"When you consider Silpheed: The Lost Planet, it'll never reminds you of a limping, cigar-smoking gopher. Nor will it make you tap dance on the table. There are a lot of things Silpheed won't remind you of, a lot of things it won't make you do. But if you're a casual shooter fan, it will remind you of the fun shooters from days of old, and it will make you grin."
When you consider Silpheed: The Lost Planet, it'll never reminds you of a limping, cigar-smoking gopher. Nor will it make you tap dance on the table. There are a lot of things Silpheed won't remind you of, a lot of things it won't make you do. But if you're a casual shooter fan, it will remind you of the fun shooters from days of old, and it will make you grin.
It's not hard to look around the Internet and find people who say otherwise. They'll criticize the game for not having enough depth, for being repetitive, for being too simple, and for being all flash and no substance. But if this is the bed Silpheed makes for others, it's one I'll sleep in just the same.
The first thing most anyone will notice when playing this game is that it really is 'all flash.' There are absolutely beautiful, pre-rendered sequences that show a ship exploring the vast reaches of space when it flies past hulking asteroids adrift in the black expanse. Suddenly, the pilot screams. Alien tentacles break from the surface and bullets turn the pilot's ship into a ball of flame. An invasion has begun. Though none of this couldn't have been told in a few lines of in-game text, the developers went the difficult route and showed it all transpiring. Flashy.
And the flash continues throughout the game, extending beyond the FMV scenes to the game itself. As you fly over the planet's surface, you'll witness a boiling lava flow that undulates beneath you in a truly pleasing fashion. You'll dodge between collapsing buildings, follow a shaft where tentacles writhe to your left, to your right, and beneath you. Though Silpheed is most easily classified as a vertical shooter, there are frequent moments where the whirling camera and high production values make the label seem unfairly simplistic. There's no denying this game has flash oozing out its pores.
But what about substance? With so many people complaining that this game is shallow, the experience must be hollow, right? Not for me.
One of the things people gripe about after playing Silpheed is its weapons system. If the game has a gimmick, this is it. When you first begin a given stage, you are asked to choose from any available weapons. You can mount one on the ship's left side, and another on its right. In the first stage, you have only two choices: the straight-forward vulcan shot, or a variant that fires shots to the diagonal left and right. Complete a stage and you will gain a laser shot, and also napalm that branches off in angles from your side. And so it goes, as you gain a weapon or two for each area conquered. The weapons are both the game's blessing and its curse.
On the one hand, you have a neat system where you can choose to fire the left gun, the right gun, or both. In this manner, you can strategize. My favorite technique is to equip both sides with napalm, then set them so they alternate well enough that it's like I have rapid-fire napalm. This way, I have fairly steady firepower leaving my ship and it's difficult for enemies to rush me from the sides while I'm waiting for another shot of napalm to release. But some levels force other tactics. If you know the boss at the end only falls to straight-forward shots, you might want to take along the vulcan or the number seven. Splitting things up so you fire peripheral shots from one cannon and beams from the other will weaken your ship's performance in both areas, so you really have to decide what approach will work best for a given stage.
Of course, critics will point out that any points the game may gain for this aspect are cancelled out by the disappointing fact that the weapons are either all too similar, or next to useless. The wipe beam, for example, seems destined to leave you exposed to enemy fire no matter how you use it. The energy ball that you get as your final weapon seems absolutely worthless, and most of the other items are just variants of the vulcan. Late in the game, I was still relying mostly on napalm to beat the bosses.
There's another reason to use the napalm: it's custom-tailored for destruction and for high scores. Like many shooters, Silpheed caters to those who wet their pants at the sight of a ranking system. It's hand-wired right into the gameplay, in fact. Shoot an enemy vessel from a distance and your score climbs. Zip in and strike from a centimeter away and you'll multiply the bonus by eight, or by sixteen if you get even closer. You're rewarded for playing dangerously.
Better yet, the health system in place means that you have some room to make risks (within reason). Rather than going down with one hit, your ship can take nine hits before the tenth turns it to scrap metal. This is indicated by the meter to the screen's upper right, which has five slots. Each hit you take removes one slot, and losing five slots presents a meter of a different color so you know you're halfway dead. Because the stages can sometimes drag on for a lengthy period of time, you'll probably be keeping an eye on your meter at more hectic moments.
Also worth noting is the supply ship. It makes an appearance around halfway through any stage, and you can dock with it to recover four slots on your life meter. Equally importantly, you will be asked to choose your weapons for the remainder of the stage, in case one combination was more useful for the first half than it is for the second. Though I typically use the same weapons set for a complete stage, the ability to change configuration on the fly is definitely appreciated.
Another thing I appreciate are the boss battles. They tend to be the game's most enjoyable aspect. A typical foe has a rather detailed pattern, and it won't just stick to one attack for the duration of the battle. The boss of the fifth stage is an excellent example. When it first appears, you'll be in a narrow chamber between its outer limbs, forced to position yourself so its shots wrap around you. As the beast descends, you must counter with your own shots and move to avoid letting its massive weight crush you. When you hit it with enough shots, it will then lose those arms and fly helter-skelter around the screen, dropping explosive orbs. Follow along and it will switch tactics, resorting to worm-like balls of red slime that hunt you down before reverting to the aura. Most any boss in the game goes through similar theatrics, which will keep you on your toes until you're familiar with the strategy that works best. Then, of course, most bosses will go through their patterns more rapidly as you pelt them with enough bullets to leave a battlefield littered with copper.
Cool bosses, killer visuals and a neat weapons system only take a game so far, though, and it's here that you have to make up your mind about just what you look for in a shooter. Unfortunately, those who adore a challenge aren't going to get much from Silpheed. The first stage is a total breeze even if you don't know what you're doing. The second one gave me trouble for awhile, until I learned how to take advantage of the two-cannon weapon system. The third one presents more of a challenge with rotating towers sending out bullets and robots (and a tough boss encounter at the end), while the fourth stage is a total piece of cake. Then there's the fifth area, complete with asteroid fields and off-screen lasers that pelt the battlefield, before you go to the sixth stage and fly through a massive cavern while aliens squirm all over the place. Truly, the only real challenge begins around here, as the game starts giving the monsters tougher armor. Even that won't keep shooter veterans satisfied for long, though, which makes one thing pretty obvious: Silpheed was developed for the wusses among us.
Fortunately for me, I'm a total wuss. I was quite satisfied with the game's default setting, and there's even a 'Difficult' level for those of you who aren't. Add that to the amazingly atmospheric visuals and fun boss battles and Silpheed: The Lost Planet is just the sort of shooter I like. For the rest of you, it should be just the ticket for a weekend rental.
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 02, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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