Strikers 1945 for the Sega Saturn

In my earlier posts, I had mentioned that shoot'em ups for the Saturn was my favorite genre. Those posts had mentioned the big name games for the system, and many of them are well known.  With retro prices forever on the rise, and the global online market for games shrinking the world, I thought I would review one of my favorites that represents the genre and Saturn well, but won't break the bank.  This is Strikers 1945.

Strikers 1945 was originally released for arcades in 1995, and ported to the Saturn and Playstation in 1996.  The game was developed by Psikyo, and published by Atlus.  If the developer sounds familiar, that's because they were responsible for Gunbird, Sengoku Blade, and one of my favorites: Zero Gunner 2.  Being a huge fan of shooters, but not very good at them, I personally like the option to adjust the difficulty.  They let you know that you are disappointing them with the easier settings, as the two easiest settings are referred to as "child" and "monkey".

The plane selection screen offers some statistical information as well as the subweapon type.

I'm not sure what the story is, as I cannot read the Japanese manual for my Saturn copy, but I'm not sure that it matters too much.  What is odd is that your choice of fighter plane varies from American, Japanese, British, and German models.  So... a common enemy perhaps?  This leads to one of the strengths of the game: the variety of fighters and their attributes.  While each plane differs visually in sprite design, the real differences are in how the plane attacks.  there are three methods of attack:

1 - Basic fire - in most cases, this is a straight-forward vulcan canon (the R button is set to rapid fire).  It can be powered up to three times by collecting the bullet icons released by red enemies.
Some shot patterns are angles, and some are straight-on.
2 - charge attack - If you hold the shot button, you can align your options (if you're powered up) and unleash a specialized attack unique to each fighter.  This is incredibly useful as its usage is unlimited, but there is a drawback - you cannot fire during the charging period, leaving you vulnerable for a few seconds.  Strategic use is necessary against bosses if you want to progress farther into the game.  Of course the more options you have, the more powerful the attack.  This attack is not really that useful if you have only one option.

Regular use of your options with a charge shot adds to the gameplay. 

3 - bomb attack - You have a limited stock of bombs, so having a strategy for when to use bombs is necessary.  In addition to unleashing a deluge of firepower, the bomb attack clears the screen of enemy bullets, getting you out of a tight spot.  Some plane's may have a slight delay before their bomb attack gets going, so be wary of the timing.

The Spitfire's bomb attack is a seriously awesome beam of destruction.

The Planes:

  1. P-38 - This plane is part of the reason why this series is often mistaken as a part of Capcom's 1942/3 series.  The options fire a traditional vulcan machine gun as well.  The charge attack aligns your options to fire in steadfast formation.  The bomb is a loop de loop, just like in 1943, but accompanied with a huge bombshell blast.
  2. P-51 Mustang - This plane has a slightly smaller profile, making it easier to dodge enemy fire. The options fire large shots at a slower rate.  The charge attack unleashes you options in a rotating cyclone attack, that spins forward inflicting major damage and also erasing enemy fire. 
  3. Spitfire - Another smaller plane, this is a good choice for beginners.   The options fire missiles that are powerful, but are slow.  The charge attack aligns your options in a formation that fires at a wider angle, and move as you do instead of flying straight ahead.  The bomb attack is ridiculous... just ridiculous.  A couple of these will make short work of the bosses.  
  4. Messerschmidt Bf-109 - The only German plane represented in the game, it is a very offensively-minded plane.  The options track enemies on their own, acting completely independently.  The charge attack sends the options in a rotating cylcone as well, but this time they fire as they move forward.  The bomb attack is a carpet bomb air raid.
  5. Zero - The first of two Japanese planes, this plane is the most unique in the game.  The options drop bombs at surface targets.  The charge shot sends the options after enemy targets.  The bomb attack is a tsunami-like storm that inflicts heavy damage on bosses and clears the screen of smaller enemies.
  6. Shinden - Veterans of Saturn shooters may recognize this as the first plane in Battle Garegga, a Saturn exclusive.  This plane has a narrow, single file stream of firing.  The options fire a standard vulcan alongside your plane.  The charge shot is interesting as the options fire horizontlly (and vertically, if you have three or more) in a line that moves up the screen.  The bomb attack is the most unique in the game; your craft loops out of the way as it leaves a ghostly silhouette, which darts forward, wrecking everything in its path.  
The ghost bomb is really creative and satisfying to unleash.  

There are 8 stages per loop, and are not very long.  The first couple of stages seem random each time, where as the later stages are set.  I like this idea, as the replay value enhanced.  The bosses are generally huge mechanized ships that transform into a giant robot after taking much damage.  They have their patterns, and once you figure them out they aren't too difficult.   

This is a fun, pick up and play shooter.  It is even more fun with a friend playing co-op.  It is not the most ground breaking, or visually impressive game out there for the Saturn, but it is just plain fun.  

It is still relatively inexpensive but remember that it is a Japanese import, so you will need an Action Replay card or some other region bypass.  As I mentioned earlier, there was a Playstation release as well, but whenever a game is released for both platforms, I'll always pick the Saturn version for its awesome controllers (plus, the Playstation's d-pad is horribly rigid).  

I hope that somebody reads this and give this game a chance. 

Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi Review (Sega Genesis)

Under appreciated Sega Genesis game
The cover art is not exactly what you'd expect to see on a Shinobi game.

The Shinobi series is one of my favorite series of games during the late 80's and early 90's.  Sega was on a tear at the time, with stand out hits such as Out Run, Space Harrier, After Burner, Alien Syndrome, and others ruling the arcades.

Shinobi was a bit of a departure from its Sega brethren, opting for side scrolling, platforming action rather than super scaling graphics and psuedo-3D visuals.  It was a deliberately paced platformer game, that slowly guided the player through the necessary skills early in the game.  The clever use of levels, shurikens and melee attacks, and ninja magic were refreshing attributes that helped Shinobi make a name for itself.

When Sega released the Genesis console, the next entry in the series, The Revenge of Shinobi (ROS), was heralded as an instant classic.  There is a lot written about that game, so I wanted to review its lesser known Genesis follow up, Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi (SD).

Shadow Dancer was a confusing entry in the Shinobi series for a couple of reasons.  First of all, the North American Box art obfuscates the fact that this is a Shinobi game.  You can kinda tell if you look close, but its not obvious.  The Shinobi name is in the subtitle, but the subtitle text is so small that it would not be readable from behind a counter.  If Sega wanted it to be known that this was a Shinobi game, they sure didn't try too hard.

Consider also that the game play is more like the original arcade, and not like its Genesis predecessor; it is almost as if the two games were produced by different teams as there is no real continuity between them.

Whats more, the third Genesis game, Shinobi III, The Return of the Ninja Master (SIII), is a great follow up to ROS...except that it follows up SD.  SIII plays more in the style of ROS.  So what it comes down to, is that two of the games in the series play with an arcade feel, with fast action and single hit deaths, and the other two play as a measured platformer with life bars.  In the end, all games are great.

A classic trope of old school games is the progress map between stages.

Shadow Dancer has some interesting mechanics in gameplay.  The most obvious being the addition of the helper dog, or wolf, I'm not sure.  When facing an enemy, if you hold down the attack button the dog icon will fill up and flash, and when released, the dog will rush to bite and distract the enemy, giving you an opportunity to sneak in and attack.  This is especially useful if there is an armed sentry firing from a distance.  This does not work all the time, as certain blade-wielding enemies will hurt the dog, rendering him harmless for a period of time.

See the dog biting the enemy sentry?

You can choose to play with or without shurikens, making for a increased replay value.  The melee attacks, such as punching, kicking, and sword slashing, are invaluable to master if you want to make it far.  Contact with an enemy only knocks you back, unless the enemy has a blade.  Knowing the timing of the attacks and recovery from contact are necessary for battling hordes of ninjas in close quarters.

Battle in tight quarters are challenging but rewarding to overcome.
The level of challenge is moderate.  For Shinobi veterans, this will only get challenging in the mid to late stages.  Enemy patterns are easily learned, but additional challenge is incorporated by use of the environment.  An attacking ninja is no real problem alone, but multiple ninjas with limited space is another story.

Boss battles are enjoyable and unique.

At the end of each 3-part round is a boss battle.  Each boss is different and has relatively easy patterns to figure out.  You have ninja magic to rely out to get you out of a jam, and it will deplete the boss of two hit points.  Thus, you have boss fights that aren't too frustrating.

The sky darkens successively from one bonus stage to another, a nice touch.

In-between rounds there are bonus stages where you jump from a skyscraper and hurl shurikens at as many ninjas as possible.  Hit all 50 and you get three extra lives.  A classic shinobi theme that is a lot more manageable than the nearly impossible shooting gallery in the original game.

Beware bricky hands!

There are four different kinds of ninja magic, and you don't have a choice of which one you can use (at least I don't think you do).  Once per stage is the limit, but you score big points if you make it through that stage without using it.

Ninja magic is always fun to watch.

The graphics are excellent through most of the game.  The character sprites are excellently drawn, the movement animations are fluid and natural, and the boss designs are creative.  There are a couple of instances where the background graphics look like they were designed by a summer school intern, like the Statue of Liberty head in stage 3-3.  Other than than, it is a pleasure to look at.

I'm not sure what this guy is wearing, but he seems to be taken straight from Bare Knuckle 3

Stage four is visually interesting as there are looming shadows that conceal enemies as well as your character.  You need to tread lightly and watch for what passes into the shadow as it will eventually reappear on the other side and surprise you.

Overall this is an excellent game.  It conjures the arcade aesthetic of the original game, and plays light on its feet.  It is the overlooked black sheep of the series, but deserves a second look.