Musha Aleste review (Posted on Amazon Uk)

M.U.S.H.A (also known as Musha Aleste: Full Metal Fighter Ellenor in japan) is a vertical Shoot em Up (SHMUP) made by Compile for the Sega Mega Drive and is the eighth game in the Aleste series (ninth if you count Zanac as the spiritual predecessor to the first Aleste). It is the second game in the series to deviate from controlling a small space ship and instead control a slightly larger mechanical mech stylized with a feudal Japanese ninja/samurai motif.

The game takes place in an alternative epoch of the tenryaku era of japan( or 2290AD in western versions), where research in the field of robotics has exponentially grown allowing computers, sentient AI, and colonial expansion to space, possible; Anachronistically fusing feudal architectures and designs with mechanised weapons. However a new space colony project goes horribly awry when the colony’s Ai, known as Dire51, becomes self-aware and decides to eliminate its creators, mankind itself. A squad sent to counter this attack is sent to thwart this strike, however all fall from the powerful wave motion cannon blasts inexplicably from a unknown source. However a solitary survivor takes the fight to the rouge AI, as the Pilot Ellenor (Terri in western versions) finishes the assault, alone.

While the cliques from well-known sci-fi franchises tepidly tie a narrative to the gameplay and does little to bolster M.U.S.H.A’s most prominent features, the presentation that derives from the bizarre alternative japan narrative gives the game a very unique aesthetic. This is a feature that is outstanding from the typical gritty industrial presentation of SHMUPS, influenced by Syd Meid and in some levels. H.R Giger.

The aesthetic of M.U.S.H.A fuses the industrial du jour of SHMUPs in the early nineties with oriental landscapes and structures, as well as enemy craft and bosses adapting the sensibilities of the tenryaku period to their designs. As you progress through the game, you will be treated to a landscape rich with steel plated pagodas mounted with turrets and missile platforms, as well as enemy mechs with armour mirroring Samurai Domaru (armour) and Ninja Garbs; one of the more infamous bosses in the game even resembles a mask from Noh theatre. A very appealing visual design that could compete with the SHMUP counterparts seen in the arcade.

While difficult to discern, the progressive scales used in the soundtrack seem to attempt to emulate a sort of synthesised rock/metal type score. Not fully realised due to the soundcard limitations of the Mega Drive’s (genesis) FM synthesis chip, however this does not hold the soundtrack’s quality back at all. The soundtrack is very memorable, with its frantic synthesised chords roaring through the speakers of the Mega Drive itself. The sound effects from weapons and explosions are very pronounced reflecting the strength of the respective weapon or severity of a ship or mech’s destruction. The game makes effective use of the sound design, on a console known for having a not so great soundcard installed.

The weapon system is nicely integrated into the game as well, allowing flexibility and customisation for personal preference or for situational use. There is rarely a moment on screen where upgrades are not available to the player, where the game is generous in dropping caches of projectile power ups and upgrades, even before/after the most dire of situations.
The first notable power up comes in the form of capsules known as P-chips, whose function is twofold. Collecting these capsules through shooting it’s container will not only increase the amount of projectiles (resembling Shurikens) up to four shots, but will also provide you with little drones that appear next to your mech. These drones can be stockpiled to a maximum of ninety nine. This helps the player significantly as these drones will regularly be hit by enemy fire, and can be used to shield the player from damage if need be. The drones can also change their formation at the players command into six different forms. These forms consist of Forward Form where drones fire forward, 3-Way where drones fire diagonally, Back aiming the drones backwards, Reverse that direct the drones to perpendicularly align themselves with your mech, Roll that causes the drones to rotate clockwise around your mech, and finally Free Form that allows the drone to roam free around the screen.

The game not only utilizes P-chips as the Players form of attack, but also three different upgrade caches that appear on the screen and are transported by friendly aircraft. These upgrades match the elements of Fire, Water and Thunder and alter the appearance of your mech depending on which you equip.. Fire allows the player to deploy bomb clusters, Water provides a circling energy shield around your mech, and Thunder equips your mech with cannons that fire wave motion energy beams. You can collective these upgrades up to four times, with each successive collection increasing the power of the upgrade equipped. Once you get hit the upgrade will become removed; acting ostensibly as a one hit shield. With this level of customization, a tactful player can exploit these power ups to utilize as shield at certain points of the game, making recovery from a stray bullet possible. With the amount of upgrades that appear on screen the player can switch from upgrade to upgrade when they are defenceless until a favourable upgrade appears. This is one of the most useful, potentially unintentional mechanics of the game, and be utilized by players who may not be experienced enough to hold on to one upgrade for long.

It has to be said that M.U.S.H.A as a whole is not as hard as other SHMUP counterparts, having many options at a players disposable to recover from a hit. Even when the player is killed, they do not restart the level but simply respawn on the same spot, though with the drawback of having to level up all upgrades and abilities from scratch. With that in mind the game, while reasonably forgiving, can still be difficult on the later levels and in places has some small flaws.

When equipping a fully upgraded weapon, the projectiles can obscure a part of the screen, making evading a hail of bullets heading in your direction difficult. This is particularly notable with the fourth Thunder upgrade that while transparent can still obfuscate enemy projectiles. In addition to this, when sequences of the game require you to evade parts of the environment, your drones may collide with these obstructions; causing unsuspecting players to quickly deplete their drone stockpile rather quickly. There are moments where changing the drone’s form to something such as Reverse or Back may be preferable. However these obstructions scroll on screen so suddenly that changing to a required form can at times be more detrimental than productive, and require the player to be very attentive.

In addition to this as stated previously the last few levels can be slightly difficult. The end boss in particular has a pattern that requires tightly packed evasive manoeuvres and due to the confined space, requires a lot of trial and error. The difficulty of some specific parts of the game in itself can be symmetrical in places to tougher SHMUPs, however this does not become too much of a problem. As you progress through the game’s earlier levels, the game will generously hand out a plethora of one ups (extra lives). You will notice how frequently you will earn extra lives and continues due to the relatively smooth learning curve of the earlier levels. This gives you enough leeway to learn the layout of a particular level quite quickly and even if you experience some trouble and require a game restart, most players may still see completion in as little as three hours to maybe under a week of practise.

This perhaps leads to the greatest flaws of the game in that it can be a little too generous with power up drops and extra lives, rendering it too easy. Experienced SHMUP players can effectively finish the game without losing a life in less than an hour. Where SHMUPS are usually a long travail of practise that can take weeks for veterans to perfect, this game can be completed by beginners in just a few days. This gives the game a very short lifespan in comparison to other SHMUPS.

While the game maybe too lenient and veteran SHMUP players searching for a challenge may be disappointed in its difficulty, M.U.S.H.A’s presentation, memorable levels, gritty music and profuse amount of enjoyment to be had, are more than enough to cause these complaints to fall by the wayside. A very fun and accessible title for veterans and beginners alike.

Alien: Colonial Marines review (Posted on Amazon uk

Alien: Colonial marines was released at the start of this year in February 2013 by the developer Gearbox and published by Sega. . The game is notorious for having a  tumultuous development history, originally set to be released as a PlayStation 2 title in 2001 by Fox Interactive, only to be abruptly cancelled.  After Sega purchased the rights to the Alien franchise from Fox Interactive at the end of 2006, Sega appropriated the remnants of the orginal project which in turn lead to a permutation in keeping with todays generation of games.

The game takes place on the USS Sephora military vessel, where the marines receive a distress call from the USS Sulaco, in orbit of the planet LV426. The player assumes the role of Christopher T. Winter along with a team of marines to investigate the beacon. However upon boarding the Sulaco, they discover the ship is completely desolate, setting the tone for a sinister plot orchestrated by a familiar antagonist.

A positive aspect of the game is how the environments are nicely realized with set pieces for the game taken from the second Alien movie. This includes most of the Sulaco, parts of LV426 including Hadley’s Hope and the extra-terrestrial ship containing the memorable Space Jockey from the first movie. Despite the low resolution of the graphics, players are given a nice vista of the environments, further expanding the setting of the movie franchise. The weapons are also decently designed and accurately replicate the movie’s props, including the iconic M41A pulse rifle, the M56 smart gun (heavy machine gun) and even obscure weapons such as the M240 incinerator.

The AI is probably the major fault in the game, where your comrade in arms and even the alien xenomorphs themselves become stuck in a frame of animation, behind walls, or glitched into weird contortions of their original designs. The mission objectives given to the player are quite unrealistic, as well as the narrative removing any suspension of disbelief from the player by including some questionable additions to the original continuity. The game itself attempts to become canon, existing between Aliens and Alien 3, but instead leaves more questions in the plot than providing answers. Despite broadening the settings, the game’s progression is very linear and contained, making very little use of the foreboding milieu available.

The appearance of fellow marines look awkward, presented with a rubber like texture. In addition to this, battles against bosses are very anticlimactic, where dispatching bosses surmounts to simply pressing a button for a crane or other macguffin to eliminate a seemingly imposing foe.

Weapon sounds are not accurate and reuse the M41A pulse rifle sound bite for nearly every weapon available. This reduces a recognizably stylish sound effect to a monotonous tinny crackle.

Universally panned by credited gaming magazine outlets, it’s obvious that Aliens: Colonial Marines was rushed to meet a deadline in an attempt to appease fans. There is very little content available for Alien fans to invest their time in. what is available does little to expand the alien continuity and instead convolutes the franchise as a whole. Not recommended.

Ninja Gaiden (posted on Amazon Uk)

The original Ninja Gaiden was released in 1988 by Tecmo and is commonly associated with the most prominent yet challenging platforming titles the Nintendo Entertainment System had to offer.

The game included several innovations for the time, most notably the inclusion of anime inspired cutscenes in-between each stage and is one of the first narrative devices to be seen on the Nintendo console itself.

The cutscenes depict a simple tale of revenge and follows Ryu Hayabusa’s journey to exact vengeance for his father’s death. His journey to find his father’s murderer leads him to a man called Jaquio who plans to release an ancient demon with the aid of two rare demonic statues; a plan which Ryu must prevent. The plot is synonymous with the low-budget ninja movies of the 1980s, however maintains a level of charm in its simplicity.

What gives the game the most substance however is the solid gameplay. On the surface the game looks like your average platformer, however quickly stands out from the others, by its frantic gameplay, unique wall jumping mechanics, as well as a selection of ninja tools and weapons at your disposal. All of these aspects give a decent 8-bit approximation of what playing a movie inspired ninja would feel like.

The tools available to Ryu come in the form of throwing stars, windmill throwing stars that work in a similar fashion to boomerangs and fire wheels that give you invincibility for a few seconds. You can also obtain lamps that replenish your spiritual power, hourglasses that freezes time and on rare occasions potions that heal Ryu’s life bar.

The main core mechanic of the game however is the wall jump. This is an essential trick to learn and is imperative to master in order to overcome some difficult obstacles, access particular pathways, as well as passing through a set of difficult angled jumps to mount awkwardly placed platforms.

NES aficionados will not be a stranger to the unforgiving difficulty presented by the early 8-bit systems, and Ninja Gaiden is no exception. The Ninja Gaiden series is arguably the hardest trilogy for the system.

One of the biggest elements that that makes the game so difficult is if Ryu gets hit, the damage pushes him backwards, meaning any holes behind him while in this stunned state causes him to fall and die.

In addition to this, specific enemies in the game respawn in set places, which can be hard to pass. They can also obstruct platforms, fire a barrage of projectiles with little space to manoeuvre, or move in erratic patterns that makes avoiding them very problematic. Memorisation unfortunately is the only viable method to overcome these uncompromising scenarios, as well as learning hitbox exploitation, how to outrun enemies, and the provocations that causes such enemies to spawn.

While the game has a very steep learning curve, Ninja Gaiden maintains the entertainment factor to enthrall players to press on, despite offering little in the means of recourse from even the smallest of mistakes.

Super Metroid review (Posted on Amazon Uk)

Arguably the best game on the Super Nintendo, Super Metroid is one of the benchmarks of the 2D platforming genre, through its fluidity of gameplay, intuitive controls, epic boss battles and a non-linear map system that is ripe for exploration.

The story takes place after the events of Metroid 2, where Samus has defeated the Metroid queen of SR388 and returns with a Metroid hatchling that confuses Samus with its mother. Samus entrusts the hatchling to scientists of the Ceres Space Colony to research it, only to be attacked by the space pirates who again wish to harness the Metroid’s power.

The game’s most celebrated strength is in the control scheme and is one of the most intuitive of the Super Nintendo. Your character can aim and fire in 8 axis, as well as holding the shoulder buttons to hold your aim diagonally to allow for evasive movement while firing. A neatly executed control scheme that was scarcely replicated on the console or later platforming titles.

Weapons selection is varied for particular situations which include collecting more upgrades to enhance your suits functionality. Such upgrades can increase damage resistance, environment immunity, your speed, jump height, and even help procure items. Certain segments of the planet are shut off from Samus until a specific upgrade is obtained, yet fortunately this aspect does not completely restrict the player to a linear path.

The music is very decent and accompanies the setting of the game very well. The foreboding tribal-like drums and electronic samples accentuates the dark and desolate cavernous backdrop, giving a sense of dread of the unknown.

The alien species encountered in the game are also very diverse. Not only do you have the space pirates to contend with, but also indigenous fauna to the planet that interact with the environment in a specific way and act as a hazardous obstacle.

Another great feature is how the beam weapons do not become replaced by the next type of beam upgrade, and once collected are permanently added to your arsenal; a massive improvement over earlier installments that required backtracking to re-equip beams.

The boss designs are excellent, with some specifically designed with their own atypical platforming challenge. Each fight is distinct and creative, lending to some very memorable encounters. The battles do demand some initiative in places, yet feel rewarding to overcome.

The most apparent criticism however is how easy it is to get lost in the game. While the inclusion of a map feature improves over prior installments, there is little indication of the next logical area to go to, demanding the player to search every nook and cranny in order to progress. The platforming while mostly decent can be very unforgiving at times and can halt the gameplay in order to overcome some awkward platforming segments.

Serving as one of the longest games on the system, Super Metroid shows the full potential of the Super Nintendo, and serves as the yardstick to which other 2-D platforming games are compared.

Raystorm review (Posted on Amazon Uk

Originally released for the arcade in 1996 by the Taito corporation, Raystorm is the second game in the Ray series following after Rayforce and proceeded by Raycrisis. The game has since been ported on the Sega Saturn in 1996, the PlayStation in 1997 and later a high definition version for the Xbox 360 in 2010. It is the first game in the series to make the jump from the original 2-D graphics to 3-D, and in it’s own right was successful in effectively make the graphical transition.

The graphics are very smooth, and the game is one of the rare 3-D titles to still maintain a decent look by today’s standards. Even small aspects such as the water effects on the earlier levels were pretty decent at the time, where its translucency nicely displays submerged enemies without awkwardly having that very plastic look. The overall 3-D aspect of the game is very well realised, creating effects such as the parallax effect that allows enemy ships to shift effortlessly from the background and foreground.

The gameplay is also very fast paced and combined with an epic electronic soundtrack and imposing environments, gives the game a level of grit and intensity that lends the game its own unique appeal and style. The presentation and speed can give players quite the adrenaline rush, making the game very addictive. The game also allows two players to play co-operatively, which with a decent team, can effectively half the difficulty of the game.

The response and control of your ship is also very smooth, reacting to your every input instantly. Game mechanics is rarely a problem here and for the most part a player’s skill is the only factor in overcoming obstacles.

While Raystorm have tightened its key elements for near flawless gameplay, it suffers from the same big problem that is essentially beset in most games of the shoot em’ up genre: the accessibility. The game does not hold any punches and the screen can quickly become overcrowded with enemy projectiles to the point where newer players can easily become overwhelmed.

This is another title that relies on the heavy subscription to the shoot em’ up genre, particularly experience. Raystorm demands fast reflexes, understanding your spacecraft’s hitbox, memorising which enemy to dispatch first and their firing patterns. The game itself is also surprisingly short, consisting of eight stages that can each take as little as three to five minutes to complete.

The game can be made slightly easier with the use of co-op, however this is not without its drawbacks. In the later levels, the game can suffer from some heavy slowdown from time to time, and co-op can further exacerbate this slowdown in places that can really stall the game’s flow.

While the game is quite difficult, the crisp presentation and exhilarating gameplay is captivating enough for players to keep pressing through even the harder elements. Even if you’re not an expert of the genre, it’s definitely worth a look.