The Genesis hosted a great number of shooters, but Gaiares — brought to America by prolific Genesis publisher Renovation — is always mentioned in the short list of must-haves. And for good reason, too. It’s a fun shooter that doesn’t require any sort of qualifier like “Gaiares is a great shoot-’em-up… you know, for the time.”
Every shooter has a “hook,” and Gaiares borrows its hook from the seminal blaster R-Type. You have a traveling companion you can fling into the space ahead of you, but in Gaiares, your acts as something of a retrieval system. The prime directive of the small satellite, called the TOZ, is to steal weapons from enemies. For example, if you are staring down an alien fighter with a laser cannon, launch the TOZ into it. The TOZ extracts the weapon information from the alien ship and carries it back to your fighter, granting you the power-up. If you can double-up or even triple-up on the same kind of enemy, you can juice the power of your newly acquired weapon. As a hook, it’s a good one, because it encourages a degree of exploration with your enemies. Instead of instinctive blowing them out of the sky, you need to consider the patterns and see how you can effectively steal power-ups to create an all-powerful weapon.
You need to maximize those power-ups, too, because Gaiares shows little mercy past stage two. That’s not to imply that the game is impossible — it’s not. In fact, one reason Gaiares is still revered is that it nails the amount of challenge needed to snag a shmup player but not overwhelm and ultimately push away. Enemies fill the screen regularly, and the boss ships do not hesitate to put the squeeze on you. But if you can make good use of the TOZ power-up thievery, you can keep your thumb on the scales.
Whereas early SNES shooters suffered from chuggy slowdown, Gaiares keeps up a solid clip without sacrificing the number of sprites or special effects. The huge bosses, such as the mermaid queen (you have to see it), dominate the screen without dragging on the frame rate.
Gaiares is also an attractive shooter, thanks to the clever boss designs and the general use of color in the entire production. Yes, some of the backdrops aren’t terribly explosive, but the upside is that at least they do not distract from the action in the foreground. Gaiares also delivers some great 16-bit music
Gaiares is an excellent shooter that has aged quite well since the sunset of the Genesis. The TOZ system of stealing weapons is an engaging idea that adds dimension to what would have been otherwise a merely “good shooter.” If you are assembling a Genny collection and fancy a bit of galactic thumb-numbing, Gaiares is a smart acquisition.