Solar Striker (Game Boy) review
"It flies too closely to the sun"
Nostalgia tells our hearts to flutter at the sight of a green-and-black Game Boy screen. It also instructs us to remember only the best offerings associated with that lackluster color scheme, and block out nearly everything released between Tetris and Super Mario Land II. Few folks wish to talk about the Game Boy's rough period, where developers initially struggled to find their bearings with hardware that was a technical step back from its home console companion.
Early attempts at established genres yielded games that were merely adequate or unremarkable at best. Case in point: Solar Striker, a scrolling shooter developed jointly by Nintendo's R&D1 and Minakuchi Engineering. If you've played any shmup from any time period, you know more or less what to expect here. You guide your ship as the scenery blow scrolls vertically, shooting down foes by holding the fire button. Now and then, you receive a power-up that beefs your arsenal. With your first flashing upgrade, your ship transitions from firing a single column of bullets to--try to contain your excitement--two columns of projectiles.
And then eventually three. Oh my!
And after that? Back to two columns, but the bullets are huge and they produce a high-pitched whine. No, that's it. You get no homing shots, spread blasts, lasers, or the classic "option" that adds extra mini-ships to your entourage. Instead you just acquire an elevated ammo output, complete with larger projectiles with an obnoxious report.
Those offensive capabilities can easily carry you past the first two stages, in which you fly through plain sky-themed environs. Granted, Game Boy wasn't exactly known for its cutting edge visuals, but somehow these initial outings fail to impress regardless. Stage one gives us only the occasional glimpse of cookie-cutter planets and specks that I assume are distant stars. Really, it looks more like you're gliding over a sheet of paper dotted by grains of sand.
Adversaries fly at you, forming predictable patterns while launching the occasional missile your way. You should have little difficulty surviving these onslaughts unscathed. Even the first couple of bosses don't put up much of a fight, presenting you with only the most rudimentary patterns combined with weak offenses. Seriously, you can easily defeat the first boss by holding down the fire button and only moving side-to-side when one of its few shots comes your way.
Stages three and four ramp things up a bit by throwing a greater variety of enemies at you from numerous points. You might get weaponized cars coming at you from the middle, while peculiar saucers zoom out from the right and open fire. However, even with the elevated difficulty rating, these stages don't offer much more than mild challenge until you get to the fourth boss...
To be fair, Solar Striker sometimes shows that it knows what it's doing, but doesn't actually showcase its best content until you're already more than halfway through the campaign. And even then, it doesn't provide much more than a mild thrill. The first four levels pass by relatively unnoticed, hitting you with only forgettable material. It's not until you square off with the fourth boss, an immense satellite, that you see Striker's claws come out. Here, your opponent launches ordinance from all angles, keeping you on your toes. To make matters worse, the screen shakes each time you land a blow, making it tough to focus and evade shots.
The final two levels feel like they should've been the game's starting point, as they hit you with everything Striker has to offer. Diverse foes show up all over the screen, accompanied by mini-bosses or super-fast meteorites that you're better off sidestepping. The fifth gauntlet kicks you around a bit, then pits you against a tremendous cannon that gets you dancing with bullets galore and deadly lasers. In almost any worthwhile shmup, this would've been the first boss.
The finale feels like it should dump only the harshest scenarios on you, and yet you come away form it feeling like you just completed a mid-campaign challenge. The lead-up to the main antagonist proves sufficient enough, until three mini-bosses show up and perish with little resistance. You then mosey onto the villain itself, where you perform more ho-hum, basic evasive maneuvers. It doesn't take long to fell the big bad, capping off the experience with a washout. Even its design is nothing special, except that it kind of resembles a pair of butt cheeks and an anus protruding from the ground.
Apparently the game wanted to tell you how it really felt...
At the time of its release, Striker filled a void. Game Boy needed a shmup because it was a well-established genre with plenty of fans. This one rose to the occasion by providing a fair campaign that wiled away an hour at most. However, a product so simplistic couldn't hope to stand the test of time. The category has seen so many stellar entries over the decades that it's hard to consider this one anything more than a novelty. It doesn't possess the challenge factor that some of its brethren do, nor the visual style, nor intense action, nor any standout features or content. It's very much your average-at-best sci-fi shoot 'em up that boasts a couple of solid boss encounters and some cool victory music.
And a humongous ass as your main target...
Like so many early releases, Solar Striker remains devoid of the kind of content that made later Game Boy games and shooters appealing. It's not a particularly bad title, per se, but it's so run-of-the-mill that it's hard to recommend it to anyone except genre diehards who also happen to dig early Game Boy carts. Really, most folks who enjoy the venerable handheld aren't likely to seek out the titles that time forgot. Nostalgia will tell them to grab greatest hits and ignore the piles of obscure offerings like Striker, and perhaps that's for the best...
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (February 16, 2023)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
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