By the late 90s arcades had all but disappeared in my area. While I was content playing console games at the time I did lament their absence. There was nothing like hitting the arcade and seeing a game years more advanced than what was available at home. With arcades disappearing it meant I missed out on a lot of absolute gems. Cannon Spike came to my attention thanks to Gamefan magazine, where it was met with glowing praise. I was skeptical at first but ultimately glad I took a chance on it as the game is excellent.
The story is certainly….interesting. Terrorists have unleashed a series of robots around the world. A group calling themselves the Anti Robot Special Force decides to take on this threat and save mankind. This group is composed of various Capcom characters from unrelated series. You’ve got Arthur from Ghouls n Ghosts, Mega Man, Cammy and Charlie and even Shiba from little known arcade game Three Wonders. Why everyone is outfitted with roller blades is never explained but it makes for some quick, focused action.
There are seven characters to choose from, all with their strengths and weaknesses. Aside from the previously mentioned heroes B.B. Hood from Darkstalkers and original character Simone round out the cast. Everyone differs in terms of strength and speed but the distinctions go even further. The controls are simple; there are weak and heavy attacks, and weak and heavy shots. Weak attacks can be comboed while weak shots produce rapid fire. Every attack is unique to each character, defining them and making for a unique gameplay experience. The differences can be pretty stark; Charlie is fairly weak but his heavy shot produces a piercing bullet that can dig into multiple enemies. Meanwhile using Mega Man is like using a cheat code. His Tornado bullet is grossly overpowered, removing much of the game’s challenge.
Although this is a brawler it actually has more in common with Treasure’s Alien Soldier. Each mission takes place in a small arena with fodder enemies. These are used to build up health and collect power-ups before facing a miniboss. From there the confrontation with the end level bosses follows. In terms of structure this is more of a boss rush which works extremely well for an arcade style game. While I would have liked a little more fighting in each stage for what the game is going for it works.
Short vignettes and not full levels in most cases would be dull. But the strong boss battles and variety among characters are what prop up Cannon Spike. There are homages to many past Capcom titles such as the Unholy Dwelling which is clearly patterned after Resident Evil. More importantly the boss encounters are challenging yet fair. As these battles are the game’s highlight they manage to be entertaining while always leaving room for improvement. I’ve never been the type that tries to one credit a game yet the gameplay here, with the minute differences between characters, enticed me into doing so.
If there is one caveat it is that Cannon Spike is short. As an arcade game it was designed to be played in short bursts. Most missions are a scant few minutes at most and there are only nine of them. For the average skilled player this can be finished in less than thirty minutes depending on the character. However it can’t be stressed enough that this is a game designed to be replayed over and over. The difference between characters leads to a different experience each time. And then there are the extras. There is an extensive art gallery to unlock as well as character specific endings. There are even unique endings for completing the game in coop! For some that might not be enough but in this case I definitely feel Cannon Spike’s short length isn’t a problem.
By arcade standards Cannon Spike is not overly difficult. Although you have a single life extra health is dropped regularly. Enemy and boss patterns are easy to figure out and the game does not rely on cheap tactics such as stuns or excessive damage to win. Outside of using less than ideal characters like Charlie most will have an easy time seeing the end credits in an hour or so. For those that want a true challenge you can adjust the difficulty as well as go for a second loop. The second time around is far more difficult and will take true skill to complete.
I did not expect to come away really liking Cannon Spike as much as I did. Usually short arcade experiences like this don’t leave a lasting impression. However Cannon Spike struck a chord with me that made me replay it multiple times. While I would have loved to see more content I am more than happy with the game as is. This is one of the better action games for the Dreamcast and is begging for a re-release.