Novagen's Backlash is how Paul Woakes has been spending his time since writing the acclaimed Mercenary. And it has not been wasted. If you like your shoot 'em ups served neat and simple with no frills, then put Backlash on your list of essential purchases.
The Instructions waste no time with tedious preambles telling you how the mutant Thargs have colonised the distant planet Barg, and only you, armed with your trusty laser screen defence radar auto-activators, can save the galaxy. Just stick the joystick in and start shooting. No messy business with finding 16 keys to the secret processors in the enemy base then blasting out the mothership; just get yourself the highest score you can.
On the Amiga, Backlash looks very classy indeed. Designer blasting, in fact. You fly in low over the enemy terrain, marked out in a delicate shade of Habitat grey, dotted with installations, towers and buildings of suitably futuristic geometric shapes. The movement of your ship joystick-controlled, is beautifully fast and smooth, as you rush forward headlong, pull back or scan around the horizon seeking out the enemy craft. It is more than reminiscent of that old fave Encounter.
You find your targets using the "radar" in the centre of the screen, which shows up white dots for ships, aircraft, whatever you care to call them, and red dots for the fireballs they will fire at you. Wheel around to face them head on, and fire to intercept the fireballs or shoot out the craft.
It is all very impressive to look at; the fireballs hurtle angrily towards you, the screen gets filled with shards and shrapnel as you blast away, your own bombs bounce away into the distance (reminiscent of all those Amiga demos we gasped at a year or so ago). So, how does it play?
Fast. Very fast, and furious. There is not a moment's let-up as you flick your eyes from radar to spot the ships and missiles back to screen to fire at them. It is tempting just to stick the auto-fire on, but this rather spoils the technique required. Luckily there is a pause function should the adrenalin get too much for you on occasions.
Backlash is a game for die-hard blasting purists. The lack of any specified objective or variations in gameplay - the enemy craft get more sophisticated in later levels but the action is much the same, it just requires you to react even more speedily - almost adds to its appeal. Just disengage your brain and start shooting.
The sound effects as you fire away add nicely to the atmosphere, although the opening tune is far too jolly and bouncy for the all-out aggression that is to follow. It hardly matters, though. Get yourself a decent joystick, and start scattering metal all over the sky.