Oh no! Not another sideways-scrolling little man in a space suit with a big gun, shooting hordes of aliens and jumping over things! Well, yes and no. Dark Fusion may be an Exolon/North Star/ Crosswize sort of a type of game, but it's remarkably well done and qualifies as one of the best games from Gremlin for some time. From the second you load up, and your ears are assailed by the guitar-howling, pitch-bending, drum-thumping 128K music by the mysterious Benn, you can tell that this is going to be something special. The game itself holds no disappointments at all; excellent graphics and animation, fetching design, challenging gameplay and plenty of attention to detail.
The game is roughly divided into two sections. the Combat Zone and the Alien Zone. In the first, your task is to collect Fusion Pods. But where to find them? Try blasting a few passing spacefighters, and the spherical pods bounce to the ground ready to be collected. Some ships also carry weapons pods, which can also be found by blasting some ground installations. Picking up a weapons pod brings up an icon below the screen, and you can save the pod up until you want to activate it by pressing the space bar. You can have up to two pods active at a time, and the appropriate icon flashes when they are about to run out of power.
The pods include a Big Jumper, which allows you to leap over tall obstacles (you'll need to use this almost immediately); a four-direction firer; a zoomy curvey upwards and downwards firer; and more on later levels. In addition, you have your standard zap-zap-zap laser, which takes three hits to destroy most targets; and an R-Type style blaster. Hold down the fire button to charge the blaster, and release when the power bar hits maximum to take out those tricky targets.
The more exotic targets include giant space-suited figures, which you may recognise from Crosswize, and grotesque hopping froglets, which chase you back to the left as you try to blow them to bits.
If you get through to the end of a level, having discovered all the fusion pods. you'll find a transporter to the next section. If you don't have all the pods, you have to make your way back until you find them all.
Scattered across the level are other transporters which will take you into the Alien Zone. Here you can take on giant mother-ships for big points, but to complicate things a big whirly space-snake (ref. R-Type again) snakes around, trying to bash you to fragments, and in my case more often than not succeeding. The huge mother ship is nicely designed, but really just sits jiggling up and down as you shoot at it, so its not that exciting.
There's not much more to say about Dark Fusion; it's a very competent shoot-em-up with all the best elements of your Exolons, R-Types and Crosswizes, and a few tricks of its own thrown in too. Give it a bash - you wont be sorry.
Very good side-ways scrolling shootin'-an'-grabbin' feast.