SNES WEEK: Day 4
1) Super Aleste
2) Ganbare Goemon - Yuki-Hime Kyushutsu Emaki!
3) Soul Blazer
1) Super Aleste - John Henderson (Kubrick)
Ah, the Nintendo Super Famicom. Without doubt a brilliant machine, and one that will instantly evoke fantastic memories for anyone who ever owned one during it's heyday. However, it's a format that is often overlooked & glossed-over whenever talk of 2D shooting games enter the conversation. The purists will tell you that the PC Engine & Mega Drive were the real weapons of choice for shooter fans in the 8/16-bit era. And they would probably poke fun at the SFC's conversion of R-Type while they were at it to highlight their point.
Given the sheer volume of shooters available for the PCE & MD, it's easy to see why those formats are more highly-regarded within certain circles. Another factor to count against the SFC is it's lack of vertically-scrolling titles and meagre processing speed, which usually meant crippling slowdown on early sprite-intensive games. The superfami does, however, have a number of gems it can be proud of. One being Compile's Super Aleste, which was released by the relatively-obscure Toho Co. in 1992.
Like a lot of games to grace Nintendo's machine, it carries the "Super" prefix (but only in JP and EU form; it was clumsily re-named "Space Megaforce" for America) and is a progression of the Aleste & Gunhead shooters that Compile were famous for making in the late 80's and early 90's.
The style of Super Aleste stays faithful to it's ancestors and features similar weapons and imagery. However, there are differences, pretty big ones. Most notably to the weapons system, of which there are 8 different types, such as lasers, spread shots, homing missiles and so on. All of these can be powered up by collecting orbs from defeated enemies to make them more powerful in traditional fashion. That's not all though, as each weapon can also be given a different configuration at the touch of a button. For example, the Gradius-style "multiples" can roam free just like in Konami's game, or they can be locked in postion. It seems like a novelty at first, but actually gives the game a tactical element akin to Radiant Silvergun, as there are instances where using one particular weapon type will be more useful than others.
The opening stage is a good introduction to the game and seems to go on forever before the boss finally shows up, while some will only last a few minutes with no real boss at the end. These shorther levels, incidentally, are part of the "short game" option which is handy if time is a factor and you just want a quick blast. Overall, the stages are pretty varied in terms of content and look, and each one is a lot of fun to play with none of the "chaining" complexities that a modern shooter bring to the table. You'll have to do things on your own though as there's no 2-player mode.
Like a lot of developers at the time, Compile just couldn't resist putting the SFC's famous Mode7 effects to use. The most spectacular of which is probably on stage 2, which begins with you battling with enemies high above a space station in the distance. As the stage progresses though, it looms ever larger in the background untill it's finally time to face off against it. By this point, it is now several screens in size and contantly rotating and moving around with your goal being to take out all of the many turrets and installations that cover it. It's just one of a number of instances where the Mode7 hardware is put to excellent use, and gives the game that something extra over similar games.
Fancy Mode7 effects aside, the graphics are very good, but not brilliant, but at least there are no slowdown issues, and the scrolling is smooth and also reaches impressive speeds on some of the later stages. Couple this with a soundtrack that's pleasing to the ears (providing you like early 90's techno beats), and it's a pretty-impressive technical showcase for the SFC without really shouting about it.
So, is there anything particularly wrong with this game, besides the lack of a 2-player mode? Oh yes, the difficulty- It's just way too easy on the default setting. You can survive some hits providing you have a decent level of weaponry equipped (your weapons are downgraded instead of losing a life) and with weapons and power-ups being plentiful, losing a life doesn't happen nearly as often as it should, so make sure you adjust it to at least Hard level for the best experience.
2) Ganbare Goemon - Yuki-Hime Kyushutsu Emaki! - Adam Richards (babs)
Konami were head and shoulders above most other third-party developers when it came to the Super Famicom, and Ganbare Goemon - Yuki-Hime Kyushutsu Emaki! (Goemon from now on for ease of reading) was just another example of their mastery. It took heavy influence from Japanese folklore, the stories of Ishikawa Goemon in particular, who legend has it was a famous Robin Hood-esque bandit. This game is a quest for the spikey haired ninja-bandit and his portly cohort Ebisumaru, as they battle through some strange spirits and try to make their way to the (now customary) Princess.
Though the game is quite strongly centered around the story, it remains almost totally playable to anyone without the slightest knowledge of Kana or Kanji, with one exception which is touched on later. It's a mix of overhead pseudo-3D roaming and traditional 2D platforming, with a mixture of both styles making up each level. The overhead sections make up the bulk of the game, with the platform areas coming into play at the end of levels as you make your way to the boss. In the overhead areas you have full control of your character - jumping, whacking enemies with your pipe/yo-yo, collecting coins and pickups. Most areas have shops scattered throughout them where your hard-earned coinage could be spent on useful items such as food and armour, or frittered away in the myriad of minigames available.
It's these minigames that make up a big part of the Goemon experience and there's a huge variety to waste time with. At first you'll only find the simple games, such as dice and lottery, but keep going and bigger treats lie in wait. The fairground level is absolute proof of this, and the way it's all too easy to be sidetracked from the main game. It's possible to ignore all the stalls and shops and play through, but the simple fact remains that you won't want to. The thought of ignoring a kiosk and possibly missing a new game is too much to bear, and despite all of the player's best intentions to get through the game quickly soon draws people in like a money-grabbing black hole. It's not always a waste though, as skilled players can make a tidy profit on the likes of Goblin or Whack-A-Mole, or even at the lottery or quiz games.
The quiz though illustrates the main hiccup to the import player, and that's the story being told through Kana. The story, although bizarre, is somewhat guessable and not too much of a hinderance, but the quiz revolves around the story of the game and is rendered unplayable unless you a) have a good understanding of Japanese b) buy the westernised game in the form of Legend Of The Mystical Ninja or c) (and this does happen) play the game so much that you learn the right answers through trial and error. This is such a small part of the game in all fairness, but worth mentioning as it's probably the only time an import player may find themselves saying 'Oh, for god's sake!'. The pinacle of the minigames though is undoubtedly the almost-perfect first level version of gradius included, which is a real treat.
As mentioned before, all of this exploring and shopping is in preperation for the end of level platform areas. These are as well put together as the rest of the game before them, and have nice tight controls. There's never an occasion when plummeting to your death you'll exclaim 'Hey! That wasn't fair!'. All of the shiney gold filling your pockets from the rest of the game can be turned into missiles and thrown at the enemy, and it's worth saving for the sometimes difficult end of level bosses.
The best part of all of this is the way it can be played with 2 players co-operatively. Teamwork and sharing comes into play to make good progress, and some of the 2 player minigames can be all consuming. It's certainly no surprise to find that a couple of hours have been wasted betting on the Gi-Gis. The graphics are very nicely drawn; bright cheerful sprites coupled with pretty backdrops and plenty of atmosphere are the order of the day. The sound is out of the Super Famicom's top drawer and the music is typically Konami, if not quite reaching the heights of their greatest 16-bit work on the likes of Akumajo Dracula or Contra Spirits.
Overall a great single player game with some of the best platform sections found on the Super Famicom, a plethora of minigames and the perfect rainy Sunday afternoon time-waster with a friend in co-op mode.
3) Soul Blazer - Damien McFerran (Duddyroar)
If there’s one genre that the SNES had well and truly covered, it was RPGs. Nintendo’s 16-bit console was home to some breathtakingly impressive role playing titles, mainly thanks to the staunch support of Japanese software houses such as Square and Enix (who years later would jump into bed with each other). It’s the games produced by these two legendary companies that tend to be the ones that people remember, with Final Fantasy, Illusion of Gaia, Dragonquest, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger topping many a gamer’s all-time best RPG list. Soul Blazer (released as Soul Blader in Japan) rarely features on these lists, but despite the fact that it’s a very early example of an RPG on the SNES it certainly deserves more recognition.
The first in Enix’s trilogy of major SNES RPGS (Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma being the other two in the series), Soul Blazer sees the player taking the role of an angel warrior sent to a bring back peace to a troubled land (very similar to another Enix classic, Actraiser). So far, so cliché. There are five unique areas that need your care and attention. Each area is divided into two distinct sections – the ‘town’, where you communicate with NPCs (and that doesn't just mean humans – being a deity, you have the canny ability to chat with all living things, so expect a few meaningful conversations with tulips along the way), buy items and so forth. The second section is the ‘action’ part of the game, where the player is thrust into a dungeon swarming with unfriendly monsters. These beasts respawn, Gauntlet-style, from set points and these portals have to be destroyed before progression can be made. A key feature of the game is that every ‘monster generator’ you successfully deactivate a triggers a change in the ‘town’ section. Items, buildings and other NPCs appear, offering up the opportunity for more interaction and the chance to unlock certain abilities. It’s a nice touch, albeit a simple one, and gives an extra level of importance to vanquishing the hoards of monsters. The promise of a new NPC or item lies with the deactivation of each monster generator and your success against the seemingly endless flood of beasties is translated into something more tangible and real.
Being the first in a trilogy (and a first generation SNES title at that), you’d expect Soul Blazer to be the least impressive. Compared to the more illustrious sequels, Soul Blazer does feel a little disjointed and unfocused. This is largely due to the fact that the areas the player has been sent to emancipate have very little connection with each other. Once one area is completed and the boss has been beaten the game simply jumps to the next. There are a few chances to backtrack and use newly acquired items to unlock other sections in previously visited areas, but it never feels as coherent and satisfying as it should do. Graphically, the game is workmanlike and is unlikely to cause any jaws to drop. The same can be said of the sound – there’s a sprinkling of nice tunes contained within but most of the soundtrack is forgettable.
Why play Soul Blazer then? Well, it’s very much a rough diamond. As a starting point for RPGs on the SNES, many will have played it simply because it was released prior to Zelda. In terms of appearance it screams ‘first generation title’. However, even after more than a decade, the game’s spiritual sentimentally shines through. The gameplay is fresh enough to still be entertaining and the system of unlocking sections of the game by defeating enemies is still undeniably effective. It was bettered in many respects by the sequels, which brought the gameplay, theme and general message into sharper focus. However, as is the case with all good trilogies it’s best to start at the beginning. It’s worth playing just for the mocking final words of the last boss as he perishes, which I won’t spoil for you here – let’s just say they make your amazing achievement seem a little pointless.
If another reason is required to give this game a try, then consider this: what other RPG gives the player the opportunity to have a bit of banter with a tulip?
SNES Week: Day 1
SNES Week: Day 2
SNES Week: Day 3
SNES Week: Day 4
SNES Week: Day 5
SNES Week: Day 6