Thursday, 14 February 2013

PC Engine Shmups #9

Super Star Soldier (1991)
By: Kaneko / Hudson Soft Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 First Day Score: 734,600
Also Available For: Nothing
Download For: Wii Virtual Console, PlayStation Network

For once the 'super' really is!
I originally started playing this game with a view to reviewing it quite a few weeks ago now - it is after all arguably the Engine's most famous shmup (along with Gunhed) and I hadn't played it before so this was a major issue to rectify! Not too long after starting, however, I discovered it had a prequel on the NES and MSX which, after playing and subsequently reviewing, found rather disappointing, and that got me thinking. The NES and PC Engine - both 8-bit consoles, both home to dozens of arcade conversions and arcade-style games, and yet the Engine is significantly superior with regard to games of this type (sorry NES fans!). I guess it's a little unfair to compare them but does the extra power of the Engine really make that much difference? I suppose it must do as after playing the frankly rather boring Star Soldier, this Engine sequel immediately looked ten times better...

The lightning cannon is surely the coolest weapon?
One aspect of the original game that impressed me was with the number of stages - an unusually numerous sixteen. This sequel has a mere, though still decent, eight, but they are of a higher quality and are also much more varied. They all scroll vertically of course, and take place over enemy bases (or giant ships, maybe), planetary surfaces, in caverns, and in open space, and they're filled with the usual mix of enemies - small 'n' fast ships, often flying in formation, larger more powerful ships, lots of scenery/ground-mounted guns and missile launchers, and of course large bosses at the end of each stage. Power-ups are found in the smoking hulks of a certain type of ship and include four main weapons represented by coloured rings - red is your default weapon which powers-up into a multi-directional shot, blue gives you ring lasers, yellow unleashes a swooshy flame-thrower, and green gives you a mighty crackly-looking lightning cannon.

Poor trees getting roasted by my flame-thrower :(
Each weapon can be powered-up four times by collecting successive icons. Grabbing more after that has a smart-bomb effect. Whichever main weapon you choose, you can bolster it with either heat-seeking missiles or a pair of shot-absorbing drones, both of which can also be powered-up. Contact from an enemy or their fire reduces the power of your weapons by one level so as long as you keep collecting icons, you should be able to progress quite far into the game. Luckily, the desire to do that is much greater here than with the prequel and part of this is down to the graphics which are superb. The smaller enemy ships often whizz around at ultra-sonic speeds and the larger ships are all great designs, especially some of the bosses which include a giant mech and what looks like that strange creature in the garbage compacter in Star Wars! As mentioned earlier, everything is far more varied here as well - just compare the screenshots to those in the Star Soldier review and I'm sure you'll agree!

You have to look our for lava as well as enemies here...
The first stage rather reminded me of Gunhed, which is no bad thing of course - it's mostly filled by a large metal structure brimming with guns, but the second stage differs about as much as it could, taking place over a forested planet! The third is similar but features a much more fiery landscape with jets of flame and fireballs occasionally escaping from the lava-filled areas. After that we find ourselves in open space with pretty stars and stuff in the background before entering some icy, obstacle-filled caverns. After that comes the obligatory enemy battleship and confrontations with the final bosses. Destroy all these and the evil 'Star Brains' are once again defeated! There is a little slow-down on the odd occasion but overall this is certainly among the best-looking shmups on the Engine and one of the most appealing I've played on any system. Even the weapon effects - something that's often lacking in other games - are superb.

A solar-eclipse... in space!
The red multi-shot isn't too spectacular but the blue, yellow, and green weapons are all fantastic which is all the more impressive considering the delightful backdrops and large number of enemies sometimes on screen, and there isn't even an annoying stats/score panel in the way of it all! The weapons all have unique sound effects too, which are pretty good, and each stage has its own decent tune, so all in all there's not really anything that's less-than-splendid about Hudson's fine sequel. Control of your ship (which is called the Neo Cesear, incidentally) is fast but precise and I rarely had any problems with the collision-detection. It's even a surprisingly fair game too - the stages have restart points, the power-ups are quite numerous, extra lives are awarded on achieving certain scores, and the boss attack patterns are challenging without being too tough. Super Star Soldier is probably not quite as amazing as the great Gunhed but it is a fantastic shooter - sometimes fast and manic, other times slower and more cerebral, but always entertaining and everything the first game wasn't!

RKS Score: 9/10


  1. I think if I suddenly came into a lot of money, the PC Engine would be a console I would love to collect for. The form factor of the machine itself, and the cool little HuCards, and the fact that it is home to some of the finest 2D games available at a time when this kind of sprite based artistry was at its peak.

  2. You're very correct there Marc, I'd love to collect for it myself. Sadly many games are quite pricey and it's often tough to get a decent console itself. There are some amazing arcade conversions and original titles on it though :)