Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Top Five Mega CD Shmups

With Sega at the peak of their powers in the early 90's, the Mega CD was supposed to consolidate their lofty position as well as herald a new age of home entertainment. What we ended up with, however, was an expensive add-on which few developers supported with much enthusiasm. Those that did release titles for it gave us either games with fancy graphics and FMV but little in the way of gameplay or games that were hard to distinguish from examples on a non-enhanced Mega Drive. Neither type did very well - the former because they weren't very enjoyable, the latter because they weren't the revolutionary titles gamers were promised. Looking back now, it is of course the second type which provided the better games and probably the most numerous examples were shoot 'em ups. Here are the best ones:

Games-Related Top Fives Disclaimer: I've traditionally stuck to the games I know and love so far, and these game-related top fives reflect that. One of the purposes of this blog is diversify my gaming experiences, to play games I haven't played before, so I will do new game-related top fives in a few years to see how different they are!

5. Silpheed (1993, Game Arts)

Every console has a 'showcase' game and this was often the one used to promote the power of the Mega CD around the time of its launch. At first glance it might look like a complicated space combat game of some sort but it's actually a pretty basic semi-3D vertical scroller, only with fancy polygonal ships over pre-rendered backdrops. The story is the same old stuff (although it's told in a decent rendered intro) but your nifty ship is equipped with a twin-shot and a shield to help it through the eleven tricky stages. Splendidly, when the latter expires, any further hits cause damage to your ship rather than just destroying it right away - first the engines go wonky, then the weapon power decreases, etc. There are of course also a tonne of power-ups and weapons to look out for. Silpheed is often dismissed as a glorified tech-demo, and it's perhaps not as great as it thinks it is, but it's still a mighty enjoyable blaster, and one with the kind of graphics and presentation MD owners has only previously dreamed of.

4. Keio Flying Squadron (1993, Victor Entertainment)

This was one of the first MCD games I ever played as it was featured on a demo disc I got somewhere. It was mostly dismissed at the time, due to its boring 'normal' 2D graphics as I recall, but it was and remains an unusual game which has grown in popularity since. Its star is Rami, who is apparently 'Keeper of the Secret Treasure', but is also owner of a lazy pet dragon called Pochi on whom she flies through the horizontally-scrolling stages that make up her first adventure (there is a non-shmuppy sequel too). There's an anime intro and lots of cut-scenes but the most memorable aspect of the game is the strange, nonsensical creatures that inhabit it - we're talking Parodius levels of weirdness here (one of the first types of enemy are raccoons in flying rowing boats, for example). Pochi can spit fireballs at the enemies and drop bombs/mines but his shooting ability is a bit slow for my tastes. Other than that though, Keio is a strange but intriguing game filled with appealing characters and featuring decent music and effects.

3. Bari-Arm (1994, Human Entertainmen)

A far more traditional MD-style shooter is this one, known as Android Assault outside Japan. At first it seems like a generic example but it has a few tricks up its sleeve to rise above the crowd. Some sections feature a play-field two screens high or more and and other parts scroll vertically (while still viewed from the side) and there are plenty of obstacles to move around as well as stuff to shoot. There are several weapons for your pretty cool-looking ship to deploy, although some of them are a bit whiffy, and all can be powered up several times with the final upgrade turning your ship into an awesome mecha! Your ship also has changeable speed settings and a charge shot which makes it a pretty formidable craft, all in all! The music is mostly superb and the graphics are great too, especially the backgrounds and big mechanical bosses. There are shades of the Thunder Force series in the way Bari Arm plays, which is certainly no bad thing, and probably one reason I really enjoyed it. A great and under-appreciated game.

2. Robo Aleste (1993, Compile)

The Aleste series certainly has its fanboys, and in most cases it's with good reason too. This one, slightly bizarrely, is set in feudal Japan where the various competing warlords are given access to giant steam-powered mecha! Your play as Kage, sole surviving member of your clan, and must blow the crap out of all the other clans which means flying your metallic oaf through eleven vertically-scrolling stages packed with many similar and dissimilar devices alike. It's a tough game that doesn't exactly ease you in - none of the enemies are destroyed by a single shot and you need to avoid most of them rather than shoot them to begin with, but aside from the lengthy intro sequence (with narration), this isn't a particularly flashy game. It is probably the 'coolest' game featured here though, and therefore the one that most gamers will name as their favourite, but they wouldn't be too inappropriate to do so - after some practise, Robo soon turns out to be one of the most well-designed and stylish games in the Aleste series and, as a Mega CD exclusive, that pretty much means it's essential.

1. Lords of Thunder (1995, Hudson Soft)

Long ago, I used to think that this game and its prequel (Gate of Thunder on PC Engine CD) were part of the mighty Thunder Force series (yes, pretty much because they have 'Thunder' in their names). As I soon found out, they are not, but I was still curious about their splendour. As it turns out, they are highly splendid! The story involves a 'dark god' and various scary evil minions and so forth but the most important thing is that you play as a 'legendary knight' and can choose between four types of armour - fire, earth, water, and wind - all of which offer unique, screen-filling weaponry as well as the protection of the armour itself which is represented by an energy bar. There are absolutely millions of things to collect here - every defeated enemy drops something - and you can buy stuff in a shop too. Appropriately, this is a pretty hectic shmup with things happening all over the screen but the appealing graphics, fantastic hard rock/metal soundtrack, and seven varied worlds to blast through (you can choose between six of them at the start) make this my favourite shmup on the Mega CD.

2 comments:

  1. Keio Flying Squadron is HARD! Have you still got that demo CD? Apparently the full game's on there, accidentally. Use the level select cheat on the first level then you can play through the rest of the game, cheeky!

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  2. Yep, I've still got that demo disc somewhere. The full game is indeed on there - oops, bit of a frumple from Sega Power there! :P

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