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Space Megaforce (SNES) artwork

Space Megaforce (SNES) review


"At heart, everything about this level is pretty simple and basic — heck, its boss fight really isn't much more than a large collection of those guns you'd been blasting on the station's surface for much of the level — but the presentation makes it feel like so much more; like you're actually waging a one-man assault on a giant enemy base."



If not for one thing, I might consider Space Megaforce to be the most pleasant of pleasant surprises simply for what it is -- a fast-paced and fun shooter on the Super Nintendo that's not plagued with slowdown. While not the most difficult of games thanks to a power-up system that essentially works as a life meter, the action is fast and invigorating and there aren't any technical glitches to mar the experience.

A member of Compile's long-running Aleste series which was known as Super Aleste in Japan, this game features that series' trademark way of handling power-ups. There are eight different kinds, each represented by numbered icons. Grab "2" and you get a laser, while picking up "5" allows you to expel missiles rapidly. Once you have one of these special weapons, a lot of other icons suddenly gain meaning. Snagging orange orbs gradually raises your weapon's power level from one to six. Since it takes a lot of these to muster those final couple levels, the game also occasionally drops green orbs, which instantly give you a weapon level, making it much easier to go from the fifth to the sixth.

Space Megaforce screenshot Space Megaforce screenshot


The higher your weapon level, the better. For the obvious reason that whichever one you're using will be more powerful and cover more of the screen and also because of the aforementioned "life meter" element. Getting hit by enemy ships and their fire isn't an automatic death, but instead just takes away four weapon levels (or reverts you to level zero if you have fewer than four). From there, you just have to be careful for a little while and collect enough power-up icons and what would have been the loss of a ship in a similar game winds up being little more than a temporary inconvenience in Space Megaforce.

Due to this, any reasonably competent player can breeze through a good portion of this game. In many of its 12 stages, the enemies aren't particularly formidable, so taking one hit isn't a de facto death sentence, as a level one or two weapon will be sufficient to at least keep your head above water for a little while. This makes it easier to pay attention to the vivid visuals, which at the very least, show a more creative use for the Super Nintendo's Mode 7 scrolling than most titles had. There are a lot of swirling backgrounds that can get pretty psychedelic and the fourth stage is loaded with small planets that repeatedly expand and contract.

The second level takes things to the extreme, though, as the entire level places you above a giant space station. You fly over it, repeatedly descending down to take out guns scattered over its surface and then soaring far above it for another run. Meanwhile, this monstrosity is always below you, spinning around and getting larger or smaller, depending on what the level's predetermined flight path is having you do. At heart, everything about this level is pretty simple and basic -- heck, its boss fight really isn't much more than a large collection of those guns you'd been blasting on the station's surface for much of the level -- but the presentation makes it feel like so much more; like you're actually waging a one-man assault on a giant enemy base.

My descriptions of latter levels would be a good bit more vague, though, as things do eventually get more and more frenetic, to where having a reasonably-powered weapon was more a luxury than something I expected. The level designs get more and more claustrophobic, as you'll be maneuvering through narrow corridors trying to find ways to blast out-of-the-way enemies before they can snipe you from their relative safety. It'd be kind of like a vertically-scrolling Gradius or R-Type if not for how you can potentially take multiple hits, walls don't damage you unless you get caught behind one and scrolled off the screen, and how there's usually a weapon that's perfect for every situation…you just have to figure out which one. In many areas, using "7" is great, as you'll have a ton of small guns trailing your ship, allowing you to flood the screen with artillery; however, you'll find other parts of the game where the intensely concentrated firepower of "6" is most handy, as that weapon can be charged to really unleash the pain.

Space Megaforce screenshot Space Megaforce screenshot


There's also an assortment of large bosses which tend to be fun to fight, if not necessarily memorable at all times, to go with generally attractive visuals. If anything, it's amazing this game isn't plagued with slowdown and other performance glitches, as it has to stretch the Super Nintendo's processing ability to extreme levels with all the stuff and bullets that tend to be on the screen at any one time. On a superficial level, the only flaw I could really find with Space Megaforce is that it isn't Super Aleste. When the game was ported to America and renamed, a few cinematic scenes that gave it some sort of story with characters were removed. With that stuff, as well as the game's original ending gone, it winds up feeling more like a collection of random levels than anything resembling a coherent story.

Which really isn't a problem, as most shooters of the retro days were really light on exposition. As in: If you don't read the back of the box or the instruction manual, you won't know what you're shooting or why, but who cares? Explosions are fun! Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing and that's where Space Megaforce goes a bit wrong for me. Like most shooters, this is a "beat in one sitting" game without passwords or battery back-up. Unlike most shooters, it contains a whopping 12 stages, with many of them being longer than average for this genre. Regardless of how good a game is (and Space Megaforce is really good), its sheer length cuts down on its replay value.

Sadly, things didn't have to be this way, as four of the game's shortest levels could be deleted without anyone really caring. There are three tiny levels that seem designed to be interludes, where you blast a lot of stuff for points, pick up power-ups and dispose of weak foes and anticlimactic bosses without breaking a sweat. Leading up to the final stage, you'll deal with another short one where you're expected to maneuver through an obstacle course while the screen scrolls at a higher rate of speed than usual. Dump these stages and the game might still be a bit long, but at least there wouldn't be any filler bloating it!

Those unnecessary levels aside, Space Megaforce is still a shooter that's definitely worth playing and might be ranked at the top of those released for the SNES. Compile knows how to make a fun, fast-paced game that's more accessible to the casual gamer than many of its kind, which tend to take delight in completely crippling players the instant they make a mistake. Thanks to its excessive length, I doubt I'll revisit this title with the frequency that I did Life Force back in the day, but it's hard to complain much about my experience with it.

Rating: 8/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 06, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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