Saved by the "B" button.
Like hardcore gamers everywhere, the first time I tried Cannon Spike I completely ignored the instruction book. I picked a character and jumped right into a top-down view of a battlefield reminiscent of Streets of Rage. Since there hasn't really been a good side-scrolling beat-em-up since the 16-bit era, I put aside my initial disappointment and instead looked forward to what might be the first "next gen" beat-em-up done right.
After about ten minutes, Shawn (GR Associate Editor) looked at me and made the grave declaration, "Man, this game sucks!" Knowing Shawn's inclination toward verbosity, I knew this was a heartfelt statement. Shortly thereafter, he left, wishing me luck on my review, figuring I would turn it off after a minute or so.
I got frustrated rather quickly and was reaching for the power button when I accidentally tapped the "B" button on my controller. Hey! Where did these dual laser sights come from? Waitaminnit, I can do "lock-ons?!" A quick glance at the instruction book confirmed my suspicions. I was playing a shooter, not a beat-em-up.
Cannon Spike is a horrible beat-em-up, but as a shooter it seriously applies pedal extremities to hindquarters (and you call Shawn verbose? - Ed.) This is a really fun game once you play it the way the developers intended. My first hint should have been all the guns.
Using veterans of other Capcom games, players have to skate through ten levels of robots, armed terrorists, and mechanized boss characters. Yes, I said "skate."
The game is set some 30 years in the future. In an amazingly unoriginal story, technology has gone mad in this post-apocalyptic future and an evil dictator is running things. Our heroes then don "rocket skates" to do battle. I know it's a stupid premise, but the skate thing allows your character to glide around smoothly and quickly, which really helps when maneuvering between opponents.
The characters include Cammy and Charlie of Street Fighter fame, Arthur from Ghosts & Goblins, and even Mega-Man! The environments and adversaries also come directly from other Capcom games. At one point, you have to fight undead humans and zombie Dobermans ala Resident Evil.
Cannon Spike is all about the guns. You have your standard rapid-fire weapon, a secondary "big-shot" weapon, your fists, and, of course, the screen-clearing special attack (Sonic Boom, anyone?). Your heroes battle with their fists as well as their guns (hence my original game play mistake), and to be quite honest, fists are more effective. The problem with going hand to hand is the fact that you have to get dangerously close to your opponents, and end up suffering extreme punishment while trying to inflict a couple of hits. You quickly find out that distance attacks are the way to go.
The graphics in this game are good, but nothing to get excited about. Thing are smooth and adequate. That being said, there are only so many ways to improve the visuals in a top-down shooter.
The light sourcing is decent (surprising shadow placement) and things blow up nicely. Best of all, there's no noticeable slowdown. This is an impressive feat, especially when you're doing about 30 mph on rocket skates, fighting a half-dozen armed terrorists, dodging fire from 4 different automated turrets, and trying to defeat a boss character all on the same screen.
The one thing this game is missing is "Power-ups." When was the last time you played a shooter with no power ups? I mean sure, you get the occasional extra health, but there are no weapon upgrades at all. In a way, this makes what could have been an easy game somewhat challenging. Capcom remedied the apparent simplicity of the gameplay by limiting the number of continues to three, making the game that much more frantic.
However, experienced gamers won't have any problem blazing through it, since this is a short game. Really short. I'm talking Tyson title defense short. Given, this is a shooter and brevity has always been a shooter's stock & trade.
Even if you didn't think it was much fun, Capcom has another incentive for you. Try beating your previous score. Apparently, some people still like this sort of thing. Most of us, however, are looking for a little more depth in our next-generation gaming. How about some bonus levels? How about some hidden game modes? How about anything aside from having to beat your previous high score?
It appears Capcom enjoys taking their characters and putting them in unusual settings, and this concept works better than similar attempts by other companies (anyone remember Midway's Sub-Zero platform crap?), but I'm sure they could have come up with something better than rocket-skates. Still, fans of action shooters will have some fun with this one.