Power Strike / Aleste

PowerStrikeJP

Aleste, oh yes, I stays fresh.

 

PowerStrikeUS

Color’s for chumps.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Compile (port by Sega)

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 02/29/88 – (JP)

                                            1988 – (US, 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). 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.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]000

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.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]001

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.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]002

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.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]003

“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.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]004

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.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]006

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. Just remember: there’s no shame if you’re into that sort of thing. Grab a Kleenax box and get to it.

 

A-

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19 thoughts on “Power Strike / Aleste

  1. I believe everyone who sent In their warranty card got the Sega Challenge newsletter. So theoretically, every SMS owner should have got it. The EU release of this game did have a color box , not shown. http://segaretro.org/File:PowerStrike_SMS_EU_Box.jpg

    A – seems generous but if shooters are your thing , it’s decent. But the later entries on the Aleste series are fantastic. Especially M.U.S.H.A. on the Genesis (A very pricey gamey to own and one of the best on the system) and Robo Aleste on the Sega CD.

    I in fact ordered this from the newsletter. When I sold all my SMS games in 1989 to buy a Genesis I didn’t sell this when because it had those collectors edition words on the back of the box. Somehow in 1989 I was precient enough to know this would be worth some money. I recently retrieved the game from my parents house, and sold it a few months ago (I don’t have a SMS to play it with anyway) for 100.00 on eBay.

    I guess at the time I thought this was an extremely hard shooter. I can see why they didn’t do a retail release. It was not very flashy and was hard as hell. Yet it was still fun. Far from my favorite shooter on the SMS though. (That would be R-Type.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m excited to tackle other shooters on the Master System, particularly R-Type. Thanks for the comment.

      Though I will say I have never sent in a warranty card on any purchase in my life. Alas, I would be one of the poor souls without the ability to purchase Power Strike.

      Like

      • I used to get the fun club news as well because my friend never sent in his Nintendo warranty card so I did when I borrowed it when we swapped NES an SMS for a week.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember this being sold in the fun club news letter and they also had the turbo dongle adapter for sale. I always wanted this game and the turbo adapter but since I was a kid I just could not talk the parents into it. =(

    Anyway I recently played this game on the Everdrive and I think it was very impressive for a Master System game.
    I wish I could have had it as a kid to really appreciate it but as it stand I still think it is great!

    Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

      • I still have two of them. It’s not actually called a turbo dongle it’s called the rapid fire unit. They released it as a retail product in Japan, but in the US it was mail order only from the Sega Challenge Newsletter. (Correction according to Sega retro they did eventually release it in retail in the US must have been much later. When I mail ordered them it was exclusive, I’ve never actually seen this in a store.)

        http://segaretro.org/Rapid_Fire_Unit

        It plugs in between your controller and your master system and has a rapid fire switch for each button. The good thing is it essentially makes any controller you plug in rapid fire. You don’t need to buy separate rapid fire joysticks.

        Like

      • Just looked it up its real name to make sure I was not dreaming. It is called Sega Master System Rapid Fire Control Unit Model-3046 for Controller. =)

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s no fun. The best part of this blog is getting a fresh take from someone who never played all these games and the sense of discovery. And Thank Jomnie Scott. He’s the one who remembered the turbo dongle. There are a gakillion Sega sites by hardcore Sega fanatics who know every Sega detail. There is only one Sega Does.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. The reason I like your site and podcast is because you have not played the games. I have a huge bias with SEGA games and sometimes it is nice hearing a new view on the old memory’s I have.

        I have tons of great memory’s with the NES also but most of those memory’s came from just playing at friends.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It is possible that the reason for limiting the game to mail order was perhaps a marketing ploy to generate some interest in the game and the SMS and Sega botched it. It could have been some sort of effort to generate a feel of exclusivity about the title and simply get people talking about the SMS as a whole. I am just theorizing here mind you.

    Liked by 1 person

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