© HUDSON SOFT / KANEKO(1990)
GENRE: VERTICAL SHOOTER
Developed by Kaneko and published by Hudson Soft in 1990, Super Star Soldier was the first in a trilogy of highly acclaimed shooters released for the PC Engine and is the follow up to the earlier Star Soldier for the Famicom/MSX.
Four years after the Star Brain’s botched attack on Earth the galactic invaders have returned. Now led by the ultimate spaceship dubbed “Mother Brain” they are determined not to fail.
You must pilot the Neo Caesar star fighter and eliminate the “Mother Brain”.
- Neo Caesar – A second generation star fighter equipped with twin vulcan cannons and a choice of three speeds.
- Vulcan Cannon Multi – A multi-directional shot with 360 degree coverage.
- Ring Beam – A powerful laser with a wide spread of fire and multi-way coverage.
- Spread Bolt Laser – A high powered long range bolt laser able to pierce through armour.
- Flamethrower – A swinging pair of twin Flamethrowers with fairly long range.
- Homing Missiles – Added firepower which automatically locks onto enemy targets.
- Rotating Shields – Gives the Neo Caesar a defence boost, allowing you to absorb extra hits.
Bomb / Special:
- Flashing Bomb – Destroys all on screen enemies.
Jump into the Neo Caesar and take out the evil “Mother Brain”. In a mission to prevent the immanent invasion you must fight your way through eight stages spanning the universe, from alien planets to the deepest reaches of space. The stages are fairly long with some featuring numerous sections and others having a mini-boss halfway through. All stages have a main boss at the end with the final stage featuring a classic boss rush in which most of them must be defeated again. The speed of your spaceship can be adjusted on the fly by pressing the select button, offering a choice of three different speeds in total. Blasting ships will reveal coloured coded power-up crystals that increase your weapon strength and shot variety. Collecting multiple power-ups of the same colour increases that weapons firepower and range. There are also additional power-ups available in the form of homing missiles which automatically lock-on to nearby enemies and a shield of escort ships which can be rotated manually to allow you to take an extra few hits before being destroyed. These additional power-ups can also be improved by collecting more of the same icons, increasing the homing missiles rate of fire and causing the defence ships to spin automatically. As for the use of bombs these cannot be launched at will, only collecting a special flashing crystal or a weapon crystal (when at max power) will trigger them. Once fired they act as a smart bomb and will clear the screen of all enemies and bullets. These flashing crystals also give a 5000 points bonus when collected as well as allowing you to respawn if your craft gets destroyed instead of starting the stage over from the start. Bonus points can also be earned by collecting special items dropped by enemies and golden orbs which appear more frequent towards the end of the game. Extra lives are score based and come at fixed intervals of 50K, 100K, 200K, then every 400 thousand points thereafter with a maximum of nine permitted to be stockpiled at any time.
Super Star Soldier includes the Hudson trademark Caravan Mode, with both two and five minute games available. There is also a hidden options menu which allows you to adjust the difficulty, a secret code must be inputted at the start screen to unlock it.
Hold Run+Select before powering on the console, then press Left, II, Up, II, Right, II, Down, II, Left, I, Up, I, Right, I, Down, I, I+II x8, I+Select x8 at the title screen.
Super Star Soldier conforms to a lot of the standards you’d expect from a classic shooter, influenced by Hudson’s earlier collaboration with Compile on the acclaimed shmup GunHed, the game continues in a similar vein but with much more focus. The power up system is less confusing and a lot more balanced along with a better structure overall. Gone are the long drawn out stages, awkward checkpoints and the ability to use your bomb on demand. Super Star Soldier does however carry over the same respawn system and a similar power up mechanic as well as retaining the overall feel of Gunhed.
Collecting coloured power-up crystals will upgrade your weapon in accordance with which colour you pick up. Collecting consecutive crystals of the same colour will gradually upgrade your weapon with five providing maximum power. Another facet of the upgrade system is that it also acts as a defensive aid, providing a 3-hit shield whenever a third power-up level is achieved with any weapon. Red crystals equip the Neo Caesar with a six way multi-shot. Blue will give the ship a Ring Beam which has a much wider range of fire. A green crystal provides the powerful wide spread Bolt Laser, and yellow equips the two way swinging flamethrower. In regards to weapon choice I believe it comes down to your personal preference and playing style however there are specific weapons which perform better in certain parts of the game and making sure you have the correct one equipped will go long way in to ensuring safe passage to the end. The red six way Vulcan strikes a great balance between power and spread. It is useful in most situations but especially so when you are surrounded by the enemy, a good example is in stage six when enemies constantly spawn everywhere and swamp the screen. The blue Ring Beam is a more powerful choice but lacks the degree of spread you get from the Vulcan, it still has its uses and is good weapon if in a pinch. By far the most powerful weapon in the game is the green Bolt Laser due to its very large spread and ability to peirce through enemy armour. It can make quick work of any enemy or boss but keep in mind that it has zero coverage at the rear of the ship. Although the yellow Flamethrower is powerful it is perhaps the most useless of the four and should be avoided due to its slow swinging motion. As you progress through the game you will find that the stages are geared towards equipping you with a certain weapon but be aware this is not always the optimal choice, however in some situations this can be used to your advantage. Memorising the weapon pickups and recognising when you need to ditch a certain weapon is paramount to success.
As mentioned Super Star Soldier implements a respawn system whereby collecting special flashing crystals increases the number of respawns relative to the number of lives you have remaining, exploiting this system is the key to victory. Early in the game you will notice that some power-up crystals cycle through the different colours and slowly float down the screen. Shooting these crystals will freeze them allowing you to effectively choose what weapon you want to pick up, however if you hold them in place long enough they will eventually start to flash and when collected unleash the smart bomb. As well as firing the bomb you will also notice the small ship icon in the bottom corner of screen will turn gold, this now means your ship will respawn if destroyed. There is no way to track the ammount respawns you have remaining as there is only one icon, however the maximum you can have at any time is nine due to this being the maximum number of lives you can stock. Keeping a mental note of how many flashing crystals you have collected is helpful but not nesscesary as long as you always make sure to keep the small ship icon gold in colour you’ll be fine. If you should die in battle then you will start over from the beginning of the stage or specific checkpoint (if the level has one) The game has unlimited continues.
One final note on strategy, as with most shooters the bosses utilise an attack pattern and memorising these patterns will allow you to beat them in the most efficient way. This is especially true for the stage four boss and the final boss, fail to recognise their patterns and you will be mincemeat in no time, also remember that stage eight features a dreaded boss rush.
Super Star Soldier was the first shooter I really got into and consiquently it holds a lot of nostalgia for me. Admittedly I was terrible at the game to begin with, finding it difficult and frustrating but decided to stick with it. The reason I didn’t give up was that, despite the game being hard it was just an outright blast to play and when I finally did see some progress it was a very rewarding feeling. However I have yet to beat the game despite all my efforts, that damn “Mother Brain”.
Let’s start by talking about how Super Star Soldier looks and sounds. The graphics are impressive for a tiny HuCARD, among some of the best on the system. The game is overall well conceived in the art department, featuring a nice spread of enemies and bosses to annihilate as well as a good host of levels to blast your way through. The eight stages take place across a variety of terrain from the sandy landscapes of an alien planet to an ocean based military outpost along side the classic space themed levels you would expect. A nice touch is the inclusion of a few nods to other classic games of the genre such as stage fives ode to Gradius II and the seventh stages escape sequence ala Salamander. The soundtrack is a particular highlight with the thumping chip-tunes wonderfully orcastrated, marrying perfectly with the fast paced action. The music really gets you up for the fight and is insanely catchy, you will be humming the opening track for days!
Gameplay wise Super Star Soldier is right on the money, every element is well thought out and executed. The Neo Ceasar controls with absolute precision and with a choice of three speeds it can be setup to your preference. The weapons system is very well developed, easy to grasp, and a lot fun to play around with. The learning curve is gradual, starting off fairly easy with the difficulty ramping up towards the end as the game features some pretty frantic sections and tough boss battles. Like most shmups Super Star Soldier is all about managing the resources available to you and memorising the enemy’s patterns, learn to do this effectively and the game opens up to you, revealing a real treasure. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Super Star Soldier is definitely my favourite shooter of the 8/16bit era. I have a great amount of love for the game and though it is often outshone by its later sequel Soldier Blade, I do believe it to truely be the superior game of the trilogy.