"To truly succeed, to inspire awe and admiration, a shooter needs more than lots of things to shoot at. It needs depth, and it needs heart — fortunately, Spriggan delivers both."
For a shooter to succeed, for a shooter to really get my blood boiling and stimulate the sweat glands, it needs... well, for one, it needs lots of things to shoot at.
Seems rather obvious, doesn't it? Sadly, that's something even the better 16-bit developers occasionally forgot. Space Megaforce's space station "impressively" spins and scales away into the untouchable distance as the player bides his time -- time that would have been better spent tearing the stellar behemoth apart. Too few enemies provide me too many minutes to "admire" the drab brown fields of M.U.S.H.A.'s fifth level.
As each entrant into 1991's Summer Carnival shooting competition discovered, Spriggan's score attack doesn't spare even a second for time-biding or idle admiration. That's because the game only lasts two minutes. Two minutes to take on a legion of futuristic necromancers, segmented dragons, and soaring skulls, all while searching for hidden "sweet spots" that add thousands of points when uncovered. A lot happens in those two minutes, because Spriggan is fast. Faster than Toaplan's venerable legends, and faster than modern manic shooters. The screen may not be lathered in bullets, but those projectiles friggin' fly.
Due to its difficulty and depth of play, this two-minute barrage of power went down in shooter history as one of the greatest scoring trials ever created, and several of its (then-unique) concepts are mirrored in more modern titles. Some enemies launch missiles that can be destroyed for additional points; therefore, it's advantageous to intentionally let those opponents live. Unearthing consecutive "sweet spots" invokes a point multiplier; while one is worth 1000 points, the next may be worth 2000. And, of course, there's a boss to be defeated. With a ridiculously fast pace and constant opposition, it's not a challenge that's easily mastered -- scores can range from a mere ten thousand to a manly 850 thousand.
When this two-minute shooter was released for the PC Engine, famed developer Compile saw fit to add a full, seven-stage game to the disc... which lasts quite a bit longer than two minutes. (Sadly, Alzadick '92 did not receive similar treatment.) Thus, Spriggan exploded from a brief burst of scoring bliss into an epic intergalactic war.
In dramatic space opera style, the known universe has been conquered by an evil warlord who commands an armada of mechanized warships and an army of technomages. You control the mighty Spriggan suit -- with its toothy grin and horned head, it looks like a fearsome (and burly) Evangelion. Keeping with the score attack's level of quality, "dead spots" -- stretches of scenery bereft of opposition -- simply do not exist. At one point, after diving through a waterfall populated by mechanical piranhas and delving into a smoky underground tunnel infested by exploding fungi, an enormous worm burrows through the surrounding limestone. Its goal is to swallow your mobile suit whole. No surprise there. After dozens of shots to its head, the worm will perish, but don't dare rest or take a breath... because FOUR MORE are about to burst through the tunnel walls!
No, Spriggan is not an easy game. Fortunately, instead of the four or five weapons most 16-bit shooters provide, this game offers an arsenal of over twenty, acquired through an inventive "mix and match" system that not only surpassed Gunstar Heroes' similar concept, but predated it by two years.
Spriggan's creativity does not end with its score attack and weaponry. People on the ground run from monsters, villains speak to you through enormous video monitors, and allies actually fight by your side. As your Spriggan descends into the first level's cloudy city -- a gorgeous cityscape, I might add -- a computer-controlled friend will come to your aid. He'll soon die a horrendous death. Throughout your quest, other allies will drop in from time to time to offer assistance. They, too, will die horrendous deaths.
These allies aren't very bright; they're terrible at dodging enemy fire, and they take too many chances. That's fine. I don't expect my allies to be intelligent. This is my quest, my battle, my time to shine. I don't want computer-controlled partners to steal my glory. So, when they're shot down by incoming fire, I don't mourn. I smile. I smile because, unlike other games in the genre that would simply set me out alone, on my own, Compile has given me companions whose very presence makes the adventure feel like a battle, and whose deaths make the battle feel like an unforgiving slaughter.
Eventually, the friends stop coming. From that moment on, you fight alone; upon reaching the dark lord's lair, the reason for your solitude is evident. Broken bodies of past Spriggan heroes, dozens of broken bodies, lie scattered and sprawled across the palace floor. All who have come before have perished. With dramatic strength, the grim realization sets in: you are the world's last hope. You know this not because of a paragraph of text in an instruction manual, but because the game demonstrates that you are the world's last hope.
To truly succeed, to really get my blood boiling, a shooter needs more than lots of things to shoot at. It needs depth, and it needs heart -- fortunately, Spriggan delivers both.
Staff review by Zigfried (July 25, 2007)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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