It’s a side scrolling / horizontal shooter, based on the necessarily thin plot of aliens attacking a colony on Mars. To battle this threat, we humans have developed a remote controlled combat ship piloted by RAIN (Remote Artificial Intelligence Network). Three pilots take part in each attack stage, each one with a slightly different plan of action, but all with the same goal of neutralising the boss on each stage. The three pilots constitute the Border system that gives the game its name, each one representing a life: green, yellow or red border. Losing a life whilst in green forces a “border down” to yellow, and similarly from yellow to red. Dying whilst in red finishes the credit.
The border system is more than a simple life count. The border dictates how each stage will play, including varying difficulty levels, changing attack patterns and different backgrounds, some of which are strikingly beautiful. All three borders rejoin at the stage boss. The border system is completed by the ability to select a different border at the beginning of each stage, although the prerequisite bonus must be achieved during the previous stage if you want to “border up”. The whole Border concept instantly trebles the scope of play. Whilst initially disconcerting to find yourself in a different time of day or even a completely different area when killed, it soon becomes second nature and occasionally even deliberate. The border chosen at the start of each stage determines the underlying difficulty level. If you border down within a stage (get killed), the game gets slightly easier, for a given border, than if you had started the stage in that border. For example, if the green (easy) border is selected on stage one, then the mid-stage sub-boss meets you with a flurry of bullets. If you die here and drop down into the yellow (medium) border, the bullets are less numerous and easy to dodge. However, if the yellow border is selected at the start of the same stage, then this sub-boss meets you with both the flurry of bullets and aimed particle-beam weapons. Therefore, a player might want to border down deliberately to reduce the difficulty level while trying out a lower (more difficult) border. If the stage is completed with a decent bonus, you can border up again at the beginning of the next stage and repeat the process over again.
The stage bonus that determines permission to border up for the next stage is made up from a combination of an end-of-stage boss time bonus and the total number of hits raked in with your “break” laser. This secondary weapon fires a huge horizontal death ray that annihilates most enemies and their bullets / lasers and also makes the player invincible. Any objects destroyed with this weapon contribute to the break laser bonus, including bullets, so wise choice of when to use it is important, perhaps waiting till a boss starts spewing out bullets, before unleashing its power. Using the break laser also saps away at the power of the standard weapon, so over-use could cripple you. The end-of-stage boss time bonus is unusually maximised by destroying the boss as close to the time limit as possible. Instead of trying to finish them off as viciously and quickly as possible, this feature forces you to keep the bosses and yourself alive, whilst damaging it just enough, so that you can instantly polish it off when the timer reaches zero. Going past zero starts to reduce the available bonus again. This makes for exciting boss encounters and edge of the seat tension. The break laser bonus is added to a border gauge during the stage, which gives a vague idea of just how close to the boss time limit you will need to aim to border up for the next stage.
The primary weapon can be fired in two ways. Holding the button down fires a powerful stream of horizontal energy-beam death. Tapping the button releases less powerful energy bolts. From the rear of the ship, they swerve round and home in on the nearest enemy. This is extremely handy when you just want to concentrate on finding a path for the ship through a hail of bullets and enemy ships. From the front of the ship they fire out in a solitary horizontal line. It is difficult to pay much attention to how pretty the homing bolts look when playing the game. It is well worth watching someone else play, just to appreciate the way they fly around the screen, and videos of the stages being played are unlockable for you to enjoy at your leisure. The fire rate of the homing bolts from the rear of the ship is limited, so madly tapping the fire button does not add much over a slightly slower pace. Those from the front have a slightly quicker rate of fire. Essentially this setup means that the game can be played quite successfully with a pad, so does not penalise those without an arcade stick. The primary weapon powers up through five levels during play, and reduces in power if the break laser is used enough to drop the power gauge back down a level. This all adds to the tactics and planning needed to succeed.
The final control setting is a choice of three ship speeds, cycled through at the tap of button. The medium setting is sufficient for much of the game. The lower speed is especially useful at points during boss battles when confined to small spaces, and the higher speed for evading those pesky faster homing missiles.
The variety in the stages and borders is highly appreciated and include your average side scrolling sections, with both tunnel and open space areas, vertical scrolling sections (the ship remains horizontal), and even some asteroid and space junk fields to blast and dodge through. It is always interesting to see what the game is going to throw at you next.
After navigating through five stages, taking in the mostly attractive and thoughtful graphics, along with the novel but strangely calming music, a final stage is reached. You don’t border down in this stage, but the stage itself varies according to the ratio of time spent in each border previously and has a fearsome boss encounter.
To compliment the arcade original mode, there is also a remix mode, which is sufficiently different to spend some time playing. It presents a more frantic game, with more enemies and bullets, but also more frequent power-ups, so the break-laser can be used more often. Scores are therefore generally higher. Some of the tunes have also been changed.
Border Down is plenty hard enough to provide a serious challenge, requiring a decent time investment to suss out all the available levels and even then, the constantly varying difficulty level ensures you can never really learn the stages off by heart. The developers have thought long and hard about how they can create something original that remains superbly fun. This has paid off, resulting in a tight game structure, where there is a real incentive to not lose any lives unintentionally. Some players are going to be put off by the lack of obscene power-ups and choice of only two available weapons, but others are going to be drawn in by the thinking man’s combat system, along with the relaxed and pure style of the gameplay. This is where Border Down excels. Dodging bullets, shooting aliens, owning the bosses and racking up the scores.
You might be able to grab a 2nd hand copy at Play-Asia
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