Mars Matrix Hands-On

Though the world of 2D shooters is relatively quiet, these days Capcom seems to be dishing them out with decent regularity. We took its upcoming Mars Matrix for a test drive, and here are our impressions.

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In Capcom's latest 2D shooter Mars Matrix, you take control of a "mosquito" ship, out to quell an uprising instigated by an errant martian colony. But since Mars Matrix is a 2D shooter, its story is largely negligible.

Takumi, the same studio that spawned last year's spastic Gigawing, developed Mars Matrix. Both games share one key gameplay mechanic--your ship's ability to absorb and subsequently reflect enemy fire. Granted, there was no actual absorption in Gigawing, but the effect was the same--swarms of enemy bullets shot right back toward the bad guys, effectively clearing the screen of them. It's a cool idea for a shooter, but one that Gigawing, unfortunately, didn't execute too soundly. Luckily, Mars Matrix seems to get it right.

The game is effectively a vertical shooter in the fashion of Space Invaders, Truxton, and Radiant Silvergun. As you'd expect, throngs of enemies of all shapes and sizes dash at you from all sides, unleashing flurries of shellfire. Though there are a good number of enemies onscreen at all times, you won't get killed for running into them--Takumi took a risk, in that respect, choosing instead to make enemy shellfire the sole means to your end. Frankly, flying right through your enemies is initially a bit disconcerting, but Mars Matrix does a good job of showing you how harmless it is, early on: In the game's very first sequence, every square inch of the board is packed to the gills with enemy craft, making it literally impossible to avoid contact with one.

Your mosquito ship is equipped with three different armaments, and depending on which of the two ships you select, your basic weapon will slightly differ. The red ship features a spread-shot, while the blue ship features a fairly straightforward, yet highly powerful, linear beam. Both ships are also equipped with a "piercing cannon" that delivers a short-range, powerful jolt of energy. Finally, both ships have access to the mosquito attack, the aforementioned bullet-sucking special. The mosquito attacks are a touch more versatile than Gigawing's "reflect" feature: Depending on how long you hold the button down, your ship will either absorb and repel enemy shots or emit a screen-clearing blast. Either way, while charging, a small whirlwind of energy will appear around your ship, and any enemy who comes into contact with it will be incinerated. So in effect, you're invulnerable while charging. Use of the mosquito attack is regulated by an onscreen meter that gradually charges and regenerates fairly quickly.

Mars Matrix lets you power up your basic attacks by gaining experience points. Every time you blow up an enemy ship, a bronze cube will appear in its wake. Bronze cubes are the physical representations of experience. The more powerful the enemy, the larger and more valuable the cube it will yield. A pleasant side effect of the cubes is that they give your charge-meter a slight boost, making their collection very lucrative. Considering the amount of carnage onscreen at any given time, you can expect it to effectively rain experience cubes.

Capcom has learned how to prolong an otherwise one-sided experience. Mars Matrix--in the tradition of Marvel vs. Capcom 2--boasts all kinds of unlockable modes, options, and bonuses. With everything from extra lives, continues, ship colors, and an art gallery, Mars Matrix looks like it'll boast a bit more replay value than your average 2D shooter.

Mars Matrix is set for release later this month, so stay tuned for a full review. Fans of the genre should definitely keep their eyes on this one. Quality shooters are few and far between, and this one looks to be fairly competent.

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