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Soldier Blade (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Soldier Blade (TurboGrafx-16) review

"Soldiering through blade-sharp fights, awkwardly forcing the game's name into this tagline."

As someone who has played a lot of shooters over the years, Iíve grown to appreciate the ones that do the little things that most donít. Letís face it, regardless of how many different companies have made these games and how many superficial differences they may possess, veterans of the genre typically wonít need to take too much time to neatly place games into various categories.

The general vibe might be military, pure science fiction or fantasy. The screen might scroll horizontally or vertically. Levels might be wide open or loaded with claustrophobic corridors. Maybe memorization will be a vital skill for players, or they simply might need quick reflexes. Most of the time, youíll get an assortment of powerful weaponry, which just might contain lasers, missiles and wave cannons. Earning a high score is always great for bragging rights, so some games have a straight-forward method to obtaining points, while others have more complex systems that often reward players for taking risks. Regardless of how creatively-designed most of the game is, odds are one of the boss fights will be against a large snake-like foe virtually impossible to distinguish from the countless other shooter snakes. And so onÖ

Soldier Blade might not be the best shooter Iíve ever picked, but it does the little things that make the experience of playing it more enjoyable. And I donít just mean its refusal to throw in one of those damn snakes into one of its seven levels as a major adversary, although I definitely approved of that call. No, what this game did was give me a reason to step back and legitimately respect the massive conflict your spaceship finds itself in. This isnít one of those games where you can simply count on shooting a foe until it blows up and then move on to the next adversary ó a number of this gameís bosses desperately try to hold onto life, attempting to flee battle, only to resign themselves to throwing everything they still have at you in a last-ditch effort to take you to hell with them.

Soldier Blade screenshot Soldier Blade screenshot

You see that with the mid-level boss of the second stage. After blasting off the side guns of that plane-like vessel, itíll flee the battle, only to reappear shortly before that levelís actual boss. Advance to the next level and youíll encounter a massive tank, which also attempts to flee after receiving sufficient damage. Key word in this case is ďattemptsĒ, as really large and really damaged tanks arenít known to possess a great deal of evasive ability, resulting in you catching up to it almost immediately to systematically eradicate every single weapon thatís still operational on it. Only to then realize it was only the first of two gigantic vehicles youíll have to contend with in order to continue progressing through Soldier Bladeís seven levels.

And youíll get other nice touches. One of the bosses in the penultimate sixth stage brings back memories of various adversaries youíd previously bested via attaching their weapons to its body. The final boss of that level seemingly distorts reality in an attempt to wear you down. Youíll be fighting this behemoth and itíll just disappear, forcing you to overcome a few waves of regular enemies before encountering it again ó something that happens multiple times before you finally finish it off. Assuming you can, that is. This fellow would be really tough to get past even if you didnít have those interruptions. Kind of like the opening boss of the final stage, which alternates between pinning you between mirrors and bouncing lasers off those devices AND then spraying the entire screen with waves of bullets.

If the last couple paragraphs havenít clued you in, Soldier Blade is a pretty boss-centric game. I mean, there are lots of regular enemies to blast and the gameís stages have a lot more to them than those big fights, but for me, all the truly memorable moments came from those confrontations. The sections between those battles are the parts of this game that are most aligned with that shooter veteran ďbeen there, done thatĒ mentality where you blast a number of smaller ships and guns ó that can be tricky to overcome at times ó and collect power-ups.

And youíll want to collect as many of those as possible. Youíll get three different types that correspond to a spread attack, a laser and a wave gun and youíll have multiple levels of power for each of them that plays a role in just how much of the screen you can cover with your shots. As a bonus, you can ďholdĒ three power-ups in your inventory to be expended on devastating special attacks when youíre under the sort of duress that can only be alleviated by utterly destroying the hell out of everything around you instantly.

Soldier Blade screenshot Soldier Blade screenshot

Power-ups drop pretty frequently, too, so youíll never be lacking for those special attacks and youíll always have the opportunity to either swap weapons or improve your favorite. Your proficiency with this sort of thing probably will play a huge role in how difficult you find Soldier Blade. This is one of those games where taking a bullet isnít fatal as long as your ship is powered up to some degree ó youíll just lose some of that power. And if you do die, youíll continue from where you fell instead of going back to a checkpoint. This makes it easy to progress through tricky situations, as one mistake wonít kill you and if you make enough errors to die, it wonít erase a lot of progress. And with how power-ups drop quickly, you wonít even be stuck with a near-impotent vessel for long.

On the other hand, youíd have to have a pretty high level of skill to not regularly suffer those setbacks of losing power or lives, especially against those boss fights. With many of those confrontations, I got the idea that the designers knew things were designed to give players a few advantages, so they did what they could to blunt them with one tough battle after another. When fighting bosses in this game, youíll regularly be dealing with durable foes containing multiple parts or weapons that must be destroyed. Funny thing is, destroying a bunch of weapons on a big flying ship wonít necessarily make it weaker. Instead, doing typically serves as a call to arms for that adversary to break out the truly devastating attacks.

Soldier Blade is a good game loaded with intense boss fights against large, visually appealing and well-designed foes. While its levels arenít dull or anything like that, they do kind of pale in comparison to the two or three major baddies youíll encounter in each stage and feel a bit like preludes where you try to collect and maintain sufficient power to overcome those foes. I donít know that Iíd say this is a classic game that is at the pinnacle of TG-16 shooters, but it is an attractive game thatís fun to play through. If nothing else, it at least doesnít waste a boss fight on one of those generic snakes!

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (May 29, 2024)

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

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