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3D Galaxy Force II (3DS) artwork

3D Galaxy Force II (3DS) review

"The most wonderful, painful, and expensive $5.99 I've ever spent."

Sega's Galaxy Force II has had a long, strenuous, unfortunate history concerning home ports, and it's not even because the conversions were butchered by inexperienced dev teams. The 1988 arcade game, in the vein of other third-person shooters like Space Harrier, ran on the complex and powerful Y Board which enabled an excessive amount of sprites to scale on screen without problems; the Sega Master System and Genesis/Mega Drive ports couldn't come close to replicating the original with their "primitive" hardware. Worse, the iterations that resembled the arcade version never made it out of the Land of the Rising Sun, and even then, they too had issues, like the FM Towns' boxed-in format and slowdown, or the Sega Saturn's framerate.

However, the biggest travesty occurred when the impressive 2007 release on the PlayStation 2, developed by M2, was kept a Japanese exclusive. Not only did it include a great arcade port, but loads of extras like switching between different soundtracks, including the Master System and Genesis editions, as well as a Neo Classic Mode that modifies certain visual aspects, the latter surely a love or hate thing amongst the fan base. So after all this time, even as I write this, I still find it pretty amazing that the rest of the world finally received a faithful port on the 3DS. It was pretty high on my list of things I thought would never happen, right beside The Revenge of Death Adder and Panzer Dragoon Saga getting new releases.

Taking place in a completely original plot, players travel across six colorful worlds in a single spacecraft as it fights the Fourth Empire. In a galaxy far, far away. Now, the gameplay at first glance probably looks a bit on the easy side, since it's not as speedy as its predecessors, like After Burner II, and you won't get shot down in one hit due to an energy meter and shield, but the game can quickly punish those that don't take it seriously. Yes, there's an energy meter, but it continuously drains on its own, and the only way to refill is to shoot down the constant stream of ships, saucers, turrets, and alien lifeforms that get in your way. It's such a heavy-handed task to undergo, because, unlike the aforementioned games where you can dodge countless obstacles without much consequence, your very survival here depends on how well you take out opponents while rushing through the missions.

Not only will the mechanics give your skills a workout, but 25 years after Galaxy Force II's debut, its presentation still manages to impress and captivate. In the first stage, you get overtaken by a large carrier in space, venture across a fortified asteroid belt, and during all this action, the man-made planet off in the background gradually grows in size, eventually engulfing the screen with your ship zipping into an entrance, through tight corridors filled with stationed robots. Later stages crank up the visual ka-pow, like the plant world with an array of ugly bugs and mutant branches that rapidly grow in your path, or the desert planet littered with twisters, hopping robots, and a defense of electric barriers that pop from the ground.

Even without the help of the Super Deluxe arcade cabinet, a metallic pod capable of rotating and tilting in many directions, the game still does a wonderful job making you feel a part of its universe. The imagination of the environments, the marriage of the mechanical prowess of the Fourth Empire with each world's natural inhabitants, and the breathtaking backgrounds filled with detailed planets and distant galaxies make for a fantastic, immersed adventure. Completing the organic feeling is the terrific soundtrack, from the somewhat somber sounds of the opening stages to the upbeat nature of the latter worlds; it's as if the music is weaving a story that begins with an improbable victory against a tyrant, but morphs into an incredible downfall by the hands of a lone ace commander.

Making this version of Galaxy Force II an experience all its own is the impressive handling of the stereoscopic feature. Considering the dimensions already conveyed through the Y Board's scaling capabilities, M2 needs to be commended for not only adding a cool-looking new depth to the game, but actually making it useful to players in specific instances. Along with sprucing up certain moments, like the volcanic world's dragon flares and the flying insect horde in the desert world, the 3D makes navigating the condensed cave and tunnel sections easier due to better depth perception. I have played four other Sega 3D Classics since, Space Harrier, Sonic, Shinobi III, and Super Hang-On, and I can say that 3D Galaxy Force II, without a doubt, trounces the others in the 3D department.

But for all the things the original game does right, and for all the cool stuff added into this rendition, from the 3D effects to the robust option settings that even allows you to plaster the arcade monitor on screen and mimic its movements, there's one flaw I can't overlook. The saddest thing, too, is that it's not really the developer's fault.

Galaxy Force II is an intense game, and you must simultaneously use all the ship's abilities, the turrets, the lock-on missiles, the thrusters, and the steering, to get out of dangerous situations. Now here's the problem: the Nintendo 3DS system itself makes hitting all these buttons a major strain on the hands. You get to configure the layout, but the default setting with the thrusters on the shoulder pads and the munitions on the face buttons is unfortunately the best method. The pain doesn't come at first, but right around the third mission, the unsettling feeling starts creeping its way in, and before long, you'll need to pause the action to ease the discomfort. I played this on a 3DS XL, as well, so I can only imagine the irritation that occurs on the regular one.

Interestingly, 3D Galaxy Force II has Circle Pad Pro compatibility, and not wanting to leave a thread hanging, I actually purchased one specifically for this title. That, and I was also curious to see if I could closely replicate the arcade's left thruster and right throttle stick set-up with the two circle pads. While recreating the feel was unsuccessful (I had to flip the two...), the extra grip did release most of the stress from my hands. Now, is it worth buying a $20 add-on mainly for this game? No. If you already have one for the few titles that use it, you're golden. Otherwise, download 3D Galaxy Force II with discretion: it's a fantastic port that gets held back by the system's exterior design.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (January 12, 2014)

Gomu Gomu no Bō...

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