Review - Starblade

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Trev
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Review - Starblade

Post by Trev » Mon Jun 15, 2009 2:33 pm

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Namco teased 3DO owners back when it released ‘Starblade’ for the struggling console. Wowed by a game that was arcade perfect (and more), fans speculated about what future goodies Namco would bestow upon the multiplayer. Of course the reality was that the upcoming Sony Playstation would receive the bulk of their efforts, leaving 3DO fans with just a small taste of what could have been. Interestingly, Dreamcast owners would experience something similar years later when Namco brought out the amazing Soul Caliber as a launch title for Sega’s console. The follow up? A sloppy port of Namco museum vol.1.

But anyway, back to the game at hand, thankfully this small taste proved to be quite sweet. For despite it’s short length, and despite the fact that 3DO was already home to a number of shooters (a genre that would continue to grow on the platform) Starblade is the best shooter for the console!

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Let me counter any potential gripes first, before getting to the heart of why this game is great. As already mentioned, it is over quite quickly. The instruction manual lists 7 levels, but you’ll go through them fast. They seamlessly blend into each other until, lo and behold, 20 minutes later it’s game over. :o But, we need to remember that this is an arcade port, and any game jumping from the arcade to the home suffers the same problem. And fans who played and, hopefully, bought this game should have known that. It is not a fair criticism. It would be like attacking a Looney Tune cartoon for being shorter than a Disney motion picture. :roll: Both are great for what they are. And Starblade is great as an arcade shooter! If you want a longer game experience, go play an rpg!

Now I may sound hypocritical, as I’ve been known to voice strong criticism at a game based on my disappointment with its length. Draxon’s Revenge, for instance, is a shooter with comparable completion time. The difference? Starblade has the following that the latter game is lacking …

-Great graphics (a truly 32-bit looking game!)
-Perfect control (no struggles present)
-Terrific atmosphere (every section doesn't look the same … variety is the spice of life)
-High production values (the swooping camera angles, the constant speech, etc…)

Starblade, like all great arcade games, prompts repeated plays. I think of it like a roller coaster. A short, but thrilling, ride that you’d happily repeat ½ a dozen times in the same day. :D Draxon’s is like waiting in line for said coaster. It can’t get over quick enough ...

One other area to be addressed is that Starblade is an 'on rails' shooter. For those unfamiliar with this terminology , it basically means that player control is limited to the shooting cursor only (similar to Panasonic’s ‘Burning Soldier’, another great 3DO shooter) All actual ship control is done by the game itself on a specific, pre-determined, route. But is this really a bad thing? Obviously tastes will differ on this point, but spend a couple hours with a rail game like ‘Microcosm’ where you do have a measure of control of the ship to see how frustrating it can be to smack the background objects over and over. Trust me, Stablade's control scheme is the correct way to handle it.

Okay, enough catering to the nitpickers … time to heap on the praise! Where to begin? How about starting with the game’s visuals? The graphics in this game are 100% arcade perfect. Fans of the original will be very happy. But remember back in the first paragraph when I mentioned that Starblade was “arcade perfect (and more)”? That’s right, the game gives you two graphic modes to choose from. And let me tell you, the enhanced 3DO visuals are sweet! Every object in the game is painted in 32-bit texture goodness, that was awesome back in the day, and is still sweet even now. Proof? They were so good, that the PSX received a direct port 2 years later under the name ‘Starblade Alpha’. 2 years later! But 3DO got it first! :mrgreen:
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True, some sections wow you more than others. For instance, there is only so much one can do to dress up a meteor field. But other areas, like the initial jump into space that puts you in battle over the planet surface? When you are traversing the ravine preparing for the final battle? Incredible, incredible!! And while I appreciate Namco leaving in the original look as a choice for arcade purists, it was 3 years old. Once you play the enhanced graphics mode it is very tough to go back to the original look … in fact, I never do.

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Not much music to speak of in Starblade. A nice brief track plays at the start when you are being given mission objectives, but the real focus is elsewhere with the audio. The sound effects in this game are quite good. Explosions especially seem to fare well, which is important in an arcade shooter. And the voice of team leader giving you constant updates is a nice addition. His repeated phrases are etched in my memory. Overall, a nice change of pace from games that make you want to hit the mute button. On the contrary you’ll probably want to play this game will the volume cranked (don’t wake the neighbors! :wink: )

Control is an absolute piece of cake, again, with your only focus on moving the cursor. Rapid fire is available, but hammering the button is still slightly quicker. The challenge itself is no cake walk mind you, but with practice you’ll likely encounter only moderate trouble till later in the game (at which point you may wish for just one more continue) It’s the darn space ports under construction. … they usually punish me something fierce! Still, if I do die it’s almost always at the very end either trying to destroy Octopus, or escaping to the mother ship after it's destruction. Guess I need a smidge more practice (better play again … no wait, finish the review first :roll: ) There are a number of intense sections to be sure, but you are given brief breaks in between for quick updates on your progress and to rest your thumbs.

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This game is just pure fun! It doesn’t bog itself down in an epic story (shoot the bad guys and penetrate planet Red Eye is basically all you need to know) It doesn’t bombard you with superficial full motion video either (thank you). And, it doesn’t needlessly complicate with numerous control options or a ton of weapons (the laser cannon is the lone source of fire power … and it is plenty). It is exactly how an arcade game should be done. And it is exactly he kind of shooter 3DO needed to offer an alternative to the non-Shock wave player.

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Really, short of building the elaborate arcade housing for the 3DO (how sweet would that have been!?! :D ) there was no way for Namco to improve this game (except maybe with a sequel) This is one of my favorite 3DO games ever … and it earns that rank despite defying my own normal standards of what is is appropriate game length. It’s all about the replay … something Starblade has in loads. Don’t own it? Buy it! (it’s easy enough to find, and easy on the wallet too) Do own it? Terrific! Play it! (that’s what I’m going to do)


-Trev
Last edited by Trev on Sat Aug 04, 2012 7:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by goldenband » Mon Jul 23, 2012 3:57 am

That's a nice, well-written review, but I have to say that the game's brevity is still a big issue for me. I beat Arcade mode on my first try -- I was just intending to test the game! -- and then beat 3DO mode just to make sure I hadn't missed anything. Nope, just the same game with texture mapping added (and I personally prefer the plain polygons).

I know this is a port, but I just don't think there's enough challenge or content to justify a home release. If you play this to completion in the arcade, you're out a buck, assuming the arcade offers up the same number of credits at 25 cents each; if you finish this at home, you're out $20 or more (how much did it cost at retail?) for the privilege of less than 20 minutes of gaming. It'd be fine if it were part of a compilation, but on its own, it just doesn't fly, IMHO. Yes, I could always try to 1cc the game, but is a self-imposed challenge really a substitute for actual content?

One thing I will say in the game's favor, though, is that despite significant damage to the data layer of my disc, it played all the way through to the end. The FMV choked a few times, but if I simply paused and unpaused, the game picked right back up where it'd stopped. That's impressive programming -- I don't know how big the game's program code + data layer are, and perhaps there's some redundancy, but my disc looks like a star chart when you hold it up to the light. (I bought it on AtariAge for $5 shipped, billed as untested; the seller knew it was scratched, but he's a trustworthy guy with whom I've dealt before, and I don't think he realized it had pinhole damage.)

Anyway, that's my 2 cents. It's certainly a reasonably pleasant game while it lasts, with attractive graphics and sparse-but-effective sound. I did find that the targeting reticule was a little clumsy, though I wonder if the 3DO controllers are actually to blame. I don't know whether it's just my controllers (both of which I've cleaned) but whichever one I tried, they seemed noticeably stiffer when I played this game as opposed to, say, SSFII Turbo or Total Eclipse.

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Post by Trev » Tue Jul 24, 2012 2:48 am

Thanks for the comments. Thats cool that you were able to complete the game on your first play (it took me a few tries) As for graphics, I found the polygon visuals a bit dated, but it was cool that they gave the choice.

The game is definitely short, but I personally find the replay value quite high. It's the sorta game that I like to play over & over. Do I wish there was more content? Sure. But I think for an arcade port it is better than perfect, especially w/the fresh 3DO coat of paint.

As for controls, I'm not sure. I've never notice any real stiffness when playing, but then again the control is so straightforward I might have just overlooked it. Thankfully there are so many choices in 3DO pads, everyone is bound to find one they like.

I see this is one of a few remaining reviews that I've yet to update w/pictures. I should add some.
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Post by Trev » Sat Aug 04, 2012 7:40 pm

Pics added. Enjoy.
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Post by Austin » Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:51 pm

Pics enjoyed.

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