Note: This review was done without any emulation on true, beautiful, pure Turbografx 16 hardware. Mmmm mmm actual hardware!
Now here is a flagship title for the Turbografx 16: Soldier Blade. Does this game carry its weight of reputation? Is this game consistently fun? Does this game stand the test of time? And the most important question, the one everyone wants to know, is ‘Does it earn the Malstrom Award?’, the most esteemed award ever created in gaming.
Above: Soldier Blade gameplay
Blazing Lazers (Gunhed in Japan) was co-developed by Compile and Hudson. The game was a smash hit and popularized shmups on the PC-Engine. Hudson followed up Blazing Lazer’s success with the Soldier trilogy. Super Star Soldier (solid, extremely generic, very challenging), Final Soldier (accessible, many weapon choices for replayability), and now Soldier Blade.
How does the final game in the Soldier trilogy differ? How does it differ from all shmups?
Soldier Blade is a top down shmup. When you get hit, your weapons are downgraded. The weapons come in different colors (red, green, blue). When you get one, a little friend (option like) stays by your ship. Red is vulcan. Green is wave. Blue is laser. You can hold up to three of these weapons. The more similar color they are, the more powerful your weapon becomes. If you use the other action button, you can ‘dispose of one’ which makes your ship have gigantic weapon that creates havoc on the screen. You will strategically ‘dispose of these options’ later on in the game.
Select changes the speed of the ship. It is cool how the ship transforms when you do this!
Above: The soundtrack in Soldier Blade is top notch!
One of the challenges with writing a review about a shmup (and the PC-Engine has many of these) is really what to say. Shmups revolve around shooting stuff and dodging. But Soldier Blade is extremely interesting.
Remember Life Force? Remember how interesting it was to fly into that bodily organism and blow it up from the inside out? Or remember R-type with its iconic bosses and really alien enemies? Or remember Dragon Spirit with its Jurassic themes? While most shmups do generic stuff (and Super Star Soldier copies the generic), Soldier Blade does something interesting.
The enemies of Soldier Blade are most fascinating to me. They are almost all robots or heavily mechanized race you are fighting. What is Soldier Blade’s pleasure is tearing apart these mechanized systems piece by piece and literally tearing the boss a new one. For example, the first boss has several attacks and several areas on his body that receive damage. The first boss shoots lasers from the side, missiles, and fires little shots. If you destroy a side of the ship, it will no longer shoot lasers from there. When all the parts on it are destroyed, the core runs wild firing shots at you. Aside from the pleasure of literally ripping the boss apart and seeing its attack change, it gives boss fights a cool sense of progression and even replayability. What if you destroy this part before that other part?
Above: Classic Game Room gushes over Soldier Blade.
There are infinite continues so you can really grind the game if you want.
The graphics work really well. There is a good mix of large sprites and small sprites. I love the cloudy background in this game. The super weapons look amazing and makes you feel powerful.
Above: This guy literally orgasms over Soldier Blade. He cannot stop gushing about it!
One thing I really appreciate about Soldier Blade is how the levels are not random. They show an overarching procession.
Operation 1: You start driven back at your orbital station. You push back.
Operation 2: As you push back, you enter the surface of the planet.
Operation 3: Now on the surface, you take on the captured human capital city.
Operation 4: The aliens are retreating! Destroy their last resistance on the surface as they flee.
Operation 5: With the aliens gone from the planet, you follow their battleship to their homeworld.
Operation 6: You battle the aliens on their home turf.
Operation 7: The final fight.
The game hasn’t aged at all. I keep coming back to it again, and again, and again. Each time I play it, I consistently get high quality fun.
It should be important to note that many people incorrectly expect games like this to ‘wow’ them. This is not how it works. Great games decades old are like great wine. The more you play them, the more in awe you become.
Soldier Blade gets the Malstrom Award. The game is timeless. It is a genuine classic… that few know about. It may be one of the greatest shmups ever made.
Disclaimer: The ‘quality’ is gauged only by how often I return to the game. TG16 games are not isolated; they are compared to every other game out there. A game can be ‘bad’ and keep me coming back. A game can be ‘good’ that I never want to touch again. Irrational addictive-ness, which defies quantification, is the only element examined here.
-TG 16 Games Reviewed So Far-
Malstrom Awards: (Addictive and Awesome even today, they refuse to age. Score of 10)
Devil’s Crush [$68] Imaginative sound and gothic theme. You’ll keep coming back to this one.)
Galaga ’90 [$34] (Purest shmup I have ever seen. This will still be played 50 years from now.)
Final Soldier [$30] (Good music and polish, easier difficulty, multiple powerup options. laser bubbles! Consistently fun.)
Parasol Stars [$85] (Better than Bubble Bobble. No one realizes how legendary this game is… yet.)
R-type [$40] (Never gets old because it can never be beaten. Fun to try here and there.)
Salamander [$40] (Challenging and addictive. If you like NES Life Force, you will love this.)
Soldier Blade [$100] (Consistently fun, great difficulty balance, perhaps best shmup on system and of all time)
Honorable Mentions: (Good games that are flawed or gameplay has suffered aging. Score of 6-9)
(9) Blazing Lazers [$37] (Inconsistent quality, long stretches of boredom, yet fun to return to again and again)
(9) Gomola Speed [$15] (Snake meets Gauntlet. Genre defying. Gameplay hurts hand.)
(7) Alien Crush [$22] (Interesting, addictive, but flawed. Good to play as a break to Devil’s Crush)
(6) Bonk’s Adventure [$33] (Meh platformer oozes incredible charm)
(6) Dragon Spirit [$30] (Jurassic atmosphere is charming. Sluggish controls, hard-to-come-back after dying)
(6) Super Star Soldier [$73] (Extremely generic, obtuse challenge. Solid gameplay. Extremely over-rated. No personality.)
(6) World Court Tennis [$16] (Most interesting RPG on the TG 16. Seriously.)
Don’t bother: (Not fun to play today. Score of 5 and below.)
(5) Gradius [$30] (Four options can cause slowdown, but this arcade port remains difficult and very nostalgic.)
(5) Military Madness [$44] (Overrated, dated gameplay, repetitious, dull colorless setting of the moon)
(5) Neutopia [$76] (boring, bad game design, can’t hold a candle to Zelda, fire wand is only thing going for this game)
(5) Raiden [$72] (Overrated, more frustrating than challenging, no 2 player mode that was in arcade)
(4) Bomberman [$40] (dull and boring, totally surpassed by its sequels on this system)
(4) Boxy Boy [$27] (Solid puzzle game, but it gets stale fast. Contains level editor.)
(4) Ninja Gaiden [$80] (Compared to NES: worse sound and controls, terrible parallax scrolling. Nothing to see here.)
(4) Space Invaders [$12] (Arcade and Plus mode. Plus mode is cool but the game is still dull, dull, dull.)
(4) Shockman [$110] (Cool graphics and vibe, no polish, and frustrating gameplay. Play Mega Man instead.)
(3) Moto Roader [$17] (5 player party game, great upgrade system, terrible core gameplay. USE HANDLE B!)
(3) Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition [$20] (2 button controller is terrible for 6 button game. Good luck getting a 6 button controller.)
(1) Keith Courage in Alpha Zones [$10] (The 16 bit version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.)