I love surprises like this. Much like the Saturn to truly get the most out of the Turbo Grafx-16 you’ll have to explore its Japanese library. There are a wide range of titles only released in Japan and if you can actually believe it twice as many shooters that were never brought overseas. Download is fairly easy to ignore due to its simple title. While its name is pretty generic within the context of its story it makes sense. Dig beneath the surface and you will find one of the most intense shooters on the platform. In my opinion it’s also one of the best for the system which is really saying a lot considering its stiff competition.
Uncommon within the genre Download actually has a bit of a plot. Syd is a cyber-diver, one who is able to dive into computer networks. He is contacted by his friend Deva, who has been kidnapped while investigating the murder of their friend Ohala. Now Syd must dive into the network to save her and solve the case. The plot unfolds between levels but unfortunately it’s all in Japanese.
Download keeps its arsenal of weapons extremely small. Normally that isn’t a big deal so long as your limited options are effective. In this case however there are two that are just too versatile but more on that in a second. For your main weapon you have a choice between the Beam Vulcan and the laser cannon with each able to reach a maximum level of five. The laser cannon is the more powerful of the two. However the Vulcan’s spread shot hits six directions at full power and is too convenient to pass up. There was only a single level where I found the laser cannon useful. Every other stage has so many waves of enemies that I won’t say it is impossible but without the beam Vulcan it is incredibly frustrating, more so than usual.
Your sub weapon choices aren’t so clear cut even though there is a clear favorite. Chaser missiles are heat seeking although they are incredibly weak. No wonder they give you so many. The Crusher is personally my favorite. It releases a ball that sucks in all nearby bullets and creates an explosion in its wake. Its only drawback is the extremely limited ammo. The true champion however is the Barrier. It’s your shooter staple shield but can be placed at any point on the ship and absorb 15 hits. With the number of power-ups dropped you can easily keep it up indefinitely, making it the clear favorite.
Regardless of your choices before each level you have your work cut out for you. Download can be a bit relentless with its enemy waves and the adage of never a dull moment truly applies. At its worst it is very hard to keep track of everything going on, most notably in stage 5’s asteroid field. You’ll end up taking some cheap hits because of it. There are very few slow paced segments but enough that they stand out. The odd pacing isn’t really an issue though as it offers brief respites before the game becomes vicious again.
Despite the chaos I found the difficulty to be just right. Obviously that all depends on your weapons however with skill any setup is viable. Even though your weapons degrade with each hit power-ups are frequent enough that you can get back up to speed quickly. Your life bar is generous and makes it easier to survive. That being said bosses can easily take you out in one or two hits, sending you back to the beginning of the level which is brutal. Unlimited continues is more than enough yet the game actually has passwords. That being said I think both veterans and novices to the genre will find something to like here.
The production values of Download are top notch. Because you are jacking into a computer the game’s setting and environments avoid most of the standard video game tropes. Stage 1 is an assault on city as you storm the Kabukicho headquarters to rescue Deva. This is followed up by a trip overseas, a jaunt underground and eventually a trip to the stars. There’s a generous amount of scrolling in the backgrounds and the art direction becomes a bit surreal towards the end. The mechanical and creature designs still look unique to this day. The soundtrack is excellent, full of electronic beats that make the most of the hardware.
Download is the type of import that has a fairly innocuous name but is in fact pretty awesome. On a system blessed with many great shooters I liked it just as much as the later Star Soldier games and Blazing Lazers. That’s incredibly high praise but the game is definitely worth it.