This GameCube shmup port is lazily executed, but may be worth playing for fans of the genre.
Chaos Field Expanded, a slightly enhanced port of a Dreamcast port of the arcade original, is one of the GameCube’s few vertical scrolling shooters (or vertical “shmups", short for “shoot-‘em-ups"). That doesn’t mean hardcore shmup fans should frothingly demand to import it, however. The game seems to offer some great new ideas, but it lacks balance and depth, two things we’ve been spoiled with, thanks to the shmup gods at Treasure.
I imported this game thinking it would be at least somewhat like Ikaruga, and it is in the sense that you shoot things while flying vertically. Otherwise, forget it. Chaos Field Expanded is far more mindless and gimmicky, not to mention vastly easier to complete. There are, however, some interesting mechanics to spice up this very old game design model.
Foremost among these features is the ability to switch between two fields. The default Order Field is “normal" gameplay; Chaos Field offers red-tinted graphics, upgrades to all of your weapons, and way more shots filling up the screen. You can kill some bosses in mere seconds with efficient use of Chaos Field, but it’s extremely dangerous to fly around in this mode, with all the extra enemy shots and the general state of confusion from trying to navigate around the hundreds of particles on screen. Switching between the modes gives you a second or two of invincibility, and then there’s a recharge period before you can switch again. You probably won’t want to switch very often though, because playing in Chaos Field is a lot more thrilling and fun, and it generally lets you rack up higher scores. Playing in Order Field doesn’t make much sense unless you just want to be defensive (but I found it just as easy to progress in the game by being offensive).
The other big, weird feature in Chaos Field Expanded is the sword move, which clears away most types of enemy shots and also deals out some damage. In action, the move looks more like a windshield wiper than a sword, which complements the way it wipes out a swath all around your ship. By repeatedly pressing the sword button, you can continuously clear out shots and, at least in the Order Field, basically become untouchable except by the pink triangle shots, which can’t be destroyed. Of course, the move is balanced out by the fact that you can’t swipe and shoot at the same time, and you also won’t be able to kill bosses as quickly if you’re always playing defense.
The three playable ships are quite different from one another, but they all have a homing laser and some kind of shield. Both use up your special meter, but it refills so quickly that you can use these “special" moves almost continuously throughout the game. And why wouldn’t you want the shield out as much as possible? By dishing out the pain with the Chaos Field and constantly throwing up protective shields, it’s fairly easy to blow through the game and rack up huge scores. As in most shmups, the real point of the game is to play for high scores, but Chaos Legion puts up far less resistance to your progress than most of its competitors.
But this game isn’t that great for score aficionados, either. Your score is displayed at the top of the screen in small, hard to read characters, so you have to pause or look away from the action just to see how well you’re doing. There’s no combo system at all (just a tally of how many hits you’ve made on the current continue), nor any sort of Internet ranking system to show off your scores. When you hit an enemy, there’s no indication of how many points you scored for the hit, so it’s difficult to tell which strategies work best for building high scores.
Other problems also weigh down the game. There are only five levels, which can be beaten in about fifteen minutes if you’re any good. The default Arcade mode consists only of bosses, three per stage; the new Original mode gives a whimpering effort to stretch things out by inserting a brief wave of smaller enemies between bosses, and these smaller guys are more or less the same in every level. There is no multiplayer at all, not even alternating two-player mode for convenient score competitions. And the game’s graphics are awful.
Chaos Field Expanded would be a decent, though not great, game if a little more effort had been spent on balancing the gameplay and adding some more content. As it stands, the game is still far too weird and lean to appeal to anyone but hardcore shmup fans. Those hardest of the hardcore will find some intense moments and unique features to enjoy in this game, though maybe not enough to justify the premium import price.