among my many lists of games to play are all the ones by nintendo (hahaha). solar striker is an early game for the original game boy and is notable for several reasons. for one, it’s by nintendo R&D1 (the group that was headed by gunpei yokoi), and for another it still remains nintendo’s only foray into the shoot’-’em-up genre.
i haven’t played all that many shmups, but solar striker is pretty basic. as with my feelings of alleyway there’s a definite sense of the game being several steps behind its NES counterparts, not surprising since this was such an early game boy release. the game makes the most of the hardware, with catchy tunes, great graphics, interesting enemy designs and movement, a satisfying number of bosses and sub-bosses (although the latter are mindlessly easy to beat), decent variety in the level environments, and smooth play control with minimal slowdown.
there are several drawbacks though. since details on the game are scarce online, i’ll go into more detail than usual. first off, the powerup system is quite primitive: you start off only being able to shoot one stream of bullets; the first powerup doubles your number; after two more powerups you can shoot three at a time; and finally after two more powerups you get the best weapon which is twin lasers. there’s a definite sense of improved firepower with each upgrade, but it feels fairly basic. one major improvement, though, is that unlike gradius if you get killed you only get dropped down to your previous weapon instead of having to start from nothing.
1ups are fairly regular and come every 50,000 points, although again the scoring system is very basic and you don’t get any bonuses for hitting a certain number of enemies in a row, even if you defeat every enemy in a stage. enemy patterns are very regular and they’ll always appear at the same part of the screen. also, the pattern of the enemy waves is far too regular: they almost always spawn in columns down the left and right sides of the screen, either alternating or simultaneously. the patterns are so predictable that even though enemies have interesting movements the differences never really affect much of the actual gameplay since you can defeat them so easily.
my main problem with the game, though, is that there’s a sudden spike of difficulty, namely the boss at level 4. the lack of continues makes beating that boss a huge pain, but the rest of the game is pretty straightforward and the last boss is easy to beat. there are 6 stages total, and the game has a hard mode that you can access after you beat the game that as far as i can tell features the same waves of enemies just with more bullets. in most cases the boss fights feel the same in hard mode, although some are made only marginally more difficult. an interesting part of the game is that all (?) the bosses have a “safe zone”; if you position your ship there you’ll completely avoid getting hit. i’m not completely sure, but it looks like for the first three boss battles if you wait in that zone the boss will leave and you’ll be able to continue on to the next stage. it looks like in the fourth level even though there’s a safe zone you can’t skip past the boss, and i’m guessing the same is true for the fifth (and of course the last) stage as well.
all in all an interesting footnote in nintendo history, but a game that’s likely to “dwell in obscurity”, as they say. worth a quick runthrough, but unfortunately not a keeper.
somewhat striking solar striker links:
– entry at wikipedia
– good fan review at 1up
– ripped soundtrack
– guides at ehow.com and gamefaqs. i’m guessing the latter writer actually had the instruction manual because he refers to all the enemies by their actual names.
– game also featured in the game boy nintendo player’s guide
– official japanese site