I'd be willing to bet that not too many people have played, or even heard of Hyper Zone, a 1st-generation Super NES space shooter game. Created by the same company that brought us Kirby, Hyper Zone was unique from all other SNES shooters at the time because it offered a behind-the-ship, "3D" view, as opposed to the traditional sidescrolling format. I remember it being one of the first Super NES games I actually owned, and it was the first SNES game I got away with paying only $10 for. There was probably a reason for that low price, since Hyper Zone is not really a fully fleshed-out game so much as it is a demo of the SNES's Mode 7 capabilities.
8/10Due to its captivating use of Mode 7 graphics, Hyper Zone resembles F-Zero with the track mirrored at the top of the screen. Your view is from behind the ship and as it races forward, enemy objects will rapidly scale as they rush towards you or dart away.
Each level is based on a generic environmental theme (city, fire, water, grassland) with magnificent colors and some cool special effects. Yes, the water in the Ripple Field really does look like water! The large, pulsating pods in the Bioplant are mesmerizing (assuming you're not prone to seizures), and the streaking lights of the final level give you a sensation of warping at high speed.
Although the flawless scaling of the enemies is a cool effect, the actual enemy designs are very bland. Many of them consist of mono-colored boxes, balls, and other random shapes. There are a few exceptions that have more detail and actually look like something with a recognizable form, like the Mumoky caterpillars of the Grass Land and the bouncing squids of the Ripple Field. Bosses are equally as generic, from spaceships that resemble Super R-Type's first boss to Space Harrier-inspired dragons. There is one creative boss, however, that looks like one-half of a Super Famicom controller with colored buttons spinning around it.
Your ship will also upgrade to better ships throughout the game, and each one has a completely different form. They all look rather cool, especially the last one which resembles a Franklin stove! Even the status portion at the top of the screen will change appearance with each new ship, like a whole new cockpit. (Ironically, there is no ship in the game that looks like the one on the Label, Box, and Manual art, which resembles a Star Wars X-Wing.)
7.5/10Hyper Zone has some really funky techno music to complement its colorful levels. Some of it actually has a rather "relaxing" quality to it, like the lulling tones of the Grass Land and Old Capitol. Some pieces, like the ear-shattering Bioplant theme, sound experimental, and others, like the Ripple Field, attempt something more "atmospheric". The boss music, unfortunately, is about as dull as it could possibly be. The sound effects offer some good explosions, but not much else. The only thing I really do not like is the obnoxious "warning" that buzzes constantly when your power meter is too low. If you like this game's music, here's a hint for a sound test: Hold L & R and press Start on the title screen.
8/10Your ship has a limited field of movement - you pretty much have to stay on the track at all times, or risk losing precious energy. So, basically, you'll be moving up, down, left, and right within that track space. Hyper Zone gives you two possible control configurations, and I prefer the "Reverse" setting in which pressing down makes you bank upwards, and pressing up makes you dive down (too much playing Star Raiders and Star Fox got me used to that control scheme for these rail shooter games.) You can brake to slow down, but if you go too slow, you'll end up taking damage, so the game forces you to keep moving at a brisk pace. You don't have continuous fire, but your ship can shoot very rapidly. At Ship Level 2 and above you'll even get a charge shot, a la R-Type. (Incidentally, if you watch the game's demo, you'll notice the CPU ship charging up and firing the normal laser at the same time. !?! As far as I can tell, this is impossible to do in the actual game.)
The ship's control is very solid, but the speed at which it meanders around the screen feels a tad sluggish. It's sometimes hard to tell where exactly objects are on the screen (especially these laser-barriers in the Neo Megalopolis Level), which causes many a collision. It's almost as though this was done on purpose, since the game is so easy, that you probably wouldn't ever lose a ship any other way.
6/10Hyper Zone has no in-game story at all, but its manual tells a tale of an apocalyptic future in which mankind has completely devastated earth and is now in search of a new planet to call home. The asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter has been chosen to be colonized (huh??), but years of chemical dumping and radiation in this area have caused it to become overgrown with mutant lifeforms. So, of course, a lone spaceship has to be sent in to clear them out to make the place safe enough to call "home" (all things considered, wouldn't it be easier just to clean the mess up on earth??) This is a very generic plot that has little consistency with the game, itself. If the asteroid belt hasn't been colonized yet, then why do you fly through areas like the "Material Factory", "Old Capitol", and "Neo Megalopolis"? Also, this storyline does nothing to explain the mythology of the "Hyper Zone", the final area from which the game gets its name. But playing Hyper Zone with complete disregard for the manual's story takes me on a surreal journey through weird, alien worlds, which is basically what I view this game as, no more, no less.
3.5/10Hyper Zone has to be one of the easiest games ever made. You aren't given any continues, but they're not necessary. When I first played this game, I got a little farther each time I played it. Then after about 4 days, I finally got to the end and beat it. Now, when I replay it, I can loop the game several times before losing all my lives. Since your ship has a limited field of movement, there isn't much you can do besides dodge around shots, enemies, and electric barriers, which, as you can imagine, isn't that tough. Once you get the charging weapon, it's easy to fry lots of enemies before they have a chance to get near you. Boss patterns are very simple, easy to learn, and easy to master. The final boss did give me some woes when I first encountered him, but even he doesn't rank among the best final boss fights ever.
7/10There isn't much doubt in my mind that, despite its lack of challenge, Hyper Zone is a fun game to play. It's fun zipping through those "3D" Mode 7 worlds at breakneck speeds and it's fun making things blow up. It's fun getting new vehicles, and it's fun fighting bosses, especially one that looks like a Super NES controller. If I've been playing a really tough game, and want to play something a little easier and more relaxing before taking on another huge challenge, Hyper Zone could be the perfect snack between meals. However, Hyper Zone may be fun to play, but it doesn't live up to the full potential that rail shooters can and have achieved (like Nintendo's masterpiece, Star Fox), and has less depth than many shooters that have come before it. Even Atari 2600's Solaris was more engaging.
Hyper Zone succeeds more as a demo of what the Super NES could do in terms of Mode 7 and scaling effects than it does as a videogame. It gave us an inkling of the SNES's sound capabilities, too, and when I first played it all those years ago, it certainly made the system look and sound excellent to me. So, if you want to see some spectacular Mode 7 effects, then Hyper Zone may be worth a play. Otherwise, there isn't much else to it.
On a related note, the final area of Kirby's Dream Land 3, which was also developed by HAL Laboratory, is called the "Hyper Zone". Pretty cool, huh?
SCORE (not an average): 6/10
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