It's always a pleasant surprise unearthing a little-known gem in the voluminous pile of 32-bit console games. Released on April 27th, 2000, towards the end of the Playstation's life, Lattice 200EC7 is a rare combination of shooting and reflex-based "puzzle action" set to completely abstract visuals and audio. It is thoroughly artistic and abstract in its design, and is absolutely hardcore with its distinct lack of hand-holding. Take the lock-on tracks of a Tempest 2000 level, but pull them around so that they form a four-sided "rail", and make it continuous. Down this rail you propel at intense speeds, avoiding obstacles, shooting robotic entities sometimes reminiscent of those in Descent, and as quickly as possible: find the Lattices.
Lattices are abstract symbols. Once you have collected them all, you can pass through the exit of the rail and complete a level. To begin with, levels progress in a mostly linear fashion, but as you can orientate yourself on any of the four sides of the rail, it is easy to lose track of where you are. Regularly you'll face sharp corners, and if you don't face them head-on (flying into the rail as it angles upwards), you will roll back to the opposing side of the rail and be facing the direction you came from. If you do face the corners head-on, or from the "outside" edge, you will immediately re-orient yourself and continue down the rail. Sometimes the rail will split or will push you to completely separate rails. The level design is unpredictable, if anything.
To be honest, it's not the easiest game to describe, so please have a quick look at this video. (but hey, don't forget to come back!)
Despite being puzzle action, there is also a tangiable sense of exploration. The levels gradually allow you more directions and splits in the rail to rush down, but as you are timed on each attempt, Lattice allows some personal challenge. There's a time limit, the clock counts down as you play, so the onus is on you to collect the Lattices as soon as possible (also to beat your best time). The game keeps a score as well, and there's a very wide energy bar at the top of the screen at all times. Probably that large to remind you that you can, and often will, die.
There are all manner of threats trying to stop you. Rock formations, angled walls, stabbing stalactites, and other less passive adversaries. Typically you shoot two energy balls parallel to the rail, but you can aim by holding L1+R1 and moving with the D-pad, thus allowing you to shoot anywhere. This is essential, because some enemies and capsules will stop you in your tracks and prevent your progress. Destroy them to continue.
Some of the obstacles are more passive. Lattice won't just throw you down empty rails and as previously mentioned, there are walls in some sections. Simply changing to another side of the rail is enough to avoid them, but if you try and move while between walls you will bounce into them and lose energy! On occasion you will be flying through formations of blocks that are stationed or fly around the rail in similar patterns to those in the "Sector" levels of Star Fox. Only here you can't just fly anywhere, you have to stay on the rail and avoid the blocks. You can "jump" off the rail, but if you are not cautious you can fly into any number of flotsam scattered around the level.
The HUD throws a lot of information at you, and not all of it is obvious. Apart from the life bar, score and timer, there is a lives counter. Below the life-bar are three icons denoting the shapes of "walls" which will stop you as you progress through a level. This is another more passive obstacle, and a blue energy capsule will be flying around the area where you encounter a wall - destroy said capsule to open the wall and progress. Towards the lower-left are two squares that show two distinct pieces of information, both in rather cryptic ways. The left-most box shows a simplified "map" of the immediate area, in a pseudo-3D, which changes based on your orientation. The next box along displays your orientation in relation to the rail, though it is baffling as to how to describe HOW it is displaying it. Or, for that matter, the rest of the HUD, save for the Lattice display in the lower-right. These fill in colour as you collect each Lattice.
The visuals in Lattice are excellent. Eschewing any attempt at realism, and going directly for artistic abstract design, Nousite, inc. were able to create a game that - somehow - has barely aged at all. The resolution of the in-game sections is limited to the PSOne's usual low-res, but it all flies along with grandeur, a persistent pace and relentlessness - it can easily match a Wipeout game for speed thrills.
The sound effects are appropriate, explosions, bleeps, blips, wooshes and such all have a meatiness to them that adds some weight to the action in the game. But it's the music that leaves a lasting impression, as some of it is quite ambient, some is quite beat-orientated abstract techno that further propels the on-screen action.
There are some minor irritations: the aforementioned "free-targetting" has a waywardness to it that never quite becomes second-nature, and in the heat of the moment (not an Asia quote, honest!), it straddles the border between "difficult to add some realistic challenge" and just plain annoying. Also, passwords. On completion of a level, you are given a password. The game will not save anything on memory cards. No scores, unlocked levels, nothing. A game from 2000 that doesn't make use of memory cards is simply frustrating, and somewhat detracts from the competitive possibilities Lattice 200EC7 could offer.
Lattice 200EC7 is not easy to find. So, good luck. It will only please a few types of gamers, and the lack of memory card saving is quite irritating. But if you can find it, Lattice 200EC7 is an arty, unique piece of abstract action, and that in itself should be applauded.
Official Nousite, inc. Lattice site (Japanese)