Ozma Wars Review—Toto, I Don’t Think This Is Space Invaders


Ozma Wars is one of the first wave of old SNK arcade classics released as Minis, developed by G1M2 and published by SNK Playmore. It is the oldest of the bunch, going back to 1979. It both looks and plays like an early arcade game, when genre tropes had not yet been firmly established. In this case, the vertical space shooter, where it apparently was only the second ever made (after Space Invaders).

The very basics are the same as in most other games; you move a ship left and right and fire a cannon by hitting a button. But, instead of having a set number of lives, you have a certain amount of energy, counted in the thousands. When you die, you lose about five to ten thousand from it (seems to depend on what you hit, or what hits you). What’s more, rather than the level restarting, or the action resetting, with the enemies pausing, the game simply freezes while the energy loss counts down.

There is no brief period of invulnerability afterward, either. This means that when the game resumes, the action starts again right as it was. So, if you were in the midst of a barrage of enemy bullets and the first one hit you, well, the second is going to hit you, and the third, and well, all of them. So you have very little margin for error in the game.

Refueling, really, more than docking

Refueling, really, more than docking

The gameplay itself is fairly interesting. There is a lot of variety. The game starts with you docking with a space station to gather more energy. Then attacks start coming in waves. First, fairly large ships descending on you, and then you must deal with meteors, then more ships that sort of fold up. Then a very simple boss fight. And then you dock again, and the process more or less repeats.

Whether it is deliberate or a feature of the hardware it ran on, some of the larger ships that descend on you will blink in and out of existence. This makes shooting them a little tricky, even if you target the right spot, since if it’s not there when your bullet passes through it, well, it doesn’t explode.

Unfortunately, this does not extend to your ship. The enemies’ bullets can be very heavy at times, and home in on you. It’s not easy to dodge homing bullets, especially as your ship chugs along. Thankfully, these can be shot by your bullets, but at the same time, your ship fires slowly, so you can be easily overwhelmed.

Shooting them is trickier than this screen shows, because they blink

Shooting them is trickier than this screen shows, because they blink

As with past G1M2-developed Minis releases of arcade games, you have a number of emulator-related options. Game-related ones like setting the amount of energy you start with or the score you get bonus energy at, the option to stretch the game’s screen to fit the top and bottom edges of the PSP screen (if you don’t stretch it, artwork will be shown surrounding the native game dimensions), and setting up the controls the way you like.

Most important is the ability to save a game state, basically a snapshot of the game at the moment you save it. This essentially lets you play as far into the game as you want, by constantly saving and just going back to that save when you die. The downside is that you can only have one of these at a time. Having the ability to save different ones, and showing a screenshot of what the game is like at the time of the save (the Legend of Heroes series of RPGs does this) would have been much more helpful. But even just one save slot is still very handy.

Easiest part of the game

Easiest part of the game

Graphically, it’s a black & white game (other than the background art surrounding the game screen), but there’s a good amount of detail in the sprites. When I used the stretched screen, it looked to me as if some of the things got a bit harder to see, as they were so narrow.

The sound is a little annoying. It’s very similar to Space Invaders, as the missile your ship fires sounds the same as in that game. But most of the sound is dominated by a whirring noise, which Space Invaders played when a UFO flew over the top of the screen. Ozma Wars plays this sound constantly while you are battling enemies. Only during the docking sequence do you get a respite.

Don't get caught in the middle of that...each one will hit you

Don't get caught in the middle of that...each one will hit you

Ozma Wars doesn’t make a great first impression, but if you stick with it, it’s actually pretty fun, with a decent amount of variety. Still, it’s pretty much only for those with an interest in old arcade games or shooters. I think anyone else would quickly lose interest or patience with the unfairness of getting hit over and over by the same barrage of enemy shots.


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3 Responses to “Ozma Wars Review—Toto, I Don’t Think This Is Space Invaders”
  1. taoofgreentea says:

    Nice, thanks for reviewing these retro games, as I have no idea of the quality of them.

  2. onmode-ky says:

    I agree with JeremyR’s concluding paragraph. The variety of enemies is surprising given its immediate genre predecessor, and it’s a good buy if you have no problem with spending some money to have a look into video gaming history. For others, though, it would probably not hold interest for long.

    One other bit of unfairness, aside from the possibility of getting hit multiple times in succession, is the somewhat unpredictable tendency of the game to speed up and slow down. As with the blinking, it’s hard to tell if this is by design or a side effect of the original game’s hardware implementation, but you can be trying to get under an enemy or bullet to shoot it, only to find yourself getting hit when the game suddenly speeds up.

    Incidentally, I think the hardest enemy in the game is not the “boss” with the rapid fire but rather the group of enemies that come down and then *stop*, continuing to fire. Sure, if you stay out of their way, you won’t get hit, but your energy will eventually run out. You’re basically forced to get in their faces and take them all out up close and personal—most likely getting hit at least once yourself. The best option, of course, is to take out as many as possible while they’re still at the top of the screen.

    “Only during the docking sequence do you get a respite.”

    Personally, I think the sound that plays during the docking/refueling is the most annoying in the game. :)

  3. G1M2 says:

    Thank you for the review of Ozma Wars. We are looking forward to seeing your feedback and input on the other classic arcade titles for Minis!!

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