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Strike Gunner: S.T.G. (SNES) artwork

Strike Gunner: S.T.G. (SNES) review

"The only question is: would a player want to go back through this one to tinker with the difficulty and experiment with each weapon in different levels to find the perfect combination? I didn't. While I really liked some of the concepts present in Strike Gunner, I found myself wishing they'd been placed in a better game."

I like to consider myself a gaming nomad, switching from one genre to the next on pure whim. Just a few days ago, I was all into Zelda-style adventures and first-person shooters, but all of a sudden, a light bulb shorted out in my head and I decided it was time to play a couple of retro shooters for a change of pace. Which led to me playing Strike Gunner: S.T.G., a 1992 SNES port of some arcade game.

A vertically scrolling game, Strike Gunner is one of those shooters that just didn't quite have what it took to satisfy me. While a couple boss fights were pretty intense, way too much of the game's eight stages just seemed to meander by at a snail's pace, while the regular waves of enemies were predictable in their movements and, in general, non-threatening. While some of the background graphics did look quite nice by early SNES standards, the overall lack of variety in them just added to the tedium. When most stages are fairly lengthy and scroll by slowly, getting nearly two full levels of flying over a forest and even more time spent meandering through (essentially) the same outer space design is about enough to cure insomnia.

It doesn't help that the first seven levels all follow the same pattern. You'll be flying along, blasting the everloving crap out of wave after wave of helicopters and other airborne devices (replaced by spaceships in latter levels) and occasionally a few trucks or boats. Every once in a while, bigger vehicles come at you with better weaponry, but don't take enough damage to really be considered minibosses -- more like enhanced cannon fodder. And then, after quite some time of this, you fight the level's boss and move on to the next challenge.

The eighth level's different, but not in a good way. After FINALLY overcoming the brutal seventh boss, you spend nearly all of this level attempting to navigate narrow corridors at a high speed before blowing up some circular thing (with only a few shots) and, immediately thereafter, watching the credits roll. Bizarre, especially since none of the first seven levels had any hazards to them other than enemies and their projectiles. I definitely wasn't expecting to have to sprint through enclosed areas at a high rate of speed while making split-second decisions to avoid smacking a wall. This level just felt out of place and, to me, the game's play control and/or engine just didn't seem designed for this sort of thing.

It's really too bad that so much of this game was mediocre and forgettable, though, as some aspects were pretty neat. A couple of the boss fights were pretty fun battles, with my favorite being the big laser-toting spaceship at the end of the fifth level. By itself, this fellow wouldn't be much of a challenge, as all it does is try to point its turret for a lucky shot. However, on the top and bottom of the screen, an infinite number of little pods stream onto the screen, making things a bit more claustrophobic. Making things worse, these little buggers sporadically send lasers your way. Now, if you focus on the big kahuna, odds are one of the little guys will take you out. But if you worry too much about their random shots, it's easy to blunder right into the main adversary's line of fire.

And Strike Gunner handles optional weapons in an innovative way I wish more shooters would implement. At the beginning of each level, players can pick one of a dozen or so different weapons to go with the standard pea-shooter (which can be improved to a more powerful pea-shooter). On the side of the screen, there is a meter, which is depleted by using the extra weapon (and can be refilled by snagging certain power-ups). Some weapons take off a good chunk of the meter per use (but are deadly in combat), while less-powerful ones barely scratch it. Oh -- and after using a weapon in one level, it can't be used again during that playthrough, which puts an element of strategy into this game. For example, a particular sonic weapon might not be THAT damaging, but using it eliminates all bullets from the screen -- which is a godsend at times against the seventh level's boss. On the other hand, certain powerful missiles can make short work out of a number of the game's more deadly foes. I found this to be a very nice system that gave a less-than-inspiring game a bit of needed depth.

I also have to congratulate developers Athena for making the difficulty level of this game more customizable than many console shooters. There are a total of four difficulty levels and players can give themselves anywhere from one to nine bonus lives, which definitely gives this game a good deal of replay value.

The only question is: would a player want to go back through this one to tinker with the difficulty and experiment with each weapon in different levels to find the perfect combination? I didn't. While I really liked some of the concepts present in Strike Gunner, I found myself wishing they'd been placed in a better game. Without the weapon system and customizable difficulty, this is a bland game plagued by repetitive graphics and boring gameplay. And adding a few cool things to a poor game tends to only improve the total product by a finite amount. It might be worth an afternoon of a shooter fan's time just to experience those elements, but overall, that's about as much of a recommendation as it's worth.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 26, 2008)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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Masters posted July 03, 2008:

Great review as usual Rob. I love reading about old shmups, and you're the man as far as those are concerned. I especially liked the paragraph dealing with the fifth boss, and the challenges it presented. I was a bit confused with the bit early on describing the seventh level boss as BRUTAL. That means brutally hard, right? (I'm easily confused, I realize this.) If so, that's particularly notable, given the fact that the rest of the game seems a snoozefest.
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overdrive posted July 03, 2008:

It was typed with the intent of being brutally difficult, but after reading your post, I could make a bit of a case for brutally tedious, as well. It's this huge ship that just goes crazy with flooding the screen with bullets and fireballs. You can knock a couple parts off (like the wings which are just spewing bullets all over the place) and eventually get left with the center part, which gives you a five-way spread of fireballs, occasional 3-way bullets and regularly drops big bullets which explode into a multi-directional (6 or 8-way) shot. The thing is, this center part takes FOREVER to kill. So you'll have 4-5-6 waves of it leaving the screen, coming back on, fighting you for awhile, leaving again and doing the same thing over and over.

Utterly insane fight that I would have loved, but it just dragged on and on.
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Masters posted July 04, 2008:

That sounds particularly dumb when the actual levels are so vapid. It's so hard to get shooters right.

Ruder is gonna be mad at me for saying it, but even one of my all-time favs, Blazing Lazers, has some fairly weak bits in levels where nothing much is happening. Then, out of the blue, Level 5, 8, and especially 9 are tough by comparison.
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Masters posted July 04, 2008:

Anyway, the point was, great review. ^_^
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Felix_Arabia posted July 04, 2008:

Masters, you should use this incriminating evidence against Ruder should he decide go against what you just said.

Edit: Nice review, OD!
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Masters posted July 04, 2008:

Haha, good find Felix. I knew he felt that way too, but I'm surprised to find that it was down somewhere in black and white.
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EmP posted July 04, 2008:

Six posts in, and nary a word of thanks from bitter OD.

Until this is fixed, I'm boycotting all his reviews.
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Masters posted July 04, 2008:

HARSH! But appropriate punishment.
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overdrive posted July 04, 2008:

Uh.....thanks for the compliments, guys!....

There, I'm no longer bitter AND I wouldn't have been bitter nearly this long except I just woke up.

But I know what you mean, Masters. It's amazing how messed up mediocre shooters are. This game is slow-paced and repetitive, with levels that at least feel very long loaded with tons of predictable enemy waves. And then, you have a couple really intense boss fights and a high-speed tunnel run to end the game.

And it's funny you bring up Blazing Lazers. I've only played it briefly once, when I DLed a bunch of Turbo shooters and was testing them to make sure they worked on my emulator, but I think I know what you mean. I don't consider myself all that excellent with shooters, but I utterly breezed through the first level of that game....not dying once or even having any close calls. The only other game where that happened was some really horribly dull and slow side-scroller (began with a P, I think) that got dumped from my hard drive immediately afterward. All I was thinking was that the game seemed fun and had good mechanics, but that might have been the easiest level I'd ever played on a shooter.

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