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Robo Aleste

Genre: Shmup Developer: Compile Publisher: Tengen Players: 1 Released: 1993

The 16-bit era was the golden age of space shooting games (shmups), and the Genesis was especially good to fans. It has one of the best overall libraries in the genre, one that continues to grow to this day. Regardless of the scrolling preference, there are classic games for everyone – horizontal, vertical, or otherwise.

Not as much of that bounty spilled onto the Sega CD as one would have liked, but that isn’t to say that the much-maligned add-on lacks bright spots of its own. Along with gems like Keio Fly Squadron and Silpheed, Sega gamers got a sequel to one of the most beloved shmups on the Genesis. It was a pleasant surprise to see the Aleste series continue on the Sega CD. The series excelled on Sega’s consoles, appearing first on the Master System in 1988 before exploding onto the Genesis and Game Gear, and the thought of a CD soundtrack, tons of dialogue, and glorious animated cut scenes likely widened many a fan’s eyes with excitement. Robo Aleste brought us a game with the same creamy, vertical-scrolling shmup action so many enjoyed with M.U.S.H.A. but wrapped it in the most curious of candy shells.

For some inexplicable reason, developer Compile set the game in feudal Japan, among a group of warlords battling for supremacy. According to the game’s opening sequence, which is further elaborated on in the instruction manual, the discovery of a “foreign ship” that washed ashore on a southern island changed the balance of power completely. Some unidentified Western country randomly sent an airship full of firearms and mechanized armored soldiers to Japan, and local craftsman were somehow able to use the technology to build metallic airships and 25-foot-tall, steam-powered robots…

… in 1467.

I’m all for fantastic storylines, but this was just ridiculously great. I had to chuckle as I watch the opening story detail how each faction ended up with these incredibly powered weapons. Japan went from Shogun to Macross in record time, and it’s all perfectly over the top.

But wait! It gets even better! One of the warlords, Nobunaga Oda, was outnumbered and on the verge of defeat, but he had one last trick up his sleeve – “a ninja army called White Fang” commanded by you, Oda’s most trusted and valiant officer. Yes, giant, ninjas mechs with guns. Perhaps they were the ambition referred to in all those Nobunaga games. Awesome.

It already sounds like the greatest action movie ever made, but that’s really where the fantasy plot tapers off. Once the game starts, we’re back to standard shmup magic. Here’s where we see the game’s Aleste roots in full swing. The players’ flying armored warrior and its two satellite pods return, as do the power-ups: bombs, shield, spread, and the all-powerful laser. The action is spread across 11 stages of varied enemies, menacing sub-bosses, and challenging boss fights. Honestly, if you enjoyed M.U.S.H.A., then this is all wonderfully familiar territory.

Robo Aleste spices up an already solid formula with some excellent CD-ROM bonuses. It has a great soundtrack, full voice work, and some smooth scaling effects as enemies zip in and out of battle. Best of all are the animated cut scenes sprinkled throughout the game. Compile was serious about its feudal mech storyline and really fleshed it out with several scenes that reveal more about the war. To be honest, there’s nothing in Robo Aleste’s presentation beyond the improved audio that really couldn’t have been more or less done on cartridge, but that isn’t where the added power of the CD-ROM should be most appreciated.

The gameplay is where the added horsepower really shines. Shmups are all about fast-paced action, and Robo Aleste doesn’t disappoint. There’s virtually no slowdown or flicker at all, which means that players are going to have to train long and hard to get through to the end. The game doesn’t go easy at any point, and the blazing speed can sometimes combine with the colorful backgrounds to make power-up capsules and enemy fire hard to see. Moreover, some stages drag on a bit too long. The result can be some sudden deaths that will leave players with a relatively de-powered craft. Practice will reduce these occurrences, but it can be a bit frustrating for new players. Robo Aleste can be quite unforgiving and there are limited continues, so it will take some time to get through all 11 stages. Suffice it to say that this isn’t the kind of game most people will complete in an afternoon.

Coming back for more won’t be a problem, though. Robo Aleste is a beautiful romp, with lush and detailed graphics that are worth pausing to look at. The backgrounds have a lot going on in them, and aside from the aforementioned distraction, they are a wonderful asset that brings the fantastical world of feudal Japan to life. When combined with the amazing music, the presentation is top notch.

There’s no real reason why any shmup fan with a Sega CD wouldn’t own a copy of Robo Aleste. It’s tough and a blast to play, exactly what one would want from any game in the genre. It’s not the type of game to kindly greet players, but those pilots willing to stick around for a bit in for one hell of a ride. Robo Aleste lives up to its name in every category.

SCORE: 9 out of 10

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