HyperZone is a Mode-7 on rail shooter produced by Hal Laboratory (of Kirby fame) in 1991. It was one of the few shoot em ups that fully utilized the Mode-7 graphics.
Have you ever wanted to play a shooter that looks and sounds like F-Zero with the difficulty of Gradius? Then HyperZone is your game. The plot of Hyperzone is that in the distant future, Earth has become an uninhabitable world. Leaders mobilize to colonize uncharted terrain starting with the rest of the Solar System from Mars and beyond. Unfortunately, a malicious race of half-mechanical organisms come from the asteroid belt to wage war on human civilization before further progress could be made, and it’s up to you to clear out the hostiles for the greater good. Many people would say that is pretty much standard fare for most shooter games of its time. The one man army that becomes a wrecking ball whilst also having the fate of the Human Race on their shoulders. Thankfully we play these games more for the challenging gameplay and visuals and not so much the storytelling which is severely lacking here.
The original concept within the game, was to have the game be in Stereoscopic 3D similar to the 3D games on the Sega Master System; evidence of which can still be found by pressing a combination of Select, Select, A, B, Select, Select, X, Y, Select, Select, L, R, Up on the gamepad.
(Please Note this has been confirmed to cause glitches within the game. Whilst there has never been reported damage to cartridges from inputting this code, Orange Bison takes NO responsibility if your cart gets damaged).
Whilst many people see this game as a shooter version of F-Zero; comparisons can also be made to the 1988 Amiga game Eliminator by Hewson, both games follow a similar F-zero style track based level system. Hyperzone is also mentioned in another Hal game, Kirby’s Dreamland 3 with the games last level being called Hyperzone.
Even though the game is very short with only 8 levels, don’t let that fool you. It’s a tough game to crack – do not be put off, once you get the hang of it you will sail through the first few levels. The game really kicks in around Level 4; enemies become faster and more frequent. You will need to use all of your skills to get to the bosses and the end of the stage.
Every level is like a futuristic race course and is full of vibrant neon colours, the enemy’s range from Gold squares, to smaller ships, to rings of fire. Fortunately, only the ships fire at you but you will need to dodge them. You do have a health bar which can be refilled by going over the yellow zones on the track; a bit like the boost refills in F-Zero. As the levels get harder the health zones get further away and also in harder to reach locations, so self-preservation and retries will be required. Along the way, as you destroy the enemy you get points, and with points, you get ship upgrades and more lives. If you die you lose your upgrades like in Gradius. My suggestion is to start over after losing the upgrades because the game will get impossible quickly without them.
Every level ends with a boss fight. With that, every Boss has a specific pattern that needs to be memorized. The Boss fights really show off the Mode-7 scaling and rotation features that the Super Nintendo/Famicom could achieve. The downside to the large use of Mode-7 in these fights is that it creates larger amounts of slowdown caused by both the continual scaling and rotation and due to the larger amount of animated on-screen sprites.
The Audio is very crisp and has the same style of music as F-Zero which really matches well with the action and visuals. The boss themes sound immense and match the size of the boss. It really evokes the sense of a desperate atmosphere as you, the character, sit in your small ship trying to defend against the variety of different large bosses.
Unfortunately, there are some major issues, most chiefly there can be some horrendous slow down which can cause some cheap and frustrating deaths. Even though the game loops infinitely after you beat it, it doesn’t help the very short nature of the game; once you learn the patterns you could sail through the game in 10-15 minutes. In my opinion, the game doesn’t really have much replay value after beating it so you won’t go back to it repeatedly.
Overall I feel Hyperzone is worth a play, just don’t expect a long game that keeps pulling you back in. The game does sell pretty cheaply on the Super Famicom with loose carts going for under £10 and complete copies going anywhere from £15-20.