#25 Caravan Shooting Collection (SNES)
Caravanning - this is a pastime in the UK that gets a lot of flak. People towing mobile homes behind their cars means they have a reduced max speed limit and given the slow speed and lack of visibility to the driver behind, is a source of some ire on UK roads. Perhaps some UK readers think this is a game produced to relieve the stress of encountering a caravan on the roads by allowing players to blast them off the road - sadly that is not the case.
Let me take you to Japan in the mid-80s when the Famicom/NES ruled the video-game world. At this time, Hudsonsoft were releasing some 2D shmups for the NES and part of the marketing effort was some sort of road show where temporary game-fests were set up around the country and video game competitions were ran with the highest score on the latest Hudson shmup for the NES being the aim. This seemed to be quite a phenomenon in Japan and ran for several years. It gave birth to the idea of caravan modes in some shmups - which is a quick 2 or 5 minute score attack mode which is a featured mode of lots of shmups released in later years.
Caravan Shooting Collection for the SNES is a collection of 3 shmups that were the games in the 1985-1987 caravan festivals called Star Force, Star Soldier and Hector '87 respectively. These games are reproduced on the SNES but take advantage of the extra power of the console to tidy up some problems that the old NES had - there is no flicker or slow down here, the sound has been beefed up a bit (but not too much) and the problem the NES had with horizontal scrolling has been fixed too. It is a really weird feeling playing these - they look like NES games but they feel that little bit more solid because of the extra horsepower under the SNES hood. It's a very nice feeling and a very compulsive experience. The nearest thing I can think of is playing the recent Mega Man WiiWare releases that look like NES games but again have no NES-limitations re flickering or slowdown.
Initially there is a bit of a jolt moving from the 16-bit title and game select screens presented as typical SNES fare to the 8 bit basic looking shmups - but for me that jolt dies away as the great gameplay sweeps me away.
This collection got a mixed reception - more cool than hot - in shmupping circles. Each game is presented bare bones - as was on the NES with no extra features and no high score save to backup which is a shame, but the gameplay shines through and if you think of playing each game in the context of a high score contest then it doesn't matter as much.
What's also odd is the fact that only the 3rd game , Hector '87 actually has the 2 and 5 minute score attack options. I can only surmise that that is when these modes where thought of to increase the throughput of competitors at the festivals as they were really quite large scale events.
I actually find the oldest game the most compulsive at present. I can remember playing Star Force in the arcade and I have also experienced the game via MAME and the Wii's arcade VC (an excellent job by the way). The arcade game is a coin muncher though - it really is painfully tough. This version is a bit tamer and makes for a more enjoyable game. It's a basic mid-80s shmup but there are targets to go for that give you a bonus at the end of the level if you don't miss any - quite often you lose a life going for these instead of concentrating on the enemies and such a simple mechanic adds great enjoyment to the game. There's also a secret bonus to get from the mid level boss. This enemy appears on each odd numbered level and if you can shoot its core enough times AFTER it briefly flashes white before the enemy's outer shell forms around the core you get a big bonus. This requires expert timing and a rapid fire technique. I found out about this from a YouTube video when researching this title and it put me onto a nice device called the Hudson Shooting Watch - a shmup training tool that records how many times you can press a button in 10 seconds. I even bought this gadget as a Christmas present for a retro loving nephew of mine after seeing the video.
This is a Japanese only release and I'm sure you could get the NES carts together for cheaper but this is a nice collection to have and its one of my more treasured SNES games. I have it complete and boxed and it gives me joy as a collector to own too. I'd recommend picking this up as it feels like a little bit of history - a museum piece almost.
One final note about this title - when playing the two later games I was sure that I had heard the music in another game quite recently. It didn't take long for the penny to drop - the game Kororinpa has modern remixes of these tunes as background music to some its levels. Kororinpa is a charming tilt-and-roll game for the Wii that plays like the main mode of Super Monkey Ball but uses the Wii's remote beautifully. I have been playing a lot of Kororinpa recently and I can recommend it as its an excellent example of the genre. Its cheap to get too which makes up for the relatively small number of levels it has. It is developed by Hudsonsoft of course - always nice to make connections like that in gaming.
Hey, Davy, can you add a screenshot (usual AA thumbnail) and I'll bump the post to the front page? I typically do that for you, but I won't have a chance for a while.
If anyone's wondering, all three of the games were released in the US. The third one's title was changed to "Starship Hector" though. Also the first game, Star Force, was originally developed by Tehkan [later Tecmo] for the arcade, and Hudson handled the MSX and Famicom ports.
Tecmo also made their own sequels to Star Force. Super Star Force on the Famicom (no US release) and Final Star Force for the Arcade.
Hudson continued the Star [x] series on PC-Engine/TurboGrafx-16, then after a six year break, on the N64, GameCube, PSP, and WiiWare.
Thanks Davy, this middle aged gamer loves this cart to bits as well :P
Excellent review davyK, I gave this review a link from my shmup's site.