Sol-Deace (Genesis) review
"So now you have three streams of fire, one from the core, and one from each arm of the ship. You can get the arms to fire at different angles by moving the core forward and back. This is quite cool! Take note, nonbelievers! Sometimes, I have the core firing forward, the top arm firing 30 degrees up and forward, and the bottom arm firing 45 degrees down and forward! This allows for GOOD SCREEN COVERAGE. "
The Clash of Oil and Blood
The Sega Genesis had a lot of shooters. Tons, even. Sol-Deace is one of them.
But it wants to be more than that. The story behind the side-scrolling shooting is more of the same tripe weíve come to expect from interstellar battles. Itís you against a machine gone mad. But itís the way developers, Wolf Team, have decided to tell the story that is so singular; they insist that the epic battle about to take place is a senseless, but necessary evil. They describe your fight as ''the clash of oil and blood.'' (And if you manage to get to the end of the game, youíll be privy to even greater melodrama.) However, even the very heights of hyperbole (meshed with a small dose of 'Japlish' for some unintentional comedy), canít hope to lift what appears to be another un-special horizontal shooter to any level of distinction.
But wait - bad writing aside (and who really cares about the story in a shoot-em-up), perhaps thereís something to Sol-Deace! Perhaps there is something special about it, something that will set it apart from other games of the genre. Shooter fans, arenít we tired of people making it seem like our favourite games are bland and interchangeable? In the spirit of change, I'll try my best to show these infidel fans of other types of games how exciting things can get in the realm of horizontal shooters. Let's get this party started! (And letís hope Sol-Deace cooperates!)
Sol-Deace starts off in space! Everything is black, but the stars are bright! Space debris hurtles along, getting in your way. Ok, that's clichť, I know. But being able to repel the wreckage with your guns is a nice touch. You'd be surprised how many games incorporate the floating junk and don't allow you to affect them much with your weapons.
You'll discover early on that your weapons aren't very exciting, regrettably. Your ship is wedge-shaped - pretty standard stuff. But rarely will it remain in that form, especially if you enjoy surviving. You'll need to crack open floating little silver canisters to get power ups that allow your ship to sprout limbs. Well, not limbs in the traditional sense, but they are arms after a fashion, and they make your ship look big (maybe too big for my liking, but at least the game allows enemy bullets to pass through the arms harmlessly - when the somewhat mischievous collision detection is behaving).
So now you have three streams of fire, one from the core, and one from each arm of the ship. You can get the arms to fire at different angles by moving the core forward and back. This is quite cool! Take note, nonbelievers! Sometimes, I have the core firing forward, the top arm firing 30 degrees up and forward, and the bottom arm firing 45 degrees down and forward! This allows for GOOD SCREEN COVERAGE.
The weapons don't stop entertaining us there; if you cock your head, as people are wont to do when they're really listening for something, you'll notice that the guns sound like someone spitting. (You've got rapid fire, so imagine whoever is spitting, is spitting a lot, and really fast.) The standard bullet can be powered up to become a yellow laser stream, or a chugging grenade gun stream. When you die, you'll lose the arms and the weapons, and the game will kindly provide a canister immediately, so that you can get those arms again. The weapon power ups will naturally take time to regain.
This is where Sol-Deace gets under the skin. When you inevitably muck things up and explode, your pared down craft will be extremely vulnerable for two reasons. One - the obvious one - is that youíll no longer have the firepower to deal with the enemies who so lately did you in. And two, the game will thoughtfully provide you with a power up canister on the right side of the screen, floating slowly to the left. More often than not, your ship will find flames in its pilotís overzealous mission to have the canisterís contents, because without your arms, you donít stand a chance. (Imagine R-Type just throwing you back in the mix without your Force Unit!)
Therefore, Sol-Deace belongs to that school of shooters where Side Arms is dean: I call it the Slippery Slope School (SSS for short). It means that when you die once, youíll die twice. And thrice. All in very rapid procession. I certainly would have preferred the start back system (R-Type again), where play is halted, and you are sent back to try again from a particular checkpoint. You endure a lot of repetition that way, but at least you get a chance to get powered up again before you return to the tricky part that killed you in the first place.
So you're firing your three-pronged guns of death and soon enough you'll run into the insect boss. You'll know that you're near when nasty green splotches envelop the foreground. The insect is easy, and will have you feeling pretty good about your skills. This is bait. Your good feelings will be smashed soon enough.
But first, itís on to the Cilius Moon Weapon Factory, where robot arms and flying cameras on tripods lead a malevolent wave against you! A surprisingly hard, hopping robotic contraption will play bullpen to the boss' closer. The dreaded shooter staple, The Core, arrives early in Sol-Deace, and he's in relatively good spirits - no laser barrage from him today. Instead, he spews big bubbles (more saliva, I think! Nasty). Spit back at him.
Finally, Sol-Deace, tired of your unchecked spitting, gets mean in level three. Missiles fly out of the ether and enemies and their bullets cruise from the concealment of foreground flames. It sounds good, but itís really, really cheap. Youíll die and not know what hit you. A pair of tough spacecraft serve as the mid-boss, and they really crowd the screen with their hulky metal bodies and tons and tons of tiny bullets. And you'll like this: I always find it exciting when you run into a big bad enemy, and some bigger, badder enemy destroys the first guy and settles in to confront you. You think to yourself, ''Wow, that other guy looked tough, and THIS guy took him out... like he wuz NUTHIN!'' G-Darius did it well, having one big fish eat another. In Sol-Deace, a giant ship enters the fray, only to have some alien thing intervene. This is exciting stuff.
But would a horizontal shooter be complete without the R-Typical gargantuan space cruiser level? Sol-Deace doesn't do a very good job with the hackneyed material, but they try to make up for it with a creative boss encounter. A dirty, grimy, hairy hot dog bun will try to clamp down on your ship while an abominable eyeball-firing sentinel strives to ensure you're in the path of that clamping. There's more objectionable human processes on display here: hitting the sentinel with your shots sounds like an especially wet bout of diarrhea.
Level four is my favourite. It's decidedly R-Type-ish in nature, and that's why. Enemies will come from behind you and you're still expected to shake them while navigating tight passages with lasers that try to catch you up in their sizzling grid. The boss is great, and for once, so is the music. Really level four is where things start to get good for Sol-Deace, and level five is where it peaks. On the Amalthes Moon, amazing music introduces you to a lost level from Thunder Force III. You're beset by organic gun emplacements, doppelganger ships, and bubbles that imprison you and slow your movement.
This is classic shooter material: you get ensnared by a bubble just as the doppelganger swarm encroaches on the screen's edge and your heart drops as you anticipate the oncoming bullet storm. The pretender fleet seem to say, ''try to dodge now!'' An easy mid-boss settles your nerves slightly, in a gesture of mockery. Because what's around the corner is anything but easy. I welcome any and all shooter gurus to have a go at this game if only to fight the fifth level boss.
Thin blue lasers. Tiny yellow bullets. Gold arcing, tracing, chasing beams from hell. Clusters of blue timed grenades. A white laser that draws solid angles around you until the angle is so acute that it will crush you. Salvo upon salvo of big blue balls of flame. This boss of all bosses has a repertoire that will confound you, shame you, and then kill you. This should have been the final guardian, but it isn't, and that's a gross oversight.
Because playing the final level, stage six, is anticlimactic in the worst way. It's also the ugliest level by far. I know the developers were trying to make things look alien, but couldn't they make their weirdness pretty, like IREM does? The colours are positively vomit. There are two pedestrian mini-bosses, and then the real thing, who hardly puts up a fight. What is this - Gradius? FIGHT BACK, DAMN YOU! Despite all that, I can say something good about him though: as is the case with Thunder Force V's final antagonist, this guy is utterly alien, and that's an excellent achievement. What creeps forth from the wall is so aberrant and alien as to be scarcely described.
But you might not even see him. Because level five's boss is that hard. There's a 99 men code programmed into Sol-Deace. Use it. Go on, use it! The amount of men you lose to that bad boy may only shame you further (99, 98...80, 79...40...3). If Wolf Team exchanged level five with six, I think we'd have a pretty balanced shooter on our hands. Sure it's ugly, sure it's clichťd, but it's got its share of memorable moments. Unfortunately, those moments, when held up alongside the almost tangible banality of level one and two, the rampant cheapness in three, and the anticlimactic ending, can't possibly be effective enough. Four pedestrian stages, two great levels (four and five), and one killer boss, do not a great game make. These moments only allow Sol-Deace to peer out over the cusp of average Dom. Which, unfortunately, is just the place where you'll find a lot of Genesis shooters. I did say there were a lot of Genesis shooters, didn't I?
This is one of them.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 20, 2003)
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