This ad from the past features something that would probably get an agency in trouble nowadays. Likenesses of Robocop and the Terminator are at the bottom staring up at a titan of steel as they are taunted by the bold header at the top calling them out. Other than that, it’s not a bad looking page with the sketched, hand drawn style that Konami often used for its advertisements and box art.
Cybernator arrived in a partially censored form for North America’s SNES in 1993. The original version, which was called Assault Suits Valken in Japan, had released at the end of 1992. I didn’t know until a few years after that this was actually set up as a prequel to one game that I had already played a few years earlier on the Sega Genesis — Target Earth which was called Assault Suits Leynos which was the first game in the Assault Suits series by NCS Corp.
The two bear many similarities that I hadn’t seen in a side-scrolling action platformer like this involving mechs — a heavily integrated storyline with in-game cuts, giant robots, cataclysmic weapons, and explosive scene chewing battles against detailed backdrops. It also included a plethora of weapons of discover and switch between and a detailed control scheme that allowed the use of the shield seen above in the ad and quickly dashing across platforms.
The Assault Suit also had a jump jet allowing the player to reach high platforms and the ability to level up weapons by snagging special chips on the battlefield. Compared to a number of other side-scrolling shooters in the day, it offered quite a bit more than the typical action game in terms of what it gave the player to work with.
Cybernator also had a great soundtrack to it composed by Masanao Akahori (who some JRPG fans might recall from his work in Brain Lord), a big intro cinematic laying down the story, and an anime art design for the portraits of its characters when they used them in cut scenes. The sprite work was also noteworthy with detailed movement for the robots and many of the special effects.
It was also censored to some extent. In the original japanese version, portraits of the characters would show up next to the text onscreen whenever an in-game conversation would occur, but these were missing in the localized versions outside of the country. The flag of the Axis, the villains of the game, also resembles that of the European Union which actually stayed in, but there was a scene showing the suicide of the enemy leader which was removed.
As for the story, that centers around the exploits of an Assault Suit Pilot named Jake. Mankind has reached space and colonized the Moon. Space travel isa reality and the world has changed, but war continues to be humanity’s favorite pasttime. In service as part of the Marine Corps of the Pacific States who are part of the Federation, Jake is quickly thrown into fray as the Federation invades an Axis space colony in the latest action.
It’s also interesting to note that the intro casts Jake not as some heroically minded super patriot — he comes across as a soldier resigned to doing what he has to for the Federation. But like any anime hardass, it eventually boils down to him saving the day with as many explosions as possible.
The game took place across a wide variety of environments from a space colony at the start to flying across the screen like a shmup in low orbit and then falling back down to Earth, fighting through cities and caverns to the capital of the enemy, “Suburbionski Uzbekistanski”.
It also threw a lot at the player and could be an extremely tough game to get through. There were no extra lives — just an energy bar showing your health and once that was gone, it was game over. Additional objectives also came up during each stage as side missions that the player could aim for. These also played into the kind of ending that the player would get, whether they would “get the girl” and save the day or have only a pyrrhic victory to share their loneliness with. It was dramatic stuff for a “simple” action game, but these were also reasons why it’s also so fondly remembered by those that had a chance to play it.
The game eventually found itself re-released as a remake on the Playstation 2 in 2004 which only saw a release in Europe and Japan, but apparently wasn’t well received. It also shows up in the Wii’s Virtual Console store when it arrived there in 2007.
The Assault Suits series would continue on with a sequel to Leynos and Valken, but both of those would remain in Japan. Cybernator and Target Earth were the only tastes that the West would get of the series yet they also stand out as two of the best action-mech side scrollers available for any system at the time and in being two more fine examples of how well a story can play an important part right alongside thumb blistering action.