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Ah, for those distant carefree days when computer games were just that - games - rather than a substitute for society as a whole. Games then were considered complex if they included AI of any discernible sort, and other characters who could react to what you were doing rather than just blundering on regardless. Of course, there were also games whose goal amounted to little more than "shoot everything in sight", and such a one is Solar Striker, copyrighted 1989 but first released in 1990 at the launch of the console in Europe - so long ago that Spectrum games were still being released and Little and Large were still on the telly.
This shoot-em-up (sometimes abbreviated to "shmup") was one of the first games I bought for my own Game Boy after getting hold of it in around 1993, by which time it was already considered outdated. From memory, I think it was on sale at half price (so about £12-15) in WH Smith, which considering that new Game Boy games tended to cost £25 or £30 seemed like quite a bargain. These days you can pick it up on Amazon Marketplace for two or three quid, even allowing for the postage, and like almost everything else from those days it is pretty trivial to get working on an emulator. (Insert the usual disclaimer about emulators here if you like!)
As was almost an article of faith in this sector in those days, the cover art is an awful lot more impressive than the game itself, showing as it does a dramatic action scene of a futuristic space plane skimming the ground of some alien (and very orangey!) landscape and blasting some unfortunate small furry creature from Alpha Centauri or the like to smithereens while various other strange craft - including for some reason one shaped remarkably like a giant beetle - bear down on it. I quite like the art, actually: it at least has some life to it. (And death, I suppose, but the Nintendo of the early 1990s wouldn't have liked such a violent word to have been used openly...)
Slide in the cartridge, turn on your Game Boy, and - perhaps after several goes and a bit of blowing on the contacts - you come straight to the basic start screen, with its spiky, angular lettering (it's futuristic, you see) and the simple message "PUSH START BUTTON"; older gamers may get a bit of a Space Invaders vibe here. You almost certainly will, too, since the endlessly repeating short loop of music which accompanies this screen is so staggeringly annoying that you're likely to do anything to get rid of it. There is, I'm afraid, no demo mode, even if you wait for ages. I endured this on your behalf, so be grateful!
So, off we go. Thankfully the music used in the game itself is rather less unbearable, being an unmemorable bloopy sort of tune (yes, I do think that's the most appropriate word!) but one with a vaguely sci-fi-ish feel. The game screen is fairly simple: a background of stars and planets, the score line at the bottom and just above that your ship. Oh, and wave after wave of alien craft swooping down to attack and send missiles to zap you, albeit not with any enormous levels of cunning in their movements. Every so often there's a power-up which makes your craft's own missiles more potent, but which is cancelled when you lose a life, of which you start with three. If you die, then you see a screen showing a crashing ship, your score and the high score. Disappointingly, there's no extra celebration if you've set a new high score.
And that's it, really. You have an unlimited number of missiles, so generally you can just keep your one thumb held down on the fire button while you steer with the other one. There's the ubiquitous big boss at the end of each of the six levels, and these are hard to defeat unless you've got up to the top level of power-up, and the later levels also add some sub-bosses part way through. I'm not the most skilful of players of this type of game, and it felt a real achievement when I finally beat the thing and saw the really quite nicely done end sequence. I didn't really feel like trying out the newly-available hard mode after that, though!
Rating this game was surprisingly difficult, because it all depends on the standards you choose to score by. Clearly it's almost laughably simplistic by 2010 standards, and it wasn't exactly state of the art even twenty years ago. On the other hand, not everybody wants a game which demands hours of puzzling even to get your ship up and running without crashing, and in "pick up and play" terms Solar Striker scores very well: you really can explain the idea in ten seconds. All that being so, I've settled on an average rating overall.
"Solar Striker" is a video game released for the Gameboy console in 1990 by Nintendo. It is one of the more primitive Gameboy titles having been released shortly after the console's development. While the game was released for the original Gameboy, I have found it to be working on the later Color console. I did not immediately note an age rating but would see this as suitable for all ages.
The game is a top-down action title wherein the player must pilot a space craft and eliminate all enemies. It bears a similar resemblance to "Galaga" of the early 1980s. Enemies will appear from the top portion of the screen as the player occupies the bottom, and the piloted space craft is equipped with a simple weapon to shoot and remove enemy craft from play. It is a simple title in terms of actual gameplay but does feature very quick paced rounds which can become difficult as the player progresses.
Graphics are presented through a series of line segments to create very simple visual effects. The detailing is rather good considering the year of release and does not boast any obvious graphical fault. The audio is likewise very dated and features numerous beeps and other effects to accompany the player. The general feel is that of a very early free standing arcade game.
It is difficult to gauge this game's suitability to a prospective buyer. The retail price is generally non existent in the present marketplace and can widely be found on various auction websites for very low prices (under £1). I do personally enjoy the "vintage" gameplay presented here but wouldn't suggest this as a regularly enjoyed game.
Solar Striker is a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up by Nintendo. It's shooting in a pure form - no screen-filling firepower or the likes of smart-bombs simply shoot straight ahead. Only a single type of powerup to collect which upgrades the ship's firepower - should you lose a life then play resumes with only a step back in firepower so it's not too punishing. There's no faulting the control of the ship as well; autofire present but not always efficient.
Everything about the game looks clean and tidy, the designs neat. The backgrounds for each of the six levels are refreshingly different, and the sound effects for each type of common enemy being destroyed differs too. The music is decent. Performance-wise, while there is the slightest of sprite flicker, the game tends to suffer some slowdown - this is noticeable when playing the harder mode which is available after completing the game.
The six levels are of a right length, and the difficulty nicely dials up across them. There is a boss to battle at the end of each level. The game takes about half an hour to complete. The level four boss is perhaps the toughest moment, the points for racking up near the end yields a couple of lives. However, there's not a great deal of scope for high scores, since the game does not loop and everything bar the bullet patterns is set in stone. It took me a couple of attempts to complete Solar Striker, it is challenging, but it would have been nice if the harder mode was immediately accessible. Still, it's a solid, if unspectacular, short and sweet shmup. Yup!