Review: Star Soldier (Hudson/GC)
by brandon sheffield
09052003


Hudson’s budget-priced famicom classics ‘Selection’ series is making me cry tears of deepest sadness. They’re taking their most venerable and influential titles and remaking them in 3D. They’re putting heart, soul, care, innovation and money into them. But nobody is buying them. You have the power within you to change this. Please allow me to tell you why you should.

I’m a big fan of the Star Soldier series. It’s the first truly epic grouping of vertically scrolling space shooters in our young world. Not only is it the first, it’s very nearly the best.

I’d read a few other reviews of the game before purchasing a Star Soldier Hudson Selection Vol. 2 of my own – and nobody was comparing it to the original. I’ll change all this, I said. I’ve played each of those games to hell and back on my PC Engine, my frame of reference is impeccable.

But wait a second.

Looking at my Hucard collection, I discover that I do not own a ‘Star Soldier’. I have Super Star Soldier. I have Final Soldier. I have Soldier Blade. I have the godawful rot that is Star Soldier for the N64, sitting right there next to the dusty-as-the-dickens console I bought for it. But I don’t have Star Soldier.

Further research indicates to me that Star Soldier was released exclusively for the Famicom, way back in 1986. And I’ve never played it. Well don’t that beat all? I reckon it do.

Throwing my own credibility out the damn window, I played it ‘cold’, you might say. Turned out to be much more of a game than I’d expected.

The system is simple; there’s a main gun and a new high-power-short-range charge-blast thing. You use these to shoot ships, you see. The not-so-simple bit is that there is no rapid fire. This is incredibly curious, as a ‘turbo’ controller was released for the Famicom by Hudson because of this game. But here, we’re intended to be manly or something. It’s terribly rough on the wrist, given the sheer number of things there are to shoot in these here ‘shooter’ games.

Truthfully, you can hold the button down and get a stream of bullets to emerge. But it’s about half the power of the rapid press shot, and overuse of it will never yield a high score. Not once.

The one saving grace for your wrist is that there’s a laser placed at key areas in certain levels. This releases one solid skinny beam with a single button press. Sweet, sweet relief. Die once and your laser’s had it, of course.

Oddly there is on other method of saving your wrist. You can have another player smack on the button on a separate controller, adding to your bullet stream. It bears mentioning that other than at the minor juncture just described, this is by and large a 1-player game.

Star Soldier does a great job of recapturing that old feeling that shooters used to have – as well it should, being a nostalgia piece in design. The original came from that transitional period between the power of the arcade shooter and the rise of the home version. What’s more, it’s one of the earliest attempts at the bullet hell, or curtain style firing patterns we’ve come to know and love. It’s equal parts Raiden precision and Dodonpachi zen-dodging.

The ship models and bosses have been lovingly recreated, and the level design feels so right that those who have played the original (and to great lengths) remarked that their body-memory instinctively told them from whence the next wave of enemy ships would come. Naturally, this comes in part from Hudson’s carefully following the original code and patterns. But on top of that, it shows you how dead on the production values are for this game. They update without meddling. The blaster shot is new, but does not interrupt your appreciation of the original game. It’s a wonderful thing to see – a far cry from the ‘frogger’ updates, and other bits of nostalgic masturbation.

This was also the first game to feature a dedicated score attack section, which is related here in the third dimension. The ‘two minute’ and ‘five minute’ modes (sometimes called ‘caravan mode’) see you playing through a corridor of explodable items – the faster you blow them up, the more come at you (bosses included). Check out Lawrence’s replay (making use of the handy ‘replay save’ function) for a glimpse at the English-speaking record holder at work.

Playing through the story mode, I found the credit sequence to be the most exhilarating shooter ending that I’ve come across in some time, simply because you don’t stop playing. You never stop until the startup screen loads again. It’s a shooter, so you shoot – straight through the credits, straight through everything.

It doesn't much matter that the graphics are a bit lacklustre. The rest of the package is just so progressive (brilliant music and all) that you barely notice.

It occurs to me that Hudson is doing something important here. It’s more than just making a good game - they’re actively trying to rebuild themselves. They’ve been in a period of stagnation for a very long time now, Bomberman rehash after Bomberman rehash. It’s a far cry from the glory days of the PC Engine, when they were literally kings of the Japanese publishing arena (and at least a prince when it came to development).

They’ve been in a downward slump since ’95, with only a few bright spots to redeem them (one of which was a rehash itself). This culminated in Konami’s purchasing a 38% share of their stock back in 2001. Suffice to say, they weren’t doing terribly well. Still profitable, but lacking in innovation.

But then came Bobobo – and then the series of Famicom re-releases on the Gamecube.

They’re testing the waters again – the experimental bobobo is proof of that. And the re-releases are being done with such care, that it feels as though they’re trying to reinvent themselves. Revisit the old, and figure out just what made them a great company back in the ‘good old days’.

It appears as though they’re angling for a comeback. Perhaps using these remakes as a training ground for new programmers. Whatever the impetus, it is clear that they’re looking to the past with a mind for the present, even the future.

Star Soldier is a fantastic game in it’s own right. It deserves to have moved more than the 2,000 some copies that it did in the initial week. As a bonus, it’s part of hudson’s new history - a history they’re making for themselves as we speak.

I can say with some confidence that an investment in this game, is an investment in good games to come.

Brandon Sheffield wants a Gate of Thunder remake


Pros: Shooting, updates, music, future

Cons: Lower-grade graphics

Graphics

6.7

Sound

9.2

Music

9.7

Gameplay

8.9

Control

8.3

Accessibility

6.9

Future

8.8

Total

9.0

 

Developer
Hudson

Publisher
Hudson

Release Date
July 10, 2003

Buy it at Play-Asia.com

 

Two-Minute Replay
(NGF Games)