There is no spoon.
The days of the Dreamcast are numbered and soon we'll have to wave goodbye to yet another Sega system. As with any console near its end, fans hope that the system will be remembered in a positive light, which depends greatly on the last games to be released. It's sort of like ending a relationship - good endings lead to salvaged friendships, while bad endings lead to drunken prank calls and restraining orders.
So, how will Sega prevent hundreds of heavy breathing calls at 3 o'clock in the morning? Releasing solid efforts like Capcom's Mars Matrix helps, for sure, though it isn't the system's savior.
In the 24th century, Earth finally colonized Mars. Half a century later, the ungrateful bastards actually demand independence! Not having that (probably because of tax issues), Earth launches an offensive from the moon consisting of hundreds of ships. It is your job to pilot an advanced fighter, the Mosquito, and resist the oppression imposed by Earth.
Mars Matrix is a classic 2D top-down shooter. Though the genre is not exactly taking the world by storm anymore, this offering manages to scrounge together some neat new ideas to keep you playing.
For instance, points accumulated by defeating enemies are used to buy extra options, items such as more lives or extra continues. The game carries a sort of RPG element in the form of Experience Cubes. As you routinely murder Earth pilots, you collect these cubes. When a certain number is reached your Mosquito gains a level and evolves (there is a great view of this in the game's opening FMV). This is a welcome addition to a gaming genre that is traditionally a little thin when it comes to depth.
The controls are kept simple. The Analog stick moves the Mosquito around and three fire buttons pound Earthlings to dust. Do not, however, let the simplicity of the controls fool you. THIS GAME IS HARD - occasionally near impossible.
Earth ships dish out more bullets than a full season of The Sopranos. There are several instances where the entire screen is filled with enemy fire, and there is literally no place to go. Luckily, your fighter can, for a time, absorb the energy around it and hurl it back. I am rubber and you are glue!
This feature does not go without consequence. After the gauge is depleted, it takes time to recharge. Oftentimes you may feel compelled to absorb, but the next wave of enemies fire even more bullets - out of the frying pan and into the fire. It takes a fair bit of planning or you'll be toast.
The graphics are decent, really what you'd expect from a 2D shooter. Capcom has done a great job designing the ship models; both fighters and bosses are pleasing to the eye. The game remarkably has very little slowdown; it's only noticeable in those situations where bullets almost completely fill the screen.
Mars Matrix is a good shooter with an appealing price tag. Granted, it is very hard and probably will only appeal to shooter fans, but it's a solid title through and through.