|System(s)||Arcade, NES, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Mobile|
|Twitch||Mag Max Channel|
Mag Max is an arcade game developed by Nichibutsu in 1985. It is a horizontally scrolling shooter with a few twists. The game is played in two different perspectives. You start the game in an isometric view with impressive parallax scrolling, and all of the enemies occupy the ground. At certain points in the game you can transfer back and forth from the second perspective which is a more traditional cross section of space (as in Defender or Gradius).
In whichever perspective you choose, there are pieces of a robotic body that you can collect, which attach to your ship; an upper body, legs, and arms with a cannon. If you collect them all, you will form a giant robotic fighting machine. You'll need the extra fire power when you go up against the enemy's ultimate weapon, the three headed Babylon Dragon ship. There are four different stages that loop, and the dragon ship shows up at the end of the second and fourth stages.
The game was released for the Famicom in 1986 as Nichibutsu's first conversion to the platform. That version was later released in the United States by FCI. It was also converted for play on the Commodore 64 by Imagine Studios, who also ported the game to the Amstrad CPC and Sinclair ZX Spectrum in Europe. Due to the complex calculations involved, none of the home ports included the parallax scrolling. It was later converted for play on mobile phones in Japan.
- Joystick: Press the joystick in any one of eight directions to maneuver the ship across the ground, or through the subterranean sections. You can travel throughout the extent of the screen, which scrolls automatically to the right.
- Fire: Press the fire button to fire any available weapon. When you are equipped with the cannon above ground, it fires a wave pulse automatically, but every other weapon must be activated with the fire button.
- 1-2 Players: Press to start a one or two player game.
The Mag Max robot is composed of four interconnecting parts. The only part that you remain in possession of at all times is the ship that serves as the robot's waist. All other parts must be located and collected. If you are hit by any enemy or bullet, the section of the robot that was hit will be destroyed before the ship. The ship can only be destroyed when there are no attachments connected to it. The ship contains a twin pulse gun that fires two shots straight ahead.
When fully merged, Mag Max reaches the height of his destructive potential. However, he also at his most vulnerable. Due to the immense size of the robot, he presents a much larger target to the enemies, and it becomes more difficult to avoid getting shot, especially underground. When above ground with the cannon, he fires twin pulse lasers along the ground, an energy wave directed diagonally at the ground, and a single laser at the ground from his head. Without the cannon, the energy wave is replaced by an extra laser shot at the ground. Below ground, he fires three pulse lasers straight across, two from his legs and one from his head. If he holds the cannon, these pulses are accompanied by a fireball. Otherwise, a fourth pulse laser is fired from the hips.
As mentioned above, the player can only be destroyed when nothing is attached to the ship. Therefore, the extra body parts are crucial to extending and protecting the life of a current ship. Extra body parts should be collected as fast as possible, but not in a reckless fashion that would cause the player to lose the attached part almost as quickly as it was gathered. Because of the large size of the complete robot, extra care should be taken when attempting to avoid shots. It is far more difficult to avoid shots as a complete robot then as a solitary ship. As a survival strategy, you may opt to collect only the chest and canon, as it provides you with the benefit of extra fire power and protection, without making you quite as large as you end up with the legs attached.
How to play
Mag Max is broken up into four repeating stages. Once you complete all four stages (and defeated the Babylon Dragon ship twice,) the stages will repeat at a higher difficulty. Each stage has a few unique features, but they are primarily the same. Knowledge of those features can be the key to survival.
You begin each game on the stage of the grassy plains. Above ground, you will find a number of defense systems, including stationary towers, nearly indestructible building (only the cannon can destroy them), domed turrets, and many types of enemy craft that hover along the ground to attack. You will occasionally encounter a hex-orb object that, when shot, releases six black balls in different directions. While they can be dangerous to you, they are actually more of a threat to the enemy. Any enemy that they touch will be destroyed. You will earn 1000 bonus points and the ball will continue to travel until it is off the screen. Below the plains is a cave where underground jets spew lava, and all of the enemies fly forward between the floor and the ceiling. Stalactites are positioned on the ceiling, and every red one can be shot down. Red stalactites that strike enemies will destroy them and award you 1000 bonus points.
The desert stage follows the plains stage. There isn't a lot of difference between the two stages. More enemies in the desert are inclined to alternate between popping out to attack, and diving back underground to avoid destruction. Hex-orbs can be found and shot in this stage as well, and can be a valuable asset against the enemies. The desert stage shares the same cave underground environment as the plains stage, so there is no change from one to the other. The only difference is the potential to encounter the Babylon Dragon ship at the end. You will encounter one form of the Dragon ship or the other depending on whether you are above or below ground by the end of the stage. Destruction of this ship is not required to proceed to the next stage, as it will eventually retreat if you don't destroy it in time.
The water stage is perhaps one of the more deceptively difficult stages. The above-water portion is not very different from the previous above ground sections, but you'll have to move constantly in order to avoid the deluge of cannon fire that is prominent on this stage. The rate of fire from turrets and similar objects increases substantially. However, whatever difficulties you face above the water are small in comparison to some of the obstacles that you will encounter beneath the surface. With no stalactites to drop on any enemies, you receive no assistance with destroying enemies. To make matters worse, there are a series of segments underwater where currents create a small maze. Currents can be identified by the small stationary bubbles they create. If any part of your craft comes in contact with them, you will be locked in place and rocked back and forth until you clear them. You will be unable to fire and are essentially a sitting duck for any enemy that comes along. While they are easy to avoid as just a ship, or even with the chest attached, they are nearly impossible to avoid as a full robot and will almost assuredly result in some part of the robot's body being destroyed. It is best to avoid the underwater segment as much as possible.
Machine City stage
The final environment that you must travel through is the Mechanical City, the staging ground for the enemy's attack. Compared to other above ground stages, Machine City relies far less on cannon fire from turrets, and more on indestructible objects such as the buildings you encountered in the plains stage, and hovering objects which create electrical force fields. Below the ground, you will encounter the usual flying style of enemy. Instead of helpful stalactites, you will encounter a style of missile launcher that rises from the floor, or drops from the ceiling and sends a heat seeking missile on your direction. While both the launcher and the missile can be destroyed, the missile poses a far greater threat. As with the desert, you will encounter the Babylon Dragon ship at the end of the stage. And as with the desert, you are not required to defeat it in order to continue, but it will make staying alive that much easier if you do.
Defeating the Babylon Dragon
The configuration of the Babylon Dragon ship is slightly different depending on where you encounter it. Whether above or below the surface, this ship is a substantial threat, with the ability to fire numerous energy particles at you. It will always track your position and attempt to stay slightly above you. Therefore, in order to do maximum damage to it, you will need to lure it down to the bottom, avoiding as many shots as you can. When it is close to the bottom, you will want to begin edging towards the top of the screen. As you increase your height, the dragon ship will catch up to you quickly. Continuously adjust your height so that the majority of shots are connecting with the dragon heads. Eventually, the dragon heads will each sustain enough damage to be destroyed (signaled by the red flashing that occurs when they are near destruction). Once all three heads are destroyed, you must continue to fire upon the base to completely destroy it ad receive credit for doing so, in the form of a large point bonus. The game will continue on immediately after destroying the ship, so be prepared for any enemies that follow.