STAGE 4

♪ Degeneracy

The premise is simple: The terrain is littered with all different types of destructible scenery. Destroy them for points and sometimes even medals. Don’t destroy them for either nothing or endless tanks, depending on the object. It’s a pretty lopsided offer, and it teaches you that preemptive terrain bombing can be fun and useful. Likewise, since there are a lot of targets, this stage shows how much use you can get out of just a few bomb fragments.

Halfway through, you encounter two different types of large vehicles. The first is a long thin tank which likes to trap you. You can easily swoop around this attack; however, the developers anticipated this and deviously decided to place it immediately after a large medal cache.

The second one is a bit of a gotcha. Just as you get a chance to breathe from the previous tank, another tank pops out from underneath. We’ll be seeing more of these later, so it’s good that we get to say hi now.

Strangely, at the moment there is little downside to playing the stage aggressively. You would think that perhaps there would be an advantage to saving your bombs.

If there is, it would likely be here, where the stage suddenly ramps up. First come three tank hatches side-by-side. As these will soon flood the screen with tanks, it’s prudent to take them out before they can harm you. But then you’re out a bomb.

Incidentally, if the player has made it this far without noticing that bombs can affect the environment, this here is a good wake-up call.

Just one screen-length later, you come across three of the large thin vehicles. Trying to get through this straight-up is difficult and requires some precise movements, and there aren’t many ways to cheat the pattern. You have to either bomb it away or practice.

At this point you’re probably running out of bombs.

If that weren’t enough, two new large planes appear side-by-side. Their patterns severely restrict your movement, and it culminates in aimed attacks which force you to either rub up against or weave through the boundaries. That is, unless you bomb it away as well.

And finally, four large tanks are waiting on the other side, ready to strike. Good luck.

But if you respawn, you’ll notice that your death shrapnel has taken out a significant number of their parts. And as you finish them off, you may notice that the tanks drop different items based on how many of their parts were destroyed. If you manage to pick a tank clean before blowing it up, you’ll probably notice that it drops a full bomb item. Which, yes, means that you could pick up four bombs. Right here, right now.

Of course, it’s unlike the game to offer such a significant advantage without a catch.

♪ Thrust and Thrash!

Enter the railings. Once bombed, these railings will explode in a torrent of medals. Catching them all is worth tens of thousands apiece, but since they’re all falling, letting the chain drop will be costly. There are a couple tank sheds on each side which you can destroy for safety medals; however, the first and last railings must be caught with no such safety net.

So now you have a decision. The game is getting harder. It threw four difficult situations at you back-to-back, and chances are it’s only gonna get worse. So do you save these bombs for whatever might be ahead? Or do you throw them away for the sake of points?

After making it through the railings, the boss hooks up to its second form. Depending on your personality, this boss could be pretty underwhelming. Despite the incredible amount of weaponry attached, the core itself is rather weak, and can be destroyed before it has the chance to do anything threatening. If you just wanna get through it and move on, it should pose no trouble.

Yet to a certain kind of personality, the idea of stripping the boss clean is tantalizing. And for those people, the boss has a special trick up its sleeve: Destroy the central turret formation without killing the boss outright and it’ll start releasing drones nonstop. Not only are they lucrative, but they’re fast and just durable enough to require you to stay vertically-aligned with them, even as the other turrets try to push you away (and probably toward the weakened core). It turns a simple process of picking away the pieces into something surprisingly challenging, especially if you used up all your resources beforehand.

THE SECOND TIME

To be honest, half the reason I love this stage is because the choreography of the ground enemies is just so neat. It’s difficult to notice if you’re just shooting everything down as it comes along, but the tanks here have complex paths just in case, for some reason, they’re still alive. Boats will sail off the top of the screen only to be parked later on. Tanks will circle around a few pipes before exiting stage right. Some of them are even interrelated: that one big tank will take refuge beneath some pipes before hurrying off the top of the screen, forcing a couple lil tanks to get out of the way.