I enjoyed Image Fight. Many arcade games received both NES and PC Engine ports, and while NEC’s version was usually better, both were respectable. Image Fight was a lesser-known title for either system that was unique in its structure. While it did not compare to Irem’s R-Type, it was a fine alternative. Irem saw fit to create a sequel exclusively for the home, as apparently people really loved the PC Engine version. Image Fight II is bigger, looks better and is certainly more difficult than its predecessor. But in this case, is that a good thing?
Three years after the destruction of the mother computer in Image Fight, mankind turns their attention towards reconstruction. However, their progress comes to a halt when a deep space probe detects an invading fleet heading toward Earth. Although they are light years away, they are coming fast and it becomes clear that the first battle was the prelude to the coming war. The story this time is far more involved as there are lengthy cutscenes between levels as you follow Show and his budding romance with Falong as well as his growth as a pilot. Like Macross 2036, it is like they put an anime OAV in your shooter. For those that do not care, you can turn them off in the options to enjoy your shooting hi-jinks without distraction.
The power-up system is largely the same as the previous title. Weapons come in two types: satellites and main cannons. Satellites have two types: blue fires straight forward while red in the opposite direction of your movement. You can equip three and mix and match types which is pretty cool. Primary weapons attach to the front of your ship with most being variations of spread shots and lasers. A few new options join the roster and vary in their usefulness. The stupid smoke gun is a waste of space while the flame thrower is probably my favorite. Main weapons can and will be destroyed and that is my one gripe with the system. To swap weapons you must manually destroy your current option. This is risky and these are not as plentiful as satellites so in most cases you are better off sticking with what you have.
Image Fight II follows the same structure as the original. After the first introductory stage, the next four are a simulation. Your goal is to as many enemies as possible in each level to achieve a destruction ratio of 90% or higher to move on to the “real” game. If you fail you must complete a penalty stage to progress. In these levels, the challenge is dialed back somewhat. Enemies are not too aggressive and chances are your deaths will come from chasing them down to increase your kill ratio. Once you become a real pilot, the true sequel begins. The change in level philosophy is immediately apparent. Each stage at this point tends to focus on a specific mechanic. The variety in level design and the challenges they present is one of the best aspects of Image Fight II.
The original Image Fight was a very difficult game but is nothing compared to the sequel. The sprites are too large leaving little to move. If the sprites were 25% smaller the game would be so much better. Image Fight II relies on gotcha moments a lot more than I would like. The extreme trial and error needed to clear every saps a lot of the fun out of the game. Having to memorize every single spawn point and wave is tedious. If you survive long enough to reach the bosses prepare to die in seconds. Image Fight II has the difficulty of an arcade game yet is a home exclusive. If it were balanced properly it would be fantastic. As it is only the diehard need apply.