There are times when what you wish for comes true. These times are few and far between, and should be treasured, clutched like a jewel to the breast. Hudson has delivered this jewel - a treasured toy from your childhood, a memory long buried but no less vivid for it. They've given us a remake by which all others should be judged, one that accomplishes what seemed impossible: the original game, polished to a high sheen and remade in polygons, with an arranged soundtrack that evokes memories of old without sounding entirely familar, and with features plucked from the whole series.
This is Star Soldier. First brought to life on the Famicom/NES, and later refined on the PC Engine/TurboGrafx, Star Soldier as a series defined the console shmup for years. Fast, addictive, and difficult, these were the watchwords of the day and Hudson remembers them well. So focused on the past was Hudson that the game not only plays the same and better, but it includes original TV commercials from the old days as unlockable omake (bonus) items. And it's cheap - a mere ¥3,000 (or less) in Japan.
The basic tenet of the game is simple: If it moves, kill it. This is a scoring shooter, but in a refreshing throwback to the old days there's no memorization required to chain kills or acquire powerups. A swarm of enemies will appear, and you have to kill them or let them leave the screen, and you have to avoid their bullets. The sooner you kill a swarm the faster another will appear. Top scoring, then, demands you kill the swarms as fast as you can. Simply allowing them to leave the screen takes far longer, and you'll never accumulate the mad scores that way.
There's one primary weapon, which is familiar to everyone who's played the older games. It starts as a single forward shot and upgrades to a dual forward, dual forward + single backward, then the five-way shot. Holding the button gives you a rapid-fire assault, but rapid button bashing gives you a double-power shot, and I guarantee you'll have sore hands from this. It's worth investigating a joystick purchase. There's no bomb, but there is a new charge shot - it's always ready for instant use, but takes about two seconds to recharge. It's a sort of limited-range shotgun blast that kills enemies and their bullets, and it's much more powerful than your standard attack. There is at least one other weapon, though it's kind of hidden the way the bonuses are - shoot a certain location and a block is uncovered that, when shot some more, releases a powerup.
The game takes most of the enemies and levels from the original Star Soldier, and adds a few extras from the PC Engine outings like the 2- and 5-minute games. These are quick little sub-games culminating in a boss fight, and the object is the same as the game: Kill the swarms as fast as possible to maxmimize your score. There are hidden bonuses which accumulate in value, as well as special secret bonuses when you accomplish a certain goal, like killing two larger enemies at the same time. The main game and two sub-games share the same basic elements, though the levels, swarm-patterns and bonus locations are different for each.
Visually the game is competant, though never really amazing. The occasional bout of slowdown appears during replays (The top scoring game is saved for posterity) but rarely during the main game. The music is excellent, and in my mind the electric guitar sound is far better suited to shmups than the sad elevator music Taito or Cave apply to their games. Star Soldier's music is more like Gate of Thunder than any recent game, and that's entirely a good thing.
I'm convinced that games I like, those with 'oldschool' values, simply won't sell, and I think that's a shame. Many people lament the passing of 2D games and, more importantly, 2D gaming values. Simple to learn, hard to master - that's the way it should be, and modern games have that reversed. You should buy Star Soldier, not only because it's cheap, but because it's excellent, and Hudson deserves your money. No caveats, it's good, go get it.
As an aside, yes I know I didn't mention the N64 Star Soldier, but that's because it sucks. You'll notice there are no pics of it in the Gallery either.
Star Soldier Title Screen
Baddies everywhere. Shoot faster!
Big bad bosses. Shoot faster dammit!