Who are you? A game? What are you really? Did Taito, your creator, realise the profound philosophical implications of creating you? Every name you adopt is a puzzle, a joke designed to make us question the nature of identity. How very fitting and profound given that one of your names refers to layers: perhaps if we uncover all of the layers we might find the real you, or perhaps not.
Two human-piloted ships in space, one red and one blue. Scores of bad alien guys after your blood. It’s certainly a daring and original concept, but what does it play like?
“Red power” – I wonder if this is somehow connected to the red ship. It would make sense, because our red hero is about to get a fair amount of “piercing” done in the fighting to come.
There’re two sorts of fire in this game – normal and missile. Missiles use the reticule, and can only attack enemies/objects in the lower or back plane. It adds depth (hehe) to what is otherwise a very straightforward game. The more enemies targeted by missiles at the same time, the more points, so there’s some strategy if you’re into score attacking. It also creates a risk reward element when enemies “rise” from the lower layer, as you can try and target and kill them with missiles before they reach your own level, but in the process you may be putting yourself in the midst of heavy fire.
Why the game is so simple: there’s no way to increase your ship’s sluggish default speed, and the weapon system is super simple – there’s no variation (and therefore no strategy) regarding attack patterns or spread. Upgrading your weapons straightforwardly increases their firepower, nothing else. No options, no add-ons, no nothing. Blue fire (as above) is weakest, and enough upgrades will take you to red. You can also upgrade missiles in exactly the same way.
Visually, the game looks great. It has zero loading times, it’s silky smooth to watch and it has lots of great effects. What’s not to like? Funnily enough, just like Alundra, Layer Section is graphically superior to its direct sequel, Layer Section 2 aka Raystorm (playable on Taito Memories 2 on PS2) which went down the polygonal route.
As you can see, the game is a vertical shmup. This poses some issues for regular TVs, and Layer Section has a few options for dealing with it. One is a letterboxed vertical mode called “Sega Saturn” mode, which reduces the playing field and gives only a partial view of some bosses and enemies. Pressing a shoulder button gets rid of the HUD in Saturn mode, which is nice, and it would’ve been cool if that option were in the other modes too.
Then you’ve got vertical or tate mode, and thankfully the game gives you the option to change control scheme so you can play it as a horizontal shooter or a vertical one (which requires either rotating your TV or lying on your side). It looks a little strange as the game menus, HUD and in game text appear sideways, but whatever.
This game isn’t easy, especially once you get past the initial few stages. The default number of credits is a measly 4, with 2 lives per credit. After that it’s game over, and there are no continues. The only assistance is a cheat code which doubles your credits to 8. Even with that extra help, and despite the fact that I can make it to the third stage in a single credit (not that I’m bragging or anything), I still haven’t reached the game’s final stage! By the time I get to stage six I’m desperate. There are seven stages in total, but they’re all a good length and packed with interesting encounters and challenges, not to mention spectacular sights. So as difficult as it is, I don’t feel shortchanged by my own measly skills.
That’s pretty much all there is to say! Given how affordable Layer Section is to import from Japan – in my case I paid £10 for the game and shipping – there’s no reason why you should not own this game. It’s probably the single cheapest shmup for the Saturn available, and there’s virtually nothing to dislike about it. In summary, while it’s not incredible or mind-blowing, Layer Section is a damn fine game to look at and play. So whatever name you find it under, go for it.
To wrap up then, here’s the remaining screenshots from my recent playthrough. It shows some of the game’s early highlights, but tragically it doesn’t cover much of the game – my playthrough here was remarkably short owing to my non-existent skills.