D-Force is a largely forgettable vertical shoot ‘em up, with little to distinguish it from the myriad of similar games that haunted arcades since Xevious hit in 1983. Still, this was one of the first SNES games (released in December 1991, just a few months after the system hit shelves in North America), so it’s worth a look at least.
You play as an oddly coloured but unquestionably patriotic red, white and blue Apache helicopter, tasked with the total annihilation of anything that moves. You may your way across nine different levels, separated into two types- Shooting Mode, which is pretty self-explanatory, and the oddly named Exploration Mode, where you still shoot things, and don’t really explore all that much (since the game map is a linear scrolling hallway), but where the game takes a huge tonal shift. In Shooting Mode, you fly around blowing up planes, tanks, missiles – the usual fare for these games. Exploration Mode takes a turn for the wacky, as you suddenly find yourself shooting down phoenixes, and blowing the heads off of fire-spewing triceratops. You can even choose from the start menu to just play the levels of one type or the other, adding to the game’s schizophrenic feel.
For the most part, D-Force is about as basic as it gets. You glue your thumb to the B button to shoot, and focus on dodging enemies and projectiles with the D-Pad. There’s one unique feature thrown in to give the game some personality though… periodically, your helicopter can change elevation, from high in the clouds to just above ground level. This is done automatically in the Shooter levels and can be triggered at will in the Exploration levels, allowing you to dodge most of the enemies in the latter stages rather than comic mass dinocide. It’s a pretty tame mechanic over all, and not particularly well executed – not only is it a virtual nonfactor in the Shooting levels, it’s distracting visually, as it involves the game just zooming in around your helicopter, which stays the same size. In effect, you’re not descending, you’re shrinking… and often giving the game too many on-screen assets to handle at once, resulting in noticeable slowdown.
Though the graphics are simple and somewhat cartoony, the game takes full advantage of the Super Nintendo’s much vaunted Mode 7 Graphics, for some ambitious (if occasionally disorienting) background effects. Enemies move fluidly, and even your helicopter has a neat little banking effect. The sound is lively (though repetitive) with an especially funky track for the first level boss fight. The controls can be a bit jerky at times, but they’re easy enough to get used to. You will find yourself in a lot of no-win positions though, and there’s very little room for error when manoeuvring around some of the more heavily armed enemies.
There’s a definite learning curve to start with in this game, but once you get used to the more complex flight plans, learn to watch for enemies sneaking up from the bottom of the screen and get a handle on which shots are dangerous and which are your own homing missiles arcing back towards you, this game is eminently playable. There’s also infinite continues, and using one brings you back with all your laser upgrades still in place (but not any missile upgrades, strangely enough), so even if you die your first time through, you’re more than equipped to give it a second go.
There’s pretty much no new ground broken with D-Force, but it’s still an amusing enough way to waste an hour or so.
Final Score – 7/10