By LimpingFish 1 Comments
Hello, and welcome to episode six of Computo Obscurio. Today we'll be looking at three Compile shooters that were released on the MSX-2 home computer: Aleste, Aleste 2, and Aleste Gaiden.
Anybody who knows shooters, knows Compile. And anybody who knows Compile, knows Aleste. Between 1988 and 1993, nine Aleste titles were released on various formats, with (arguably) the most famous being M.U.S.H.A Aleste, released for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis in 1990.
But! The series actually began on the 8-bit MSX platform; a hardware project spearheaded by Microsoft in 1983 as an attempt to unify home computer standards. Though hugely popular in Japan and other foreign markets, the MSX never really made an impact in the US or UK, and most of it's software library remains relatively obscure in these territories.
The MSX also went through a number of hardware revisions; most notable was the release of the MSX-2 in 1986, which featured, among other upgrades, vastly improved video capabilities. With Aleste, Compile would push these new abilities to their limit...
Supercomputer DAI-51 has gone rogue and declared war on mankind! With his girlfriend, Yuri, currently in a coma following DAI-51's opening assault, ace pilot Ray Waizen decides to take matters into his own hands and strike back at DAI-51 from the cockpit of his state-of-the-art Aleste-class fighter jet. Exciting!
Aleste is a classic example of a developer's vision being limited by hardware constraints. Compile wanted to create a super-fast scrolling shooter that delivered a dazzling sense of speed along with huge numbers of on-screen enemies. And they succeeded, albeit with one or two caveats. While the game is fast, it's also prone to regular bouts of slowdown when the action gets hectic. And while large numbers of enemies do indeed swarm all over the screen, the amount of heavy sprite flickering, no doubt due to some creative exploitation of the MSX's video modes, can sometimes give the impression that the game is being viewed through a zoetrope. Quite possibly, a broken zoetrope.
But leaving aside it's unavoidable technical shortcomings, Aleste remains an enjoyable title, and a good indication of what was to come.
Footnote: A version of Aleste was later ported to the Sega Master System, and released in the West under the title Power Strike. While the Japanese version is basically a direct port, the Western version is short one level and is also missing all cut-scenes. The original MSX version of Aleste is available on the Wii's Virtual Console in Japan, and also on iTunes. Score!
It's been twenty years since DAI-51's attempt to exterminate mankind, and the ruined cities of the world still struggle to rebuild. The Vagand, an alien race of humanoid/plant hybrids(!), orbit the Earth in their galactic bio-ship, plotting imminent invasion. Following the death of original Aleste hero Ray Waizen at the hands of the Vagand, it's left to his daughter, Ellinor, to lead Earth's counter-attack and avenge her father's death! Drama!
With Aleste proving a huge success for Compile, a sequel was developed and released within a year. Though more an iteration on the formula of the previous game, rather than an evolution, Aleste 2 polished the aesthetics, minimized the sprite-flicker and slowdown that had afflicted the first title, and ramped up the difficulty level. It also introduced us to the series unoffically-official heroine, Ellinor, who would later go on to appear in spin-off M.U.S.H.A Aleste on the Megadrive/Genesis.
Like it's predecessor, Aleste 2 is a shooter that remains playable today, but it's apparent that Compile had squeezed all that they could from the aging MSX hardware. But, before they would depart for pastures greener, they had one more Aleste-related release for the MSX.
Which brings us to...
Aleste Gaiden wasn't a standalone retail release, but was instead featured on Disk Station Special Aki-Gou, one of a number of miscellaneous compilations that Compile would put out on a regular basis.
Intended for fans of the developer, Disk Stations would contain a mix of demos, CG galleries, full games, mini-games, and whatever else Compile could fit on a handful of floppies.
Aleste Gaiden plays like a regular Aleste title, crossed with a top-down version of Atomic Runner. It carries over the basic weapon upgrade system from the earlier Aleste games, but, instead of a jet, the player controls a forever-running ninja through the game's five short stages. There is no onscreen HUD, so score is irrelevant, and the whole thing can be completed in under an hour. Speedy!
Aleste Gaiden may be a curio, but it's interesting to note that the whole ninja/robots angle would be recycled by Compile three years later for Robo Aleste on the Sega CD. That's...interesting, right?
And that BOMBSHELL brings us to the end of another Computo Obscurio. Thanks for watching/reading, and check back again...soon!
Technical Disclaimer!: Watch all videos in 480p windowed mode to avoid that annoying grey line at the top of the screen. I'm working on fixing it.