Star Soldier (PSP) review
"Over the years, games have taught us many things, little lessons as relevant to the real world as they are to the virtual. First person shooters for instance, have demonstrated the importance of gun control while Grand Theft Auto's message was simply, don't forget to lock your car. The old school shooter on the other hand, made a single, solitary point: never, under any circumstances, are you to trust the Giant Space Brain. NEVER!"
Over the years, games have taught us many things, little lessons as relevant to the real world as they are to the virtual. First person shooters for instance, have demonstrated the importance of gun control while Grand Theft Auto's message was simply, don't forget to lock your car. The old school shooter on the other hand, made a single, solitary point: never, under any circumstances, are you to trust the Giant Space Brain. NEVER! A clear message that's been driven home across Star Soldier's wonderfully fluid, 10 stage challenge. That's right people, aliens are on the move again, and all that stands in their way is a daring pilot, three ships, and yourself... GAME ON!
Lets do the time warp again...
Looking at the box, it's hard to feel excited about HudsonSoft's latest Star Soldier remake. Some bland artwork and a claim that it's "based on the hit, 1986 shooter" seem like an omen of sorts, a none too subtle hint as to the title's quick-to-market sensibilities. Apparently though, I was wrong yet again, and there's a perfectly valid reason for this shooter's incredible longevity. We're talking plain and simple, old school charm. Forget the disaster-rific Nintendo 64 update for a moment, Star Soldier PSP has stayed remarkably close to the original. You'll still dodge firepower and shoot down some bad guys, the difference being a single gimmick that's every bit a classic as the game it's based upon.
Before we get too carried away however, we should probably get our heads (or is that our hands?) around Star Soldier's noteworthy presentation. As the PSP's first vertically scrolling shoot'em up, its morbidly intense action stood a chance of feeling confined on the unit's widescreen display. So what did HudsonSoft do? Simple! They asked players to turn their screens 90 degrees to the right, essentially doubling the play-field and delivering the world's first, portable Tate experience. Neat hey? The directional pad is held close to the player's chest while the all important "death and destruction" buttons are located across the top of unit. Yes it's unorthodox, and yes it's probably a gimmick, but given a chance players may be surprised at how incredibly natural it becomes.
With the basics behind us, we return our attention to Star Soldier's classic gameplay. Like its predecessors, the PSP update does things a little differently, ie. a complete absence of smart bombs and speed-ups. Delve deeper than that however, and you begin to notice the little things. Small design choices that have an enormous impact on the way you approach the game. Upgrading you ship's firepower serves two purposes, one of which has nothing to do with delivering mankind from the evil Giant Space Brain. You see, each successive power-up not only adds to your chosen vessel's manliness, but provides an extra layer of shielding between you and them. Suffer a direct hit and your weapons are rolled back a level, take too many and your crusade is cut short. Simple, elegant game design at its very best.
What surprises the most however, is the way enemy bullets can be soaked up with your ship's secondary fire mode. Just perfect for getting through those boss encounters unscathed! As the full, vertical length of the screen comes alive with activity, these fire modes deliver a concentrated blast of defensive energy to anything within your immediate vicinity. And it's with this sort of protection behind them that players will charge into the fray, jinxing left and right through thick and thin, feeling every near brush and loving it even more.
Of course, this being a remake, you can expect nothing but the finest in next-gen, portable visuals. Explosions tear into the screen with quasi 3D effects, throwing out concussive rings of circular energy with each downed opponent. You ship's own firepower packs a similarly impressive punch as the three basic weapon configurations offer players some much needed variety. Fully powered up, the genre stereotypes they represent feel as meaty as you might expect, ripping through your opposition with much brute gusto and force. Further complimenting all this are some well designed enemy units, albeit only the bosses have received the full, 3D makeover. But then again, who cares? With so much happening on screen, and an almost complete absence of slowdown, you'll probably be too preoccupied to notice. Star Soldier resembles the original yet feels next-gen, what more could you possibly want?
Unlockable game modes? Check!
An increased difficulty on the second play through? Check!
The option to blow the credit sequence apart and further push your score skywards? What else did you expect, check!
Looking back on Star Soldier, I'm glad I gave it a chance. What could have been the world's most stupid gimmick has opened my eyes, offering a wealth of potential for other developers to capitalize on. If HudsonSoft's bizarre take on the Tate mode can work here, imagine what it might do for the genre's other forgotten classics. Certainly, the prospect of a new future for gaming's most ignored sub-genre demands to be explored, and here's a game that'll set you up to do so. Star Soldier's stiff challenge and almost, break-neck speed came as a welcome change of pace for my PSP, as did its thunderous guitar rifts and assorted power-chords. A show of support right now can only be a good thing for the genre, and you'll be getting one hell of a shooter in the process...
Shoot'em up veterans may insert saliva * here *
* Star Soldier PSP feels exactly like the original, only better
* With 3 ships to choose from, there's a weapon configuration for almost everyone
* The 10 stage challenge is impressive
* HudsonSoft's bizarre Tate mode works a treat
* The controls remarkably well implemented
* Secondary weapons provide the much needed technique
* The updated visuals have done the original proud
* Star Soldier's soundtrack is equal portions non-offensive and energizing
* The unlockable extras are actually interesting
* Giant Space Brains
* The game's speed may be threatening for beginners
Staff review by Michael Scott (September 24, 2005)
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