Genre: Shmup Developer: Kaneko Publisher: Kaneko Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
Kaneko was one of those developers that always had an eye for good games. For example, its Mega Drive-only Wani Wani World is a fun title for two players, great for when you get tired of complexity in modern games, and Heavy Unit is filled with interesting level designs and weird enemies. In the early 1990s, Kaneko released Air Buster in the arcades (it also went by the name Aero Blasters). It was a simple, fun, challenging, and graphically impressive game at the time of its debut. By then the 16-bit systems had come along, and Air Buster was ported onto the Genesis and also to the Turbografx-16 as Aero Blasters. I initially asked myself if the Genesis port was great. The answer? Absolutely yes!
I love simplicity in shmups and Air Buster is actually played by one button on your controller. Your regular shots are buttons A and C while the auto-fire is B. While auto-fire is fine for Air Buster, you need to use the A and C button for its “flash attack.” By holding either one and letting the bar on the top of the screen fill up; the flash attack will destroy any weak enemies and small bullets that are on the screen. The attack is very useful when there are tons of bullets flying at you and is great for scoring. After you use the flash attack, the bar has to recharge before you can use it again.
Various power ups can be obtained by destroying the item robot. When destroyed, it’ll release different power ups just for your ship. Pick up the P icon to increases the main shot’s power, the S icon to give you side protection, and so forth. Air Buster‘s array of power ups gives you plenty of options of destroying your enemy, but I just can’t list them all!
The graphics in Air Buster are impressive, especially in stage one where one minute you’re admiring the seaports of Tokyo and then all of a sudden you’re in the middle of the city being destroyed by robots. Animations are actually well done for the Genesis port, but I wish some of the boss animations were more “life-like.”
Its unique level designs made Air Buster totally different from other shmups of the era. In stage two, you’re going through a long tunnel, trying not to crash, and dodging enemy fire at the same time. In stage three, you’re in a mountainous region and later on you’re in space fighting above the Earth. Stage four is really special because you’re in space with zero gravity, and your ship moves much more loosely than before.
Musically, things are well done and fit with the theme very well. For instance, in stage two, the music starts to really pick up when you’re in the tunnel. Also, the boss music does a great job of getting you pumped when trying to destroy the boss (as it should). Personally, I liked the music in the Turbografx-16 version a little better than on the Genesis, but both it and the sound effects are still actually very good here.
Air Buster is one of the few Genesis shmups to support simultaneous two-player action, but I must warn you that the game can get crazy with sprite breakups and slowdowns. One thing that might bug players is that before a stage begins, the Genesis has to “load” the information from the cartridge to the Genesis RAM (most likely decompressing). So if you think the game has frozen on you, don’t worry, just wait.
Air Buster is one of those good shmups that can be played over and over. It’s challenging, fun, and just simple. While the majority of shmups that came out in the early 1990s were mostly average, Air Buster has stood for the test of time for being a great port of a great arcade game. Most gamers will remember the Turbografx-16 port of Aero Blasters more fondly than the Genesis version, but in the end they’re mostly the same game. If you need some more shmup love after Lightening Force or Fire Shark, give Air Buster a shot; its excellent!
SCORE: 8 out of 10