You might have heard of this 1993 Game Gear title under its European/Brazilian name Power Strike II, a game which has nothing to do with the other Power Strike II, even though they’re both Sega-based shmups created by Compile in 1993. Confused? All we can do is be grateful this blog post’s not about the tangled mess that is WonderBoy/Monster World/Adventure Island.
GG Aleste II ended up being the final game in Compile’s long-running series, an 8-bit handheld title that somehow still managed to follow the winning formula of it’s more powerful console and computer counterparts, all little support craft stuffed with power chips and multiple sub-weapons to help you blow to pieces absolutely everything that crosses your path.
These four sub-weapons all fill a distinct enemy-crushing niche and compliment a particular style of play, running the whole gamut from almost entirely defensive spheres to full-on giant death lasers that leave you highly vulnerable to incoming shots, with a napalm spread and homing missiles sitting somewhere in between these two extremes. A simple but very welcome gesture allows you to choose which one of the four to start with (and you may re-pick if you use a continue), meaning you can always set off with a weapon that matches your mood, or at the very least have the opportunity to try them all out from the beginning and find the one you like the most. No matter what you settle on the other three do still appear as pick-ups during the game as normal, so you don’t have to fear being locked in to the ‘wrong’ choice forever if you’re not gelling with your chosen power up.
It’s a good idea to learn how they all work anyway as enemies and bullets are plentiful right form the start – the game’s only got six short stages but it’s determined to make you work for that ending, especially on the super-hard ‘Mania’ difficulty. Thankfully enemy shots were designed with the Game Gear’s fuzzy little screen in mind and there’s no danger of these giant blobs and chunky missiles getting lost in the middle of the action. Sprites follow the same sensible design plan too, always clear and distinct even in the midst of a screen-wibbling ‘G Strike’ bomb blast. There is some occasional flicker and even a touch of slowdown on the higher difficulty settings as there’s simply more going on, but as it only occurs briefly and only when the screen gets really packed - and we also take a moment to remember that this is running on hardware that predates even the humble Game Boy Colour by about five years - it doesn’t feel unreasonable or intrusive.
If you do still struggle to avoid incoming fire then GG Aleste II’s subtle adaptive difficulty should help you out a bit, with the getting adjusting attack patterns on the fly to give you a break if you’re struggling or turning things up for those who think they know the game inside-out. It’s a Compile trick that’s been around for a long time but it’s still unquestionably more effort than you’d expect to see in a portable game that’s this old, a light touch that doesn’t make the inexperienced feel stupid for finding things tough or allow the hardcore to get too comfortable.
Two 3D bonus stages offer a bit of a break from the regular vertical shmupping, although while they look as slick and smooth as anything else in this already stunning package I have to admit they’re around the ‘So what?’ end of the gameplay scale, with a weird score system that judges you on the accuracy of your shots over the number of enemies killed. Giving players a bit of a diversion is always a nice idea, but on balance these would have probably been best left on the cutting room floor.
GG Aleste II is a wonderful game considering the hardware it’s running on, but it’s a shame this was how the series ended as for all their effort the Game Gear just wasn’t up to the task of sending Aleste off with the bang it deserved. The problem is an odd one; the game is almost too good for Sega’s AA-devouring portable - the only real giveaway that this is anything other than an early nineties console game is the low resolution, making it harder to appreciate in a bubble twenty three years on just how far above and beyond the competition of the time this game was. If you can make the effort to douse yourself in some 1993 context before playing you’ll find GG Aleste II to be an entertaining shmup that looks brilliant and can be difficult enough for some very enjoyable extended play sessions but at it’s current price point (approx. $120~160USD/105~150EUR depending on region and condition) I have to admit there are plenty of other old and new shmups I’d recommend buying first.