Publisher: Hudson Entertainment
Developer: Hudson Entertainment
Release Date: May 19, 2008
During the PC Engine heyday (known as the TurboGrafx-16 here in the U.S.), Japanese gamers were treated to annual "caravan" competitions, which were hosted by Hudson. These travelling competitions bussed from city to city across Japan in a special yellow bus that highlighted upcoming products as well as a special tournament title. These caravan titles were often time-limited, with the goal not being completion of the level but earning the highest possible score in a limited amount of time. While hardcore fans are no doubt familiar with the caravan titles, most U.S. gamers haven't had a chance to experience them until now.
Star Solider R was the star of the show at last fall's Hudson Caravan, and it was one of the first titles to debut on the newly launched WiiWare store. Because it was designed as a tournament style game, Star Solider R is much shorter than a typical shooter — the longest game mode is a mere five minutes — but what it lacks in length is more than made up for in depth of play.
On a superficial level, Star Soldier R is very easy to pick up and play. Simply grab a controller, move your ship and start shooting the bad guys. There's no need to worry about extra lives, as you have an infinite amount to use if needed. The real challenge here is time. Every death costs you precious seconds as you wait for your ship to respawn. You also lose any power-ups, not to mention the combo chain.
Doing well requires a combination of lightning-fast reflexes and a sharp eye. After all, when you're going for a score, making it to the end of the level is only part of the job. How you get there is just as important. With Star Soldier R, you can expedite the high score by improving your weaponry and performing risky maneuvers.
The first power-up increases the bullet spread, while the second adds a drone ship to your arsenal. Both can be used multiple times and once maxed, collecting another power-up icon adds a chunk of bonus points to your score. The drone ships are particularly effective because you can send them off to concentrate fire on distant enemies while you hang back at a safer distance.
Maneuvering can be done with either the d-pad on the Wiimote or via the analog stick on the Nunchuk. You can cycle between three speeds with a quick button tap. Most players will likely run through the first few games on the default speed, but as you shoot for a higher and higher score, knowing when to change speeds is your most valuable asset. For example, at the default speed, it is nearly impossible to move fast enough to collect loose power-ups, let alone shoot down wave after wave of marauding enemies. By the same token, precision moves — such as sneaking inside a ring-shaped fighter and blowing it up from the inside out for a sweet bonus — are expletive-inducing when attempted on the highest speed setting.
Visually, Star Soldier R moves smoothly and looks good, but this isn't a game loaded with eye candy. If you're expecting high levels of pomp and flash with uber lighting effects, then you might want to look elsewhere. That isn't to say Star Solder R looks bad, far from it; it just isn't going to be breaking out the "wow" factor. This is a perfect example of a title where gameplay obviously came first and everything else was secondary. In other words, it's just like the good ol' days.
The default mode of play is the one level, two-minute mission mode. A five-minute mission extends game time by adding a second level, but is otherwise identical in style to the two-minute mode. It's best to think of the two-minute mission as a training mode for the five-minute version, as you'll need to make a perfect run through the first level if you want to have any hope of being competitive on the worldwide leader boards for the five-minute game.
There is also a super-short 10-second QuickShot mode, which is literally nothing more than a button-mashing competition. The object is to see how rapidly you can press the fire button in one second. For the record, Japan's reigning champ can fire off a speedy 16 presses per second. That's some super-fast tapping there.
Ultimately, Star Soldier R is an excellent little game if you're a shooter fan and a high score junkie who sorely misses the 16-bit era and its corresponding 2-D style of play. Make no mistake, this is a game with somewhat limited appeal, and if you're not in the target audience, it's likely to register a pretty quick "meh" and get passed over for something new. For the old-school shmup fans out there, though, Star Soldier R is pure gold and an absolute steal at only 800 Wii points ($8).
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