By Kurt Kalata

Hudson used to be quite a force to be reckoned with. One of the primary driving forces behind the Turbografx-16, they've become a shadow of their former self, being owned mostly by Konami and creating dredge like Bloody Roar. But back in the day, they were quite a force to be reckoned with. From 1985 to 1992, they actually ran a nationwide (in Japan) gaming tournament called the "Hudson All-Japan Caravan Festival", where players could compete and test their skills with each other. Each year, they'd have a new game to challenge their legions of fans - and given that they were quite popular back in the day, the genre of choice was the overhead shooter. From this came Hudson's early shoot-em-ups: Star Force, Star Soldier and Starship Hector.

While these titles were pretty lame in comparison to the NES' better shooters, the quality drastically improved with Blazing Lazers, their first 16-bit title. Designed by Compile, it had a lot in common with their Zanac and Aleste series, featuring blazingly fast gameplay and an arsenal of cool weaponry. Hudson went on to develop their own sequels, continuing the name of their early Star Soldier series - Super Star Soldier, Final Soldier and Soldier Blade.

The years of the Caravan and their dates:

1985 - Star Force
1986 - Star Soldier
1987 - Hector '87/Starship Hector
1988 - Power League (unrelated baseball game)
1989 - Gunhed/Blazing Lazers
1990 - Super Star Soldier
1991 - Final Soldier
1992 - Soldier Blade

The PC Engine games actually had seperate versions released for the tournaments, with specialized rules for competetive play. The object was simply to score as most points as possible in a limited amount of time. Even after ending their event, Hudson continued to put 2 and 5 minute "Caravan" modes into their games, as an ode to times past.

The world of the Star Soldier games is typical shooter fare - outer space badguys, here known as the Zeograd empire, with lots of giant flying mecha to fight. The earlier games have a rather brutal difficulty level, as meeting your death will often send you back to the beginning of the given stage. The 16-bit Star Soldier games actually possess very little to distinguish one from another. Other than the changes in the weaponry system in each game, the games look and feel almost exactly the same, with mostly cliched environments and uninspired levels. The only thing that really stands out are the amazing soundtracks, as there's a lot of really good music between these shooters. Still, in spite of the fact that they all tend to blend together, they're very solid games that are plenty of fun.

The goofy Super CD game Star Parodier marked the end of the 16-bit Star Soldier games. Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth appeared on the Nintendo 64 and Hudson developed a remake of the original Star Soldier for the Gamecube, Playstation 2 and PSP in Japan, but for the most part, the glory years are long gone. However, with the advent of the Wii Virtual Console, these games have all been re-released, and introduced a new audience to overhead shooters, resulting in a special time attack game called Star Solder R.

Star Soldier (NES)

Super Star Soldier

Star Soldier 64

Star Soldier R

Star Force - NES/Arcade/Sega SG-1000/MSX/X68000/Xbox (1985)

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Star Force (NES)

Star Force (NES)

Star Force isn't technically part of the Star Soldier series - it was developed and distributed by Tecmo - it's still linked to the series due to its use in the Caravan events. Star Force broke onto the scene, first in the arcades, then later to home systems like the NES and Sega's SG-3000 (the precursor to the Master System) and computers like the MSX and Sharp X68000. By today's standards, it's a fairly bare bones shooter, only barely advancing beyond Galaga. The dual layer background does look pretty cool for an early game, and there's a lot of extraneous stuff to shoot in order to get bonus points. But otherwise, this whole bit feels a bit too archaic. If you want to try it on a home system, it was released on the Tecmo arcade collection for the Xbox.

Without Hudson, Tecmo went ahead and created two more Star Force games: Super Star Force and Final Star Force, released only in the arcades. Sadly, they're just the usual generic shooter, and they're pretty bad compared to the 16-bit Star Soldier games.

Star Force (Arcade)

Star Soldier - NES (1986) / Gameboy Advance (2004)

American NES Cover

Japanese Famicom Cover

Star Soldier (NES)

Even though Star Soldier technically birthed the series, it's easy to see how it was inspired by Star Force - it has similar visuals and similar levels. The game starts off in what appear to be some kind of outer space construction site, although it moves to Each level is filled with tiles carved with insignias of stars skulls, dragons and other creatures for some reason, most of which seem to be based off the four Chinese gods. These blocks give you points, and is one of the keys to getting high scores. And, for the first time, you can finally power up your weapons, introducing the famous multi-direction cannon that became the staple for the rest of the series. There's also a unique mechanic where you can fly underneath certain parts of the scenery. You can't be killed, but you can't attack either. It's an interesting idea, but it leads to confusion more than anything else. There are only two boss types - a ship called a Star Brain, and an even bigger ship called the Super Star Brain. You need to kill them within a time limit, or you need to restart the level It's hard to differentiate the stages since that look almost identical, although each ends with two orbs that appear to be gigantic creepy eyes. Although the game was very popular in Japan - it was one of the first notable overhead shooters, after all - it didn't quite catch on elsewhere.

When Nintendo re-released their Famicom edition Gameboy SP in 2004, they rereleased a handful of older games to go along with it, and one of those games was Star Soldier. It's pretty much just an emulator running the ROM, so it's pretty much a perfect portable version of the game. It was also released on one of Hudson's own Famicom compilations, dubbed Hudson Best Collection Vol. 5.

Star Soldier (NES)

Star Soldier (NES)


Starship Hector / Hector '87 - NES (1988)

American Cover

Starship Hector

Starship Hector

Starship Hector is actually a lot different from any of the other shooters in the series, and easily the best of the 8-bit games. The fact that it's NOT always set in outer space - instead, you'll fly over terrain like Incan temples - is enough to give it more character. Controlling a ship that looks suspiciously like a certain Enterprise, there are two weapons at your disposal: a regular gun, and a ground shot. Keeping track of enemies on two planes is what really makes this game reasonably fun. Though you have a shield - you can regenerate it by shooting little devil statues on the ground, which shoot out power pellets - it's still very easy to get killed, and you're still sent back to the beginning of the stage. There's even some horizontal levels in here too.

One might say that Hector is barely related to the series, although Hudson used the same blue haired anime guy on the cover as they did on the Famicom version of Star Soldier. It also introduced the 2 and 5 minute gameplay modes found in the later games.

Hudson actually released all three of the 8-bit games - Star Force, Hector '87 and Star Soldier - on a Super Famicom cart in 1995, dubbed the "Caravan Shooting Collection". They're almost exact replications of each of the games, lacking any real enhancements other than slightly upgraded down.

MP3s

Level 1

Starship Hector

Starship Hector

Blazing Lazers / Gunhed - 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 strengthening your main weapon to the highest level. The catch is, you can only have one of these active at the same time, forcing you to prioritize based on what kind of power you think you'll need. You can also select your speed by hitting the Select button. While the game nastily sends you back to checkpoints when you die, you can take a few hits from enemies, as long as you've got a powered-up weapon. There's also some interesting locales that take you away from the usual space backgrounds and into biological settings (a la Life Force) and ancient landscapes (complete with moais from Gradius.) 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. At any rate, it's a top-notch shooter, and a bit better than most of the Star Soldier sequels that this game inspired. There is also a tournament version of this game called "Gunhed Taikai", which was released in extremely limited quantities.

Blazing Lazers

Blazing Lazers

Super Star Soldier - Turbografx-16 (1990)

American Cover

Japanese Cover

Super Star Soldier

The first official sequel to Star Soldier brings the development team back to Hudson, and while noticeably different from Blazing Lazers, contains a lot of the same gameplay systems. Again, there are four primary weapons, each color coded, including a rather cool blue ripple lasers that pixellates SNES-style, and a bright green lightning laser. You can also choose between pair of satellites or homing missiles when gathering powerups. The bombs are also gone entirely, which is a shame - Super Star Soldier is TOUGH. If you have less than three lives when you die, you'll get stuck back to the beginning of the stage, and levels aren't well balanced enough to make repowering up very easy. Strangely enough, even though some of the outer space levels have a similar look to the original Star Soldier, it lacks all of the destructible tiles, which played a bit part in its uniqueness. In fact, all three Turbografx-16 Star Soldier games are barely distinguishable, featuring similar graphics, level types and music, with their weapon systems being their own really differentiation.

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Level 1
Level 2

Super Star Soldier

Super Star Soldier

Final Soldier - PC Engine (1991)

Japanese Cover

Final Soldier

Final Soldier

Final Soldier has by far the biggest arsenal of any of the Star Soldier games. There are still the usual four weapon capsules, but you can designate different attacks to each of them, creating a total of twelve different weapons. Naturally, this adds greatly to the depth of the game. The other major additions are the options you get, which you can detonate at any time like a smart bomb. Final Soldier has also been made a fair bit easier, given that you will always resurrect where you pick off, no matter how many lives you have left. It's unfortunate that this one never made to America.

MP3s

Level 1

Final Soldier

Soldier Blade - Turbografx-16 (1992)

American Cover

Soldier Blade

Soldier Blade

In addition to giving you a little robot buddy that always hangs around to help you out, Soldier Blade's weapon system expounds upon the system from Final Soldier. There are three colored weapon pods that you can take into your ship, which will alter the level of your ships primary weapons. However, you can detonate these pods at any time, and each of them gives you unique power attack. So you have to choose between how powerful you want your weapon to be, and what super attacks you can unleash. It's not quite as interesting as the other games, but it functions.

Soldier Blade also has a super badass robot that you meet as the first midboss. After you take down his guardians and damage him enough, he'll proclaim, Arnold-style, that he'll be back. Of course, he keeps that promise.

MP3s

Level 1

Soldier Blade

Star Parodier - PC Engine Super CD (1995)

Japanese Cover

Star Parodier

Star Parodier

Taking a cue from Konami's Parodius series, Hudson released its own silly shooter for the PC Engine Super CD, one of the last releases for the systems. Per usual standards, there's a nice long cinematic intro and some upbeat CD music. There are three playable ships - the silly version of the usual star fighter, Bomberman, and a gigantic PC Engine (with a copy of Super Star Soldier in the card slot.) Each of these ships has different weapon configurations, though there's not as much firepower as in Final Soldier.

Still, the tragedy is that even when it's trying to be inventive, it's still derivative. The first few stages are pretty blatant ripoffs from Konami's Twinbee games, with the domed cities, flying pirates ships and even a level full of playing cards. It's nice to get away from the generic outerspace backgrounds of the other games, but it doesn't feel like enough of a stretch. So while Star Parodier just as good as any of the other games, like a drunken house guest that never leaves, isn't nearly as funny as it thinks it is. It is, however, a very pretty game, so it's definitely worth checking out for fans, even though, despite the change in visuals and tone, it's basically the same game as the others. It's also a bit more expensive than the other Star Soldier games due to it being on a CD format.

MP3s

Level 1

Star Parodier

Star Parodier

Star Parodier

Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth - Nintendo 64 (1997)

American Cover

Japanese Cover

Star Soldier 64

Star Soldier goes 3D on the Nintendo 64, in one of the only shooters on the system. The view has changed to an overhead angled perspective, like the Sega CD game Silpheed and Taito's Raystorm series. The graphics are only barely better than a Playstation, although the levels are a fair bit more interesting than their static 2D counterparts. The soundtrack, usually the highlight of this series, is fairly disappointing too. There are three ships to choose from, but each one is already designated a weapon, so you can't change them midgame, which is terribly dull.

To its credit, there's an interesting spin move that lets you deflects enemy bullets and two different types of bombs to use. The combo system is very similar to Dodonpachi, urging you to string together massive combos for insane points. Most of the levels contain alternate pathways, the whole game really feels like a backwards step for pretty much everything. It's the cheapest and easiest of the Star Soldier games to get ahold of, and while it's still kinda fun, it definitely lies under the shadow of the TG16 games.

MP3s

Level 1

Star Soldier 64

Star Soldier 64

Star Soldier - Gamecube / Playstation 2 / PSP (2003)

Japanese Cover

Star Soldier (Gamecube)

Star Soldier (Gamecube)

In 2003, Hudson developed 3D remakes on the PS2 and Gamecube of its old games, including Adventure Island, Bonk's Adventure and naturally, Star Soldier. (Star Soldier also had the fortune to be ported to the PSP.) Since these are budget releases, the graphics are pretty low quality, though the pleasantly old school rock soundtrack is reasonably good..

Compared to all of the Turbografx-16 sequels, Star Soldier is much much closer to the original game. There are two firing modes - holding down the fire button emits weak bursts, while jamming it relentlessly will produce more powerful shots. Unfortunately, there's still only one primary weapon, although you do get a powerful laser sword for close range attacks. There are a lot more bosses, but they still don't mask how completely dull and ugly the backgrounds are. Those tiny little floating heads have now been enlarged and look significantly scarier It still manages to have the same enjoyable gameplay as the rest of the series, but it's a definite backward regression from every 16-bit Star Soldier game, which makes you wonder why they didn't remake, say, Blazing Lazers.

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Level 1

Star Soldier (Gamecube)

Star Soldier (Gamecube)

Star Soldier R - Wii (2008)

Star Soldier R

Star Soldier R

Star Soldier R

Hudson, having since merged with Konami, found significant prosperity in bringing many of its classic games to the Wii Virtual Console, allowing gamers who didn't grow up with a Turbografx-16 to experience their titles. Seeing this, they began resurrecting some of their classic properties once again. Their first release was Star Soldier R, published as a downloadable WiiWare. The graphics have improved a bit from the PS2/GC remake of Star Soldier and it's not the best looking 2.5D shooter out there, but it's still serviceable. Unfortunately, it's not a whole new Star Soldier game, but rather, a series of time attacks that pay homage to the old Caravan festivals of old. There are only two stages - the 2 Minute Mode lets you play the first level, while the 5 Minute mode lets you play both. The goal is obvious - score as many points as you can before either you complete it, or before time runs out.

The levels are much like the original Star Soldier game once again, filled with tons of destructible tiles and power-ups. It's a challenge to try to clear the screen of everything - both these tiles and all incoming bad guys - because every enemy you kill keeps up your combo, which heavily factors in to your final score. Like the older games, there's only the multi-directional weapon, which can be powered up a few times. Getting hit will degrade the weapon, and if you're at the lowest level, it'll kill you outright. Technically the game isn't too difficult, and you have unlimited lives, but dying means losing a few seconds off the clock, as well as stopping your combo.

While it would've been nice to see a full Star Soldier game, its focus on quick time attack scoring make for a very replayable game, especiall since you can upload your scores online and compare them against the rest of the world.

Star Soldier R

Star Soldier R

It's a little hard to explain the charm of the Star Soldier games. They lack the depth of Compile's games and aren't as meticulously designed as Gradius or R-Type. So, why play them? The simple fact is, back in the late 80s and early 90s, there were TONS and TONS of cookie cutter shooters that littered both the arcades and home systems. The Star Soldier games not only have excellent production values for the time, but are also very well made games. So while they may lacking distinction, stick to the Turbografx games and you'll find one of the better shooters of the era. They've experienced a bit more popularity due to their appearance on the Wii Virtual Console, which are worth checking out there.

A good thanks goes to the one they call Bill Muller, for his copy of the GC Star Soldier. Also, check out Soldier Force, a doujinsoft remake of the first game.

Links:

Welcome to Star Soldier Mini-page delving into a short history of the series.
StrategyWiki - Star Soldier A briefing on how to play the game.
SHMUPS When have I NOT linked this site?