-Game Arts (1993)
It is the year 3076. The Earth-based Grayzon System is a central computer that controls the galaxy network. Without warning a terrorist space force attacked the colony planets and net-jacked Grayzon. The leader of the group is known only as Zakalite. Sixty-four light years away, the Galaxy Union and Colony Planets Fleet assembled their remaining forces. The key to winning the battle is the newly refined SA-77 Silpheed starfighter. Their plan is to travel to Earth and take out Zakalite and his terrorist group.
The Sega CD was notorious for crappy full motion video games, but it did have a few gems in its library. One of these was a revolutionary space shooter called Silpheed. In most shooters it is you against an entire armada. In Silpheed, while you are primarily responsible for the outcome, you feel as though you are just a small piece in a much larger and grander war.
This feeling that you are not alone in your battle occurs right in the beginning of the game. In an animated FMV you see other Silpheed fighters launch from a base ship. As you being the first stage, you can hear the radio chatter of the pilots in the other Silpheeds. You hear this throughout every stage. Sometimes theyíll announce their surprise at events, give you a warning on a big ship thatís coming up, or gloat about a big kill they just made. It gives the game a little extra touch of realism. The voices, while not great, do paint a few little pictures of various future space jockeys.
The perspective is overhead and behind, much like half of the stages in the great SNES shooter Axelay. Instead of just flying forward, the stage turns left or right, sometimes drastically, or flies downward, giving the game a feeling of more how a shipís flight path in a space battle such as this may occur. Depending on the stage, the Silpheed will swoop close by bigger attack cruisers, fly through fields of asteroids, or enter an enemy base with narrow walls and traps. Sometimes your ally space cruisers will be obliterated into hundreds of polygons right in front of your eyes. Itís quite a sight.
In stage five, the Silpheed goes into hyperspace. When it enters hyperspace the Silpheed shakes. Not only that but the on screen displays also shake around making you feel like it actually is going much faster than it should. My personal favorite stages are four and eight. Stage four has a strange artificial space canyon that shifts and moves as you are flying through. Canyon walls come up with a seconds notice and laser turrets shoot without warning. Stage eight is something like the space battle in Return of the Jedi. The background is full of ships on both sides firing at one another and being destroyed. Itís a distraction, but a good one, because you want to see what is happening in the battle. There is also a big surprise at the end of stage eleven.
The game begins at a normal shooter pace, but quickly picks up. Some stages have sequences that are so fast where split-second maneuvering is key to surviving. All the enemies are small polygonal ships that do not look like much, but wonít hesitate to fly directly into your ship to take you out. Silpheed enemies donít rely on heavy amounts of bullets. The enemies will come at you faster and have greater accuracy. The game requires a bit of memorization as most of the foes will arrive in the same position, but there are times that, depending on the Silpheedís current position on screen, those enemies will show up in a different spot than before.
The bosses, while tough to beat, are a little disappointing. They donít seem as big as youíd think a boss ship should be, although they do have plenty of boss-like firepower. It isnít until you get to the final boss that you realize why all the other bosses were smaller. The final boss is incredibly massive. I believe it could be one of the largest bosses in shooter history. It is also very difficult to beat.
The polygonal visuals may not look that great now days, but they work well for this game. If the graphics were more detailed they would have just slowed up the frantic pace. There is one stage that does suffer because of this. Once you reach Earth on stage ten, the more detailed textures used on the surface make the stage go by much slower than any of the others. It was actually a bit jarring because I was used to having the scenery zip by in the preceding stages. The music is fast-paced and matches the action very well.
The Silpheed is a ship designed with two main guns and, unlike nearly every shooter; each gun can be equipped with a different weapon. There are four main beam weapons to choose from: a forward beam, wide shot that fire at a 120 degree arc, a phalanx that shoots forward in a V, and auto-aiming. After completing a stage you will be rewarded with one or two of these weapons. I havenít figured out if there was a pattern as to how to get a certain weapon when because during my numerous play-through sometimes I would get one weapon for the left gun, while other times I got it for the right gun. You can mix these weapons up at your leisure, putting one on the left with something else on the right, but if you choose poorly you are stuck with that weapon until the end of the stage or death.
There are also four optional weapons that are installed in the center cannon of the Silpheed. The graviton bomb will block enemy fire, the EMDS is a barrier, the photon torpedo tracks enemy targets, and there is a powerful anti-matter bomb. Each of these weapons has a limited amount of energy which can be increased by destroying enemies or picking up energy power-ups.
This brings me to the power-ups. Some give you points while others repair your shields, make the ship invincible, or destroy everything on screen. The invincible and destroy power-ups are rare though, and you never seem to get them when you could actually use them.
The Silpheed doesnít get destroyed from getting hit once; the ship can take a beating and still keep flying. Once the shield is completely down and you are hit again, you get weapons failure. At this point only one of the two main guns is capable of firing. If you are hit again itís engine failure. Now the Silpheed will still be able to fly, but will be slower and jerkier. These are just two more little details that really make the game stand out.
The game also has a scoring system that I have only seen a few times before, but in games made later. The closer you are to an enemy when you destroy them, the larger the score you will receive. I'm not entirely sure, but Silpheed could have been the first shooter to utilize this scoring system.
Silpheed is an incredible game because it has so many little details that other shooters donít have, or never really bothered to think of. If youíre a shooter fan it is most certainly a game you will keep coming back to. The biggest downfall of this game is that the only console it came out on was the Sega CD so it couldnít achieve the greater audience that it deserved.