Genre: Traditional Shooter
Release Date: 11/14/2000
We’re kicking off our thirty day tribute with a look back at Cannon Spike, one of the more obscure Capcom titles out there. I still remember when it was announced. A shooter in the style of Smash TV with characters from Street Fighter, Super Ghouls & Ghosts, Darkstalkers, Mega Man and two new guys? Sign me up!
Even though a lot of people complained that Cannon Spike was too short and massively overpriced for the play time (The original MSRP was $49.99 but it dropped to $29.99 by the time it was released), I still loved every second of the game, limited though they were. However, when I moved to the United Kingdom back in 2003, I left my beloved Dreamcast behind, and even when I moved back to the States, I just never had the chance to pick Cannon Spike back up. I figured this would be the perfect excuse to try out the game again and see how well it holds up nearly a decade after its original release.
So how was it? Does Cannon Spike remain a game I can speak about with passion and conviction as one of my favorite games on the Dreamcast, or has age ravaged this game’s once youthful good looks and charms?
The majority of the plot is in the manual or a few lines of dialogue in the opening screens that play when you let the game run on its own. It’s sometime in the near future, and a hideous army of terrorists plague the world. The average citizen is afraid to go out at night and it’s up to The World Union of Peace’s assembled soldiers to kick butt and take names, restoring peace, law and order to society.
The end result is your seven playable characters are given jet boot roller blades and you have to go through ten stages of nonstop violence. No really, jet powered roller blades.
Sadly, once you hit start, there is no defined story, no explanation of bosses or why the “main” boss is doing all this. Then there is stage ten where you fight two versions of the final boss and you have no idea what it is or where it came from. When you beat the game you get an ending for your particular character or characters that basically involves a volcano exploding and your guy saying something flip, or if you are Mega Man, being saved by Rush with a bit of implied cyborg beastiality occurring when you get back to Dr. Light’s lab. Ew.
I can’t call the story “worthless” only because there are specific character endings, but man could this game have used a plot or even some scenes linking the ten missions together. It’s so stylish and unique than a little plot could have gone a long way. The boss names, though, make the game. Big Gorilla Bloody UFO ROBO Vader, Big Wheel Dragon, Buggy Hayabusa, Insect ROBO Overlord, Flying Fortress Kabuki, Crazy Machine Jet Tiger, Jungle Master Sasuke, and Metal Blade Nightmare.
Story Rating: Very Bad
For a ten year old game, Cannon Spike‘s graphics still hold up. It looks better than a majority of PS2 games and it easily compares with a lot of Wii titles. Although the game is from a top down perspective, you can really see a lot of detail in the backgrounds and character designs. Sure the graphics are as jaw dropping as Shenmue or Sonic Adventure, but those were Sega first party titles. For a third party game on the Dreamcast, this is a very well done game.
One of the things I remember being really impressive was that there was no slowdown in the game, even with two player action and guns ‘a blazin’. This memory held up and although the levels are quite short, there’s no brevity on action or pace.
Overall, this is a very pretty game. Compared to today, it’s a bit blocky and there’s a lack of texturing, but it’s a great show of what the Dreamcast could do.
Graphics Rating: Very Good
I swear the ending credits theme that you get when you beat the game comes from something else. Even if it didn’t it’s such a sad and hauntingly sweet melody. You can help but be charmed by it. The in-game tracks however are very different from this track. When you’re playing, the music is almost as frantic as the speed of the game. They’re high octane action game tracks and they really help to keep you in the game when you’re wishing there was some sort of plot.
There is no voice acting save for when a character uses a special move. Charlie, for example will call out “Sonic Boom” or “Flash Kick” when you press the appropriate button. Still it’s not really needed as once you get into the game, you’re not paying attention to even the sounds of gunfire. Instead you’re concentrating on the position of the enemies and the spread of the shots coming at you.
The music is good, but much like the story, a little more voice acting could have made it even better.
Sound Rating: Very Good
4. Control and Gameplay
I have to admit, that although the game is still fun, the gameplay scheme is what is hurt the worst with age. The right trigger is supposed to be your “mark” controller, or what locks on to a target for you. However, this doesn’t work so well as often times your mark will lock on nothing at all or an enemy completely different from what you are aiming at. As well, the lock is only for a few seconds, so you’ll have to keeping jamming on the R trigger to keep locking on. Locking on is the only real guarantee that you’re going to hit anything, because you can’t aim and move at the same time. Generally you can only attack in the direction you are facing, but marking an opponent is supposed to get you around that. However, as mentioned earlier, this is easier said than done. You’ll find you need to aim your mark with the same analog stick you are moving with and often, this can lead to you getting shot or even killed. This is a bit of suck and if Capcom ever remakes this game, I’d have the mark go to the closest opponent and then each time you hit the trigger, it would shift to a different one.
The rest of the controls are solid. You have four attacks and no wussy blocking. It’s just straight out kill or be killed. You have a rapid fire shot, a slow but powerful shot, a melee attack, a slow but powerful melee attack and a special attack that does a great deal of damage, but most of which have a bad spread or pattern. I’d suggest Shiba, Arthur, or B.B. Hood for the first time player to really make use of the special shot. Because your character is on super charger rollerblades, the controls are a bit like sliding on a hockey rink, which is awesome. The controls are very tight and and there is no lag from the button to the attacks, save for power move, but that’s how they are meant to be.
You’ll be playing through ten very short levels, each with a different theme ranging from a tribute to Resident Evil to a snow covered mountain or an Amazon rain forest. There’s no real change from gameplay from one level to the next. It’s just learning the confines of the level and running around dodging enemy fire.
You’ll find that the gameplay and controls for Cannon Spike are pretty solid, but that the lock on mechanism can really get on your nerves at times. Just remember to constantly click the trigger and keep moving, and you’ll do fine. Remember this is more of a top down Metal Slug or Contra style shooter rather than Ikaruga or a Gradius title.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
There are eight difficulty levels to the game, with each one noticeably harder than the last. Thankfully, for those of you less skilled with Shoot ‘Em Up’s, you can get the endings on any setting, and on “baby” even newcomers should be able to beat the game with only using a single credit (or two if you foolishly chose Cammy or Charlie as they actually suck in this game compared to the others). On the harder levels, you’re going to be gritting your teeth as you try to take out the oversized bosses. If/when you get good enough to beat the game with a single credit, you’ll unlock a higher difficulty setting that gives you twice the levels. Well, it’s the same levels just doubled up with the second renditions being even harder. Think Pro Wrestling when you choose King Slender as your character.
With seven characters to choose from, each with their own specific ending and two player co-op action with each combination of characters giving you a specific ending as well, AND an unlockable image gallery, you can get a decent amount of play out of Cannon Spike. But remember, you can finish a game in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Voltron.
Replayability Rating: Good
Since each of the seven characters you can choose from plays pretty drastically from each other, it’s just a matter of finding the character that best fits your play style and rolling with it. As well, the eight difficulty settings really lets you slowly work your way up the ladder until you can move from Cannon Spike to just about any other run ‘n gun type game and slaughter it with impunity. I’ve always said that Cannon Spike makes for a great introduction to the shooter genre as it features easy to learn gameplay, far less gunplay than in a “bullet hell” vertical shooter, and some iconic characters for you to help ease you in to this style of game.
If you’re hand to eye coordination isn’t up to snuff, you’ll probably have some trouble with this game, especially since unlike a lot of other console shooters, there are only a select number of credits. You can’t increase your number of credits and there’s no way to unlock more. As I keep saying though, if you can’t beat the game on normal, don’t worry, this is the perfect game to learn the genre with, so go with Baby and once you beat that, turn the difficulty up a notch. Traditional shooters are easily the hardest genre in gaming, and Cannon Spike is the Mavis Beacon of shooters as it teaches anyone how to become quite capable.
Balance Rating: Great
If you’ve ever even SEEN Smash T.V., then you’ll at once recognize the similarities in gameplay and the camera angle of the game. The actual controls are quite different, but its hard not to think of Cannon Spike as Smash T.V. 2.
Cannon Spike is a pretty outside the box game for Capcom, seeing as how they churn out sequel after sequel for all their other titles, sometimes with only slight or barely noticeable variations to the newest release. Cannon Spike was a rare breath of fresh air. I’m shocked they haven’t actually churned out a new version or two of this since its original release, but then again, Shoot ‘Em Up’s are a niche genre these days.
Cannon Spike may be long dead, but it was pretty original for its day. It eschewed long stages with short boss fights and reversed the two around. It was pretty much bastardized by a lot of second rate Contra games for the PS2 by Konami, and it’s the only time you’ll ever see King Arthur on roller skates. This was a pretty out there and innovative game, even for a shooter. It’s safe to say that Cannon Spike‘s legacy still deserves to stand.
Originality Rating: Good
This is a hard game to gauge because it’s over so damn quickly. That being said, when I booted this game back up for the first time in years, I played as Shiba, beat the game and then quickly started a new game with Mega Man. It’s that much fun. Some gamers will probably be annoyed with the shortness but in truth, most traditional shooters are this short. Mars Matrix is not a five hour game, people.
Thanks to some solid gameplay, some familiar characters, outlandishly named bosses and some excellent (for their day) graphics, Cannon Spike is sure to keep you glued to your screen, as long as you are a fan of this genre of gaming.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
Okay, this was an underprinted game when it first came out, and it’s for a system that currently gets one to five games a year released for it. Cannon Spike currently sells on Ebay for between thirty-five and fifty dollars USED, and that’s a hard sell for a lot of gamers. There aren’t a lot of games I would say are worth $100 an hour of playtime, and Cannon Spike is no exception.
So what do we have? We have a long out of print game that was underprinted in the first place and now is overpriced as well. It’s also in a niche genre only a fraction of modern day gamers play, much less consider worth the investment of old hardware and with a price tag higher used than when the game was new. Personally, I’m just thankfully I still have my original copy as I love it, but the shortness of the game and the niche genre would hurt Cannon Spike in this category even if the cost wasn’t so bloody high.
Appeal Factor: Very Bad
Cannon Spike remains one of my favorite games for the Sega Dreamcast, even after all these years. Sure it’s no Sakura Taisen or Capcom vs SNK, but I would certainly consider it one of my ten favorite games for the system. There are couple of big strikes against the game, like the appeal and the lack of any real plot of explanation of what you’re doing, but in the end, this is arguably the best game ever made for introducing newcomers to the Shoot ‘Em genre and it’s amazingly fun for gamers like myself who pick up practically ever traditional shooter put on the market.
It’s a crying shame that this hasn’t been ported to any of the modern consoles as a downloadable title or given a sequel. Of course, even if Capcom did authorize a remake, the developers, Psikyo have been dead for half a decade thanks to X-nauts buying them, gutting the staff and sucking the last bit of life out of the Gunbird Strikers franchises. Rest in piece Psikyo. As long as I have this and Gunbird 2 for my Dreamcast, I’ll always remember you.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Story: Very Bad
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Very Bad
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Although Cannon Spike has the same fatal flaws regarding mainstream success that all Shoot ‘Em Ups have, it’s still a very fun game that you can play (and beat) in less time than it takes for you to watch some generic network sitcom. The action is fast paced, it features some of Capcom’s most popular characters, and it boasts a sliding difficulty allowing any gamer to learn how to play and appreciate this genre. It may be more expensive now used than it originally cost new, but it’s certainly a game worth experiencing one more time. Rest in peace Psikyo – here’s hoping Capcom eventually re-releases one of your best titles.