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Robo Aleste (Sega CD) artwork

Robo Aleste (Sega CD) review

"I think a lot of shooters I play in the future are going to seem sort of mundane after this game."

Whoa! Just…whoa, man. Mind = Blown.

Yeah, after finishing Robo Aleste on the Sega CD, I feel kind of ripped off for playing so many shooters over my life that basically didn't bother trying to tell a story. I'd read a blurb on the back of the box and a bit more in the instruction manual that at least gave some sort of reasoning behind why I was supposed to commit genocide on some distant planet and then hit the start button to immediately start the slaughter. Upon finishing the game, I'd be treated to a brief shot of my ship triumphantly escaping the planet immediately before the whole thing exploded. And that was it.

Robo Aleste is different in the most glorious way imaginable. Not only does it use Sega's CD technology to give players cinema with voice acting, but it also tells a tale so completely out there that I can only wish more developers had both the ability and creativity that Compile put into things. I mean, this is the sort of stuff that I don't even know if I can use my usual "Man, they must have had good drugs!" line on…because I think it'd take more than mere drugs to come up with this. Drugs on top of insanity, maybe.

Imagine feudal Japan, a land where warlords raised armies to fight other warlords in an attempt to reign supreme. Men such as Oda Nobunaga, a renown leader from the 1500s, for example, would mass-produce robot ninjas to serve as their shock troops, filling the air with lasers and unlimited rapid-fire ninja stars as they obliterated rival robot armies. Unfortunately for Kage, one of Nobunaga's top robot-fliers, the complete forces of Japan's other warlords, backed by a powerful leader from another dimension, all banded together to obliterate the rest of Oda's army. Now, you must take control of Kage on a mission of vengeance, justice and blowing up really big mechs. Oh, and also contending with his glory-seeking brother who's more than willing to be the Cain to his Abel if it means he's the superior robot-fighter-dude. HISTORY AT ITS FINEST!

I mean, at its heart, Robo Aleste is just another Aleste shooter, although arguably that series' finest moment. If you've played any of those games, you should know what to expect. It's a top-down vertically-scrolling game where you both collect little flashing-light power-ups to enhance your base firepower and hunt down more rare colored orbs that bestow (and then boost) devastating sub-weapons. My favorite was the blue laser, which when powered to the max essentially ensured nothing aside from the final couple bosses could hold out for more than a scant few seconds under my attack. However, considering that a couple levels were a bit claustrophobic, with me having to maneuver around walls and other obstacles, the green ninja stars, which were far less concentrated, but covered much more of the screen, could come in handy, as well.

There are a lot of stages in this game, each ending with a battle against some giant robot, many of which are controlled by those anti-Oda warlords. Occasionally, a voice-acted cutscene (another advantage of the CD technology) will run to push the plot forward, but those aren't the only impressive thing about Robo Aleste.

The stages are varied and loaded with neat effects. When you finally reach the alternate dimension, there's just some crazy swirling stuff going on in the background to reflect the foreign nature of Kage's new surroundings. A bit before this, you'll fly by a lot of surveillance lights with sirens blaring, leading you to believe something big is coming up -- and it is, as you'll soon find yourself in maze-like ruins which eventually lead to a temple with the rebellion's leader. Even earlier, while flying by snow-covered mountains, avalanches occasionally happen to provide another hazard. After a few wide-open levels where you can fly all over the screen with nothing to worry about besides enemies and those avalanches, you'll reach an underground cave where you will have to move through twisting paths. While running into walls isn't fatal, getting scrolled off the screen by one because you got caught behind it is.

Meanwhile, the control is tight and death doesn't have to be horribly punishing, as you'll be able to recover your special weapon to at least have some attacking power instead of starting a new life with nothing but a tiny, barely functional, amount of firepower. Since there aren't checkpoints here, meaning that if a tough boss blasted you, you'll start back up in the midst of combat with it, this is a very good thing.

Maybe it's just the fact that I've reviewed not only a number of Aleste games in the past, as well as a few others attached to the Compile name, but it's difficult to say much more about this one. Over the years I've been reviewing games, I've seen a lot of shooters. Robo Aleste differs from the pack in that it is one that should be experienced instead of read about, as words simply do not do it justice. If I were to attempt to single out a couple of flaws, I guess I could mention about how the difficulty level of a late-game boss or two seemed much higher than the rest of the game, or how it was a bit unsatisfactory to have the final boss fight be followed by a pretty big plot twist, which was then immediately resolved via cinema.

But those minor issues didn't do anything to dilute my good times with this game. It was simply too much fun blasting through its many levels and the B-movie-loving part of my brain ate up the plot and wanted even more insanity (assuming that would even be possible). While I admit I haven't played every single shooter of the retro two-dimensional era, from the many titles I have seen, this ranks at the top of the mountain. So stop reading about Robo Aleste and find a way to play it. It's more than worth the time and effort.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 16, 2014)

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

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