When Compile of Japan folded in 2001, few people on this earth wept more than I. Although Compile was primarily known for their Puyo Puyo puzzle games, they've also created some of the damn finest shooters in existence. Their legacy lives back to the MSX home computers days of the mid-80s, their most fruitious period, up until Zanac X Zanac for the Playstation, their swan song.

With the exception of Spriggan Mark 2, all of Compile's shooters have been overhead. And they move FAST. The terrain is always very open, so you instead concentrate on dealing with dodging enemy bullets rather than navigating obstacles. Because of this, sometimes the levels can feel a bit long and repetitive - especially on the older games, when they don't change the graphics very much - but the action is compelling enough to keep it from getting old.


Aleste MSX

The real appeal of Compile games are the massive extensive arsenal in which you get to crush whatever invading monsters you're up against. In fact, the weapons systems in most Compile games are fairly similar - you have your primary forward shooting cannon, which is always armed, and several secondary weapons that are scattered throughout each stage. These can be upgraded several levels by either collecting floating P-chips or obtaining the same weapon multiple times.

The fun, however, comes with experimenting with all of the different weapons you have and seeing just how powerful they can get. Practically every single kind of shooter archetype - lasers, homing missiles, options, wave cannons - can be found in some form or another, as well as a defensive weapon or two. There's rarely a time when you can ever have the wrong or even BAD weapon. There's always a variety to suit your style of play. Most of these games encourage you to switch weapons often just to mix things up every once in awhile. Since the levels are usually just long empty stretches of space, usually with little background variation, they act mostly as a playground for you to mess around with the goodies the game entreats you with.

Collecting power-ups is actually one of the best strategies in a Compile game - every time you pick up something, you're granted a split second in invulnerability, which is sometimes necessary to wade through all of the projectiles that are tossed at you.

Another distinctive aspect of Compile games are the multi-turreted bosses. Though you'll find a fair share of gigantic robots, many battles are based around huge, screen filling bases armed to the teeth with rapidly firing eyes that blink open and closed. So you'll be attempting to disable each boss piece by piece while still dodging all of the bullets that are thrown at you. There's a certain joy in dismantling these things until it's almost defenseless.


MUSHA

Many of their games also have strong back stories, which is something refreshingly different from the norm. Almost every title has a unique pilot, which eliminates the anonymous feeling usually present in most shooters. Both MUSHA and Zanac X Zanac have extensive characters listed in the instruction manual - most of whom never appear in the game, unfortunately - but it's obvious that a lot of effort was put into the design process. Robo Aleste begins with long cinema discussing the history of ancient Japan and how the story intertwines with the game. Compile even went and did something wacky with the crazy robotic rabbits in Gun*Nac. So while each game shares many similar characteristics, these aspects really help each game stand apart from its brethren.

What follows are a listing of a majority of Compile shooters - some minor things (like their really old games or their obscure ports) have been left out, and there's a few tangents into their RPG series Golvellius, but each and every one of these games rocks, and they're well worth giving a go.


Zanac EX

Zanac

The Guardian Legend

Blazing Lazers

Spriggan

Robo Aleste


Zanac - MSX/MSX2/NES (1986)


American NES Cover

NES Cover

Zanac NES

Zanac NES

Zanac is, quite simply, one of the best shooters you'll find on the NES. You see, Zanac eschews the usual wave-after-wave of enemy patterns. Instead, Zanac has an artificial intelligence that throws different kinds of bad guys at you, depending on what weapon you're wielding. The result is one of the most innovative brand of shooters out there, as it's always forcing you to adapt to different situations. Unfortunately, only Zanac, the original Aleste games (and Power Strike) and Zanac X Zanac use this system. Zanac has an extremely visually repetitive look, given that this is one of the earlier NES titles, but the AI keeps every game at least somewhat fresh, so it's still an amazing challenge. It's also quite long - there are more than twelve stages.

One of the most amusing bits about the NES Zanac was the terribly translated manual, including a convoluted introduction story.

First it was probably a tiny dot. A few thousand years later, it grew gigantic enough to cover the whole universe. The system created by an organic intelligence body a long time agp was still active even after the organic intelligence body perished. The system had a purpose: giving wisdom to those who opened the icon properly, and giving punishment of ruin to those who opened it improperly.

One day, someone opened the icon improperly. The system started operation and startted attacking them. Then, they opened it properly. The icon ordered the system to suspend the attack. The system however ignored this order and became a slaughter device. The human beings who opened the icon fell into crisis. The attack from the system overwhelmed the offensive power of the human beings. When they were about to perish, there was one hope - the system is basically a strategic machine and is equipped for fighting against a multitude. If a single object confronts the system by itself, the system might not be able to cope with it effectively.

Like many Compile shooters, Zanac originated on the MSX home computer. It had the same basic gameplay as the NES game, but given that it's an earlier title, the scrolling graphics are unfortunately very choppy. The right side of the screen is also taken up by a status bar.

To take advantage of the superior power of the MSX2, Compile released Zanac EX, a remake of the original. For all intents and purposes, it's almost exactly the same as the NES game, although the graphics are a bit different.

Music
Level 1

Zanac NES


Zanac MSX


Zanac EX MSX2


Aleste - MSX2 (1988)

MSX Cover

MSX Aleste

MSX Aleste

Aleste is more or less the sequel to Zanac, as it features the same AI generated enemy waves and weapon system. It did, however, start a whole new plot - evil plant creatures were taking over the planet, so you fight against monstrous vines and other types of twisted vegetation. The scrolling is also much improved over the choppiness of the original Zanac MSX.

Music
BGM 2
BGM 3

Aleste MSX


Aleste 2 - MSX2 (1989)

MSX Cover

Aleste 2 MSX

Aleste 2 MSX

Aleste 2 for the MSX gives the original a nice graphical upgrade, while also letting you pick from an arsenal of weapons at the beginning of the game. In addition to a bunch of neat speech samples, this also marks the introduction of the reoccurring series heroine Ellinor.

Music
BGM 5

Aleste 2 MSX

Aleste Gaiden - MSX2 (1989)

Aleste Gaiden

Aleste Gaiden

Aleste Gaiden

Aleste Gaiden is where the series first ditches the spaceships in favor of Japanese flavored robotic suits. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world (Statue of Liberty heads mark the landscape of the first level), Aleste Gaiden is completely different from the others because you can't fly - instead, you're on the ground and have to jump over pits and assorted obstacles. Unfortunately, the weapon system has been significantly downgraded - you only have three different weapons that are powered up individually. Dying also sends you back to a checkpoint. An interesting change to pace, but not for the better.

Aleste Gaiden

Power Strike/Aleste (1988) - Sega Master System

European Cover

American Cover

Power Strike

For the most part, this is a port of the original MSX Aleste, although it's sadly missing all of the story scenes. The gameplay and most of the graphics are the same, although some of the levels are different. This time, however, the game practically goes overboard on tossing enemies at you, making it even more difficult than before - probably one of the hardest of all the shooters listed here. How hard? I tried playing the first thirty seconds of stage 1 without firing in order to record the music. Doing this successfully took about twenty tries. The Sega Master System version was originally released only through mail-order in America - this version has a black and white cover. However, it was released in elsewhere with a full cover color.

Music
Stage 1
Title Screen (Theme of Aleste)

Power Strike

Guardic - MSX (1986)

Japanese MSX Cover

Another one of Compile's earlier shoot-em-ups, Guardic is an interesting little game where you fight a single screen of enemies, then move onto the next. At the beginning of the game, you're allocated a certain number of points, which you can use to add various powers to your ship. However, you need to re-equip your ship after every screen, so you have to be really conservative so you don't use up all of your energy. It's a neat concept, at the very least, although the rest of the game really isn't any more complicated than Galaga or any really old shooter. As a result, it hasn't exactly aged as well as Compile's other games, and it's really very hard.

However, years later they created a pseudo-sequel - Guardic Gaiden, the game that became known as The Guardian Legend when it was released outside of Japan.


Guardic

Guardian Legend/Guardic Gaiden - Nintendo Entertainment System (1988)

European Cover

Japanese Cover

Guardian Legend

In one of the most brilliant cross-pollination of genres ever, Compile fused their gift at making awesome overhead shooters and mixed it together with a Zelda-like action/adventure. You explore the surface of the abandoned planet Naju finding power-ups, and the dungeons are actually the shooting segments, where you face off against all kinds of demonic aquatic life. There's tons of weapons to find that can be used in both modes, though much of time you spend finding chips (to use your special weapons) and increasing your score (to lengthen your life gauge.) You also have to balance the use of your special weapons, as the more you use them, the weaker your main gun becomes. It can get rather difficult, since getting into a boss battle without the proper equipment usually results in a pitiful and quick death, but once you master it, you'll find one of the most innovative games on the system. Just make sure to write down those sickening long passwords correctly. If you're not into the whole adventure thing, you can ever play the game through straight as a shooter - just input TGL as your password to play the game as a straight shooter.

The American box art was quite tragic - just a pair of ominous, vaguely reptilian eyes peering over a landscape. Not terrible, but nothing to do with the game. The slightly Metropolis-esque European cover was at least closer to what the game was supposed to be.

Music
Area 0
Opening Stage

Guardian Legend

Guardian Legend

BABE ALERT: Alyssa the Guardian

I think I speak for every member of the male gender when I say every guy wants a chick that can transform into a badass spaceship. And screw that prude Samus - Alyssa from The Guardian Legend struts around in a bikini throughout the entire game.


Randar/Lander:

Known by various different translation, Randar is this smiling blue thing with huge eyes. He's pretty much Compile's mascot, and appears in nearly every title. He heals you in Golvellius, sells you things in The Guardian Legend, and acts as nifty power-ups in many of the shooter titles. He even starred in a few small little RPGs.

Randar's Great Adventure for the MSX

Gun*nac - Nintendo Entertainment System (1990)

American Cover

Japanese Cover

Gun*Nac

One of the later NES games, Compile shown it had practically mastered the system's CPU, as it offered a blazingly fast game that also looked great. Showing that Compile's not afraid to get a little bit silly with its games, Gun*Nac has you fighting evil robot rabbits and attacking carrots. You only have one main weapon, but there's a variety of multi-directional guns and flameshots, as well as an assortment of bombs to choose from. There's also a shop inbetween levels that lets you arm yourself the way you want, based on how much money you collected throughout the level.

Music
Level 1

Gun*Nac

Gun*Nac

Much like the American myth that the moon is made of cheese, the Japanese have a folk tale that on the moon is a rabbit pounding rice with a mallet. This association of rabbits with outer space is why you fight evil bunnies, as illustrated on the left. Even wackier is the bizarre shopkeeper, who seems to be running a combination fast food/heavy armaments joint.

Gun*Nac

Power Strike 2 (Europe) - Sega Master System (1993)

European SMS Cover

Power Strike 2 SMS

Power Strike 2 SMS

Power Strike 2 takes place an alternate past, mixing 1930s aircraft with the usual futuristic stuff. You play a bounty hunter who tracks down pirates. Other than the change in graphical style, it's solid shooter fare, and not quite as stupidly difficult as the original SMS Power Strike. Most of the multi-turreted bosses of the Aleste games have also been replaced with the traditional "huge battleship" type of enemy. An interesting addition is an "afterburst" weapon - if you fire continuously for a few seconds then let go of the trigger, you'll let off a small barrage of a very powerful wave weapon. This appears to only have been released in Europe and Australia - no trace of a Japanese version exists.

Power Strike 2 SMS

GG Aleste - Game Gear (1991)

Japanese Game Gear Cover

GG Aleste

GG Aleste

Still another solid Aleste game, completely new, this time in portable form. Gameplay-wise, there's nothing that really stands out as unique compared to the other titles. This one also features Ellinor once again. This one was unfortunately only released in Japan.

GG Aleste

Power Strike 2/GG Aleste 2 - Game Gear (1993)

Game Gear Cover

Power Strike 2 Game Gear

Power Strike 2 Game Gear

This is actually an entirely different game from Power Strike 2 on the SMS, using the similar outer-space theme as most of the other Aleste games. The basic gameplay is the same, although the graphics have been enhanced significantly, especially the awesome bomb explosion effect. There's some awesome looking mech enemies too, that beat out any of the other 8-bit games. Both GG Aleste games are some of the best shooters on a portable system EVER. This got an English release in Europe, although it never made it to America, sadly enough.

Power Strike 2 Game Gear

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