I really liked Twinkle Tale, a little known Genesis import that suffered from a low print run. This brilliant game housed excellent art direction and gameplay but somehow never left Japan. So when I learned of Undead Line I couldn’t wait to try it out. Unfortunately I left disappointed. There are aspects of the game that I like but the borderline insane difficulty makes it hard to appreciate them. This one is for masochists only; there are too many better shooters in the system’s library to bother.
At the beginning of time the world was inhabited by Gods and Titans who battled over who would rule. The giants created four living weapons to turn the tide of battle and it worked, a little too well. So devastating were these weapons that both sides lost. This would be called Ragnarok. Ages later Count Brahzen, leader of the demons invades the Gitane Kingdom seeking to revive one of the four legendary weapons. King Fahrenheit II relies on Leon, a warrior with special powers, defeat Count Brahzen before he can obtain the weapon.
Undead Line is a port of the X68000 and MSX title. Each port was a bit unique with something lost and gained in the transition. The cool animated intro of the MSX game is lost but is compensated with a new final level. That doesn’t make up for the loss of two playable characters in this version however. Each character had their own specialization and focused on specific weapons. By raising your stats in specific categories you could increase their effectiveness. With the wizard and ninja gone there is no reason to bother with weapons such as the fireball and shuriken. Leon is well rounded but there’s nothing wrong with having options right?
The game certainly doesn’t lack for weapons. There are six weapons with each powering up to three levels. The default dagger is incredibly weak but at least has rapid fire. Fire produces a small flame that eventually becomes a flamethrower. The axe is a boomerang, upgrading to three at once at higher levels. The option is exactly that; a small helper that follows your movements. The boomerang is similar to the axe but eventually takes on homing properties. The spread shot covers a wide swathe of the screen and even your rear at full power.
Now forget everything I just told you as 90% of the weapons are useless. The spread shot is the only weapon worth using as everything else has a drawback. The axe travels slowly and you can’t attack until it comes back. The boomerang’s homing fire frequently gets hung up on chests and ignores enemies. The flamethrower can be useful but only travels in a straight line. At full power the spread shot covers the majority of the screen, making it indispensable considering how relentless the game is. There are secondary items such as a shield, invincibility, and a speed boost but just as many that hurt your progress. There’s poison, reduce speed and worst of all an item that strips you back to the default dagger. It’s like the game actively hates you.
Undead Line is one of the most intense shooters you’ll come across. Like Elemental Master you can tackle the levels in any order but it’s irrelevant; they’re all brutal. Enemy waves are frequent and come from all sides which is why most weapons are useless. One of the most important skills is blocking attacks with your shield. There are a surprising number of attacks you can deflect and it makes the game somewhat tolerable. It’s a damn shame the game is so unbearable as it showcases a great deal of variety. Every level has its own set of enemies as you visit a diverse array of settings. Its just too bad you can’t stop and appreciate them.
With its all-out assault Undead Line is ridiculously challenging. But I don’t think most are prepared for how difficult. It’s no exaggeration to say that Undead Line is one of the hardest games ever made. Once the enemies spawn they rarely stop coming. You have a brief two or three seconds if you are lucky to cycle through the items in the chests which simply isn’t enough. You need to hit every chest as it is the only way to restore health too. That’s right; the game doesn’t even have the courtesy to refill your life bar after each level. Death carries a steep price as there are no checkpoints and you start with the weak dagger every time.
A large part of what makes the game so hard is that most of the weapons aren’t worth a damn. If you aren’t using the spread shot you are doing something wrong. I can’t imagine trying to navigate the game’s rougher moments using something like the default dagger. With its blistering action and brutal bosses it’s almost as if they don’t want you to play the game. I can appreciate a decent challenge but not like this.
I wanted to like Undead Line but it simply is no good. Vertical shooters aren’t too common on the Genesis but there are better alternatives. Undead Line is also up against heavy import competition with the likes of Gley Lancer and Eliminate Down. Pass on this one.