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.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 26, 2008)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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