Lethal Xcess: Wings of Death 2 logo

Here at last is a shoot-'em-up to dispel those pent up frustrations, so put the carving knife and shotgun!

Walk into any arcade or fairground and all you will hear are the death throes of thousands of aliens as they find themselves blitzed back towards the planet Felch to the accompaniment of shouts of glee from the teeny bop army.

Spectrums and C64s used to whirr and shake wildly to similarly familiar intonations, but sadly, such games have been few and far between on the Amiga. Clutch your favourite joystick and arm your weapons though, because after too long a wait we have an out and out shoot-em-up on our hands once more...

Who remembers Wings of Death? It was rather underrated on its release a year or two ago; developers Eclipse have put their talents to work once more in what is essentially Wings of Death 2. I would like to lay out some kind of scenario for you. I really would, but unfortunately my copy of the game is the German version and comes complete with matching box and manual, and since my understanding of the language stretches no further than the name of one or two particularly lagers - you are scuppered.

But what do we need to know? No amount of Damsel In Distress sob stories are going to detract from the fact that the whole idea is simply to sit in your spaceship and obliterate everything that moves, are they? Lethal Xcess is ye olde fashioned shoote-uppe; on booting up the disk what I appeared to have in front of me was the chunky graphic-kill-bomb-shoot-kill-shoot-shoot-kill frenzy which I had been waiting for for some time - quite a change of direction for Grandslam who, it would seem, are making a real effort to break into the big league of late.

The ship is a fairly standard affair - just your average intergalactic cruiser with the usual blend of improbable shapes, large guns and strange Scottish men in the engine room.

You begin your voyage into mindless violence with just a few poxy triangular missiles, which can either be powered up or exchanged for other methods of destruction, and although the game, as a concept, represents nothing particularly new, the power-ups are well thought out.

There are seven upgrades, all introduced proudly by a digitised voice proclaiming "triangle!", "drone!" and, uh, "wiper", among others. Once you have collected a power-up, look out for more of the same, as each PU can itself be enhanced by amassing a collection of identical pods, making for an awesome weapon.

Such awesomeness is a necessity, actually, as the game is far from an easy ride. Even on easy mode the baddies come flying thick and fast, and on the subsequent two settings your three lives are likely to last about as long as a Bill Clinton tax promise. Throughout the five levels the number of enemy sprites increase, as does the difficulty in destroying them., and towards the end of the game only a huge weapon will do if you are to achieve any success in saving the earth, or whatever it is the manual tells us we should do.

Five levels - yep, not many is it? Fortunately, all of the are a decent length, and the sheer number of baddies make for a good sized game, although fiercer level guardians would have provided an even sterner challenge.

The speed of the ship could have been faster - when the screen becomes packed with enemies as it frequently does, the sluggish craft struggles somewhat keep out of harm's way, and can often be caught out by new arrivals at the bottom side of the screen.

One way (and the most fun, incidentally) to guard against the spaceman's equivalent of an early bath, is to team up with a chumly in the cooperative two player mode, and fight it out over power-ups and bonuses, but whichever way you look at it Lethal Xcess is a very good - not great, mind - effort in the now neglected field of the shoot-em-up.

Lethal Xcess: Wings of Death 2 logo

Wer heutzutage einen vertikal scrollenden Kracher losläßt, läuft Gefahr, überhört zu werden - so viele von der Sorte knallen bereits über Amiga-Monitore! Aber der Vorgänger wußte eigentlich ganz gut auf sich aufmerksam zu machen...

...weshalb Programmierer Marc Rosocha auch hier seinem Erfolgskonzept treu geblieben ist: Spielbarkeit ohne Kompromisse lautet erneut die Devise! Man darf sich daher nicht wundern, wenn die zweiten Todesflügel dank ihrer erstklassigen Steuerung und den Tonnen von Gegnern wieder echtes Arcade-Feeling aufkommen lassen; man darf sich aber genau so wenig wundern daß sich die Neuerungen gegenüber Teil eins in Grenzen halten. Für den zeichnete schließlich noch Thalion verantwortlich, während Marc dieses Game unter dem eigenen Eclipse-Label veröffentlicht. Warum also nicht auf Nummer Sicher gehen?

Das darf zu Beginn auch der Spieler, indem er sich den passenden von insgesamt drei Schwierigkeitsgraden aussucht, die Soundbeleitung (Musik/Effekte/Musik & FX) festlegt und Ein- oder Zwei-Spieler-Modus anwählt.

Anschließend geht's im ersten von nunmehr fünf sehr langen (anstatt der sieben eher kurzen des Vorfliegers) Level durch eine schaurige Ruinenlandschaft voller Libellen, Raupen, riesige Würmer und ähnlich ekligen Viechern, bis man am Ende einem gigantischen Hörnertier gegenübersteht. Nach hartem Kampf gibt es den Zugang zum nächsten Spielabschnitt frei, wo eine zauberhafte Ödnis-Landschaft wartet, es folgen Wassergärten, ein Vulkangebiet und eine recht frostig aussehende Techno-Landschaft. Wer das alles erfolgreich durchflattert hat, darf sich zum Schluß noch ein hübsch gemachte Endsequenz anschauen.

Zwei Besonderheiten sich erwähnenswert: Beim Baller-Duett muß sich der zweite Mann nicht mit einem kümmerlichen "Satelliten" zufriedengeben, sondern bekommt einen genauso schönen Flieger wie sein Joystick-Kollege. Und gerade, wenn man sich Seite an Seite durchs Feindesland kämpft, ist Besonderheit Nr. 2 noch wichtiger als sonst: Die vielfältigen Extrawaffen lassen sich nämlich stufenweise aufrüsten, doch wer bei auch nur ein "falsches" Bonussymbol (von einer an deren Waffensorte) erwischt, darf wieder ganz von vorne mit dem Aufpäppeln anfangen! Da kommt Freude auf...

Technisch weist das Game alle Vorzüge auf, die bereits den Vorgänger auszeichneten, also volle PAL-Auflösung, gute Animationen und butterweiches Scrolling, selbst wenn sich Dutzende von Sprites auf dem Bildschirm tummeln. Dazu gibt es wieder wunderschöne Begleitmusiken von Jochen Hippel und eine Steuerung die alle Befehle exakt und blitzschnell umsetzt. Auch an den Feindformationen ist nichts auszusetzen, einzig und allein die Hintergrundgrafiken wirken stellenweise etwas langweilig - aber da der Rest alles andere als langweilig ist, kann man das schon mal verschmerzen! (C. Borgmeier)

Lethal Xcess: Wings of Death 2 logo

A vertically-scrolling shoot-'em-up and a real blast from the past. It's lethal alright, but is it just too much to handle?

STUART: Hey, this takes me back a bit. We haven't seen a good old simple vertically-scrolling shoot-'em-up since, ooh, as far back as I can remember, Warzone (from Core) back in issue 2. It's not that surprising, really - the vertical scroller is something of a relic these days, even the Mega Drive (where pretty much every game that isn't a platformer is a scrolling shoot-'em-up) almost never bothers with the format any more. Still, it's not an inherently limited format - SWIV proves there's no barrier to a vertical scroller being brilliant if you can handle it right.

MARK: Mm, but there's something about Lethal Xcess that makes you look at it and go "Yeah, I've played this one before, is it out on budget now?" even though it's a new release. I think the reason must be that, despite the totally adequate game mechanics (smooth scrolling, no slow down despite huge waves of attacking enemies on screen) and pretty graphics, the entire game's got an archaic aura around it, stirring long-forgotten memories of yesteryear.

STUART: Hang on a minute, there's nothing wrong with yesteryear. Some of my best friends are ancient arcade games...

MARK: Have you ever spent all day looking forward to going to the fair? The day drags by, you dash home and scoff your dinner down while the 130 gigawatt speakers of the distant Waltzer thump away to annoy your mum. It goes dark, you dash down to see the flashing lights, and as you get closer, the smells of diesel fumes and candy floss mingle together to create the definitive smell that yells 'Fun Time!' at every fibre of your body.


MARK: And then you get there, and it's all completely crap. The attendants hassle you for the right change and make suggestive remarks to your girlfriend, the most exciting element of your Big-Wheel ride is praying that the bolt holding you to the rickety frame doesn't break when you're at the top, and the candy floss is sickly sweet in a way you'd forgotten it could be. Disillusioned by rides that squeak alarmingly and pin you against your friends using excessive amounts of centrifugal force, you head to the arcade, which looks like a Portakabin bedecked in fairy lights.

Getting closer, you discover that it actually IS a Portakabin bedecked in fairy lights, and that all the best games are surrounded by great crowds of children who may be smaller than you, but have the advantage of superior numbers. You pass the sad cases playing the wheezing and ancient fruit machines, and finally get to the back, the elephant's graveyard of arcade games. Okay, so most of them don't work and half of them take your ten pee without giving you a game, but they're the originals, the classics, the games that inspired all others. This is the dusty, slightly pongy place that you think you've seen Lethal Xcess before. Yuk.

STUART: Ooh, you MTV kids. At least you still only have to put ten pee in. Arcade games these days, 50p a go, mumble mutter mumble.

MARK: Yeah, Stu, and a Lada only costs a fifth as much as a Porsche. Which would you rather drive, honestly?

STUART: Mark, that's a crap analogy. Which is best, a zebra or a pomegranate?

MARK: Sorry?

STUART: Exactly. But we're getting off the point. This is the follow-up to Wings Of Death, a pretty fabby little zapper released by Thalion a few years ago now. Now, Wings Of Death looked great for its time, but the main problem with Lethal Xcess is that it looks exactly the same.

MARK: No, I disagree.

STUART: What, you mean you don't think it looks exactly the same?

MARK: No, I think that's not the main problem. This is the hardest game I think I've ever played - I've been at it two days now and I'm still on the first level, and that's at 'Easy'. Thinking about what it's going to be like later on is scaring me - and I like guns.

STUART: And I'm a BMX Bandits fan, but I got halfway through level two on my forth go. Come on, Mark, you got stuck on the first level of Videokid.

MARK: Hey, that's a hard game!

STUART: Yeah, right. You DO have a point, though - Lethal Xcess is probably the hardest shoot-'em-up I've played since Project X, and losing all your power-ups when you die, after it taking such a long time to build up any decent ones, is big-time frustrating. But at least it's fair - there's no slack play testing here, everything that kills you, you at least get to see first. Would you rather have yet another game you can finish the same day you buy it? Or are you [DRAMATIC PAUSE] some kind of jessie?

MARK: Are you calling my pint a puff?

STUART: What's it to you if I am?

MARK: Outside, now..