Soukyugurentai Saturn
Review by Keita Iida EA Japan Shooter
Graphics: 7 Sound: 7 Gameplay: 8 Overall: 8

wpe2E.jpg (11240 bytes)While hardcore shooter fans in the U.S. have been left out to dry as far as 32-bit gaming is concerned, the story is different in Japan, where the scrolling 2D shooter has enjoyed a mini-renaissance of sorts. R-Types, Thunderforce V, Strikers 1945 and others have kept players happy while we've only seen a fraction of them reach our shores. Soukyugurentai is a perfect example of old school 2D gaming at its finest that offers nothing really new to the genre (but then again, how many shooters do?) but makes up for it with solid gameplay.

Soukyugurentai is a 2D vertical-scrolling shooter that has a little of Raiden here, and some Galactic Attack there. It's also sprite-based, so don't expect the gee-whiz look that's found in Raystorm or Einhander. Graphics do improve the further you get, however, with some creative new enemies and terrific backgrounds that use the Saturn's high resolution graphics and scaling capabilities to good use. Sound wise, it's also ho-hum and lacks any flair. You'll find huge end-level bosses and nicely animated ships, but that's standard-fare on shooters nowadays. The volume level seems to have been turned down a few notches, and the you won't find any booming explosions either. But you'll quickly get over these minor drawbacks when you recognize the game's strong points.

First of all, Soukyugurentai has analog support. The analog controls take a while to get used to, but the slightly awkward control becomes second nature after awhile - if not a revelation. If you don't like it, you can always opt for the standard digital controls. But it's in the gameplay department where Soukyugurentai really shines. You have a choice between three different ships - each with widely differing attributes - before the game. Depending on your decision, your approach to playing will differ dramatically. The red ship is fast and is equipped with a lock-on, homing missile that does a load of damage if you can hang on long enough to unleash its power. Choose the blue guy and you're treated to heat-seeking missiles, in addition to the standard shot. Or, you can go balls out and take the slow but powerful green ship. You'll have to contend with hordes of enemies coming at you from everywhere (even from behind) and an almost blinding amount of missiles and lasers coming at you from all angles.

Yeah, but it still sounds like any other shooter, right? Well, in the case of shooters (more so than others), the difference between a mediocre and great game is really a fine line. And Soukyugurentai steps over to the positive side with its mix of near-perfect controls and intense action. And did I mention that it was HARD? If you thought Galactic Attack was a ball breaker, wait until you try Soukyu! The difficulty really took me by surprise, because the game starts off easy, with a few nondescript ships wandering onscreen to be shot at. *Snicker*. Enjoy this tranquil moment while it lasts, and practice your web weapons, because total and utter mayhem breaks loose after level four. You've been warned.
Soukyugurentai is available on both PlayStation and Saturn, but as is the case with most 2D shooters (and fighters, for that matter), Soukyu is better on the Sega machine, but not by much. The Playstation version has dual shock support, and the vibrations coming out of the controller when you get hit or are near an explosion really makes you feel like you're "in the game." Nifty feature for sure, but it's not enough to compensate for some slight slowdown and loss of animation.

Overall, Soukyu is up there among the top 32-bit shooters such as Galactic Attack, Strikers 1945 and Raiden DX. It's not going to win any beauty contests, but what it does well in areas where it matters. And you know what those are.

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