Mars Matrix - Capcom/Takumi


2000 - Capcom/Takumi

Reviewed by Randorama.


Mars Matrix, like many other sci-fi shmups, is set on Mars (Ta-Dah! Surprised?). The basic idea is this: after centuries of peaceful colonization (a necessity,since Earth was overpopulated), something goes bad and Mars government officially declares its indipendence...but there's a suspect that some other entity, related to the "infinity technology" (probably an alien artifact found decades before the setting of the game), is using the planetary network system for its own purposes. At any case, Earth sends an interplanetary force to take down this coup d'etàt, and they decide to test on the field the new warships...The Mosquitoes.

Mars Matrix is the second shmup of the Takumi/Capcom trilogy, together with Giga Wing and Giga Wing 2.While Takumi is one of the companies that rose from Toaplan's ashes, designers Choco and Sh@rp (their real names escape me know) were hired to create the game's "world" and mechas: their most famous work is Xenogears,to my knowledge. The game was originally a Capcom CPS-2 game, and it was ported on Dreamcast with a lot of extras and some changes. I will write specific notes on the differences between arcade and Dreamcast in the proper sub-sections, while i'll list and review the extras here.

Extra features

The Dreamcast port has a lot of nice extra features. Before you can trigger them, though, you need to play and accumulate points: These points will count as money, money that you will use to buy the extra features.The most important ones are the replay videos and the score attack mode.The replay videos are not the best you can find on the game, but they're pretty useful in seeing how to play the game and have a good idea on the system. The score attack, on the other side, grants you the possibility to practice the single stages, which is very useful in order to learn patterns. You also have a lot of nifty extras like an image gallery, different colours for pictures and backgrounds, other interesting stuff like the ability to change your Mosquito's speed and various other things.Not only that, you get an entire extra mode, i.e. the same backgrounds but different enemy sequence and thus a sort of unofficial sequel. Not bad, i'd add!

Let's then proceed to the main review,then!

GFX: 8++

Ok, i just have written that design was cured by Choco and Sh@rp, of Xenogears fame...but i have to admit that they didn't worked at their best.I'd add that must have designed the vehicles only... the game has nice settings, the way Mars has been drawn is interesting, but the quality of drawings isn't costant.Let me explain better: the backgrounds are sometimes nice (stage 2, stage 3 to some extent, the satellite part of stage 1), but sometimes they're a bit generic (stage 4 and 5).This is not really a big issue, though, since they're still well done. A complain can be done on vehicles, tough: it's obvious that Matsumoto (Leiji, the guy behind Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 ) was the main source of inspiration behind most of the vehicles on the game, but sometimes generic drones and ships are just...generic. Our ships (the "Mosquitoes") are well drawn and animated, like some other enemies ( bizarre, but mostly mid-bosses or carriers/big enemies) and bosses. It must also be noted that all enemies are pre-rendered, and this may turn off a few people who dislike such kind of graphics. Other graphical aspects are very well done, instead: for example, The "score report" screens you get between stages are also very good, and you even have short 3D movies shown in one angle of the screen, to simulate the pilot's cockpit that receive informations on the next mission. Bosses, as i said, are also well animated, especially the third stage one (a giant red scarab): except for first and second baddies, they also are pretty interesting in design. The Dcast version also features a nice intro movie, which is excellent and exploits the Dcast's 3D abilities very well. It has to be said that the Dcast version doesn't look exactly like the arcade version, thanks to Capcom making a small mess with resolution (to my knowledge, this is common to all of their 2D ports to Dcast). This doesn't affect gameplay, so it's a minor nuisance (unless you're a silly graphics-junkie).


Graphics are well done, vehicles are pre-rendered though, and this may turn off some people.Backgrounds and minor vehicles tend to be a bit bland, but big enemies and bosses are well done. Extra features like the intro movie are also excellent, and the overall aspect is good.

BGM: 9.5

The original arcade soundtrack was pretty good, but the author (Yasushi Kaminishi) decided to remix it for the Dreamcast port.This has been a good idea, since the original arcade songs were all a bit too short and simple, or better: they were 1-minute loops repeated a couple of times, to match with the stages' length. The Dreamcast version has instead more elaborate tunes, which are actually longer than the stages they're associated to (but this is something you will discover by listening to the soundtrack, of course). Once said that, a few notes on the OST itself. Basically, it's your "usual" techno/trance BGM, but it's very very good and, like many other shmups soundtracks, it is better than many "club" music you may listen to. The BGM can be easily divided in more fast, techno-ish tracks like "Armed Satellite Phobos", "Descending to Mars" and "True Darkness pt.2" (stage 1, 2 and fifth boss), whereas other are more slow and trance/ambient-like, for example "Forbidden fruit" "Surprise attack" and "True darkness pt.1" (stage 6, 3 and 5). Both styles contribute well in creating an atmosphere of fast action and impeding doom, perfect for the game and its style. Another excellent song is "Mosquito", which is the tune that accompanies the introductive movie: it really gives a nice "extra-terrestrial" atmosphere, with its trance grooves and the short bits of communication between the Mosquitoes and the main fleet!


Excellent Dance/techno BGM, albeit the original arcade soundtrack was less polished and elaborate.It completements flawlessly the alien atmosphere and has a few memorable tunes,which could easily work wonders in clubs and discoteques.


For an in-depth analysis of the game you can check the ST i wrote. In short: the game is built around one simple mechanic, the mosquito system. You can absorb bullets and "spit" them back at the enemies, and this will grant you two things: the ability to destroy the baddies with their own fire-power and a lot of experience cubes.Instead of power-ups, you get an experience level system that works in this way...

All aerial enemies, once destroyed, will release said experience cubes, whose value varies with size (+1,+5,+10,+50). Reflected bullets are transformed to +1 cubes, too. Once you get a cube, you will start a chain: in the upper left corner of the screen, below the score and the experience points score, you have a bar : as long as it has some energy in, it means that every cube you take will increase in value and extend the chain's duration. An example: if you take a +1 cube, your bar will start flashing (and will go down and expire after one second). If you take another cube, you will get the timer back to one second, the cube itself will be worth 2 exp points (the value increases progressively) and add 2 points to your experience total. This means that if you take 7 cubes worth +1 without breaking the chain, you will get 1+2+...+7=28 experience points. If you take a +5 cube after that, the next cube will be worth +12 points, and you will get 28+5=33 points. If instead you get all +1 cubes, going from +7 to +11 in value, you will get 28+7+8+9+10+11=73 experience points. This means that the most rewarding chains are the ones where you take a lot of small +1 cubes and get to high values (like +1,7k). The advantage of getting bigger exp. cubes is that they give you more time to chain, though.For instance, the +5 cubes will give you 2 seconds, whereas the few +50 cubes around will give you 5 seconds (the chain bar will be completely full!).

This will help you in getting power-ups for your main gun: you basically power-up (and morph the ship) up to level 8 (please read the ST for the correct values), and get one extra life at level 4.Also, the experience points value will act as a multiplier for your score, so you can end racking up billions of points!

Now, once you know how the experience system works, let's explain the attacks.

You have four attacks at your disposal:
1) Normal shot (tap button);
2) Pierce cannon (don't shoot and it will automatically charge);
3) Mosquito reflection (hold down button);
4) Gravity Hole Bomb (hold down button until the energy in bar in the lower right corner gets depleted);

The latter two can be thought as "defensive systems", at the beginning. However, considering how many bullets the enemies will throw at you, you will soon learn to think of them as your best offensive devices.Their mechanic is simple: hold down the main button and a gravitational field will be triggered, consuming energy in the meanwhile (the bar is in the lower right corner). Once you release the button, the bullets will be released and go in a straight line, which is the normal line to the field in that point: this basically means that they will go in the reverse direction of your movement. If you completely deplete your mosquito energy, you will release a gravity hole bomb (or just a bomb, in short), which will damage everything in a given radius (which is half of the screen's height). The mosquito energy will obviously be replenished when you don't use it.


The gameplay focuses on reflecting bullets with the Mosquito system, creating experience cubes that, if chained, will grant you a lot of experience points, necessary to power-up your ship and increase your score.It's a bit difficult to grasp at first, but once done, it rewards the player with an extremely ductile system.


Mars Matrix is one of those games that has a virtually limitless replay value. This derives from the game itself and from the extra features offered on the Dreamcast port. One thing you will notice, if you get proficient at the game, is the sheer brilliance of stage design. All stages can be chained in more than just one way, especially if you master the Mosquito system..Unlike other games based on chaining, Mars Matrix allows you a good degree of "improvisation", since you can create cubes at will and thus keep your chain going in more than just one way (once you master the system, of course!). Not only that, but you also have two ships, which play in a pretty different way, and this means that you can have two styles of improvisation, even if you will probably only like one.If you're tired of the normal game, you can also play the arrange mode, which also features an excellent design and gives room for creativity as much as the original version.Not only that, but you can also play the score attack mode, which feature a special mode which will give you a shower of experience cubes every time you pierce an enemy!


The game has a lot of replay value, since you can approach stages with more than one method to get long chains.It also features an extra "arrange mode" and interesting score attack modes.

SCORE: 9.5



Coming in a natty red is the wide shotting Mossy 1, with the alternative straight shotting blue Mossy 2 available for players who like it thin and powerful.


Right at the start of level one we get the chance to get some Pierce Shot practice in with these red midsize doobries. One blast and they're toast.




Level one's boss, and for novices to the manic shmup, a difficult time already. This isn't the easiest game to pick up if you are relatively new to the genre, in fact the swathes of blue and pink will have your knickers in knots until you learn to play it properly.

KA... BOOM!!!

A Gravity Hole Bomb in use.




Although you can't bash into enemy ships, there's tons of stuff throwing bullets your way. Ground cannons and things too. This one sweeps the screen with rings of blue bullets, as you see quite clearly here.


By now the term pattern manic shmup should be evident. Mars Matrix follow's Gigawings neon intensity and triples it.




At the start of level 3, this bug like crabby beastie swirls by. Wonder when we'll see him again?


By this time the screen is as filled with bullets in normal levels as the boss fights were earlier. There is simply no let-up with the bombardment, meaning very good use of the reflect power is needed. You really aren't going to get very far without perfecting it.




Ahah, here he is, with one of the gentler attacks on offer. Restricting you with the blue beams, the pink shot homes in mercilessly. Just imagine how blob-filled the next levels get! But that's enough for you here... go and play it!


Mars Matrix is an excellent game: It features one of the most versatile and balanced game systems ever, has a killer soundtrack and the Dreamcast port has a lot of interesting extras.

It is pretty cheap and has a US port which is even cheaper, so you really have no excuses not to buy it (no, you're supposed to have a Dreamcast, of course! ;) ). The Mosquito system may require a bit to be mastered, but once you learn it, you will be able to approach the game in the way you like the most.

Don't forget to check the ST on Mars Matrix for more in depth info on this game!


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie