Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire - PC-Engine


Having played a number of Husdon made shooters for the PCE, NES and so on, I was familiar with the formula and its one I enjoy. There's a lot of fun to be had in a Soldier title, which is why I wanted to try out the rarest one of them all - Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire.

Sapphire is one of the hardest to find titles for the PC-Engine, thanks to its late release and scant few copies that made it to market. It is also an Arcade Card title, so you also need to invest in the Duo or Pro Arcade Card, which is the cost of two or three pretty good games for the system alone.

Unfortunately, Sapphire is not one of Hudson's better titles. In fact, it's pretty far from perfect and lacks alot of the polish that classics like Gunhed and Super Star Soldier have. The stages themselves are pretty blah as is the art in general. There seems to be a great lack of consistency among enemies in the games and it almost feels like two different teams were creating art assets in two seperate studios without much conversation between the two.

Even the status bar at the bottom seems badly designed. The silver-brushed aluminum look is too heavy and looks bad, especially compared to, say, Summer Carnival '92 - Recca, which is a fantastic looking status bar - one that's done on the Famicam no less!


The sound effects are sub-par as well. The shooting sound each ship makes all grate on the ears with a high-pitched screeching that sounds more akin to a broken vaccuum cleaner running at twice speed with no lubrication in its engine than a laser cannon.


The gameplay is also pretty awful with many enemies point blanking you due to their sheer size. Even the most basic of popcorn enemies can fire a few bullets at you in a small space, making it necessary to memorize their appearance in the game to get past them without losing one of your very precious lives. There is so much memorization that goes into passing the first two levels that it just gets tiring after a while. There's also enemies that pop up from underneath you (stage 2) and plenty of bullets that move too fast to actually dodge them, unless, of course, you memorize where they are comming from.

For the most part, the game seems to favor larger enemies, as if to show off the ability to use polygons, rather than crafting smaller enemies, much like the rest of Hudson's STG titles. Even the popcorn enemies are fairly large and make the art seem bloated and unbalanced.

There is something to great gameplay that makes you want to keep playing, a kind of aural and physical delight in seeing and controlling your character and hearing the sound effects and music in the world they inhabit. A great game invites you in to sample its delights. Sapphire seems to want to shut the door on you as you are still walking up the stoop.

For being such a rare and sought-after title, you would hope that the gameplay lives up to the hype that a physical copy generates, but it really doesn't. It feels unfinished and unbalanced and really very frustrating. With so many other good Hudson STG's out there that can be had for very cheap, there's really little reason to play this one.

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