Mid to late ’80s Taito were good at a lot of things, but one thing they were particularly good at was iterating on an established formula and bringing it more “up to date”.
Probably the most famous example of this is Arkanoid, a game which took the incredibly simple concept of Atari’s Breakout — hit ball with paddle to destroy bricks, repeat until screen clear or player displays sufficient incompetence — and enhanced it with “enemies”, powerups and a wide variety of different levels.
Well, as Arkanoid was to Breakout, so Volfied was to Qix. At least this time around they ripped off their own game…
1989’s Volfied is regarded as a spiritual successor to Qix and Super Qix rather than a true “sequel” as such. While the aforementioned games were completely abstract and nonsensically bizarre respectively, Volfied chooses to adopt a more coherent, concrete aesthetic — in this case, 16-bit pixel art sci-fi, much like Arkanoid from three years prior.
The concept of Volfied is that you, the plucky hero, are returning from doing something or other in SPACE, courtesy of your super-awesome spaceship Monotros. Upon arriving at your home planet of Volfied, you discover that oh no, aliens have invaded! Your people, once proud surface dwellers, have been forced underground while a variety of horrible slobbering alien bastards occupy the surface, so naturally it’s up to you (and only you) to sort this whole mess out. How? By recapturing the land a bit at a time using laser beams.
Yes, Volfied’s basic mechanics unfold very similarly to Qix in that your main goal on each level is to cover a particular amount of screen by drawing lines. While in Qix you needed 75% and Super Qix just 70, in Volfied you need to capture a whopping 80% of the screen in order to pass the level and move on to the next.
This would be challenging enough by itself, but of course there are Bad Things standing in your way. Most significant among these is the boss for the level, which replaces the randomly moving Qix of the original game. Here, the boss movements are semi-randomised, but they also follow set, timed attack patterns with animation cues, so you can use these to figure out the best time to try and go for a large capture.
Throwing a spanner in the works further are a number of smaller enemies that simply bounce dumbly around the level. If you enclose these in one of the boxes you draw, they are destroyed for the remainder of the level and do not come back; in the meantime, however, they are just as deadly as the boss.
If anything touches your line while you’re drawing, you have a split-second to finish your line and complete a shape — this is a bit of a difference from the original games where anything hitting your line would cause the immediate loss of a life. It’s not a lot of leeway here, but it is leeway regardless, and it can make for some entertaining “clutch” situations as you just manage to enclose a shape as you’re about to be destroyed.
Another means through which you have the opportunity to even the odds a bit is via the blocks that appear on the stage — and in some cases phase in and out of existence every few seconds. Enclose a block in a shape and you’ll release a randomly determined power-up from within — a “P” freezes your shield timer, allowing you to stay on the safe border of the screen for longer; a “T” freezes all of the enemies on screen for a few seconds, making an ideal opportunity for a huge capture; an “S” increases your speed enormously; and an “L” allows you to fire lasers for a brief period. The lasers will destroy the smaller enemies in one hit and theoretically can even destroy the boss for a “Special Clear” and a large points bonus, but in most cases they will run out before you are able to do this.
However, if you successfully enclose each and every one of the blocks on a stage while they are visible, you’ll get the opportunity to grab a superweapon and a massive points bonus, at which point destroying the boss becomes very easy indeed, so long as you don’t do anything stupid. In true arcade game tradition, this is pretty straightforward to accomplish on the first level, but damned near impossible to do on any level after that.
Volfied is presented nicely, with that sort of distinctive “16-bit” art style that has aged quite well. In a really nice touch, “filling” a shape on one level actually uncovers the art for the next, giving a strong sense of proceeding on a “journey” through the various stages.
The sound has fared slightly less well than the graphics, with the tinny FM synthesised sound effects sounding a bit weedy, particularly the explosions. There is some nice music before and after a game, but none during play; this is a shame, as some catchy tunes would have complemented the action nicely.
Gameplay-wise, the main issue with Volfied is that it is hard. This is not really anything unusual for an arcade game, of course, but we’re talking really bastard hard here — at least for your first couple of attempts. If you can resist tossing the game aside in disgust after it absolutely humiliates you a couple of times, however, you’ll discover that there is method to its madness; in particular, coming to understand the various bosses’ attack patterns and animations is enormously satisfying, and helps give the same a lot more depth and long-term interest than its (much more random) predecessors.
For those wishing to play Volfied today you can, of course, emulate the arcade machine, but for those wishing to take a less morally grey route, there are a variety of home versions from over the years. It was released for North American Sega Genesis as Ultimate Qix; Empire Interactive ported it to Amiga, Atari ST and MS-DOS under its original name; there’s a Japan-only PC Engine port; there’s also a PlayStation port as part of the Simple series, where it was rebranded as Qix Neo; and if you happen to still have a Java-compatible mobile phone, there was a phone version released in Europe in 2007. Probably the most readily available means of playing it, however, is as part of the Taito Legends collection for PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC.
While its steep learning curve means that a lot of people will doubtless bounce off it, Volfied is an interesting and oft-forgotten piece of Taito history — and a highly addictive, extremely irritating game that will happily consume a good few hours of your life if you let it.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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