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U.N. Squadron (SNES) artwork

U.N. Squadron (SNES) review


"The graphics are amazingly close to the arcade version. The sunsets burn brightly in our eyes, the enemy bases built up in caverns and mountain walls are detailed and atmospheric. Thunderous tracks work hard at making us feel the urgency in our mission, but admittedly, after leaving the game, you’ll be hard pressed to hum a single tune. Our mission is challenging, even on the easy difficulty level, and the limited slowdown is certainly a welcome thing in a Super NES shooter. UN Squadron is a mostly brilliant conversion of an engaging arcade shooting experience. Mostly. "



Look out guys, stopping my fire is like blowing out the sun!

What a one-liner! That's you talking, after you beat up on one of the levels of the sidescrolling arcade shooter, UN Squadron, but it could just as easily been the game personified, talking itself up. And it deserves the praise.

UN Squadron is based on that little seen (by people I know anyway) anime series featuring the exploits of a mercenary group whose training grounds are known as Area 88, hence the game’s Japanese title. I don’t know why they changed the name; that one sounded better, and was surely more appropriate. What does the United Nations have to do with anything? These guys are practicing guerilla warfare in the air, killing for the sole purpose of buying themselves out of service. Ah, but at least the game is good. Not good, but great. The problems with Area 88 are really quite few, though they are irritating enough to dock off a full two marks from its still solid score. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Play the role of Shin Kazama, the fiery protagonist of the anime series, or Mickey Simon, the Roy Fokker look-alike, or Greg Gates, the thick-mustached veteran who loves pain. Shin is the fastest to learn weapons, they tell us. What this means to the player, is that Shin is not your logical choice. His main gun gets powered up sooner than the others, but you’ll see later on, when it matters, when any of the guys would be powered up in the thick of things, that you’d have been better off with the strengths of either of the other two on your side. Mickey carries the most auxiliary weapons; bombs, missiles and the like, and this is truly a useful benefit.

Perhaps even more applicable to the hairy situations you will face, is the fast recovery time of Greg Gates. UN Squadron is one of the rare 2-D shooter breed where you have a vitality bar on your side. Take a hit, and your vitality bar will drop. However, before that actually happens, there is a sliver of time where your ship will wheeze and blink and flame showing the damage it’s taken. During that time if you absorb any more damage, you’re dead, whether or not you have three quarters of your vitality remaining. Greg’s window of vulnerability is far slimmer than that of the other two pilots, and that benefit, a result of his experience we are told, is simply indispensable.

The graphics are amazingly close to the arcade version. The sunsets burn brightly in our eyes, the enemy bases built up in caverns and mountain walls are detailed and atmospheric. Thunderous tracks work hard at making us feel the urgency in our mission, but admittedly, after leaving the game, you’ll be hard pressed to hum a single tune. Our mission is challenging, even on the easy difficulty level, and the limited slowdown is certainly a welcome thing in a Super NES shooter. UN Squadron is a mostly brilliant conversion of an engaging arcade shooting experience. Mostly.

The most obvious concern is the lack of the two-player simultaneous mode from the coin-op mission. Why was this omitted? It seems unfair to me, a Super NES owner and shooter fan, that I am given the chance to play with a partner in the far inferior Darius Twin for the same system, and am deprived of the same in this quality production. Beyond this, there is another irksome, and once again, inexplicable negative in this game filled with positives. Holding down the fire button will produce, like most shooters, a steady stream of gunfire from your plane. That is, until it stops. I don’t mean an interrupt between streams, like the kind you might experience in a Gradius game. In UN Squadron, the stream of fire stops after a few seconds, abruptly, ceasing to begin again until you release the fire button, and depress it again. You could pound the button like you would in the arcade version, but the stream the game produces for you is more rapid. Thus, you are left with an awkward compromise, where you hit the button, count away to yourself a few seconds, and hit it again. This, you must keep up for the duration of the ten level marathon, when a simple auto fire feature would have been all too easy to implement.

These concerns irk me, because of their needless appearance in such a polished game. However, the real problem, is worthy of more serious attention. As you fight your way through missions capped off with a Wolverine tank, a Stealth Bomber, a trio of F-117 Stealth Fighters, the “Seavet” submarine, the “Minks” battleship, a forest fortress, a ground carrier, and finally the massively disproportionate but always cool SR71 Blackbird, you will enjoy success with your initial plane, the Crusader. Initial, because you have a choice of eight different aircraft on your mission. But they all cost money, and lots of it. Clearing a stage earns you money, and there are ‘bonus levels’ called “Quartermaster Corps” (represented on your little target map by ever-spawning little jeeps) that consist solely of you strafing a cluster of defenseless and feeble ground units, where money can also be made.

Now, the average player might earn enough money after a few levels, for the second plane, and feel a natural compulsion to upgrade. Don’t. The final two stages are on another level entirely from the previous eight when it comes to sheer difficulty. Mission nine, which takes place inside a mountain, I like to call The Mountains of Madness, with a nod to H.P. Lovecraft for the name. The boss is simply hell crawling on a cave ceiling, and is very R-Type like. The timing that you must employ to hit his glowing weak spot (more R-Type!) is near inhuman, as ground units erect pillars of flame that rise like fingers to clasp you in their fiery grasp. But that isn’t the problem.

Here is the problem. The aforementioned weak spot can only be hit with two specific weapons, that can only be carried by two specific ships (of which only the YF23 is affordable). Of course, you have no way of knowing this going in. So if you’ve spent your good money all along, upgrading your ship with sound role-playing game mentality, when level nine comes along, your day is finished. This is beyond annoying, this is a serious flaw in design that can really ruin one’s experience with the game.

The fastest, most efficient way through UN Squadron, is to use the Crusader to beat the first six or seven levels before buying the YF23 at a lofty $500 000. Once again, don’t be fooled into thinking you can buy every ship that comes along--there’s simply not enough capital to be made. It would take replaying levels and taking on countless “Quartermaster Corps” to earn enough to say, buy the A10 Thunderbolt2 (perfect for taking out ground targets, making the middle levels much easier) and then the YF, or to go from your Crusader right to the all-capable and exorbitantly priced million dollar F200. Those courses of spending action would make the game play a lot smoother, but woe is we.

In the end, UN Squadron is still brilliant, still a very challenging, fast-paced shooter, where some forethought has to be exercised before each and every level as to what plane to use, and what auxiliary weapon load to carry (not to mention the initial decision as to what pilot to select). The game requires you to plan, as well as react to screen-crowding bullets, and that makes it special, and creates room for eventful replays. Just be wary of the need to have the YF23 later in the mission, and your experience will begin with admiration of sights and sounds, parlay into sweaty fingers, and end with triumphant fist-pumping. See you at Area 88.

The fighting in this area is ferocious!

Rating: 8/10

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 13, 2004)

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