Tag: Shoot ’em up

150 SNES games reviewed #35: UN Squadron

U.N. Squadron is a side-scrolling shooting game which came out in arcades in 1989. It was programmed by Capcom and released for use on their CPS arcade hardware. I won’t explain what this was but if you look back at my Final Fight review there is an explanation there.

The game was released in Japan under the name Area 88, the same name which was used for the Super Famicom (Japanese version of this game).

The game is a typical side-scrolling shooter, unlike many of Capcom’s other shooters around this time such as their 1940 series which are vertical-scrolling shooters. It was based on a Manga series Area 88 which never really came to these shores. But the game has a nice intro which explains the rough idea behind the story.

Unlike some shooters which are one hit and you’re dead this game is a little different. If you’re hit then your plane is damaged but if you can keep it safe from harm for a little while then you’ll be fine. This actually adds to the excitement, you will find yourself going: ‘OK I have got to keep away from the enemies as you keep trying to dodge incoming fire and hold on’. When you manage it you will thump the air in triumph, and when you fail you will curse yourself for not having quick enough reflexes but the main thing is it always feels like any failures are down to your own lack of skills.

Before starting a level you get the option of purchasing special weapons or added defense options from the shop. As you shoot down enemies you gain cash and at the end of the level any special weapons you purchased and did not use get converted back in to funds and added to your cash reserve. This is a great little addition as once you get better at the early levels you can try to challenge yourself with the added benefit of an easier time in later missions by trying to complete the earlier ones on a strict budget allowing you to hold back enough money to kit your plane out with lots of special weapons for the later missions.

If you were a big fan of Capcom then the SNES was definitely the machine for you to get your arcade fix on back in the day. If you have read my Final Fight review then you might be asking what has been dropped from the original arcade version?

Well the SNES version is not an exact replica of the coin-op. Yes, it is a port and yes, this port does have certain things missing and disappointingly one of these missing things is once again the two-player mode. Some of the game’s levels are different or modified from the arcade version but it is not always in a bad way. It’s not really a worse version. it’s more of a slightly remixed version. In this case they didn’t just strip things from the game, there are actually a few additions including some more weapons and the chance to purchase different aircraft. Ignoring the missing two-player mode this game is no worse than the arcade machine, it’s just a little bit of a different version.

With bright graphics, enjoyable music and epic action it is hard to see what this game could do better. The end of the level will see you meeting some kind of large end of level boss which you will have to defeat. At this point you better hope you have held something back to save the day.

I would have to give this game eight out of 10. It’s a darn good scrolling shooter. The only thing it is really lacking which would make me bump the score up would be a two-player mode, at this point some of you must be wondering if Capcom ever managed to bash out a high-quality SNES game which catered for more than one.

If you want to try this game you will most likely be paying £15 minimum for a cart of it. I managed to get one for £10 but it took a heck of a lot of looking around and waiting. Capcom have actually made quite a few of those classic collections but U.N. Squadron has never seemed to make the cut, and this is probably one of the reasons it holds its price.

150 SNES games reviewed #31: Alien 3

Alien 3 was developed by Probe Entertainment and Eden Entertainment Software, published In North America, Europe, and Japan by Arena Entertainment, Acclaim Entertainment, LJN, and Virgin Interactive.

It is half-based on the film Alien 3. I have to say half-based because it’s set on the prison planet from the film and Ripley is shaved bald, but then there are a lot of differences between the game and the film. In the film there is one alien and no one has any weapons. In the game this is completely altered. Ripley, the main character, has all the guns from the previouis film in the franchise Aliens and there is a never ending amount of xenomorphs. I guess it is easy to see why they did this. After all, a game where you spend your whole time running away from one super powerful creature with nothing much to defend yourself sounds a lot harder to get right than a game where you spray lead at a never ending assortment of alien scum.

In fact it looks like it has taken until now – almost 21 years later – for someone to have a crack at a game which is based around the idea of being stalked by one single alien from the Aliens films. I am of course talking about Creative Assembly’s game Alien: Isolation, which delivers exactly that kind of experience and it has done a fantastic job of it. It also made DLC based on the original movie Alien, and maybe with its similar one alien killing people set-up it might one day make Alien 3 DLC. Maybe a game that would have followed the film Alien 3 more correctly and still be good and not cost a fortune in research and development just simply wasn’t possible back then – still, I digress.

Graphically, the game is pretty good for the time. Ripley’s sprite is large and for the most part it’s not bad at all. The clothes look right, the basic shape is right but maybe it’s just me but there is something almost alien about her neck and the lack of facial features makes her look a little like Voldemort of Harry Potter fame. There are lots of little cool touches though, like how her gun swings by her side as she’s climbing the monkey bars so I guess maybe I am being a little harsh. The backgrounds are multi-layered for that 3D style look, they are also very detailed. The backgrounds are overly used though with five or six repeated again and again. Add to that there are bits of scenery in the foreground that you can’t see through. Sometimes there are aliens behind these and this means that you need to either run the risk of being harmed or shoot just in case which wastes your sometimes limited ammo.

There is not a lot in the way of sounds but what is there is good. The gunfire sounds great and so do the screams of the aliens you kill. The game has pretty darn good presentation, a nice opening, I also have to tip my hat to the bits where you log into a computer. They do a pretty good job of making you feel like your chracter is actually using a real computer in the game’s universe and the game over failure screen is also suitably awesome.

What about the gameplay though? Well I find the game enjoyable in small bits but I definitely don’t think it’s a classic or anything. The controls are very good and everything works just as it should which you would think would make this a good game. But sadly there are other issues with the gamplay. I think one of the things the game is lacking is it needs a more detailed map you can easily bring up. Yes, there is a mini map radar thing which lets you know when something is approaching you, but this is more to help keep you from getting hit and doesn’t really help you get around easily. I think what the game really needs more than anything though is a bit more variety. Everything looks the same, you’re always killing the same things, mostly in places that look the same. This game is very time consuming, and can at times be very difficult. It’s easy to get lost and some of the missions seem more complex than they need to be. There are a few alien bosses here and there but they aren’t too hard. The problem is it all starts to feel a bit like a chore at times which is not how a game should feel. I think the maze like quality of the game, coupled with the mission structure, just didn’t quite work in total honesty. I think it would have been better to have strayed even further from the film and offered up something a little more arcade like, something a bit like Konami’s Aliens arcade machine which was primarily a side-scrolling shooter but also had third-person rail shooter parts. Yes, that game possibly soiled the source material even more by introducing blue zombies and other such things to the game but sometimes you just have to say to hell with the plot, let’s roll out the fun boys.

All in all Alien 3 is pretty much an average game so I feel I should give it five out of 10 and simply say it’s not really worth bothering with unless you’re a die hard SNES collector and want every cart you can get, or your a die hard fan of the Alien film series and all of its spin off media. If you’re more of a casual fan of the Aliens universe and you want a good fun retro Alien related game I recommend you get Aliens Trilogy on the PlayStation. It’s a first person Doom-style shooter but it’s brilliant, fun, fast and wrapped in movie sounds and neat touches.

If you do decide you need to own Alien 3 then there are plenty of PAL carts of it about online around the £8 to £10 range with boxed copies starting around the £15 mark. There are several complete copies of Alien Trilogy for PlayStation on eBay at the moment for around the £5 mark including postage. If you own a PlayStation I’d go for that instead for your Aliens retro fix. Oh and if you have a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One then seriously give Alien: Isolation a try, it’s an excellent game.

150 Mega Drive games reviewed #5: Atomic Runner (aka Atomic Runner Chelnov)

There was an arcade game called Chelnov – or to give it its full title Atomic Runner Chelnov – Tatakau Ningen Hatsudensho, which would translate as Atomic Runner Chelnov Fighting Human Power Plant. It’s a bit of a mouthful right? It was developed and published by Data East in 1988.

One of the things I love is when a game has a big history behind it, mostly because sometimes the stories which exist in the background of a games history can be very interesting and almost as worthy of note as the games themselves. This is one area in which Atomic Runner Chelnov certainly delivers.

There was a heap of controversy surrounding this game’s original arcade release. With the Russian-style hammer and sickle being present on the title screen, the fact the game’s story/the main character Chelnov’s origin is that he received his power due to a nuclear explosion and his exposure to the radiation. And on top of this the fact his name is spelt very closely to how Chernobyl, the site of a real life nuclear disaster, is written in Japanese (チェルノブ and チェルノブイ. Well, when you throw all of this together it is easy to see how this game got some major attention in a bad way. After all when you basically base your game on a disaster – in this case the Chernobyl disaster – just a year and a half after it happened you’re clearly going to annoy people. Just imagine if you took the last high school shooting or terrorist bomb incident and started producing a game on it now and made the dots pretty easy for anyone with half a brain to connect. You’d basically be asking for a lot of fuss and controversy, wouldn’t you?

The arcade game was ported to the Mega Drive in 1992, but it wasn’t a straight conversion, in fact there were a lot of alterations. The Japanese version kept the same name as the arcade version, but in Europe and North America it was released with the much simpler title Atomic Runner. The game’s plot was also altered. Chelnov was no longer a coal miner caught in a nuclear blast. Instead he was a regular guy wearing a special advanced combat suit the whole nuclear angle was removed. In fact basically the whole story was changed.

I will quickly run down this version of the game’s story in all of its B-movie glory. Chelnov was a young scientist who worked with and lived with his father and sister. They lived a happy and peaceful life and then one night when Chelnov went for a jog he heard a huge explosion coming from the direction of his home. He ran back home to find his father barely conscious, with Chelnov’s father’s dying breath he explained beings called the Deathtarians had caused the explosion and that they were a species who had ruled over the Earth long before the dawn of mankind and that they had returned now to claim what once was theirs. Apparently Chelnov’s father had known about them all along and that’s what all of his and his family’s research was for. Chelnov’s father points towards a metal case saying that inside the case there is a suit – a suit which will increase a human’s power making him a super human and inside the suit there are various weapons and devices. Chelnov’s father also tells him that he must put on the suit and defeat the Deathtarians and not only does the fate of the world lay in his hands but also the fate of his sister who they have kidnapped. With this Chelnov’s father passes away and with this Chelnov puts on the suit and becomes the atomic runner. You would think the game starts here, but no, it goes on to tell you Chelnov was overwhelmed by the share number of Deathtarians and became their prisoner. He was then tortured in an attempt to brainwash him, just as they thought they had broken his will though he lashed out in anger and broke free.

Now I like a B-movie plot as much as the next guy but I do have to admit I actually think the plot is a little heavier than it needs to be. Yeah there are a million games and films where someone killed someone’s dad or kidnapped someone close to the main character but do we really need to give the player/main character three reasons to hate the game’s villains? Surley either the killed father, the kidnapped sister or the imprisonment and torture on their own would have been enough reason to explain why Chelnov wanted to defeat the bad guys, we didn’t really need to throw cliché on top of cliché did we?

So, you start the actual game by breaking out of an alien facility. The game plays like a run and gun game, except it’s auto-scrolling. This kind of makes it feel unique compared to your usual run and gunner and in honesty I find the fact it’s always pushing you forward as opposed to letting you kind of just stand about adds to the game’s arcade feel. There are a variety of weapons and power-ups to collect, a whole bunch of enemies to kill, some pretty awesome bosses, and so much more.

The game’s controls can best be described as interesting. So what can you do in your super powered suit? Well you can fire right, you can fire left and you can jump. You need to fire backwards and forwards as enemies will come at you from both directions. As previously mentioned your always travelling forwards, you can move further forwards on the screen but as its always scrolling forwards you can’t go backwards. An interesting thing is as well as shooting enemies you can also jump on them in order to harm them, when you do this you will hurt them and simultaneously bounce off of them as well, in this way you can sort of bounce from enemy to enemy. Also, when you are jumping, if you land on top of an enemy you’ll bounce off and do damage, instead of dying. This is a key mechanic. But be sure you’re jumping! If an enemy hits you from below while you’re on the ground, you’ll die. Your boots only provide invulnerability when you’re not touching the ground, evidently, for whatever reason. This definitely can be frustrating, when you try to jump on an enemy under the floor but just miss and they come up under you and kill you. Jumping on enemies can be a little hairy, but you’ve got to do it. This is the only controls-related complaint I have with the game. Jumping on enemies mostly works fine, but could have been done a little better. Its important to note you die in one hit, be this a hit from a bullet or physical contact with an enemy (well, apart from the contact of your jumping boot with an enemies head). There’s no shield. When you die, you get sent back to the last checkpoint. Fortunately this game has a fair few checkpoints, so you don’t usually lose too much progress. The game is pretty darn hard with its one hit death, but this is helped by the large amount of checkpoints and also the fact if you keep dying without making progress then the game will put more powerful power ups in front of you to try and help you. It still is a hard game and this doesn’t totally negate that but it does make things a little bit more bearable at times. The game is one of those old games which is actually rather short, its difficulty kind of makes it seem longer than it is. In all honesty if the game was easier then you would simply fly through it.

The graphics for this game are a little hit and miss. As far as its arcade conversion status goes, I would argue that the graphics here are actually an improvement over its arcade cousin, yet they’re still not that great compared to some other things you will find on the Mega Drive. Everything does run smoothly though and I actually like a lot of the changes that were made to the Mega Drive version. One thing I have to say is the backgrounds are a heck of a lot more interesting and detailed on the Mega Drive and you do get lots of enemies on screen at once. I need to give this game a huge shout-out when it comes to its soundtrack. It’s just dripping with quality tunes which do help make the game more enjoyable than it would otherwise be. I found this game was a little better when running at 60hz. Maybe it’s just me but it just seemed to work a little better when running faster and the music sounded better at that rate as well.

OK so if I am to score this game what am I going to give it? Well I would give it seven out of 10. It’s a good enjoyable challenging but short game. I don’t think it’s a world changer or a real classic and to be honest I think with its history it almost makes a better story than it does a game. I would warn you though if you are not the kind of person who can cope with frequently dying and just getting that little bit further each time then this is probably not the game for you. If you want to buy it then boxed copies tend to sit around the £35 mark with loose cartridges being about £15 when I have seen them.