Retro of the Week #3

Posted by Swifto on 14 February, 2012 at 10:08PM

Tags: Retro, Silpheed, Sega CD

Retro of the Week #3

Since I seem to be in some sort of a Genesis kick, let's roll with it. The second-placer in the 16-bit war had a lot going for it, but sadly, a lot of its best happened later in its life, when programmers had managed to work the hardware better. Comix Zone, which I likely won't be reviewing as I kinda suck at it, is almost a prime example of this sort of thing. A late-age Genesis game that woulda turned the tide a bit had it been released but two years earlier. Comix Zone had bright, fresh and fluid graphics around satisfying gameplay and great music and sound. Other than a rather steep difficulty, it was a sparkling gem.

But then, Silpheed is a SegaCD game. Most people didn't have those. You can understand, then, why Silpheed flew under the radar.

Which is a shame, since it's FUCKING AWESOME.
While most Sega CD games were either dismissable FMV titles or basically games that could have been on the Genesis but with an upgraded soundtrack, Silpheed is one of those rare games that very very likely couldn't have been on a cartridge.

See, Silpheed is a vertical shooter. The gameplay, far as vertical shooters go, is simple yet flexible and amazingly fun, but more on that later. Often, the star of the game isn't your little grey silvery ship, but the vast, sweeping dynamic backgrounds that your ship is but a small speck of. Not content to have tileset background with occasional obstacles, Silpheed gives a sense of speed and exhilaration beyond any racing game, diving in tunnels, sweeping to the side to avoid a large laser blast, circling around a giant warship on a quick approach to race past it.... This game grabs you by the balls and hurtles you out a plane and streaking for the ground at break-neck speed, leading to the most absolutely intense game I've yet experienced.

But the reason that I say this game wouldn't work on a cartridge is that all that's really being rendered here is some simplistic 3D models for you and the enemies. The sweeping backgrounds that make the game so intensely amazing? FMV's. Pre-rendered to look like the 3D models that you play as. It all has a similar style, and they all mix together so fluently and fluidly.

The sounds, while they do their job, aren't intrusive or obtrusive, and inform you of what's going on. Some sounds, though, strike hard. When you take a hit, you often feel yourself flinching to the hit. An interesting part of the sound design here is usually during parts of the stage, you can hear radio chatter from the other Silpheed ships flying around, and tips that your commanding officer says to give you a heads of what's to come. (pay attention to this guy. He says turn left, YOU GO LEFT.) It goes a great distance towards making you feel like a little fighter in the middle of a huge space battle, on top of the amazing visuals in the background of you zipping along the hull of a giant carrier or between two thin parts of a giant battleship. You really feel like a little fish in a big battle-torn pond, but the action in front of you and what's attacking you is drawing so much of your immediate attention that you never feel too belittled by it. And in fact, when you charge into a thin corridor, batting away enemies that managed to chase you into it, and make your way to the core of a giant space station that you spent half the level working your way inside of, your shields are down, your weapons damaged so only one of them works, your ship shaking in protest, a low-health alarm buzzing in your ear, when you manage to line up a clear shot, blow the core in a climatic boss battle, and you zip out of the stage as everything explodes...

Well, you don't feel so bad about the long load times between stages. You need those long seconds just to calm yourself down and to get ready for the next challenge.

And to think; we haven't even touched upon the music yet.

By the way; the music here is great.

I mean, c’mon. Give it a listen. Tell me that isn't one of the most awesome first stage tunes you've ever heard. catchy, upbeat, full of hopeful "Yeah! Let's go and get those bastards!" emotions. This tune starts up, the radio chatter has your commanding officer cheerily telling you to basically go and tear into those bastards, while your squadmates, in varying types of voices to distinguish between them, all saying "Roger!" in their own different ways... It's kind of a magical experience.

And that's in the first ten seconds of the game. Trust me, it gets better.

Now if I had to harp on this game, it's that the tension it reaches at times almost borders on stress-inducing. My heart races as if I'd ran a marathon at top speed. That, and the difficulty. I appreciate a challenge, it maks victory oh-so the sweeter, but FUCK ME Stage 5 is a piss. And Stage 11 is a goddamn gauntlet, and it throws you at the near-impossible final boss right as you were after stage 11, no heals, no energy boost, nothing? Uuuuugh.... The one time I managed to actually GET to the final boss I died VERY quickly, since I'd run such a ringer in the stage beforehand. It felt fucking awesome just getting to it, but dammit Game Arts, could you have eased just a *little*?

Also, some boss battles are kinda weak. For bosses, they're great. They're destroyable, challenging, and can throw some real curveballs at you, but... They're not all that much bigger than you. After the grand dazzling displays of battleships of opposing teams duking it out so far below you, it doesn't seem like you're doing that much.
Then again, the good bosses more than make up for it. (ooooh, final boss. You're so amazing, even if you obliterate me so quickly)

All in all, Silpheed is definitely the first game I mention when shoot-em-ups gets brought up. Some people like their Bullet Hells, but....

Y'know what?

I'll stick to my intensity-in-ten-cities classics.