As far as shooters go Accele Brid is about as average as they come. Were you to judge the game on its mechanical composition, you’d probably liken it to a hit song: predictable, straightforward, noticeably engineered, not particularly impressive or ambitious, but at the very least competent enough to hold your attention for a short bit. Yet games are more than just the rules they make you follow. Even in games that seemingly center around the activities you’re asked to perform (a lot of action games and some RPGs fall under this banner), other factors like theme and aesthetic are there dictating what relationship you have with the game and whatever actions/mindsets emerge as a result of that relationship. In cases like Accele Brid, for example, that relationship can come to define your entire experience with the game. Its novel use of dynamic pseudo-3D backdrops is the source of its greatest ambitions and its greatest follies.
That Accele Brid’s use of those backdrops remains novel amid similar pseudo-3D games is an accomplishment in its own right. To give a brief overview of the game’s historical context, the early 90s (IE anything before the release of the PlayStation) saw all kinds of forays into the then-unexplored territory of polygonal 3D. Obvious examples include Virtua Racing, Star Wars Arcade, Star Fox, and almost every other game developed for the SuperFX chip. On the surface, games like this were designed primarily as demonstrations of what was possible with the technology available at the time. Looking at them from an artistic perspective, though, you see that many of these games were aiming to create interconnected worlds where everything exists within the same space. They would go to great lengths to demonstrate this fact: the relationships between objects were clearly spelled out, and how those objects interacted with each other was often a major contributor to their appeal. This object is off in the distance. That object is close, so you’d better swerve around it or shoot it out of the way. Some other object is about to crash into your surroundings, etc.
While Accele Brid belongs to this family of games, the way it uses its 3D is completely different from its peers. The first level provides a decent example of this, although not for the reasons you’d think. The ludicrously fast pace and disorienting whip of the camera may contrast with the leisurely stroll that is Star Fox, but once the game’s over-eager desire to flex its technological muscle wears off, it settles into something far less aggressive. No, what sets Accele Brid apart is its emphasis on movement. Where other games pursue embodiment (being in a place), Accele Brid is more concerned with imparting into you a sense of movement, and to that end, it ensures the environment and objects in it are in constant motion. Enemies zoom toward you on the horizon, or sneak up on you from behind. Later levels rotate your surroundings to remind you that you’re not just barreling forward on a straight line. There’s never a moment’s rest where this game is concerned.
That said, the game could stand to learn a few lessons from its peers. On the one hand, the visual action does latter to complement the activities you’re asked to perform. Both place an emphasis on action, but the latter is definitely more relaxed than the former, leading to an uncomfortable friction between the two that the game can’t overcome. More importantly, Accele Brid underestimates how vital inhabitation is in regards to creating a sense of movement. Movement isn’t something that can exist in isolation. It’s a relationship between one’s self and the surrounding environment, meaning if you want to communicate the sensation of movement, then there needs to be a connection between the two. Mad Panic Coaster understands this. Its iconic speed couldn’t exist without its brilliant interplay between your precariously perched cart and the winding tracks it’s forced to follow. As much as I think Accele Brid would be better served with more robust technology, let’s assume this wasn’t an option for the game’s developers. This leaves us with games like 3D World-Runner and Space Harrier: games which create a sense of embodiment by making sure the character and his environment agree aesthetically.
I could continue pointing to examples, but let’s move on to where Accele Brid itself falters. All the objects in the game – your character, their enemies, the bullets they fire, the items you pick up – are drawn as they would be in any other game at the time: a smooth, relatively detailed approach. It’s an aesthetic the surrounding environments break with their grainy Polaroid style. What’s more, they seem to exist independent of the objects contained within them. Areas move at their own pace, indifferent to how any on-screen actors relate to it. The illusion is broken. Movement ceases to be because actor and stage can’t meaningfully interact with one another. But the show goes on anyway. You begin to feel like the only actor who knows that he’s performing in front of a matte. You’re aware that something isn’t right, but nobody else around you seems to care. They’re fine pretending (maybe even believing) this is just the way things are. It’s alienating and surreal, to say the least. (This may be a broader conceptual problem with the game; one of my earliest notes on the game likens the game’s instrumentation to “listening to orchestrated music through a wax cylinder.”)
One would think this “actor performing in front of a matte” setup would lend itself well to a performative angle, but for a variety of reasons, Accele Brid isn’t prepared to capitalize on this opportunity. For one, the player and their enemies can’t meaningfully interact with one another. In my time with the game, the enemies failed to react to my behavior outside their obvious patterns, meaning I was very limited in the ways I could react to their behavior. Combine this with the fact that most combat takes place a distance (despite close-up brawls being an option), and any playful attitude the game could have cultivated is lost.
Even if the game didn’t have to deal with those problems, I’m not sure what it presents is interesting enough to warrant a compelling performance out of the player in the first place. In terms of gameplay, I believe my earlier comments gave a good idea of what Accele Brid is like, but to elaborate: before each stage, you’re asked to choose two weapons to take with you and a form for your robot to play in. You can either choose Attacker (low in defense, high in attack and speed) or Defender (balanced in all three). I consistently chose Attacker. From here, Accele Brid plays as any other shooter would. It’s a virtual shooting range, one where robotic targets swoop on screen, trade shots with you for a bit, and (assuming you haven’t shot them down already) quietly exit so another target can take their place.
A fine model in theory, but in practice, Accele Brid leaves a little something to be desired. Some of its problems are conceptual in nature. The game’s most interested in affirming the player’s control over their experience with the game, meaning it does little to challenge that sense of control. In my experience, this never leads to terribly interesting places. Other problems, though, are pragmatic. Like a majority of video games, Accele Brid is ultimately a series of patterns (enemy waves and the actions they take when shooting at you) stitched together for the player to navigate. This in itself isn’t something to be concerned about.
What is worth being concerned about is how those patterns are presented. Much like the clash of art styles breaks the illusion of movement, so, too does the game’s refusal to mix patterns up or present multiple conflicting ones break the illusion of naturalistic action. Once you see how the machinery underneath works, you find yourself stuck at the surface level of the action, going through a routine that evokes zero emotion. (I’ve detailed elsewhere how games can use repetition to achieve a therapeutic quality, but I don’t think Accele Brid is primed to capitalize on that.) This isn’t to say that the game is entirely simplistic patterns you’re asked to respond to. Some of the game’s best moments come when it violates what you’ve become accustomed to by playing with your spatial awareness, or when it does away with previously established logic and decides to overwhelm you with enemy forces. I just wish such moments were the rule, not the exception.
In the end, I think the source of Accele Brid’s woes is a simple lack of direction. As obvious a conclusion as this might seem, the game is more interested in pursuing a unique visual style than it is in reconciling that with the systems and mechanics it presents the player. Unfortunately, this appears to be as far as it thought itself through, meaning conflicts are bound to arise. The strong emphasis on movement finds itself at odds with the otherworldly portal before you that denies any sensation of movement, which finds itself at odds with the almost quotidian action you engage in. Yet for a game so wrought with tension, the surface feels less hectic than you’d think it would be. There’s an odd calm at this level; one with no feeling and no activity.