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Uchuu Keibitai SDF (NES) artwork

Uchuu Keibitai SDF (NES) review


"Take out the enemy's space armada and you'll then find yourself in a claustrophobic base. The level is only one screen wide and you'll be maneuvering through narrow, cramped corridors that (of course) have enemies lurking just out of range. The only thing missing was the message, "And now for something completely different…" flashing on the screen between stages — a sentiment which only grows towards the end of the game when you suddenly find yourself outside flying over a desert."



Uchuu Keibitai SDF is that unusual sort Famicom shooter that doesn't stick to a consistent style of play. Growing up, I thought Life Force was the best example of an 8-bit shooter with diverse level design, due to the way it alternated between horizontally- and vertically-scrolling stages, but this other effort sticks to a completely vertical orientation and somehow still trumps Konami’s classic.

While all the stages in Uchuu Keibitai SDF all scroll vertically, you’ll notice a decidedly different feel between one and the next. The adventure unfolds in outer space, where the only deviation from the genre norm is that the level is a bit more than a single screen, allowing you to scroll a short distance to the left or right. Finish that area and you'll still be in space, but now you seemingly can travel for ages in either direction while shooting a variety of floating vessels which wouldn't be that out of place in 1943: The Battle of Midway.

Take out the enemy's space armada and you'll then find yourself in a claustrophobic base. The level is only one screen wide and you'll be maneuvering through narrow, cramped corridors that (of course) have enemies lurking just out of range. The only thing missing was the message, "And now for something completely different…" flashing on the screen between stages -- a sentiment which only grows towards the end of the game when you suddenly find yourself outside flying over a desert. First-time players will have no idea what to expect from one level to the next!

They will find the same to be true also as they advance from one section of a particular level to the next, as well, as there's at least one occasion where a stage starts out in a cramped, one-screen-wide base, only for you to eventually leave those restrictions behind as you explore an area where your range of movement has improved. You need to quickly become aware of that point, as you'll have to scoot to one side or another in order to find a clear path to travel. Uchuu Keibitai SDF doesn’t like to let players get comfortable.

That design philosophy extends to your ship's weaponry, as it's hard to view one specific kind of shot as better than the rest when there's no consistent pattern to how the stages flow. Usually, I'm able to find a particular power-up that suits me just fine and then spend the rest of my time desperately hoping I can maintain the use of it. But when you're feeling as if you’ve been caught in a revolving door, moving between wide-open areas to cramped places and back again, neither the spread shot nor the laser nor the weird beam attack that can be directed by your movements with the control pad is consistently perfect. The spread is great in the more open areas and can allow you to find safe zones against some bosses, while the laser's concentrated fire is nice for quickly taking down those tougher enemies. While tricky to control, that beam attack can be really nice in some of the more cramped places because it's the only weapon that can target your immediate left and right, drilling enemies in those hard-to-reach cul-de-sacs. And then there are the orbs. You can collect a pair of them to augment your firepower of choice…or you can order them to move to the bottom of your ship and start firing missiles to add additional diversity to your attack.

Something I discovered while using Google Translate on some random site was that this game utilizes one of the improved graphics chips that popped up later in the NES' lifespan in games such as Castlevania III. The results are noticeable. Things are nicely detailed and many of the game's bosses both look good and are capable of cluttering the screen with all sorts of firepower, all without things like slowdown or flicker ruining the experience.

No, the only things that threatened to ruin my fun were the combination of frenetic action, a certain need for memorization and the unforgiving nature of death. While Uchuu Keibitai SDF never reaches the bullet hell syndrome of, say, Recca, the bullets do fly furiously and some parts of this game are brutally tough. Enemies fly at you from all over the screen and some sections place you in horribly cramped maze-like areas where you have very little room to move. Worse, there are times where gates will close in front of you and if you're on the wrong side, you will die -- forcing you to know exactly when to move closer to the top of the screen. And if you do die, you'll likely be sent back a long ways while also being stripped of all weaponry. Ouch! On a less painful note, this game doesn't seem to keep score. If you're the sort of player who likes to compete against friends to see who can record the most points, you'll be disappointed.

So, most of this review was spent talking about cool (or at least interesting) aspects of Uchuu Keibitai SDF, while only one paragraph mentions its flaws. The problem is that those flaws are annoying enough that it turned this game from a gem to something I found decent and entertaining, but likely will never feel a desire to experience again. It's fun and stands out as being somewhat innovative compared to its peers, but I found myself loving it at times and feeling frustrated and annoyed in two many other instances. It's a well-made title, but the flaws do give a person a certain appreciation for the familiar saying: "Let the Buyer Beware!"

Rating: 6/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (September 19, 2013)

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

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