The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Power Strike
(Sega Master System - 1988)
Power Strike II (Sega Master System - 1993)

The best shoot-'em-ups don't always appear from expected sources. Take for example, these somewhat obscure releases from Sega and legendary developer Compile. Released as a limited edition, mail-order only title, the first Power Strike nearly slipped under the radar when it arrived in the states. It's a shame since Power Strike is one of the more thoroughly-polished and reiliably entertaining titles for the Master System. Taking a traditional approach for the most part, this vertically scrolling title places you in the pilot seat of a space shooter. Waves of enemies attack you from all directions requiring a heightened awareness of your surroundings. Its diffiult at first, but playing through a few times reveals patterns and speeds that make subsuequent forays much easier. Responsive controls and straightforward play mechanics ease the learning curve, making the gameplay somewhat challenging but not excessively difficult.

Players face numerous types of foes with stationary ground-based opponents along with those flying in attack formation. Its easier to attack the bases but they aren't always sitting ducks. You need to be careful since these enemies string bullets and shots in long rows, making it difficult to avoid their lines of fire. It still takes a bit of practice to get into its rhythm, but when you get into its flow, you'll find several unique features that enhance the challenge and replay value. When hit, many of the enemies release small point-capsules that add to your score. This is important because you can earn extra-lives with when you reach certain thresholds. Its solidly constructed level designs follow a somewhat traditional structure, with players racing through a standard shooting stage climaxing with a boss battle at the end of each stage. Some sections of the stage have more opponents than others, as multiple ships attack the player's ship simultaneously.

The task in these sections is finding the small safe-areas, weaving through and surviving. Its made easier if you have a fully loaded ship with all its enhancements enabled. Some of these can be used as shields, and this makes suriving the more intense sections of the game easier. Power Strike's most interesting mechanics lie in its power-ups which are helpfull numebred and appear sporadically as you traverse each level. There's a good variety of these available. Capsule unlocks a specific weapon and attack, such as wave fires, sweeping lasers and other goodies. The trick is chaining them together to maximize their effectiveness. Some of these are easier to use and more useful than others, and players can take a counter-intuitive approach by avoiding the less-effective power-up capsules. can instead use these to defeat the specific enemies you're facing. Power Strike's balance of reflex and strategy is fair and consistent throughout while its pace is relatively quick.

Unfortuntately, a few minor flaws make the game a bit less polished than it could have been. The most noticeable of these are the frequent bouts of slowdown which occur more often than they should. It hurts the momentum of the gameplay, throwinfg off your timing and rhythm, making for a choppy experience at points. Some of the levels look a little plain and bland in comparison to others and this also leads to a title that falls slightly below its potential.

The good news is that the sequel, Power Strike II, fixes many of these flaws to create a more polished and impressive experience that's more robust and satisfying. There are some key differences that make a huge change. Instead of being set in a generic planet, the sequel takes a cool 1930's-style steampunk approach, which immediately leads to more imaginative enemy designs and more robust levels that evoke a strange and interesting world. Its new setting makes it feel almost like a completely different game, but there are some key similarities. The numbered power-ups make a welcome return, with a new set of super-weapons to use. A more varied array of enemies appear on the screen. and they shoot much faster. Countering this, your ship feels more responsive and its new weapons are more effective. This is especially pronounced when you reach the later stages, where the increased intensity and difficuty is immediately noticeable.

Its Improved visuals create a vibrant experience. The theme is well-implemented with cool ship and enemy designs and interesting level variations. These combine in creating a coherent look with smooth animation. Its one of the best-looking Sega Master System titles in any genre but it also succeeds on a technical level. Power Strike II plays smoothly with very little of the slowdown that plagued the first title. The feel has also been greatly improved with smoother scrolling, a more responsive ship and better enemy patterns. The levels unfold with more style than the first game, giving the play mechanics a much-improved flow. Your momentum depends on skill, but the enemies respond with more bullets that seem more accurate, making them harder to dodge. It plays a bit faster than the original and the increased intensity makes for a more challenging experience. The balance is weighed on the more difficult side of things, but Power Stone II's many improvements reward the added effort.

This is especially true when it comes to the end-of-stage bosses. Instead of the fixed-position bases your ship faced in the first game, you now have a lively assortment of screen-filling baddies to dispatch. They're less predictable and much harder to destroy, and the added intensity of these encounters is a key difference that gives Power Strike II a distinct personality seperate from its predecessor.

Playing both titles back-to-back makes it easy to see that a significant evolution occured in the shooter genre in the gap between release dates. The first Power Strike is a much simpler and more straight-ahead shooter. Its rather pedantic pace and somewhat generic approach seem to have more in common with earlier SMS releases like Astro Warrior. While not perfect, its still entertaining and challening in its own right and delivers a solid shoot-'em-up experience. It also interesting for the reason that it strongly hints at the unique style and gameplay mechanics that would become Compile's trademark later on, in titles like Gun Nac on the NES. This alone makes it worth playing though the implementaion is a little rough in parts.

Released approximately five years after the original game, Power Strike II shows an impressive evolution. Sharing some basic elements, the balance has been fine-tuned to create a smoother gameplay experince, with superior visuals, a slow-down free game engine and moe elaborate bosses, these changes mark singificant and welcome improvements. While the appeal of shoot-'em-ups is probably a little limited these days, both games have held up nicely thanks to their solid play mechanics, challenging level designs and highly polished implementation. They're some of the more enjoyable action titles produced for the under-rated Sega Master System plaform, While both are elusive these days, both installments in this Power Strike series are worth seeking out.

- Michael Palisano