Game Arts may be known for their work on Lunar and Grandia, but they also have a shoot ’em up series to their name called Silpheed. First appearing on PCs in the eighties and eventually brought over to the States by Sierra On-Line, it would be followed up several years later on the Sega CD updated with detailed polygon renders to make use of the new technology. With the introduction of the PS2, Game Arts would return to their shooter and bring in one of the genre’s masters to help them make it, working with Treasure’s expertise to help envision the series for Sony’s new toy. With Working Designs handling the translation and polishing the technical details of the title for its debut in the States, PS2 players in North America would eventually find themselves with Silpheed: The Lost Planet.
Silpheed: The Lost Planet saved humanity on the PS2.
Aim for the Top!
Taking place five centuries following humanity’s first steps into space, the action starts above the planet of Solont. Solont is the 11th world to be colonized, and is in the path of a new alien race that has struck without warning. Vast, organic vessels, that operate in the vacuum of space have appeared and leave nothing but destruction in their wake. As Solont prepares for the invasion, ace pilots flying the special Silpheed space fighters are called into action to help defend their home. For some anime enthusiasts, the storyline and the enemy in the game might remind them of the three part OVA, Gunbuster, but instead of a giant robot that can destroy a galaxy, players will need to settle for a space fighter instead.
For a shooter, Silpheed has a pretty thick backstory for players to wade through. Prior to every mission, players are treated to lavish CG scenes along with a fully voiced mission briefing that does its best to pull you into the events of humanity’s war against a vastly superior alien force. There’s also a ton of other voice acting found in the radio chatter between the pilots during play, adding to the sci-fi atmosphere already set up by the CG cuts and briefings. Altogether, the presentation of the story is a lot of sweet icing on the cake for the action that it offers up especially when you survive to see the ending. Even though its just a shoot ’em up, the ending alone can easily stand with other titles that make it their business to tell a story.
No Core to Aim For
Silpheed is a single player, vertical overhead shooter (or shmup, if you like) with you controlling your Silpheed fighter against massive, 3D generated backdrops that run the gamut between space stations to bubbling magma as you fly past them at dizzying speeds. Much of it can be distracting enough to add its own challenge to the gameplay along with the banter from the rest of your squadron fighting elsewhere as you race through each level. A lot of the action comes from above and below, and quite a bit of the game is filled with the Treasure staple of impressively huge, multi-functional bosses. It’s not unusual for you to run into another boss before you meet the level’s real challenge.
The game allows you to mount multiple weapons to your ship to help survive the firestorm ahead. You get to choose two weapons to mount on your ship with more unlocked as you progress in the game. You can shoot either weapon independently or simply hold down the auto button to keep both going, something that I did for the most part. Working Designs had also implemented analog control, something apparently lacking from the original release, making it easy to get your fighter into and out of fire.
You also have several units of protective shield energy which, like the difficulty, can be adjusted to offer players looking for more of a challenge even less of a helping hand. While playing, some bullets can even be destroyed for even more points mixed in with other, more standard, bullets ensuring that you get in some dodging practice. There’s even a refueling ship that visits you in the middle of each level to restore some of your shields and allow you to change up your weapons. Picking what you want to fight with is extremely important not only for the challenges ahead but because there are no power ups. None. Nada. Forget about shield boosts, speed bonuses, or anything else outside of your refueling stops or what you can pick prior to each mission. Another twist to the usual shoot ’em all formula is in the scoring. The closer you are to an enemy when you destroy it, the higher the score multiplier tempting daredevils to get in close and personal.
All of the action is stuffed into six stages which, unfortunately, are pretty short although they are filled with scenes of fleet action between warships, massive weapons flying past you, devastated landscapes, and incredible backdrops against the stars to keep you entertained as you are attacked. Determined shootists can plow through the game on the default difficulty of normal in an hour or two as long as they can memorize the patterns that foes throw at you. This makes the game somewhat predictable, especially in the case of the bosses although or or two of them mix up their attacks to make things interesting. In addition, the difficulty didn’t seem as if it scaled well throughout the game, the first five stages are relative cake walks compared to the sudden spike in difficulty with the last one as it nearly turns into a bullet curtain experience with your precious shield units becoming stripped away in rapid fashion. Some bosses can also be somewhat easy to destroy, while others will fill the screen with beam weapons and anything else that they can throw at you. You also have infinite continues setting you up again at the start of the stage you died on to try again.
The graphics look good with special effects filling the screen with massive firepower following close behind the bullets and lasers coming for you. The music, overall, isn’t bad, with one or two pieces really standing out from the rest and the sound effects are pretty decent although some of the weapons sound a little too muted. Working Designs had noted that they worked on reducing the slowdown present in the first release in Japan, although there was just a bit of it left in the game. Not enough to be annoying, but spurts of it are there in especially busy scenes.
As far as the challenge is concerned, it’s still a solid, old school flavored title. It doesn’t offer anything as unique as Ikaruga‘s twist with bullet eating with an experience that doesn’t stray too far from the well worn path of the usual shoot ’em up formula aside from its story presentation. While the number of weapons that you can use to configure you ship with might seem to offer a ton of replayability options, especially if you want to challenge yourself by using one type of weapon to get through it, most of them are pretty useless. Of the nine possible weapons that I could configure my ship with, I settled on maybe on or two different types that worked best. Even worse, the manual doesn’t cover every weapon in the game meaning that unlocking certain ones will leave you scratching your head as to what is so great about “Thunder Arrow”. It came later in the game, so it must be good, right?
If anything, the heavy sci-fi presentation is really what sets it apart much like that found in Technosoft’s Thunder Force V. However, there’s not a whole lot of extras offered with Silpheed even after getting to the credits. There are no galleries to unlock, no special boss runs to try out, and its a pretty straightforward shooter when all is said and done. There really isn’t much in the way of replayability unless you want to try and keep reaching for those high scores which might be enough for some players. With the multipliers that you can get, you’ll be hard pressed to break the scores that are listed in the game and in that it works out as a decent shooter.
Saving the Galaxy
At the time of this review, Square-Enix and Game Arts have announced Project Sylpheed for the 360, presumably the next chapter in the Silpheed saga to be jam packed with an even deeper story surrounded by frenzied action. If you’re curious about what it might be about, Silpheed: The Lost Planet could be the sampler that might give you a glimpse in what it may offer. Its a pretty solid, pattern shooter that armchair pilots may enjoy whenever they feel the need to blow up stuff just because they have that itch to save the galaxy. With a remarkably polished presentation for the epic story that it allows players to experience through its action filled stages, Silpheed: The Lost Planet is a fun experience that you may want to try out or add to your Game Arts/Treasure line up, especially for the low price that it can be found with nowadays.
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