Would you just look at all that force?
DEVELOPER: Tekhan (port by Sega)
RELEASE DATE: 1985 (JP)
The Famicom version of Star Force is one of my favorite vertical shoot-em-ups of all time. While the game is a traditional one-ship-against-all-of-space affair, it distinguishes itself in the details. Star Force has the perfect cruising speed (not Warp 9, not chugging in space), waves of enemies with interesting and varied patterns, the right amount of explosive distractions on the surface of the planets, excellent difficulty progression with mid-level and end-level bosses that break up the otherwise straight shooting, and a single power-up that lets your ship go HAM just by holding down the ‘A’ button. Star Force doesn’t call attention to itself with flashy graphics or a killer metal soundtrack, but its steady pace and addictive gameplay have had me coming back for more some two decades after first playing it.
Star Force is brought to you by the letter ‘A.’
Understandably, the SG-1000 version doesn’t have the horsepower behind it to compete with the Famicom version, but I’m still surprised at what Sega’s technical wizards achieved with their ailing console. The background scrolling is choppy, but not as choppy as it could be. The background movement combined with your ship, the waves of enemies, and the scores of pointy bullets – all of which are in the foreground, usually at the same time – the game runs smoother than one might expect.
Of course, smooth scrolling doesn’t allay Star Force‘s egregious difficulty. The SG-1000 version, like the inferior NES port, is much harder than the Famicom version (which was challenging enough), thanks to the all-encompassing spray of bullets the enemies spew at you. The enemies shot lots of bullets in the Famicom version also, but never to the point where you couldn’t navigate around them. Once you get the game’s lone power-up, you’ll be able to shoot bullets faster, thus allowing you to destroy the enemies before they can surround you with their bullets. If you die, however, your power-up disappears and you’re back to surviving badly.
This Gamma area is a real butt-nutter.
All told, I was impressed with Sega’s perfectly playable port of Star Force, but compared to the Famicom version (which was released in 1985 as well), the game feels like a relic. Choppy scrolling and overwhelming difficulty are nowhere to be found on the Famicom. Also, the latter just looks better, sounds better, plays better. In light of Nintendo’s superior machine, Star Force is, if nothing else, a grim reminder of the SG-1000’s limited abilities.