Blazing Lazers/Gunhed (Japan) - Turbografx-16 (1989)

Turbograx-16 Cover

PC Engine Cover

Blazing Lazers

While commonly placed alongside Hudson's Star Soldier series of games, Blazing Lazers was actually made by Compile, and it has the same feel as all of their other games. While there are only four primary weapons, there are a few subsystem power-ups - you can choose between extra shields, homing missiles, options or streghtening your main weapon to the highest level. The catch is, you can only have one of these active at a given time, forcing you to prioritize based on what kind of power you think you'll need. While the game nastily sends you back to checkpoints when you die, you do can take a few hits from enemies, as long as you've got a powered-up weapon. This is not only a top-notch shooter, but better than most of the Star Soldier sequels that this game inspired.

Blazing Lazers

Gunhed Movie Poster

The Japanese version is called Gunhed, which appears to be a live-action Japanese movie about transforming robots. More info is at the IMDB. While the American title might have one too many "Z"s to be taken seriously, Blazing Lazers does in fact have one of the bitchingest guns in any shooter. Dubbed "Field Thunder", it has many different power levels where your electric beams slither up in the screen in incredibly cool looking patterns.

Blazing Lazers

MUSHA / Musha Aleste - Genesis (1990)

Genesis Cover

Mega Drive Cover

MUSHA

MUSHA is a side-story to the regular Aleste games (similar to Aleste Gaiden for the MSX), as you are tossed in the role of gigantic robots fighting in medieval Japan. Your bullets are actually electric shurikens, you fight against mechanized Japanese castles, and the enemies are a mesh of mythological demons and giant battleships shaped like Japanese fortresses. The weapon system also changed dramatically - although you still power-up with P-chips, there are only three secondary weapons that can be powered up multiple levels. More interesting are the little satellites that surround your ship - you can set several different modes that allow them to provide additional firepower in the front, attack from the rear, or even home in on enemies around the screen. MUSHA also has some of the best synthesized rock soundtracks you'll find on the Genesis, and some impressive parallax scrolling backgrounds.

The Japanese title is Musha Aleste: Fullmetal Fighter Ellinor, as the heroine was meant to be the same as Aleste 2 for the MSX - her name is Terri in the English release. On another note, "musha" in Japanese means something akin to "warrior". For the American release, this was changed an anacronym: Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor.

Music
Armed Armor
Full Metal Fighter
Noh Specter

MUSHA

The coolest boss in MUSHA - so rocking that it's featured on the back of the Japanese box - is the gigantic spaceship with the face of a Japanese Noh mask. The first time you meet it, it flees away, but the second time you get to finish it off. But in grand "I'm not dead yet!" tradition, it shows up again right before the final credit roll.

MUSHA

Robo Aleste / Dennin Aleste - Genesis (1992)

Sega CD Cover

Mega CD Cover

Robo Aleste

Robo Aleste is essentially the sequel to MUSHA, although it has an even stronger emphasis on ancient Japan. This is especially evident with the game's terribly long and boring intro, which goes over actual historical events. Unfortunately, the programmable options are gone, replaced with two disks that hover in front of your mech that can be used to absord enemy fire. You can also get a few different weapon upgrades that affect the behavior of these disks. The levels are a bit shorter than other games, but greater in number, and even the smaller enemies take a lot of hits, resulting in a much more difficult game. As usual for a Sega CD game, the CD medium doesn't add much to the game other than some OK music and some nice scaling effects here and there. Still good, but MUSHA and Spriggan are better.

Music
Level 1

Robo Aleste

Space Megaforce / Super Aleste - SNES (1992)

SFC Cover

SFC Cover

Space Megaforce

Compile's SNES version of Aleste is also one of its best, although it actually has much more in common with Blazing Lazers - some of the weapons should seem familiar. This time you only have one main gun, but there's a choice of eight different weapons. Not only can each weapon be upgraded up to six levels, but each one has multiple shot modes that can be switched whenever you want. Although most have two alternate modes, you know something is amazing when your default weapon, fully powered up, has six different shot configurations. There are other minor tweaks to the Aleste formula too - most Compile shooter stages are pretty open, while Space Megaforce actually gives you some obstacles to navigate through, giving the levels a much more distinct feeling. Some of the levels feature some nifty Mode 7 effects too. Still, some stages run on too long, and there's a weird respawn system where you have two kinds of backup ships - one kind will let you resurrect where you die, the other takes you back a (fairly far) checkpoint.

Music
Level 1
Level 4

Space Megaforce

Spriggan - PC Engine (1991)

PC Engine Cover

Spriggan

Spriggan

Spriggan shares the whole giant robot theme of MUSHA and Robo Aleste, but replaces the ancient Japanese setting with a medieval-like fantasy world, full of sprawling crystalline castles and gorgeous waterfalls. This vision is well-realized too, as the art design is amazingly gorgeous.

The weapon system features colored orbs, of which you can hold three at a time. Your weapon is determined by the combinations of colors, and if you're in dire straits, you can sacrifice one of your orbs for use as a bomb - vaguely similar to Soldier Blade, but much deeper. Sometimes your comrade in green combat suits will fly into the fry to help you out - which is kinda cool, as it gives you the impression that you're not the only soldier fighting a war, but it's not really used often enough. Still, definitely standout material.

Music
Level 1

Spriggan

Spriggan Mark 2 - PC Engine (1992)

PC Engine Cover

Spriggan Mark 2

Spriggan Mark 2

Spriggan Mark 2 has almost nothing to do with the original, other than the giant robots. For starters, it's a side-scroller, one of the only ones Compile has ever done, and the fantasy theme was dropped in favor of a more typical sci-fi adventure. The gameplay is a bit more in line with Section Z or Side Arms, with one button firing your weapon and the other faces your mech in the other direction. The storyline is heavily emphasized, as companions will often pause combat to talk (sometimes voiced) and there are plenty of cutscenes inbetween levels. Unfortunately, the weaponry system is relegated to a few weapons (including a beam saber) with limited ammo that you can switch between at any time, and none of them are all that powerful or interesting. A decent game, but hardly a standout, especially compared to other PC Engine shooters.

Music
Level 1

Naxat Soft also brought out a game called Spriggan Powered for the Super Famicom. While it shares the side-scroller-in-mecha theme, it's an entirely different game and doesn't seem to have been designed by Compile. Which makes sense, because the game sucks. Not only that, but it looks terrible - it uses pre-rendered sprites (similar to Donkey Kong Country) but in practice it's pretty bad.

Spriggan Powered

Zanac X Zanac - Playstation (2001)

PSOne Cover

Zanac X Zanac

Zanac X Zanac

For the 15th year anniversary of Zanac, Compile released this package for the Playstation. Not only did it feature the original Zanac in fully emulated glory, but there's an entirely new game dubbed Zanac Neo. Much like the original, it features the AI enemy system. There are now four ships to choose from (including the one from the original game - the Zanac EX ship, to be precise), each with its own set of weapons that can be powered up multiple levels, making for an absurd amount of gunpower - even more than Space Megaforce. This is also the only game in the series to allow two-player simultaneous play, a feature which took long enough to be implemented.

There are also some other nice enhancements, including a charge weapon that can either be used to power up your regular beam temporarily or act as a bomb; and a combo system that lets you rack up the points if you kill all the enemies before they leave the screen. Aesthetically the game doesn't fair so well - the graphics are almost entirely 2D (and not really good 2D at that) and most of the music, other than some cool remixes of favorite themes, is pretty generic techno. It's still an amazingly worthy successor to Zanac, and one of the best shooters on the PSOne. Unfortunately, it's become a bit pricey on the aftermarket, so watch out.

Music
Area 0
Area 1

Zanac X Zanac

Zanac X Zanac


In closing, I'll say this: as much I love Compile, they're forever ruined every other single overhead shooter in existence. Even otherwise blisteringly awesome shooters like Dodonpachi, Guwange and Mars Matrix fail to bring the same variety of firepower to the table, and lack the distinct little touches that have marked Compile games. Fear not - the company is still kinda around under the name AIKY, although they don't seem to be into making new shooters. Sad, really. A big thanks goes to Carlo Savorelli for the Japanese Gun*nac and Guardic Gaiden box pics.

Links:

Kelesis Home Page It's all translated from French so the writing's a little awkward, but there's a complete history of everything Compile, and tons of pictures. All around awesome.
Complete Aleste Shrine Mostly devoted to MUSHA.
SHMUPS Has features on Aleste 1 and 2, MUSHA, and others. Best all around shooter site on the Internet too.
Arcane Lore Homepage of shooter fan Zach Keene, has an extremely indepth FAQ for Zanac X Zanac.


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