Banshee arrived in the twilight years of Amiga gaming and sits firmly in the same
section as SWIV and Gunbee F-99. Core's second vertical blaster
(after the dull Frenetic) and, if memory serves, their last Amiga game, it was put together by a group who had cut their teeth in the demo scene,
something that shows in the presentation.
The first thing you notice about Banshee is how professional and console-esque it looks. Beautiful graphics and silky smooth scrolling are combined with a vast number of onscreen objects. You control a circa-WWII fighter plane and for the first level the game feels distinctly like the old arcade shooter 1942.
There are many nice touches in the variety of enemies you face. Tiny soldiers run about and fly backwards in a spray of blood when shot, giant Star Wars inspired "walkers" judder across the screen and innocent civilians scurry out of the way of your attack. The graphics change completely every so often and you never get the chance to be bored. It really is a visual treat, with loads going on and plenty of colour and diversity.
By contrast, the sound is a letdown, but only slightly so. The constant roar of your engine (which changes pitch as you swoop around) is joined by plenty of gunshots and explosions and there are lots of aural clues to the enemies you'll face next. Big minuses for the irritating sound which accompanies the launching of your missiles, though.
There are three difficulty levels, a two player option and three control options: Mouse (which works surprisingly well), and one or two button joystick. The second button (or keyboard if you have only one button) activates your aircraft's loop-the-loop ability, which does damage to everything you hit and grants you a few vital seconds of invincibility.
Your aircraft handles well and the only excuse for getting shot is a lack of ability. The patterns the enemy sprites arrive in are generally imaginative and constantly challenging and the power up system works well, which makes a change from most games of this ilk. Power ups arrive in a similar way to SWIV, being released by destroyed bad guys and can be modified by shooting them. There are many more possibilities than SWIV, though, and they are released whenever a complete wave is destroyed, unlike SWIV's which could only be gathered after destroying a goosecopter.
The difficulty curve is pitched more or less perfectly. You never feel like the odds are unfair but neither is there a moment when you can let your concentration lapse. It challenges you without ever resorting to overwhelming you with opponents. The two player mode is, sadly, quite a bit easier but not so much so that it becomes a pushover.
It's by no means perfect, though. The sprites are all on the large side and coupled with the big and chunky status bar the game can feel cramped. You can scroll left and right a short way but it would have made more sense to drop that feature and just have smaller graphics.
Most of the end of level bad guys are also flawed. They're huge, beautifully drawn and highly menacing, but instead of going out with a massive explosion, they just get lots of little explosions superimposed on them and then the screen goes blank, which is more than a little bit disappointing. It's usually impossible to avoid taking damage from some of them as well, for example due to great screen-sweeping arms that cover every single pixel you could be occupying.
The major exception is the massive miltary installation that serves as end of level guardian for the desert section. After flying over this multiple-screen spanning, gun implacement studded monstrosity, you do a loop-the-loop and fly back to the beginning to do it all again, in a sequence reminiscent of the bomb run scenes in the film The Memphis Belle.
Overall, though, this is one of the best 2D shooters on any platform. It is only really bettered by the venerable SWIV and it's worth owning even if you have that title because they feel very different from each other. A great game and an admirable sign off for Core Design.