Here’s more lovely NES action from our Andy (UKNESBoy). The NES isn’t short of a shmup that’s for sure but one that’s often overlooked is Star Soldier. But why is that? Andy explains and you may want to steer clear of anything breakable…
One of the joys of modern technology is the option to experience things you weren’t able to when you were younger. This could be because you lacked the financial resource to do so, the technology wasn’t readily available back then or you may not have lived in a place where you could experience such things. Toay’s review focuses on the final aspect of that sentence, a game which wasn’t available or released in PAL territories at the time but thanks to the 3DSVirtual Console in 2013, or 2019 on the Nintendo Switch Online Service. Enough “stargazing” into “space” in wonder (trust me, these puns I didn’t “plan-et”), today’s review is of that little known space shooter Star Soldier.
Star Soldier is a vertical scrolling shooter released in Japan in 1986 and in North America in 1989. It is based (if you cannot tell with Star in the title) in space. The game was never released in Europe which as of yet is unknown if that was a blessing or a curse. But the premise of Star Soldier is that your ship is roaming inside a floating space station inhabited by a giant computer known as Starbrain, and the idea of the game is to stop Starbrain’s galactic invasion by fighting through each stage; 16 all told. Throughout the missions you’ll encounter a lot of projectile firings, a lot of enemies that fly in seemingly random patterns as well as anything and everything trying to kill you. By going through all the stages you end up fighting Starbrain in a final confrontation to end all confrontations – yay!
When you boot up the game you are taken straight to the title screen with the title flashing away in a purple hue for Star and a pinkish hue for Soldier. There are no options showing on screen, no facility to play two-players, and nothing to suggest where to go or what to do. Logic dictates it would be best to press the start button to proceed, and on this occasion logic wins. Pressing the start button you go straight into the game, ready to take control of your fighter plane and ready for the onslaught and madness to begin. As with any vertical space shooter, the d pad controls your fighter plane in the 8 directions of the d-pad, and the A/B button fires your weapon – it really is as straight forward as that. Along the way of shooting enemies and causing havoc, you could be shooting destructible tiles that offer points or even power-ups that enhance the fire power of your ship in such ways such as shooting in multiple differing directions, or faster bullets. It is good that rather than hammering the A or B buttons to shoot your ship like you do in the opening stages, by collecting power ups you can just hold the button down and fire quickly in different directions. Or just invest in a turbo controller to do that for you but not everyone was blessed to have such controller.
Progressing through the stage can be a somewhat difficult and arduous journey. As noted above, throughout there are enemies flying from every direction waiting to crash into you and if they don’t get into your way, it seems bullets fly from every direction ready for you to go into them. One thing to note is that when you have powered up your ship and take damage, your ship gets one step less more powerful, until your ship implodes. Do that enough times and it is game over. Believe me when it is said you will see this screen a lot – it does feel overwhelming with the amount of enemies that can appear on screen, with the bullets they fire and the random nature of the direction with which they travel. You will need nerves of steel and the reflexes of a lemur having had ten cups of coffee and an energy drink to get through to the stage boss – the star brain. Compared to the level it doesn’t take too much to defeat the star brain at the end of the stage, just keep firing at the centre and you warp to the next stage given enough shots. However, not defeating the star brain within a certain amount of time means the star brain escapes, and you have to replay the stage again. Oh joy. After every four or so stages you get to go mano y mano with a bigger Star Brain, that requires you to destroy four things on it’s hull before you go for the dead centre, but again if you don’t defeat it in time, then you have to replay the stage again. Oh joy.
So what to make of Star Soldier 30 years after it’s release in the US? There are some who may and try to compare it to a more famous horizontal shooter, Gradius and they would be right to compare. They are both hard as nails and require you be on top of your game in order to progress. The one slight advantage to Star Soldier is that when you take damage you drop down a weapon rank rather than lose your life like you do in Gradius. However, both games are not for the faint-hearted and Star Soldier will certainly have you effing and jeffing like a sailor and throwing your controller to the nearest hardest wall. The difficulty may put off the more casual player which is a shame because given the chance, the game at times can be rewarding as heck and is nice to just shoot anything and everything in order to progress. The other drawside is the monotony of the levels in places, in terms of the enemies you encounter, the design of the background and the star brain encounter at the end of the each stage. It can become repetitive but the level of difficulty involved may keep you from getting bored and make you want to keep pushing further. The game was released as a Virtual Console on the 3DS in PAL regions back in August 2013 but you can also play the game via the Nintendo Switch Online Service, so if you fancy a challenge and tire of Gradius, do give Star Soldier a try, even if you time yourself to see how long it would take to throw your controller at a wall or unsuspecting fish tank…