Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Space Megaforce (Super NES, 1992)

As those who have been reading this saga of posts are already aware of, I'm following the progression of space shooters a bit. Not a lot... just as far as the NES, SNES, and N64 go. Here we have what I consider the best space shooter I've ever played: Space Megaforce (or as it is known in Japan, where it was far more popular, Super Aleste). This is a great game that more people need to know exists, so for this one I'll be doing a lot of discussion of the gameplay.

In addition to the regular twelve-stage game, there's a four-stage "short game". In this version, you play condensed versions of four standard stages. They're different enough to be an entirely new experience, and easy enough to be an outstanding gateway to the standard game. If you're playing this for the first time, definitely go through "short game" first as a practice run.

The intro shows an unidentified city, and makes vaguely clear (with no words) that the Earth is threatened by a menace from space. Shockingly, given the timeframe, this menace doesn't resemble Xenomorphs or Terminators. In any case, this game has five difficulty levels. Weirdly enough, the center difficulty (Normal) is the easiest, while the difficulty goes up if you change it in either direction. In other words, the first and fifth difficulty levels ("Wild" and "Insane", I believe) are the two hardest ones. No idea which one is harder. That's a pretty bizarre design choice, though. Also means that players who turn the difficulty down to the first one on their first playthrough are in for a surprise.

The first level has great music, one of my favorite tracks in the game. This game has very distinctive music in general, music that sticks with you long after playing.

This game has the same style of play as Gun Nac for the NES, which I played a while back. It's worth checking out that post to see what an NES version of this game might look like. Also sporting the same style of gameplay is Solar Striker for the Game Boy, and in a way the three games are a sort of unofficial, unrelated trilogy to one another. While I'm talking about other games, I should also mention Axelay for the Super NES. While it is completely different from this game, it came out at about the same time (heck, it could have even been in the same month) and is also pretty incredible; if I were ranking space shooters, I'd put it a close second behind this game.

There are eight different weapons in this game. They're interesting enough to detail here: Multiple Shot (fires a spread of small shots); Laser (fires two powerful bolts); Circle (seen here, gives you several orbs that rotate around the ship); Multi-Directional Shot (fires a small bolt, lets you control your direction of fire with the D-Pad, hard to use unless you're a pro); Missile (sends out homing missiles); Power Shot (lets you charge up, then release a super-beam that cuts through just about everything); Sprite (same as the Option in Gradius, creates dummy ships that echo your fire); and Scatter (rapid fire potent orbs that "break apart" into smaller shots when they hit something). As a kid, I'd rely heavily on Circle and Missile. The former protects you so well that it makes the game a lot easier, while the latter takes away a lot of the need to aim. Now I find myself liking Sprite the most.

Here's Sprite. As you play, you collect gold orbs that power up whatever weapon you're using; the maximum level is six. Here we see the maxed out version of Sprite, which has a bunch of extra ships. Also found Scatter to be particularly powerful. Not only are the initial orbs deadly, they rain down lesser shots that do a good job clearing an area. And the default Multiple Shot is also great, something I sold short once upon a time for flashier weapons. The two most damaging weapons, Laser and Power Shot, are both a bit limiting since they only fire to the front. Lastly, the Multi-Directional Shot is the one weapon that I avoided completely. It's hard to use, but I imagine a pro at the game would have a field day with the amount of control it allows.

As if eight weapons and six levels of powering-up each weapon weren't enough variety, you can also change firing mode by pressing R. The effect varies from weapon to weapon; holding R with Circle active causes the circles to stop in place, for instance, while tapping R with most other weapons changes the firing mode until you tap it again. While some weapons only have two firing modes, others have a bunch - Multiple Shot in particular has something like four or five firing modes to cycle between that change the spread and firing pattern. It's pretty damn impressive, and something that's easy to miss when you play the game if you aren't aware of it beforehand. I think the best secondary fire mode goes to Laser (seen here). It changes some of the beams into gold beams that home in on enemies, instantly turning Laser from one of the worst to one of the best weapons in the game.

The first boss is a pretty impressive battleship, and the sole recurring "villain" of the game. The weak point is at the center, but any of the guns on the sides are targetable (and destroyable). In a situation like this, Sprite really shines. I'm able to hit every part of the boss with a barrage of shots.

As the fight gets close to the end, the boss starts flying around the screen. Seeing screenshots of this battle in Nintendo Power is one of the things that prompted me to check this game out to begin with.

Clearing a level rewards you with your fighter zipping off with a trail of afterimages. See those crop drawings far below? According to this game, said crop drawings were done by aliens, the same mysterious aliens who are attacking the planet.

Here's a shot of the Missile weapon. That gold egg is a weapon power-up. They drop CONSTANTLY, which is nice compared to most powerup-stingy shooters.

In the second stage, there's some sort of space station that you see slowly panning in from the distance. Mode-7 yo! You can see it in the previous screenshot as well, farther away.

When it gets up close, you dismantle every section of it. Pretty rad. The "core" area is the boss of the level, and it consists of an array of gun-pods.

The third level is a "supply depot" level. It's very short and has a boss fight that barely qualifies as a boss. Out of the twelve levels in the game, three are like this. They mainly serve to get you powered up for the difficult levels that follow.

And in this case, a very difficult level follows. Level 4 is full of fire, and the first part of the game that really poses a challenge. It's also a visual masterpiece to look at, given that the flames clash with the green background.

The special, ultra-badass boss theme plays for this battle. It only plays twice in the game, so you know things are serious. This boss is an innovative one - a giant metal sphere that breaks apart into segments and re-forms as it moves around the screen.

Here's Scatter, or rather the spheres that it launches. These break apart into smaller shots when they hit something, in addition to having a particularly cool sound effect.

Power Shot. At full charge, two of these mega-beams get launched across the screen. Almost every weapon in this game is a lot of fun to play around with.

Stage 5 boss, as well as the Laser weapon. As you power it up, it transforms from straight laser bolts to winding laser bolts.

The next supply depot looks like something out of an entirely different game.

The asteroid field level is one of the more impressive ones, and here you can see Sprite in action. I don't say this often, but at this point... why are you still reading this? Go give the game a try. It's easy enough to emulate these days. Unfortunately, I don't think it's on Virtual Console. Axelay is, though. As my second-favorite shooter, I'll definitely cover that game in a future post.

The seventh and eighth levels of this game are the only parts that I don't like. Here we see 7, which gets really chaotic with all of the enemies and shots flying around. Circle is almost a necessity here, and if you've been waiting for a good time to use those screen-clearing bombs you've been saving up, this is it.

Another boss. It's some sort of space station. The bosses in this game are very unique and interesting, for the most part. They're all mechanical, aside from the final boss.

Stage 8 is absolutely my least favorite stage in the game, and the one that really gave me difficulty as a kid. This stage takes place in some sort of spaceship graveyard. Pretty unsettling. The problem is that said ships are brittle and come apart when hit by weapons fire. Or at least, pieces of them break off and fragment - usually right towards you - while you're focused on the enemies. This makes the stage particularly frustrating; it breaks the "fill the screen with firepower" convention of every other stage in the game by forcing you to hold your fire as much as possible. It's like that scene in Aliens where they have to switch to "flame units only" and holster their other weapons.

Boss of stage 8 is a tough one. I've always wondered what this ship is supposed to be. It's an interesting shape, and it seems a lot more advanced than the rest of the enemy fleet. I kinda wish this game had a story. The only problem is that a story might upset the equilibrium of the game. The purity, if you will. It's already fun incarnate, and something like cutscenes might take away from it.

As the fight goes on, the ship loses its exterior shell and things get pretty chaotic.

Stage 9 is another supply depot that looks ripped from a puzzle game, with another nondescript boss that really qualifies more as a mini-boss than anything else.

In stage 10 out of 12, I suffer my first game over. I'VE STILL GOT IT! Thing is, in this game even a game over will just start you back at the last checkpoint (the typical level has four or five of them). So you never lose more ground than is necessary.

Stage 10 is basically a more difficult redux of stage 1, complete with crop artwork. As far as I can tell, this game has you going out into space to confront the enemy fleet for stages 2 through 9, then it returns you to Earth to take on the mothership in the last three stages.

The stage 10 boss is the first boss revamped. He's badder-ass than ever, and now he gets to have the rare boss theme of uber badassness. This is as far as I ever got in the game as a kid, and I'm not sure why... the fight still isn't all that difficult.

Stage 11 is the interior of the mothership. This level is short and lacks a boss. It does, however, have super-fast scrolling and a bunch of walls that try their damndest to crush you.

Stage 12 is... the super-interior of the mothership, I guess. At this point you fight primarily biological foes for the first time in the game, as the walls themselves seem to come to life and attack.

Most of the major bosses that didn't already make a repeat appearance show up here in a sort of "boss rush". This one is particularly rough. Then again, since the boss fights in this game are so good, having to fight them again isn't something I'll argue with.

Here we are, the final boss. What the hell is that thing? And why does this fight have such badass music?

Hey, these things kinda DO resemble Xenomorphs! I SPOKE TOO SOON!

BOOM. Game over, man! Game over! Stage 12 is the most difficult in the game, but it still isn't particularly bad or frustrating.

I have to say, this is a game everyone should try at some point. It isn't even that difficult (aside from a few key areas) and chances are you'll find yourself in the late stages before you know it, with an hour mysteriously missing from your day. It's that fun. Just be sure you play it on "Normal".

Clearly, I didn't do as well with this as I did the last time I played it. In any case, great game. I don't think I can do justice to how fun and polished this game is. As of press time, I've been informed that this game is actually the sequel to an ultra-difficult Master System game called Aleste. So I guess you can add that to the extended Space Megaforce family, along with Gun Nac and Solar Striker.

Full disclosure: When I originally played this in 1995, I was obsessed with Zelda. Specifically, Link's Awakening for the Game Boy. I wanted that game so much that what seemed like years went by (in actuality, it was probably a week) as I waited for it. This game kept me busy (and sane) in the meantime. Nowadays I wonder how I could get as worked up for a game as I did back then, because it was pretty ridiculous. The best part is, after I finally did get Link's Awakening and finished it, I realized I didn't like it as much as A Link to the Past, which I had already rented and finished. From there, I re-became obsessed with getting THAT game. I'm guessing Space Megaforce kept me busy once again at that point. Thanks, Space Megaforce.

Similar posts from around the site:


  1. Great review!
    I haven't been able to beat this game yet, but this review has inspired me to give it another go. I do wish that this had a two-player option, though, because I've been on a multi-player kick lately. (I've recently played the following 2-player PC Engine shoot-'em-ups: Salamander, Hellfire S, and Sapphire.)

  2. It certainly seems to make a strong case for being the best.

  3. Looks like a masterpiece. Thanks. An hour is all it takes? Guess that means even I could do it. It looks great, but the best thing is they give you so much weapon variety while still keeping the game difficult.

    I wonder if Wild and Insane are different in opposite ways, like one has a lot more bad guys and the other has the bad guys hitting harder.

  4. Great review! and thank you for the nostalgia value.
    IOM, the best shooter, event better than Axelay (And I so enjoyer the weapon system than i even blamed Axelay to not get him, it was a pity know but i had so enjoyed super aleste)

    And yeah i was a prequel of the master system's alest (called Power Strike in europe i don't now for the US)
    I remember 2 secret thing :
    secret 1: (At last work in European version)
    I you get really really full of power up with the weapon 1 : the lv6 of the weapon 1 is improved :
    - added a new 8-way shot (a near fusion of the classical 4 ways + 8 ways if I remember clearly)
    - the full double shot is again improved -the weapon mode I usually choose for completing stage 8 ;)- (the bullet sprite don't even blink anymore like frozen)
    You for a fast preview could unlock the level6+ near the end of the short game if You get all options/pecfect with only used lv1 weapon.

    secret 2 :
    Not really a hint but the weapon 7 was one of my favourite until i understood : the sprite aren't indestructible !!!
    yeah they got a VERY huge of stamina but if they get smaller (like one on the picture of the last boss) it's because they're near to explode ... an yeah, you'll loose a weapon 7's level >_< (of course It's not like you where hurt but if you a hit when it occur, well, you know ... :x)

    Oh and if you bored try the Japaneses version and see in gameFAQS about the extra ending end in this Japaneses version ;)