Aleste, oh yes, I stays fresh.
Color’s for chumps.
DEVELOPER: Compile (port by Sega)
RELEASE DATE: 02/29/88 – (JP), 12/88 – (US), 1988 – (EU)
Sega didn’t release Power Strike to the general public. The game was only available to purchase through mail-order from Sega’s own Master System-themed newsletter (props to reader sean697 for the link). The fact that Sega released any mail-order only games came as news to me when I began researching Power Strike. Even more curious is that Power Strike seems to be the only mail-order game Sega released in America (I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I couldn’t find any others). This makes the game quite rare, and also, an anomalous curio. Sega decided to release Power Strike, but only in a limited run connected to a newsletter that not every Master System fan would receive. The whole gamble would never work today – games are too expensive to make, for starters – and considering the Master System’s small American fan base, such a move seems risky.
The first level seems calm to me now.
After playing the game for a couple hours straight, however, I understand why Sega went the quiet route. Power Strike is the hardest 8-bit shoot-em-up I’ve ever played, period (yes, even harder than the previous champion, Sega’s Spy Hunter-homage, Action Fighter). Once I put the controller down, my eyes were crossed from staring at a screen that was consistently littered with enemies. My fingers ached from jamming down both 1 and 2 buttons repeatedly. I don’t know how many times I died. Hundreds, probably. I loved every abusive moment, because shoot-em-ups – when crafted properly – are one of my favorite genres. I have to admit, though, that I’m surprised Sega bothered to bring over the game at all. More than most early shmups, Power Strike requires quick reaction time, zen-filled stretches of concentration, and a foundation built on patience. Only winners who don’t use drugs need apply.
Brought to you by pith and vigor.
Power Strike starts off much like any 8-bit shoot-em-up. You play as a ship who must POWER STRIKE down other ships of equal or greater strength. You have two attacks, a primary and a secondary weapon. The primary weapon is weak, but can be upgraded from one-shot to two-shots to three-shots by collecting P-capsules that dangle from the underbelly of tiny enemy ships. Thankfully, if you die and lose your primary weapon upgrades, the P-capsule-carrying ships are never far away.
Not so with the secondary weapons, helpfully labeled with the numbers 1-8. Should you lose a life, your secondary weapon dies with you and must be collected again. Each secondary attack is unique to its specific number. For example, #4 is a shield that swirls continuously around your jet, while #7 is a large circle that extends in front of the jet, destroying anything it touches. These secondary attacks have a limited time that they can be used, but the time will only decrease as long as you keep using them. Once the time limit has depleted, your secondary attack reverts back to your initial weak one-orbed blast attack. To succeed in Power Strike, you must be willing to use both primary and secondary weapon at all times, while bouncing from one secondary weapon to the next based on availability. The first level is generous with the secondary weapon placement, but from level two on, take what you can get and be thankful.
Later levels invoke phrases like, “What is happening?” and “Please God, no more…”
What distinguishes Power Strike from other shoot-em-ups are the subtleties that become apparent the more you play. For example, in each level, secondary weapons are either shot and collected from the ground or dangling from a ship that flies down towards the player. You shoot the weapons to release them from either the ship or the ground, but once you do so, they float quickly towards the top of the screen. One’s initial reaction in any shoot-em-up is to release the power-ups as soon as you see them, collect them, and keep firing, but this is the wrong move in Power Strike. Shoot as soon as the numbers appear, and they will fly off the screen, no questions asked. In order to collect the power-ups without fail, position yourself near them, time your shots in time with the speed of the screen, pray, and collect, hopefully without death. It should go without saying that this becomes increasingly difficult the harder the game gets.
“You again?! I thought I killed you two screenshots ago!”
Another intriguing detail: while the enemies are not that interesting to look at, their patterns and the increasing speed with which they emerge on-screen prove fascinating. Unlike other shoot-em-ups I’ve played, Power Strike never substitutes enemies from previous levels for newer, more difficult enemies. Instead, it places older and newer enemies directly atop each other in what I’ve dubbed the “slowdown stew.” Like most shmups, certain enemies have more difficult patterns than others, but it’s imperative that you focus on the ones that spit out the most bullets (I’d like to describe the enemies in more detail, but their names, as dictated by the Power Strike manual don’t lend themselves to easy description – basically, all the enemies either look like small science-fiction-y ships or metallic bugs). The jerks that emerge from the bottom of the screen, but don’t shoot any bullets? They’re quiet and sneaky. Shoot them quickly. The cretins that come down from the left and right-hand side of the screen and spray bullets in every direction? Better believe that’s a paddlin’. Shoot to kill. The more bullet-happy the enemy, the quicker you should take them out. Doing this doesn’t make Power Strike easier, but it does lighten the load and it gives you focus in a potentially overwhelming game.
Let’s hope this intern pilot knows what he’s doing…
I would be remiss if I failed to tell you that Power Strike is not this shooter’s true moniker. The game was originally known as Aleste and is the first entry in a console-spanning shmup enterprise developed by Compile. I haven’t played any of the other Aleste games so I can’t tell you whether they are as amazing and/or gnarly as this one, but I have played Compile’s predecessor, Zanac, for the NES. Zanac heavily inspired Aleste, particularly with the inclusion of eight secondary weapons. Zanac may not look as sharp as its successor, but its adaptive difficulty was ground-breaking (for some reason, this adaptive play didn’t come over to Aleste – perhaps someone out in Sega land knows why?). The point is, Compile makes good shooters, even when they re-name them because they’re afraid of an American game-playing audience’s response to slight feminine titles. We should celebrate this now defunct developer’s legacy by playing their works with joy and gratitude.
Pretty sure you don’t want to see this while flying across an uncharted jungle.
I could go on. Power Strike‘s levels feel as long as Vietnam tours. The bosses are hellish without significant upgrades to both primary and secondary weapons (later levels have several bosses, back-to-back). Die once in the middle of a level and you may as well reset the game. The likelihood of survival with your initial primary and secondary weapon is nothing, unless your shooting game is aces. You might have a good run with one life, but the second a stray bullet destroys your ship and you start from scratch, your lives will whittle down to nubbins. Yes, Power Strike is enough to make a grown man cry, but there’s no shame if you’re into that sort of thing. Grab a Kleenax box and get to it.