Thursday, 9 June 2016

SNES Shmups #5

Super Aleste a.k.a. Space Megaforce (1992)
By: Compile / Toho Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo SNES First Day Score: 4,440,470
Also Available For: Nothing

I've liked shmups pretty much ever since I've liked video games. One of the first I really got into was a vertical-scroller called Power Strike and it was my favourite for a long time. So much so, in fact, that it wasn't until quite a few years later that I found a similar game I liked as much. That game was, believe it or not, Super Aleste which, as it turned out even more years later, was a sequel (of sorts) to my old friend Power Strike which I had discovered was better known to some as... Aleste! Indeed, like the first entry in the series, this SNES-exclusive came with an alternative name too, this time for American gamers who know it as Space Megaforce (why do they so often choose such generic names?) but for me it was the first Aleste game to (knowingly) grace my bedroom and it was... pretty good! I guess I'm getting a bit ahead of myself now though, this is supposed to be a review after all!

The story is apparently unrelated to either of those from the original game (which had two) and instead sounds more like that of the film Independence Day (which actually came out shortly after - hmmmm). Anyway, it's set in the year 2048 and involves the appearance of 'an enormous glowing object 15km in diameter' which descended from space and 'began to attack all the major cities on earth'. Of course, after numerous failed retaliatory strikes, us plucky humans have one last throw of the dice with the ED-057, the 'final ultimate weapon' conjured up by the Earth Defence Force. Awaiting this sleek jet-fighter-style air/spacecraft and its brave pilot are 12 varied stages. Each scrolls vertically again and they are collectively home to some novel ideas and features, and it's largely thanks to these that Super Aleste is such a distinctive game packed with stuff you're unlikely to find in many other shmups.

The emphasis is on structures and landscapes as much as it is enemy vessels, with each stage brimming with all sorts of guns and barriers and other obstructions/defences. The first, for example, is set over the South American jungles where the enemy set up camp to begin construction of a floating city. The second sees you enter space for the first time where you'll face the first enemy base. While distant at first, it gets closer and closer as the stage progresses, and is jam-packed with lethal guns and missile launchers as well as defended by shielded enemy drones. The third stage is a fairly easy enemy supply base with millions of small blocks in the way, but anyone would need a bit of a break after the last level! The fourth level is set in an enemy solar flame space system. This is a tricky level with corridors spanned by jets of flames to keep you on your toes, but it's not as tough as the fifth stage.

Here, the scenery is comprised of the surface scraped from a planet! Unsurprisingly there are loads of rocky outcrops and debris, and the screen is divided into several different sections, each of which is home to yet more guns and lasers. The sixth stage, the halfway point, is similar to the third and offers a well-needed chance to grab some power-ups and supplies, while the seventh takes place within a large asteroid field where you'll find lots of guns, lasers, and missiles, on top of the enemy craft and flying boulders themselves! Eight levels in and you reach a huge enemy ship whose falling debris obstructs your passage before the ninth stage, the last set in space, offers the reprieve of another supply base. Hitting double figures sees you return to South America on earth which has now apparently been strip-mined, and that leaves only two more before the enemy is vanquished forever.

I won't spoil them now other than to say they take place within the enormous 'mysterious object' that the wretched enemy built over the jungle, and you'll need to do some serious damage to finish it and its heinous architects off once and for all! Fortunately there are numerous options for achieving this thanks to the game's fairly splendid weapon system. Like Power Strike, there are eight numbered weapons to try out which are all carried by small craft that pass through the war-zone now and then. Some of them return from that game, though only one of them can be possessed at a time, and a number of bombs are also carried. Your choices are: Multiple Shot (1), Laser (2), Circle (3), Multi-Direction Shot (4), Missile (5), Power Shot (6), Sprite (7), and lastly Scatter Shot (8), and helpfully the attack pattern of each can be changed when it's in use by using the (probably) patented Shot Control System.

For example, if using Multiple Shot, pressing the 'R' button will change the direction of the shots through six different configurations, or when using missiles, pressing it will toggle between homing or non-homing missiles. Each weapon also has six levels of power. This can be increased by collecting lots of the plentiful orange capsules left behind by destroyed enemies, or is increased more quickly using the less-plentiful green capsules which each power-up your weapon by one level instantly. Collecting the numbered weapon icon for the weapon you're already using will have the same effect as the green capsules too, so it doesn't actually take too long to get kitted-up. Which is just as well since none of the weapons are really much use in their weakest form, at least anywhere but the few easiest parts of the game. A couple of the weapons aren't even a great deal of use when fully-powered up!

I guess it's nice to have the option though, and you get the chance to switch between them often, so the only time you're really buggered is if you get stuck with a stinker like Power Shot for a tough section or a boss fight! Of course, you could always unleash a swirly bomb of destruction if you remember to use one in time (which I often do not). You start with three of these but more can be picked up along the way, and there is even a special kind of numbered-weapon capsule (which cycles through them rather than only offering one) which, if shot enough times, can be turned into an 'Enemy Eraser' which has the same effect as a bomb. It might also be worth saving at least one of these WMD's for the bosses too, although they're not massively problematic as shmup bosses go. Interestingly, not all of the stages even end with a guardian battle for some reason, although most of them do.

It's not an overly tough game at all really. There are definitely a good few tough spots - stage five had me stuck for many moons when I was younger, and stage eight has proven troublesome when playing it for this very review, but overall it's pretty fair. For example, if your weapon level is two or above, you will merely lose some power when you take a hit - you only lose a life if your ship is too weedy (or if you get trapped behind some scenery). You also don't get punished too much then either. For every 'Enemy Eraser' you collect, you'll restart from the exact point you died, but even without this you only restart from a few screens back, and the power-ups are plentiful enough to get you going again fairly quickly in most cases (with the yellow capsules powering you up much quicker initially too). This is a nice change from many other games of the era which were essentially 'one life' games. On top of that, there's even the option of a shorter 'practise' game for beginners!

Despite this unusual fairness, there is still a big challenge here, thanks mainly to the superb stage design which forces you to move around for more than just avoiding enemy bullets. Every one of them has an obstruction of some sort and, while many of the actual structures do not cause damage themselves, weaving around them while taking out the many guns on them, the enemy craft, and dodging all their various projectiles is definitely not easy, especially if you got stuck with an unsuitable weapon. One or two weapons should probably be avoided altogether while others are superb for certain parts but not for others. My personal favourite is the Multiple Shot you start with. It can be configured to shoot in pretty much any direction and so, while not the most powerful option, it is a superb all-rounder. But of course, if you're a lot more skilled than me you can always try using a less 'safe' option.

It's also a pretty spiffy game from a technical standpoint. As you can probably see from the screenshots, the stages are quite varied (each shot is of a different one, by the way) and while the backgrounds are merely average, the scenery and foreground graphics are mainly very decent. The sprites aren't bad either, although there isn't a huge number of different examples and there aren't really any stand-out bosses. Something that does impress though, is the absence of any slowdown which, considering the SNES's weedy CPU, is quite an achievement. Everything even moves nice and smoothly, all things considered. There are a few nice effects too, such as the semi-transparent clouds, some wibbly Mode 7 scaling and distortion, and some cool weapon effects and big explosions. The latter are among the bassiest such sound effects I've heard in a game - if you have your SNES/TV hooked up to a decent amp, they will shake your floor around like a hippo farting!

The other effects are pretty good too, including some great voice samples, and the mostly superb soundtrack rounds off what is very clearly another quality shmup from those splendid chaps at Compile. It doesn't really break new ground technically, but it's big, mostly fair, and well designed as well as being kind on the eyes and ears. About the only criticism really is the slightly inconsistent difficulty curve but it does at least keep you on your toes! I guess it would've done that anyway though; as mentioned earlier, it's far from the kind of shooter where you'll just sit at the bottom of the screen wiping out squadron after squadron of pesky popcorn enemies, instead providing much more interesting stages to steer your ship through, resulting in what is surely not only the SNES's finest vertical-scroller but one of the best of its era on any system. An essential game that all shmup fans should play.

RKS Score: 9/10

Gameplay Video: here's a video of the whole game being played by one of the talented fellows at World of Longplays (check out their great channel here). Oh, and don't watch if you want to avoid spoilers!



  1. I dig Space Megaforce. It's definitely one of the unsung heroes of the Super NES library, as evidenced by the insane prices it costs in auctions. It'd be nice to see it on other systems (3DS? Wii U?) but with the rights to Aleste/Zanac in limbo it's highly unlikely.

  2. Blimey, I didn't realise the US version cost a lot. It costs peanuts to buy here. Lucky us I guess! It was the second ever SNES shmup I bought and remains my favourite :)

  3. And now I've learned something! I might have to look up the prices for Super Aleste. I'd love to have a copy of the game; I just wouldn't love to sell an organ to get it.

  4. Ooh, it actually goes for a little more than I thought! It must've gone up in price in the last year or so. From what I can see, complete copies go for around £20 upwards...