Forgotten classic: Geograph Seal (X68000)

So it looks like I’m not done with flat-shaded polygon shooters yet! But where do you go after the surprisingly epic action of Solid Lancer? As it turns out that’s an easy question to answer – we just have to hop on over to the X68000 and load up Geograph Seal.

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The game’s by Exact – the same team that would go on to make the launch/launch-ish (depending on where you lived) Playstation game Jumping Flash!, and if you’ve ever played one of the robo-rabbits platformers then you’ll be familiar with the basics of Geograph Seal even if the designs are more typically sci-fi in this one. So in the main this involves getting plonked into an arena-style space with a set number of targets to destroy – sometimes these will be particular enemies, whereas in others it’ll be fixed objects hidden away in a cramped maze. Either way once these have all been destroyed the path to the end-of-stage boss opens up and you’re thrust into a do-or-die battle against a suitably impressive adversary, like the enormous robot-spider in the screenshots below.

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But where Geograph Seal excels is in the way it takes these very simple ideas and then spins them into something more interesting and memorable, such as the multi-height boss battle that has you destroying vulnerable points at the top and bottom before aiming for the core, or stage 3 – which is by far the simplest of them all – making up for the “shoot them all” on-rails gameplay by pitting you against an entire fleet over a Sega-blue sea, with enormous dropships flying overhead dropping swarms of smaller enemies into the battlefield. This creative streak runs through the entire game, with each stage offering an inventive take on the core formula right up to the final staff roll.

The weaponry available follows suit too, with four different shot types available at all times ranging from the powerful-but-overly-precise laser to the weak fire-and-forget homing missiles (that often – and deliberately – don’t track boss weakpoints). Every shot has four different power levels raised independently of each other from pickups hidden around each stage and they all are engineered to be more useful in certain situations than others. To prevent you from simply taping down the fire key each shot also uses up differing amounts of a rechargeable energy gauge located across the bottom of the screen, so your basic Vulcan type can be used pretty liberally whereas the powerful Riat (their typo, not mine) bombs must be used with more care and attention.

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Geograph Seal succeeds in everything it sets out to do: the exhilarating sense of vertigo as you look down on an enemy below from a high jump off a nearby building to then satisfyingly bounce off their heads, the varying weaponry types are accompanied by level designs that encourage players to actually experiment to see what works best, and the relatively primitive 3D manages to be both stylish as well as easy to read in the middle of a firefight. Heck, they even threw in a 2P versus mode for those people lucky enough to have two X68ks and two copies of the game! The only real negative to draw from a complete play through is that while there is an end-of-stage score system in place (including its own mysterious “secret bonus”) the game doesn’t really feel tuned for score attack play and with no difficulty levels there’s little reason to come back to it other than… other than because it’s a really solid and exciting action game with lots of clever ideas in it.

So I suppose that’s no real negative at all, is it? How about this one then – the game is generally looked upon as a footnote in Jumping Flash’s development history and nothing more; but it turns out that Geograph Seal is more than good enough to stand up as a worthy title in its own right, and deserves its own place in gaming history for doing everything Jumping Flash! is lauded for first and on less powerful hardware, if nothing else.