Released: March 19th 1993 Developer: Athena Difficulty: Medium
Biometal is a shooter that instead of being named after a lone spaceship sent to stop an evil alien force (and yes that is still the plot) is named after the enemies that you fight, a half alien half robot force known as Biometal, or BM for short.
This is a game I didn't quite "get" the first time I played it, and the above video shows it. While you have a standard arsenal of several weapons and missiles, the real focus here is your shield system. You have four orbs that can be summoned around your ship, these will block all enemy shots, and damage enemies who get too close. The problem I had at first, was that I used this tool defensively, always keeping it close to my ship to protect from shots. As weird as it sounds though, this just doesn't work that well.
The trick with the game is that while you have weapons, they don't do much damage. But actually throwing your shield right at enemies cuts through them like butter. Doing this leaves you vulnerable, so there's always a delicate balance of offense and defense. Eventually though, it felt the best move was to go all out offensive and just kill everything before it had a chance to flood the screen with bullets.
The controls can be a bit daunting at first, since you can only keep your shield out for limited amounts of time, so while trying to manage it and keep an eye on the timer, you also have to watch out for the enemies and bullets. For some reason, the shield always will vanish at critical moments for me.
While the game has excellent backgrounds and music, it's also very short, with only 6 stages, the final one being not much more than an intro then the final boss. The backgrounds also aren't varied, they look the same from start to end, except for in stage 5 which has two sections.
Another thing that bugged me about the game was the inevitable SNES slowdown. While the game by design is very fast, it is extremely prone to slowdown, so it ends up playing very slow at parts.
Overall though, once you get used to the game mechanics, Biometal is a damn great game, though it plays a bit differently so it may not be for everyone.
I wish I could end it there, but there is more to be said about this game. About the changes made to the game when it left Japan. Cooked up by the same team (not really) that thought guy with a banjo would make a good boxart, they started to brainstorm on how to take the game they've been given, and find a way to make it stand out in the crowded US market.
They ended up removing all of the music, one of the best things about the game, and replaced it with this.
Japan and Europe Only Released: March 26th 1993 Developer: Konami Difficulty: Medium
Twinbee is another series that got completely ignored in the US due to almost none of the games being released here. I mean, with 7 shoot em ups, a platformer, puzzle game, and even an RPG, Twinbee was no small series in Japan, but sadly the only game to get a US release was Twinbee 2 on NES, renamed Stinger. Pop'n Twinbee is also a bit unique in that while the other shooters in the series ended up on every platform possible, Pop'n remained SNES exclusive. Until 2007 when it was released on PSP. But that doesn't count.
The powerup system is pretty unique here, you shoot clouds to release bells, and shoot those bells to make them change color, and different colored bells give different powerups. The powers these grant are fairly standard though, there are two different weapon upgrades, shields, bombs, options, and a speed up. However having to manage the bells until they reach the color you want while still fighting off enemies is where this system shines.
The graphics in this game are incredibly. They aren't as in your face amazing on a technical level like Axelay, but the game is so loaded with color and animations that it's hard to believe it's an SNES game, and not an arcade game of the era. The music is good too, though maybe not quite on the level of the previous Konami games.
While the early Twinbee games were very strange, with Parodius taking that gimmick, Twinbee seems to have become the token cute shoot em up. As such, the pace is a bit slower and more laid back, especially early on, since the game was probably aimed at a slightly younger audience. The game does pick up considerably later on, my biggest complaint would be how long it takes to do so, stage 4 in particular is just way too long.
This is a game that seems designed for two player play. In two player mode you can trade energy in order to survive longer, and even throw the other player around the screen to damage enemies. There is even a setting to have all enemies focus fire on player 1, leaving player 2 relatively unharmed. Oh I get it, player 2 is the girl, so she needs extra help like that, huh? Damn sexist Konami!
US Title: Aero Fighters Released: July 30th 1993 Developer: Video System Difficulty: High
This is a very traditional and straightforward game. Simple weapons system, two bombs per life, and no other frills. Obviously this game owes a lot to Raiden, and similar overhead Toaplan shooters, as it plays basically exactly like them. Where Aero Fighters succeeds though, is that it takes a very tried and tested formula, and executes it perfectly.
The game has seven stages, all of which are very short, but crammed with tons of action. The game starts off fast and never lets up for a second. Bosses are similar, huge machines that throw tons of bullets of bullets at you from every angle. Again it feels almost exactly like Raiden, but still very well polished and arguably surpasing the original.
Luckily in all this chaos you don't have to worry about going back to a checkpoint if you die, even though the game is still 1 hit kills (and don't expect any shields here) you only get sent back if you run out of lives completely, and most stages are so short that this isn't much of a set back.
Overall there isn't a whole lot to say about the game as it doesn't do anything new, it just does the same old but with great results. On the plus side it has a two player mode which given the hectic pace of this game I would imagine is great fun.
Weirdest moment: Dying and having a 1up pop out from my corpse instead of the normal powerup icon.
Second weirdest moment: The first time I reached the last boss, a monkey popped out and promptly killed me. The next time, and every time thereafter, I got a different last boss! Apparently the monkey is a rare last boss, but I was never able to get it to show up again.
US Title: Super Nova Released: September 24th 1993 Developer: Taito Corporation Difficulty: High
It's time for the second Darius game on the old SNES, which strangely got renamed outside Japan, despite that there was already a Darius game released on the system two years ago! Unfortunately though, like the first SNES Darius one, this game ended up being a disappointment.
A few things are improved from Darius Twin though. First off, the music doesn't use such ear piercing synths as before so it's much more pleasant to listen to. The map system is also MUCH better than the joke that was Twins, which gave you a choice between two diferent colored versions of the same level multiple times. Darius Force has three primary "routes" that are designed to be different difficulties. They also have three unique last bosses and endings for decent replay value. Like other Darius games, despite all the stages, many use the same backgrounds and bosses, but with different colors, which greatly reduces the actual variety.
What really hurt this game for me though was the insane difficulty level. The game is hard in almost every way possible, the most noticable and annoying though is that when you die, unlike previous Darius games, you get sent back to a checkpoint. Dying also brings your lasers and bombs back to level 1. Only your shield levels will remain, that is if you can survive 3 or 4 levels in a row to get them to silver level.
Even though you technically die in 1 hit, there is admittedly a shield near every checkpoint so they might as well just given you a lifebar. However the shields work in weird ways that may end up with you dying in 1 hit anyways. Bullets do the least damage to you, while enemies ramming into you does noticably more. And since enemies love to appear from sides of the screen, guess which happens more. But fear not little bullets! There's no brief invicibility when you get hit, so free free to combo the fuck out of the player! In addition to the cheap enemies appearing from all sides, there are also a large number of enemies that attack on death, but these are so overdone its safer to just ignore and avoid them.
So yeah, the game is basically trying its hardest to kill you all of the time. It's pretty frustrating to have a game have good fundamentals but then totally blow it in such an important area. So I guess this is a game for the hardcore only. The rest of us can just play easy mode. Or another game.
Choujikuu Yousai Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie
Japan Only Released: October 29th 1993 Developer: WinkySoft Difficulty: Medium
Now this is more like it! I'm not sure exactly what it is, but out of all the great shooters I've played that were only ever released in Japan, this is the one I really feel should've been brought overseas the most. Macross combines great graphics, catchy as hell music, and insane bosses into one of the best, if not the best SNES shoot em up.
Macross gives you three pilots to choose from, each with three different weapons each. I didn't spend too much time with the guys, choosing to play as the girl (duh) instead. Her weapons included a fairly standard machinegun, crescents that were very useful as they would pass through the landscape, and a slow but extremely powerful cannon shot. Changing your weapon also changes the form of your ship, which also affects your movement speed, making the third weapon for each character harder to use as you move pretty slow with it.
Macross also attempts another idea that comes up once in a while, which is taking control of your enemies in some way. Some games have you stealing their weapons, while others let you take control of their own ships. In both those types of games though, your default ship is pitifully weak, which isn't the case here, thus in Macross, you can simply hijack enemy ships by having them change sides and fight alongside you. To do this stop attacking for a second or two, and your ship will glow gold. Get near an enemy, and if they can be turned, they'll turn gold and begin to fight with you. Almost all enemies in the game can be turned to your side as well, and once they do, they become invincible and even follow you between stages. The way they fight is varied as well, some will fire behind you, some diagonally, and some will just add to your primary firepower.
Overall, this is one of the shooters you're least likely to have ever heard of, and the one you need to check out as soon as possible.
R-Type III: The Third Lightning
Released: December 10th 1993 Developer: Irem Difficulty: High
There's good, and there's bad, and R-Type III is a game with a lot of both. First up, the good. R-Type III is a big step up from the fairly disappointing Super R-Type in almost every way, most noticably, the game doesn't suffer from the constant slowdown its predecesor did. You also have more choice in weapons this type, you have a choice of three different force pods, which each have different versions of the red blue and yellow lasers.
The graphics in R-Type III are also great, to me they do a great job at portraying a more grim and dirty futuristic style than the usual more clean and perfect styles of other shooters. The music fits this theme as well, it's more grunge/rock focused than most other video game music and does a great job setting the mood.
So wheres the bad? Well once again, this game is insanely hard. And I know it's probably getting old reading me yell at every game with 1 hit kills, but I swear this game was really trying to piss me off at parts. One example would be stage 4 where you have to navigate through a series of tubes, while lava races through the area. The pattern is always the same, but the speed at which it comes rushing at you gives you no chance to react, so you're forced to memorize the pattern and try it over and over as each mistake sends you back to the checkpoint. Then after the boss, you have to do it again, backwards.
For a game that is so punishing there are also a good number of "What the fuck do I do here?" moments, such as having to shoot through walls with a fully charged beam (nothing else works), hiding in enemy spawn points to phase through walls, and to defeat the final boss, you have to shoot your force backwards into his mouth. Not the kind of thing that is super obvious to do after simply shooting him for 3 forms in a row worked.
So in the end I'm not sure how to score this one. It's a good game marred by horrible difficulty. At the very least it's better than Super R-Type, so hey, I'll give it a half sock more. Play this one on... there is no easy mode? Oh dear god!
And that's it for SNES shoot em ups, if you lived in the United States that is. Despite having three years still ahead, not a single game left for review was ever released in the US. So next time we dive headfirst into uncharted territory, the land of Japanese only games!