"Call me psychotic (and not in the lovable Of Mice and Men way) but in my eyes, nothing gets me into the Christmas spirit quite like the opportunity to have a blast exterminating an entire civilization. I mean, the mere thought of climbing into some freak of technological nature, jetting into the far reaches of the galaxy and blasting everything stupid enough to even contemplate motion is enough to make me jollier than old St. Nick. "
Call me psychotic (and not in the lovable Of Mice and Men way) but in my eyes, nothing gets me into the Christmas spirit quite like the opportunity to have a blast exterminating an entire civilization. I mean, the mere thought of climbing into some freak of technological nature, jetting into the far reaches of the galaxy and blasting everything stupid enough to even contemplate motion is enough to make me jollier than old St. Nick.
So, let me just offer my deepest and most sincere thanks to Hudson Soft -- for with their 1991 Turbografx-16 vertical shooter Super Star Soldier, they instilled enough happy thoughts, goodwill and other assorted crap into me to keep me on a high for an eternity of holidays.
That excellence was a pleasant surprise for me, as Iíd played the original Star Soldier on the NES once -- and it wasnít much of an experience. I remember turning it on, making it to a boss, watching that foe run away after a strict time limit had expired -- and having to try my hand at it again. And there is the story of the shortest amount of time Iíve ever spent playing a game before permanently giving up on it.
So, as you can guess, my expectations werenít overly high for the first of Hudsonís three TG-16 efforts in the Star Soldier series. Tacking on a derivative plot involving you being the last line of defense against an evil brain-led army coming to steal Christmas (or take over the universe, but does anyone really care?), didnít exactly stimulate my imagination, either. With Vegas listing the over/under on my gaming session at five minutes, it seemed a sure bet that Iíd derive NO enjoyment from Super Star Soldier.
Boy, was I wrong....the only thing I can say about this game now is Super Star Soldiers ROCKS!
I was instantly hooked. Flying at warp speed through a beautifully-designed outer space scene, watching tiny ships appear on the screen only to immediately fall beneath my onslaught, I just knew this game would turn insane in a hurry. As the scenery slowed down, a few ships released power-up icons as brightly colored as Christmas lights. As they descended toward my ship, I got to experience my vesselís true power.
Tiny red bullets gave me multi-directional firing capacity, yellowish-orange fire scourged foes foolish enough to attempt a frontal assault and expanding blue bullets chipped away at virtually everything in front of me -- although they werenít that powerful. However, my favorite weapon was a green lightning laser, which could quickly be powered into a brutally efficient three-way spread of death.
Not that it was easy to keep this wonderful mode of attack at full strength. Super Star Soldier uses your weapon strength as sort of a life meter. Letís say you have your lightning laser maxed out and get hit. Youíll be reduced to the default version, which only shoots straight ahead. Get hit a couple more times and your ship will evaporate into nothingness, but if you can get a handful of the appropriate power-ups (three, to be exact), you can get your weapon back up to its maximum killing capacity.
To make it even more difficult to keep the RIGHT weapon equipped, you wonít have to simply dodge enemies -- youíll have to avoid other colors of power-ups. Moving from side-to-side as they float down the screen, it is far too easy to inadvertently run into an unwanted item while youíre also dealing with hordes of foes.
And believe me -- youíll have your hands more than full in attempting to dodge all the foes and other obstacles Super Star Soldier is willing to throw at you. Sure those first couple of stages may be pretty tame, but as the game goes on, the action gets more manic and frenetic, until mere survival seems an impossibility.
Dodging the lasers fired by cunningly-placed, indestructible turrets in the crystalline caverns of the fifth stage takes picture-perfect timing. Avoiding the inconveniently-placed walls while escaping the seventh levelís battleship takes not only great timing, but flawless pattern memorization. Doing any of these activities is hard enough on their own, but when you can count on a near-constant stream of foes of all shapes and sizes (seemingly everything but Santa's reindeer) swarming onto the screen from all angles and youíre in a bit of trouble.
So, pick up the charred pieces of your ship, take a deep breath and enter the fray once again. You wonít only be addicted by the gameís fast action, but also by the wonderful graphics and sounds. I loved most of this gameís music. The opening song hinted at a fast-paced action title and every subsequent tune only added to that promise. None of the songs get old, either. After a couple of action-paced minutes, just when the soundtrack seems to be getting stale -- it will change. Now, the midboss theme comes on as you watch and wait for your next challenge to materialize on the screen.
Some of those bosses show off this gameís amazing graphics. The fourth levelís robot is a huge machine that seems to have 101 ways to make you die. The scorpion at the end of the third level is a treat to behold, as its gun-tipped tail undulates like a charmed cobra while spitting lasers towards the bottom of the screen. Most impressive is the final opponent, a gigantic ship with no shortage of weapons OR forms, as it definitely has to capacity to improve on the fly. You can almost hear its controlling brain-like organism saying, ďOh, you think youíre hot stuff, do you? Well, letís see how you do against these big guns!Ē
Also showing off Hudson Softís graphical prowess are many of the actual levels. One thing Iím fond of complaining about in games of this nature is the lackluster job commonly done in creating an outer space look. So many games have lifeless black screens only interrupted by tiny dots that allegedly are stars. Not here, as the designers did a fabulous job of creating beautiful backdrops. While the aforementioned crystal cave looks wonderful, as does the third level's desert and volcanic regions, nothing can beat the fourth level's space backdrop. The gorgeous background scrolls by at a snail's pace -- with the exception of legions of tiny twinkling lights that zip by you rapidly. It all creates an illusion of depth and vastness that blew my mind away -- especially since I can't say I've ever seen it accomplished so wonderfully in any other game.
And moments like that are so commonplace and create such a wonderful atmosphere that I can forgive Hudson for their assorted failings in crafting this game. The second level is, to put it simply, B-O-R-I-N-G. To be honest, it looks completely out of place. Seven of the eight levels have you going to fantastic places to battle out-of-this-world foes, but in that second level, youíre traveling over a forest, base and ocean that could have been ripped from Raiden, Tiger Heli or any other military shooter. Not improving matters is that levelís boss --†a water vessel of some sort that is completely devoid of personality.
And thatís not the only bland boss. While, as Iíve described, a few of this gameís major encounters are wonderfully designed, there also are a ton of boring fights. To be honest, there is no middle ground here -- bosses are either awesome or lame in design. After fighting the fourth levelís beautiful robot, you get stuck against such less-than-memorable foes as a jellyfish that turns into a snake (not as cool as it may sound), a small ship with a ring of orbs spinning around it and two tiny metallic spiders. Those foes arenít exactly thrilling climaxes to difficult and manic levels in my opinion.
The memorable moments far outweigh those flaws, though. It didnít take many minutes of playing for me to figure out that Super Star Soldier was one of the highlights of my shooter collection. While Christmas only comes once a year, the opportunity to partake in a game such as this is present every day. And thatís reason enough to put me in the holiday spirit for the entire year.
Community review by overdrive (December 27, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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