Thursday, February 24, 2011
Super Aleste Review (Super Famicom)
Game: Super Aleste スーパーアレスタ (Space Megaforce on SNES)
Release Date: April 28th, 1992
System: Super Famicom/SNES
Version Reviewed: Super Famicom
Compile has a great history of making great shmups. Zanac, Gunhed, other games in the Aleste series. They have come up with very unique power-ups and ways of obtaining those power-ups. This game is no exception. Super Aleste (Space Megaforce in the U.S.) is the 7th proper Aleste game in a series of 8 which began its life on the MSX2 system. Aleste games are often overlooked and most people don't know that the series has quite a large library for a shooter, rivaling Gradius and Darius.
The story in the Japanese version goes that you are a pilot named Raz who most stop an alien attack on earth. The aliens have focused their efforts in South America, specifically the Nazca Lines of Peru. Somehow the alien force draws energy from these lines. Accompanying Raz on his mission is Ti, Ti is a female alien character who looks exactly like a human being. Ti is connected to the ship via cables and becomes part of the ship. Maybe the guys at Cave got the idea of Dodonpachi Daioujou's Element Dolls from this aspect of the game.
To help you annihilate these alien attackers, you have an arsenal of 8 different weapons. These weapons range from lasers to heat-seeking missiles to more unorthodox types of weapons not common in shooters. When you destroy specific enemies they release a green orb which rotates from numbers one through eight. Each number represents a different type of weapon. There are also orange orbs in which the numbers do not rotate.
Try the different weapons and see which ones suit you best. Memorize which number they are classified by. On the same note, remember which power-ups you do not like and try to avoid them as they sway around the screen.
Once you have chosen your weapon of choice, be sure to collect the oval orbs to power these weapons up. They can be powered up to level 6. This system is common in Compile shooters. A powered-up weapon also works as a health system for your ship. When you are hit by enemy fire, you will not lose a life but instead your powered up weapon will drop 4 levels. If you are at level zero, you will lose a life. The ship also has an adjustable speed up to 4 different speeds which can be changed at any time by pressing the "select" button. Find your sweetspot so that you can dodge enemy fire with a quickness.
When you lose a life in the game two things can happen. You will either start at the beginning/last checkpoint or start where you left off. The ability of starting where you left off is earned. When this happens, the icons of your ship stock will turn yellow. It is tedious when starting at the last checkpoint unless you are playing to practice. Earning those yellow ships really pays off and saves time. If you are shooting for the high score, maybe it could be a strategy to always start at a checkpoint so you could theoretically double your score on a given level if you earn enough extra lives.
There are 5 different difficulty levels ranging from 'normal' to 'lunatic'. As you can imagine, the 'lunatic' mode is pretty crazy. There are times in lunatic mode that look and feel like newer danmaku shooters. If you are a veteran of this genre, play this game in lunatic mode. It is very satisfying and challenging. It also pays off as you get a longer ending in the Japanese version.
Perhaps those ancient alien theorists were right about the Nazca lines.
One of thing bigger things you'll notice when playing this game is that the levels are LONG. Shooters traditionally have pretty short levels, especially back in 1992. Not all of the levels are the same length, but all offer a great challenge. There are 12 levels in all, 3 of which are bonus stages that may cause you to wince or jump for joy depending on your feelings for Hudson Shooting Caravan games in which these stages obviously draw their inspiration from. The 2nd stage is my favorite. The entire stage consists of one giant enemy space station which zooms and rotates in the background as you destroy it bit by bit until you get to its heart. The stage is not very difficult, but it is fun to play and puts Mode 7 to good use. Another impressive boss can be found on Stage 6. In addition to the regular game, there is a "Short Game" mode which are merely score attack games much like Hudson's tournament games.
Homage or rip-off?
This game takes advantage of the Super Famicom's power. While it doesn't take the Super Famicom to its limits, it does utilize its advantages over other systems of the era. While it is not on the level of Axelay, the game is still impressive graphically and technically. One thing that surprised me was that there is not much slowdown in the game despite the fact that there are many moving sprites on the screen at once. It's too bad the same cannot be said about Super R-Type. The only time you experience some flickering/slowdown is in the higher difficulty settings because of the number of projectiles on the screen.
One strange thing about this game which I have yet to figure out is if it was intentional or not is the unstable difficulty curve. As with most games, the game starts off easy and the difficulty ramps up as you progress through the game. In later levels you'll notice that the difficulty drops down again. This happens more than once as you play the game. I don't want to spoil the game, but the last boss was not the most difficult of all the bosses. What could have made the game more challenging overall was to not allow unlimited continues, but I presume that would alienate the novice players.
Beautiful graphics.The Mode 7 effects are put to great use without overkill. From the detailed backgrounds to the beautifully-designed bosses, this game is great to look at. The controls are very precise and on spot. To get the most of this game, try to play on the lunatic mode with a 1cc in mind.
Compile did not skimp on the music. The music of this game, as with most Compile games, is top notch and they didn't cut any corners to bring you From the jazz-inspired opening, to the joyfully melancholic ending music, the soundtrack always gives to your ears what the game itself gives to your eyes. Be sure you select "stereo" in the game's option menu!
The game didn't need its "voice acting". Before you face-off against the 2nd stage boss, your character says "Give me a break, dude" (JPN version). Which is exactly what I thought after hearing it. Most bosses have a demonic inaudible message before you fight them (these were cleaned up in the English release), which I find somewhat tacky. At this point, I am just nitpicking. The game has hardly any faults. Another 'fault' is It's sometimes difficult to tell what is in the background and foreground. You don't know what will crush your ship or what you can fly over. As with most vertical shooters of the era, depth is very hard to decipher. One last demerit is for the English release. The ending of Japanese version goes deeper into the story and has somewhat of a romantic twist. I don't know why this couldn't be translated for the English version. It's a shame that western gamers missed out on this.
The Verdict: In 1992, this game would easily be a 9 out of 10.
This game could be one of the best vertical shooters of the 16-bit era. It's not on the level or depth of its predecessor, Musha Aleste (aka M.U.S.H.A.), but Super Aleste holds its own. Definitely pick this game up if you own a Super Nintendo or Super Famicom. From the original Aleste to Zanac X Zanac, Compile gave us some magnificent shooters in its 20-year history. Super Aleste is part of this elite club. Play it and you will see why. If you've played it, play it again to remind yourself that the 16-bit era had shooters that could rival shooters of today. It is evident that this is one of the games that inspired the people who make modern shooters. Pay your respects to the genre, and play this game as well as other Aleste games. How does Axelay compare to this game? Wait and see....
No backups, pirates, or emulations. My Copy: