The Turbografx16(PC Engine in Japan) is a little known system, but among those who are “in the know” recognize the Turbografx16 as a shooter powerhouse. The system had shooters from companies such as Konami, Irem, Red Company and many more. Hudson Soft had a line of three 1st party shooters on Hu-card/Turbochip dubbed as the “Soldier series” who are highly thought of horizontal shooters in the Turbografx16/PC Engine community. I played all three of and this is what I think of them!
The Soldier series as a whole consists of seven games; The first game “Star Soldier” for the Famicom is a fine shooter for its time but it is kind of primitive which is understandable for a 1986 made game, but after NEC and Hudson Soft collaborated to manufacture the PC Engine, the next four games would be made on that system.
After Star Soldier, Hudson Soft made Super Star Soldier, Final Soldier and Soldier Blade in that order on Hu-card/Turbochip for the Turbografx16/PC Engine . These are the games that we will be taking a closer look at.
Star Parodier was later released on the PC Engine on Super CD format. Star Parodier is to the Soldier series like Parodius is to the Gradius series as in the game is a parody on its respective series, or in other words, a joke game based on the series. This game is pretty good so I might review it later.
Then came the failed Nintendo 64 game and the mediocre Wiiware reboot.
But enough about that, let’s look at the game that matter!
Super Star Soldier (1991 US/JPN)
Super Star Soldier is a cool horizontal shooter that takes inspiration from Compile’s Gunhed/Blazing Lazers. If Hudson were going to imitate some game, it was smart to copy Compile’s style of making shooters.
Like Compile’s shooters, Super Star Soldier is fast paced, packed with power-ups, bad-ass enemies and some killer tunes. This is true for all these games but to a different degree. Same can be said about the controls which are spot on.
The power-up system has insane variety rivaled by few but instead of bombs they opted to use tiny follower ships that surround and protect you. You use the other button to spin those ships around which is a pretty underwhelming feature even though it can be useful in many situations.
When I died for the first time I was incredibly disappointed when I was knocked back to the beginning of the stage, but that will not always be the case. When you are at full power and you pick up power-ups and/or golden power-ups you get a do over and spawn immediately were you died. This is indicated by the ship in the lower-right corner of your screen where you see your extra lives. If that ship is gold like on the pic above you respawn where you die, otherwise you get knocked back which is excruciating.
I don’t disqualify shooters that knocks you back like that right away since that would mean I dislike R-type and Gradius which I don’t… I guess I just feel like shooters didn’t hit their stride until the 16-bit era when they got more fast-paced.
Anyway, Super Star Soldier feels like a bridge between classic shooters and retro shooters. It just feels right and Hudson Soft were clearly on the right track here.
This game is a marathon of 8 crazy stages and innovative bosses and you have unlimited continues so you can throw yourselves at them without getting discouraged and you will most likely have a great time doing so but Super Star Soldier is most likely the toughest game out of the 3.
Lasting appeal 8,5
Has it aged well? 7,5
Overall 8,5 a great game
Final Soldier (1991 JPN)
It didn’t take me long to realize that Final Soldier is an upgrade over Super Star Soldier. The 1st stage music is so great, and thank god the game doesn’t stop the gameplay when you die! Losing your upgrades is a bummer but just being able to continue the action makes the game flow so much better compared to Super Star Soldier. The weapon variety is back and is even upgraded giving you a chance to choose between power-up types and personalize your ship. Final Soldier has subtle improvements in graphics and power-ups/sprites look cooler.
The level design might not be as good here, or is at best on par with Super Star Soldier so overall it might be debatable whether Final Soldier is an upgrade or not.
In Final Soldier you can acquire 2 follower ships that shoot when you shoot, or they can be used as bombs that heavily damages everything on screen and kills enemy bullets. The absolute lack of bombs in Super Star Soldier was a bit disappointing but in the end this is just a matter of preference. To me Final Soldier is smoother and plays better and the music again is fantastic making Final Soldier one of my favorite shooter of all time.
Lasting appeal 9
Has it aged well? 9
Overall 9 an awesome game!
Soldier Blade (1992 US/JPN)
You can feel right away that you are in for a wild right when you start the 1st stage of Soldier Blade. It starts off pretty easy but the fast paced action, great music and impressive graphics keep you entertained until the game starts to get really challenging, and not only that, the music only gets better as you play on!
Here Hudson Soft have really perfected their craft as the level design and controls are expertly crafted making up for some top notch gameplay. In fact, when I told youtuber “bithead1000” that I bought Soldier Blade he quickly responded by calling it a “nearly perfect shooter”. After clearing the game I have to agree with him.
At this late stage of the system’s lifetime Hudson Soft’s developers most have known the system better than the back of their hands.
The stages themselves are great but the boss fights are fantastic, the graphics are upgraded and the music is taken to another level. In fact, 2 weeks later and I’m still choosing the Soldier Blade OST as my music on the go. The developers might have found the weapon selection to be too complicated in Final Soldier since they regress to 3-types of weapons but with how the upgrade system works in the series this might be more streamlined and thus perhaps more preferable than Final Soldier’s weapon variety. The bomb system is changed a bit and has become closer to the system in Spriggan as in the power ups can be utilized as different types of bombs depending on the color. The number of these bombs are balanced and they are fun to use when you are in a pinch.
The exhilarating final stages in the game are improved over the later stages in Final Soldier. The action, music, gameplay and high difficulty really makes your heart beat as you sweat through a seemingly never-ending barrage of bosses and enemies.
It might not be much of a surprise at this point but Soldier Blade is 3rd on my top 10 Turbografx/PC Engine list on this site, highest of any shooter!
So Soldier Blade is the definitive winner here and you can see that Hudson Soft improved with each installment in the series, until they tried to make the jump to 3d that is…
Soldier Blade is perhaps my most favorite shooter of all time.
Lasting appeal 9,5
Does it age well? 9,5
Overall 9,5 a masterpiece!
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