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Shadow Squadron (Sega 32X) artwork

Shadow Squadron (Sega 32X) review

"Much like space: a lot of fun to explore, but lacks atmosphere."

It all started with Star Wars. In the few fleeting moments before Sega abandoned the 32X, they decided what they really needed was a big launch title. In between the arcade ports, awful Digital Pictures rerereleases and a really dodgy Doom, was Star Wars Arcade, which everyone agreed was a reasonably good time. It was a polygon-built rails shooter that let you jump in an X or Y Wing and dogfight Tie Fighters and other Lucas staples. As a showcase for how the 32X was able to out-muscle its 16bit foundations, it was a success, favourably producing graphics a considerable step up from previous polygon shooter pioneer Starwing. But the game was limited; it had a short run time at only three missions and the decision to make it a rails shooter made it a much more rigid affair than expected. It could have been more; it should have been more Ė and half a year later when Sega released Shadow Squadron, it was more.

Shadow Squadron is blatantly the game that Star Wars Arcade should have been and, had it been dressed up in that license, resplendent in all the finery that would have borne, then perhaps it would have got a little bit of the credit it deserves. But rather than thrust you into an iconic rebel fighter to shoot lasers at Vader & Co, itís forced to dress itself up in shooter clichť. So, youíre rookie pilot, fresh out of the academy and, as such, itís up to you to wage a one man war against some vaguely defined evil space empire. Thereís six missions, and youíll either do them all in one playthrough, or you wonít do them at all!

I think itís fair to speculate that the foundations for this being a Star Wars game are pretty plainly out there. Shadow Squadron allows you to choose between two very different ships with unique perks which set them apart in a spectacularly similar fashion to the way an X and Y Wing are often represented. The X first craft is more frenzied; smaller, faster; the Y other sturdier, built with a sense of attrition. For example, it has a fixed energy supply you need to nurse throughout the entire six mission run that powers everything from shields to heavy weapons. The smaller ship also has a finite energy supply, but owns a much smaller reserve. It needs to dock and refuel between missions.

The second ship even replicates the Y Wingís twin-cockpit build, either letting one player act as a pilot and the other take up the gunnerís pod, or turning on an AI autopilot, transforming the game into a rail gunner while you focus on blowing everything up. You could do this, but it would mean sacrificing Squadronís greatest achievement; the sense of roaming freedom offered to you. It was something that consoles had proven pretty bloody inadequate at covering before, confining themselves (with, I should add, no small amount of glorious success) to 2D scrolling shooters almost uniformly. Sure, haphazard attempts at 3D roaming shooters had been attempted on consoles before, but not until Shadow Squadron had they been able to come anywhere near replicating the effortless labours of the likes of Wing Commander or Lucasartsí own space shooters smugging it up on the PC.

In a lot of ways, it still lagged behind those titles; expensive little add on or no, it was a hell of an ask to expect the gamey little Mega Drive to ever match PC specs, but the ways it handles those limitations often provides highlights. There are no set-ups to dog-fighting chaos; no routine patrols or plodding investigations trying to introduce suspense or plot to wade through; youíre simply pointed at deep space battlefields and expected to blow shit up. And while these are awash with enemy fighters your own size, you may as well just label them pests. There are, for example, capital class dreadnaughts pelting you with missiles from afar. You can take out their numerous turrets one by one, if you want, reducing them to lumbering target practise, or you can make a series of daring runs, destroying vital components until they slowly break apart and explode. All the while, having to use afterburners, special weapons and lock-on lasers sparingly lest you exhaust your power supply and leave yourself dead in the water. A successful run through all six missions will only take you around an hour, but finding that right balance of skill, cunning and patience comes with time and practise.

Itís a worthwhile endeavour. I thought Iíd long run out of the small library of surprises the 32X had hidden away in obscurity, but I instead found something that made even early attempts at 32bit 3D shooting look entirely lacking. Shadow Squadron probably deserved better than to be a forgotten standout on a failed hardware experiment, but it became that anyway. But it manages to elevate itself above the status of interesting technological footnote; itís an unpretentious no-frills space blaster that requires the player to have more about them than bloodlust and decent twitch reflexes. Itís been an unexpected but greatly appreciated oasis in my gruelling slog through the catalogue of a long dead system.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (January 13, 2019)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Masters posted January 14, 2019:

Very nice review, Gary. Of course, the best part about it was the well-deserved Bloomer shout out. Anyway, some thoughts for nit-picky improvements:

"...awful Digital Pictures rerereleases and a really dodgy Doom, was Star Wars Arcade,"

I think there's an extra "re" in there, and also it might help the sentence to have a word after "Doom," like "title" or something along those lines.

Again, sweet review. You might well be in the running for RotW if Joe deems you worthy.
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EmP posted January 14, 2019:

Rererelease is on purpose. It'e a rerelease of a rerelease.


The X and Y are struck through in the next bit. It might be that striking through a single character doesn't make that obvious enough. I'll play around with it. The rest are fair suggestions. I'll edit it as soon as my head is in the right place.

Thanks for reading! Not a lot of these left, now.

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