Sunday, January 20, 2008

TEAL: Propeller Arena - Earn Those Wings

Admittedly, there's not a lot to Propeller Arena. The closure of SegaNet, paired with the game's "non-release" status leaves the network option woefully impotent. Without it, the game is left with three game modes: Championship, Quick Battle and Training Arena. Since this was my first serious play-through of the game, I decided to test the waters with a little training.

Training Arena is divided into three parts, each part with a specific stage for each different character.

Propeller Stunt
The airborne firefights are quite the draw, but it's the trick system that really fascinated me on my first run of the game. Various turns and maneuvers can be executed by way of Street Fighter-like command inputs. A quarter circle here, a half circle there, all punctuated with the designated trick button (X by default). Being able to quickly pull a 180, then slide effortlessly to the left firmly places Propeller Arena in the "arcade" sub-genre, discarding realism for fast-paced action.

The Propeller Stunt portion presents you with a list of commands you must complete within a fixed time. Complete the list for a time bonus. Fail to do so, and you earn yourself a miss. Fail in completing three lists or crash, and the game is over. String together stunts one after the other nets you a combo bonus, multiplying the points earned on a trick by the number of tricks in the chain. 

In addition to a combo multiplier, you can increase the value of each trick by flying through each green ring. Do a trick with no rings under your belt and you've got the base value of 50 points, but grab a ring, and you're doing x2. It's an easy task getting through each string of commands, but, in case you can't tell, the real fun comes from going for the high score.

Propeller Stunt is probably the easiest of the Training Arena modes. Each stage can be cleared easily, even after missing some of the more difficult tricks, but it doesn't make it any less fun. What does subtract from the enjoyment is the reliability of the command inputs. I often find myself turning 180° (↓➘→➚↑ + X) when I mean to go ninety (↓➘→ + X), or decelerating (L button by default) when I mean to Air Brake (hitting the brake button quickly twice). This becomes more of a problem when you need to rely on these tricks to effectively clear some of the other training levels. Other than that, though, there's much enjoyment to be had.

Propeller Challenge
A medley of skill-based missions, Propeller Challenge can ask you to do anything from collecting icons to blowing stuff up. Some challenges asks you to participate under a different set of circumstances like flying with reversed controls or in plane-freezing weather. Suffice to say, the range of difficulty is as varied as the missions, from the pedestrian (and enjoyable) 8-bit Beat level, where you attempt to blow up a meteor, to the nerve-racking Hex Candy mission, where you have to struggle against the previously mentioned reverse controls.

I think I took a couple of tries at least for each mission, sometimes on the verge of hemorrhaging over the difficulty. Of course, that made completing the mission all the more enjoyable. If there's one thing I'm painfully aware of, it's my affinity for punishing difficulty.

Propeller Agility
The penultimate test of control mastery, Propeller Agility asks you to fly through all the rings on a given course. Missing a ring incurs a time penalty, and if your time to complete exceeds the time limit (including time penalty), you get a nice F. It takes a knowledge of some of the basic stunts and a little luck (due to the aforementioned control problems) to clear all of these. Towards the last levels, you really have to have a hold on the Lightning Dash and Air Brake stunts if you want any chance of clearing the levels. It goes a long way towards your satisfaction of clearing Level 8 knowing that it took a bit of dexerity and competence to get you there.

Three modes, twenty-four levels total, and a growing  sense of intrigue. This Propeller Arena primer has left me anticipating what Championship has to offer, but for now, I'm turning the game off. I've had enough challenge for one day.

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