Friday, August 9, 2013

SolarStriker for Game Boy

I own three copies of SolarStriker. I've actually run across this game in stores, purchased it for dirt-cheap, taken it home & realized I already owned a copy twice. It's not that I have Mel Gibson's Consipracy Theory OCD; it's that this game is so forgettable, it keeps falling out of my brain.

Another Game Boy launch title, SolarStriker is a vertical spaceship shooter with a standard boilerplate of a plot: You and your super-advanced prototype fighter are Earth's last defense against the overwhelming forces of an invading alien race. You fight your way through waves of enemies until you encounter the level's boss. Once you defeat it, you move on to the next level in the game. In standard shmup fashion, you have no control over how fast the screen scrolls, but you can move up and down in addition to left & right, and the screen scrolls slightly left or right to reveal more of the play field than will fit on-screen at once. You have only one weapon in this game (A & B buttons both fire it.) which can be upgraded from a single shot to twin, triple, and ultimately the high-powered Super Shot by shooting space-crates & collecting the 'P's enclosed within. There are no other types of weapons or power-ups at all in SolarStriker

It's an uncomplicated game to be sure, but it's not easy. You start with only three lives and no continues. Scoring 50,000 points earns you a bonus life, but unless you're really good at dodging enemy fire, that won't be enough to sustain you through all six of its levels. Dodging itself is a problem because, while you can move in any direction, you don't do so very quickly, and you can't outrun enemies at all. The SolarStriker is one pokey little spaceship, but then again the play field is so tiny, there are times when you can't avoid getting hit no matter how fast you move. Maddeningly, you can only shoot straight ahead, while most of your enemies can shoot in any direction. You're usually screwed if you let too many enemies get behind you, because there's no way you can take them out. Oh, how I yearned for a Super Zapper or something when this happened! Fortunately, the game is not so cruel as to actually spawn enemies behind you. It's not a thumb-busting button masher either, as you just have to hold A or B down to keep firing. Come to think of it, this may be the first shmup I've played to actually sport that feature.

The graphics in SolarStriker are basic but clean, and nicely high-contrast. It's very playable on the original Game Boy's notoriously smear-happy screen because nothing moves very quickly. I'm glad the developers chose dim, unobtrusive backgrounds, even if black stars on a white background do look a bit odd. (Nintendo corrected this on the Game Boy Color, Advance & Player.) The sound effects never rise above Atari-style beeps & bloops, but the background music isn't bad. If nothing else, SolarStriker demonstrates the Game Boy's potential to produce some very good chiptunes in subsequent games.

It's unfair to be too critical of a launch title like this, as developers almost always have a tight schedule & limited budget to work with. SolarStriker certainly feels like a rush job, but there's a germ of a good game here. If it just had a little more variety in its design, a little more balance in its gameplay, and a little more reason to keep the player coming back for more, it wouldn't be so forgettable today. And I wouldn't own three copies of it.

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