gives you a few extra death-dealing options and that's always nice, even if I would have preferred each gun to have more than one possible upgrade. Still, it's a nice touch.

Hey look, there's a woman trapped in that demonic crane game! This is a pretty good tactic from the villains' point of view, because you'd think that Tom might be a bit more reluctant to destroy their robots if the hostages that need saving are wedged inside them. Unfortunately for the bad guys, Tom doesn't give two fucks about the hostages and blasts the thing all the way to that big junkyard in the sky. I told you that using the phrase "taken out" in the mission briefing was a bad idea.

A couple of screen further on is Bay Route's final battle. It's a large man with a machine gun standing behind a box, and you know what? I think this is my favourite battle in the game. I like it when the final boss is just some guy, because it makes sense that they'd have exhausted their supply of giant robots in an attempt to kill Tom before he reached them. There's a sense of desperation, a feeling that this is the final stand, and as I'm sure I've mentioned before the leader of any given military organisation is very rarely the toughest fighter so it makes sense - you never send the General out to the front line, do you?

Of course, then Sunsoft have to spoil it by making you fight a skeletal robot torso as the true final boss. I know, some of you like your final bosses to be grand and epic and to give you a sense that you've triumphed over a truly powerful adversary, and don't get me wrong: a lot of the time, I want that kind of final encounter too. Chrono Trigger would have been much less satisfying if the final boss had been an Imp. In Bay Route, however, all the bosses have been pretty tedious and this one is no exception as Ribby O'Metalskull here just floats up and down in front of you, and I just think the previous fight was more satisfying.
So, I destroyed the final boss and saved the girl. One girl, singular - the mission briefing definitely mentioned hostages in the plural, but Tom has found a nice young lady and that's enough for him.

"Oh, thank you!" she says, via the magic of speech samples. "Any time," says Tom. He's a smooth operator, that one. Then they fly away in the helicopter to eke out a dismal existence in the ruined, post-apocalyptic world that is their home. That's the entire ending, by the way: they just fly into the acid-yellow clouds, game over, get the hell out of my arcade.

Maybe I've been hard on Bay Route - it's definitely not a bad game. The core gameplay is fine, it controls well and the weapon system is interesting if somewhat unbalanced. The presentation is on the dull side of average, with some forgettable music and enemy designs that aren't going to make you sit up and take notice, but it's always nice to have some sampled speech and I do quite like a lot of the backgrounds, especially the first stage with its crashed airliner. I think it's fair to say that Bay Route's big failing is the overall average-ness of the game, and Sunsoft didn't really seem to bring much in the way of ideas to the table besides "let's make Contra but not as good, oh and we'll have a flying motorcycle section." Dull bosses, single-minded enemies and generic locations make for a game that won't live long in the old memory banks, but if you've played all of the better-known run-n-gun titles and you're looking for something that you can spend an hour or so blasting your way through (especially with a friend) then Bay Route isn't going to make you swear off videogames forever or anything and you'll probably have an okay time. Just don't expect another... oh, what's that game called? The Konami one, with the moving and the shooting? Yeah, that one.
(P.S. Bay Route, Beirut. I assume that was intentional, because there are no bays in this game.)

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