DANGER ZONE (PART LII)
Ambitious flame, hidden in my heart.
Didn't know how to grow from a single fire spark.
Nowhere to go, and the road was dark.
Couldn't wait, ran ahead, it's time to move and make my mark.
This has been a month of surprises on Arcade Archives: Allumer's Zing Zing Zip, Konami's Jail Break, and now we have the debut of a "new" company: Athena. The company where Warashi would be born.
The game that starts the Athena-Warashi line up of Hamster's rereleases is the vertical shooter Strike Gunner S.T.G
I gave my pride, left all my regret.
I just wish to be stronger to give it all my best.
What do I do to spread this burning courage?
Everyday, every night I'm stuck inside of my head.
Right after inserting the coin and pressing start, you and a friend are gonna have to make a choice: Choosing the special weapon they want for their mission. On each level you'll be granted to pick a special weapon since the weapon you used on a stage will be unable to be used for the rest of the game. Special weapons consumes energy not by ammo numbers, but from a Megaman-styled energy bar which can be regained by picking up "Energy" items.
SHIELD UNIT: This provides you with a temporary force field that makes you invincible to enemy fire and collisions, with a moderate consumption of the energy bar, you can use this weapon plenty of times to keep you away from tight spots and mostly keep you away from harm during boss fights.
HOMING MISSILE: Fires two missiles that lock on targets. This is another weapon that consumes an average amount of energy, so you've better use this one on Stage 1.
ATOMIC MISSILE: The Bomb of the game, drops a missile that generates a large blast that destroys everything on screen and inflicts tremendous damages on bosses. All of these benefits come with a cost: Large energy consumption at the point of being able to fire 6 bombs before depleting your energy bar.
LASER CANNON: This weapon fires a quite long twin laser fire that inflicts considerable damages to the enemies and mostly on bosses without consuming too much energy. Better keep this one for the penultimate stage of the game. In the weapon select select screen is called "LAZER CANNON"
COMRADE FIGHTER: These are side-ships that act as additional pods that provide extra firepower. However, this is only a temporary measure as the comrades can be destroyed before they retreat and summon them again.
ANTI AIR MINE: This is an Defensive-Offensive weapon. You can drop a good amount of mines on screen that will float until an enemy or a bullet touches them. The small explosion will both damage the enemies that get in contact and destroy the bullets that get on its path.
SONIC WAVE: Another screen-clearing weapon like the Atomic Missile. This is an energy pulse that destroys small enemies and bullets alike. Since it is weaker than the Atomic Missile, it consumes less energy.
PHOTON BLASTER: This is a laser type weapon that shoots a twin energy orb that swings based on the player's movement. It requires some mastery to take multiple enemies with one single attack. This weapon is wrongly named "PHOTON BLASTR".
SPRAY MISSILE: Fires missiles on a "frontal-curved" trajectory in random flight angles, Its firing rate depends on how fast the play taps the button. In the weapon select screen it is wrongly called "SPLAY MISSILE".
AUTO-AIMING VULCAN: A machine gun fire that aims to the nearest enemy. It is wrongly called "AUTOAIMIG VALCAN".
Don't wanna stay who I am today, wanna be somebody leading the way?
Don't be afraid, we gotta be brave no matter what's coming your way.
Strike it down and hype up the crowd.
We can bring the energy they've never seen before.
While being simple at first sight, Strike Gunner's gameplay is somewhat strategic as we've already learned how the selectable weapon system works, and while most shmups you can rely on your standard weapons, in Strike Gunner S.T.G's case is a little different since the main weapon of your ship is a full frontal vulcan fire which increases its strength and rate of fire by picking power ups. But unlike Raiden or any other shmup, you have to shoot the item in order to get a "SHOT" item to increase your ship's weapon strength. Each bullet will change the item's purpose from SHOT to ENERGY (recover ammo for the Special Weapon) and SPEED (increase your jet's movement speed). Learning to time your firing is a must in this game in order to keep your ship strong enough to make its way throughout a stage because if you take a hit you're dead and your fast 4-bullet row frontal fire's power level will go down to the slow rated pea shooter. Despite being a shmup where the bullet patterns are the "big bullet that splits into three small bullets" backed up by destructible homing missiles, it has plenty of challenge as the game is more speed-based rather than slow and bullet spammed. Bullets are moderatedly fast, but not undodgeable. One annoying thing is that you can't tell if you're hitting your enemies. Like in Thunder Dragon, if you hit an enemy, it doesn't blink to indicate its taking damage forcing you to burn a bomb 'cos it makes you think your shots are not causing any damage. This problem is carried on Strike Gunner S.T.G, being the boss the only exception while the rest of the game keeps you with the annoying doubt. Also, selecting the appropiate weapon is something important to know. The best example is the first space stage as the boss has a circle of small satellites shielding it from your attacks. If you don't have the Laser Cannon, your gameplay is already screwed.
Along with your standard weaponry, if you're playing the game with a friend, there's an exclusive ability that involves both jets: Fusion Attack. Depending on who combines by pressing the fusion button will became the leader controlling the super aircraft while the other player will be able to fire a special vulcan in multiple directions (Example: Player 1 makes the fusion, Player 2 is the gunner), an interesting experimental feature that becomes a game changer as it requires both players to play even more cooperative and strategic than before.
Oh, there's no doubt, we're going all out
It's time, we can shine the fighting dream inside
So don't back down, we have the power.
I know, nothing can stop us or get in the way, ah!
Unlike Allumer's catalog which had to wait for Hamster to bring it to the Arcade Archives series, Strike Gunner S.T.G was home-ported to a console, being a Super Nintendo exclusive where it was more of an "Enhanced" port rather than a direct port, since the SNES release changed the intro in favor of the SNES Mode 7 effects, swapped the players pilots (Player 1 is now the female pilot and Player 2 is the male), replaced stages with new ones and the first space stage was redesigned. But the gameplay also got an improvement, starting off with the addition of five new weapons and replacing one from the original arcade.
MEGABEAM CANNON: New Weapon #1. A mega-laser that consumes all the energy bar in one shot, but dealing a massive amount of damage and even boss destruction in one shot.
SONIC SHOOTER: New Weapon #2. Fires a crescent shaped shot that passes through multiple enemies.
PHOTON TORPEDO: Replacement/Improvement of the Photon Blaster. Fires 4 energy orbs in a specific direction based on the opposite direction of the ship's movement (Moving up fires backwards, left fires right, etc.) acting as an offensive countermeasure to keep the Strike Gunner safe from harm and attacking the enemy at the same time.
ADHESIVE BOMB: New Weapon #3. This is similar to the Anti Air Mine, but the mine explodes once it latches on an enemy. You can fire mines non-stop until the energy bar depletes, which basically is of very low consumption, granting you a good amount of pain-dealing attacks to your enemies. The weapon select screen writes its name as "ADHESIV BOMB".
HEAVY VULCAN: New Weapon #4. Fires a rapid machine gun artillery of moderate strength, useful when you lose your firepower after losing a life. Like the Auto-Aiming Vulcan, it suffers the engrish "VALCAN" naming.
HEAT ARROW: New Weapon #5. At first, this weapon fires bullets in a circular pattern similar to Axelay's Round Vulcan, then it fires bullets on any direction becoming a very helpful weapon against the enemies on the sides and behind you.
The key improvement in the SNES version along with the new stages was the change to the power up mechanic. Rather than shooting the item in order to get a specific upgrade, a support vehicle will drop a separated upgrade so you can pick it up with more ease, resulting in more item drops than the original arcade game. The levels were extended as we have new enemies and attack patterns like sudden missile attacks that you should avoid or destroy. In terms of graphics and sound it was very faithful to the original game, although there was redesigned things like the carrier that launches the player's jets in the game which looks more Sci-Fi and less modern military, the space levels which were redesigned starting with an "Leave Earth" and ending with a lunar flyby on the penultimate stage. However, the major offender of the SNES version was the final boss, while the original arcade had this Star Soldier-ish brain boss, the SNES release replaced it with a Death Star Trench Run like level where the core self destructs after reaching it. To make things worse, the ending of the SNES version requires the players to finish it on the higher difficulty levels to watch it completely.
The Arcade Archives release only has one "Original Mode" since the original arcade game never left Japan, thus, for those who are more familiarized with the SNES port, you'll be in for an arcade perfect shooting experience as Hamster's release brings the original gameplay, graphics and sound with the additional Hi-Score and Caravan Modes where you have to rack the highest score possible in one credit and survive for 5 minutes in pure Star Soldier style.
Graphically, Strike Gunner S.T.G looks like your average shooter where the scenery looks simplistic and most of the times repetitive, especially in the backgrounds. The most notorious examples are the forest/jungle levels that repeat the same green and black texture over and over and over again until the game decides to drop the desert layout, but it gets worse in the space levels as we only have a starry background most of the times with satellite structures and the moon to break the monotony.
Like Aero Fighters, the majority of the game is "Modern Military" based enemies, with your aircraft clearly based on the F-14 Tomcat and the enemies being Russian-based vehicles and giant human-made air fortresses and super tanks during the Earth-based levels and the first space stage where the enemies are satellites, the more alien designs will appear in the final stages of the game where we will fight an alien core which is very reminiscent of the brain boss of the Star Soldier series. The back of the American package of the SNES port explains that claiming that the original enemy was a rebel nation called Sovinia which joined forces with an alien force from beyond this planet until the aliens turned against Sovinia and Earth collectively.
The sound department is more of a noise than a soundtrack as the music sound muffled and with repetitive music that tries to be Vapor Trail-esque hard rock, action thriller and even mystery-like in the second space stage. In contrast, the SNES version has a much clear sound making it superior to the arcade version in that aspect.
STRIKE CURIOSITIES S.T.C
Can't stop now, let's take the knockout
My friend, just believe and keep on shouting till the end
- First Athena entry in the Arcade Archives series.
- The Arcade Archives release is the second home port of the game.
- Second port of Strike Gunner S.T.G on a Nintendo console since the SNES release and first on PlayStation.
- The artwork of the American SNES port was done by Mark Ericksen (Thunder Force II for the Genesis and the arcade flyer of Capcom's U.N. Squadron).
- The Arcade Archives manual retains the engrish on the weapon names.
- Being based on the F-14, it is very clear that the S.T.G's are two seater aircraft, but the RIO/WSO's are not named despite in the opening sequence we can see two pilots in the cockpit.
- STG is also used in shmup community (more often in Japanese media) as an abreviation of "Shooting" or "Shooting Game".
So. ¿When's the next game?
Overall, we have a simple, yet fun enough debut of a then new developer on the arcade shmup scene with some exciting weaponry but lacking of multidirectional fire that requires the innovative player fusion in order to address that flaw.
Whether if its the genuine arcade release or just the Super Nintendo version, if simple aerial/space combat using an enhanced Tomcat with lots of selectable weapons to make your day easier is the dose of action you're looking for, then "Go Strike" with Strike Gunner S.T.G.
If Eda approves it, then it's a good game.
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