Friday, March 13, 2009

Star Parodier

Hudson Soft
Super CD-ROM

I know I pull the "too easy" card a lot when I review shooters. And when I do it, I bet I sound like a no-life-having, Sinistron-loving snot (which, of course, is exactly what I am). But I feel entirely justified in labeling the Star Parodier default-settings experience too easy. The very first time I played the game, I accumulated a stock of twenty-four lives before some bum finally managed to kill me. The second time I played the game, I finished with a surplus total of thirty-three. That's just ridiculous.

The lack of difficulty isn't due to a lack of things to shoot at. In fact, there's PLENTY of stuff to shoot at. But extra lives are available in such abundance and your armaments are so overpowering that you end up with nothing to be scared of. I didn't view that as a good thing; without at least some fear of ship-losing involved for the player, shooters don't seem to have much steam to run on. I realize that much of the focus here is placed on humor and personality, but heck, Parodius manages to be charismatic and challenging at the same time. Star Parodier was enjoyable for me but (you knew it was coming) far too easy (and I mean FAR too easy).

But then I cranked up the difficulty, and SP redeemed itself. The bosses really pick up their games on hard mode, and even the standard foes become more aggressive and display more mettle. Now, a good player will still accumulate twenty-plus lives and wreak plenty of havoc, but the essence of the challenge is that if you die during the hectic later stretches (and lose your power-ups in the process), you might be staring at a string of a dozen or so deaths in a row. This will drive some players batty, I'm sure, but it gives the game an exciting element I was looking for in it: the threat of having to pay bitter consequences for dying. And after discovering the harsh joys of hard mode, I was more forgiving of default, as even I don't mind a stretch of relaxing shooting here and there as long as I can crank the toughness back up when I so desire. As an added bonus, you get a different ending for conquering the sterner setting.

And that's about enough on the difficulty, as there are plenty of other good things to talk about. The game is a success as a charismatic parody. Soldier series fans will be thrilled to find lots of clever nods to the serious space odysseys SP caricatures. Neither said fans nor anyone else is likely to find the title's underwater stretches, snow lands, and Tetris-block terrains exciting conceptually, but the strips are so colorful and gorgeous that it really doesn't matter that many other shooters feature similar sections. It's incredibly neat that you can choose to soar through those areas with Bomberman or a flying PC Engine rather than the usual Soldier craft, and the weapons you'll have at your disposal are quite cool and fun to use (even if they do come down too hard on the default enemies). The bosses you'll wield those weapons against, from the snowman who tosses his own head at you to the giant evil bomberman, are extremely likable. Adding to the fun are comedic intermediary stills that relate to the level-concluding battles. And the soundtrack is really nice; the upbeat ice-land tune makes me nod along, while the mellow opening notes of the giant-fish and snow-guy boss track are appealing in an entirely different way (I kind of wish the number remained low key instead of going crazy after a few seconds).

SP is an absolute must-get for shooter novices and, on hard mode, an enjoyable option for the pros. Of course, two of its serious-minded Soldier fellows (Blade and Final) are also PCE essentials. Super Star Soldier can go to hell.

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