Space time, Galactic Year 210. That’s the future or something. Whatever we as humans have done and accomplished warranted recounting our years, but as things usually go, we effectively screwed ourselves. Artificial intelligence has gone rogue on Planet 0326, spouting a fleet of intergalactic nonsense that doesn’t say much for its development as AI. Most wander forward with the hopes of being extinguished.
Lucky as we can be as a species, humans have also uncovered the Ragnarok, a sharp looking space fighter that flies vertically and can shoot stuff. Hooray for civilization.
Ragnarok sets off through space to battle what amounts to guns that inexplicably can leave gravitational pulls. Developer Hudson was reaching with this one, undoubtedly spawned because the 3D effect was calling for an altitude-based shooter. That’s what they made, without considering many of the intangibles.
Vertical Force is hardly terrible so much as it is B-level software that never considers itself to be anything else. It exists because the genre was still clinging to life as arcades flickered in a death knell, and the system’s kooky design was suited for such a title. That, and it stands as the only traditional shooter in the game library of the Virtual Boy.
Conceptually anemic, this tired run through a space faring warzone has a singular positive innovation. Attachments magnetically (or some other unspecified way) latch onto Ragnarok and dish additional damage or act as defensive drones. They become customizable and stocked up, allowing for swaps like a tag team pro wrestling match. When out, they regain their shields and can be salvaged. Nearing their end, they double as Vertical Force’s bombs. They nicely go boom.
Utilizing the space to craft five paltry levels, stage design becomes a physical impediment to Ragnarok. Items stick out and can be killer if not avoided, later choices cramming the screen with objects as to make opposing bullets difficult to materialize in the limited red palette. Frontal objects mean blocked visual space for the lower altitude (Vertical Force has two different altitudes total), and thus hidden death. Hudson’s stock shooter is manageable, made formidable by the 3D design placement.
Shooting things amounts to awkwardly using the rear buttons on the pad, all available face controls held to other functions. Rapid fire works overtime to craft packed explosions, bubbling up from the screen minimally. Action feels restrained and held back with dull opposition counts, and the final boss is the only one of significant note, a transforming hulk equipping screen-clearing glowing lasers. It is as intense as Vertical Force will get, which is fine except the previous levels were a floating walk through low population zones.
Vertical Force released in 1995, four years after early Super Nintendo helicopter SHUMP D-Force utilized Mode-7 to scale its own altitude infused action. Routine and predictable, the team at Hudson seemed to craft this genre run out of necessity to fill an immediately gaping hole in the software line-up of the console. You can’t blame them for forgettable software, but with a handful of 3D niceties, it pulls into the Virtual Boy’s port and does its thing, even if that “thing” had been played by nearly everyone already.