PUBLISHER: Masaya (JP), DreamWorks (US)
RELEASE DATE: 03/16/90 – (JP), 06/90 – (US)
Back in the day, any game had the potential to turn into a full-fledged series. To wit: Assault Suit Leynos, otherwise known as Target Earth to US audiences. As was the style at the time, Target Earth was a meaningless title given to trick American gamers into thinking they weren’t playing a Japan-developed game; in other words, there is no Target Earth II. The series continued as Assault Suits Valken or Cybernator on the SNES. After Cybernator, no other ASL games made it to our shores. Assault Suit Leynos II and Assault Suits Valken II emerged in Japan on the Saturn and Playstation respectively in the late ’90s, while both Europe and Japan received an Assault Suits Valken remake on the PS2.
Why do I bring up such arcane history? Because there is no way this series should have continued. Assault Suit Leynos is a joyless, awkward mech shooter released on the Mega Drive. Not only is the game itself underwhelming, but the platform it was released on wasn’t popular in the slightest in Japan. And yet, somehow, the franchise persevered into the 21st century. Crazier still, a PS4 remake of Assault Suit Leynos was released only a month ago to moderate acclaim. Perhaps there’s more to Target Earth‘s joyless awkwardness than I realize?
You control a shrunken mech otherwise known as an Assault Suit, and you’re tasked with fighting alien forces and defending Earth. Before each level begins, you’re given your choice of weapons: spread shooters, bomb launchers, machine guns, etc. Your mech has six slots for weapons, and in the early stages, you’ll be able to take all weapons with you and switch between them in the heat of battle. As the game progresses, you’ll obtain more weapons and be forced to decide which ones you’ll take.
Once you’ve selected your weapons, dialogue boxes at the bottom of the screen guide you to your task. These tasks are usually simple: destroy the approaching warship, get to the shuttle, kill enemies for two minutes, etc. It’s keeping yourself alive that’s tricky. While your life bar is relatively long (and can be extended by equipping ARMOR powerups), a cluster of enemies shooting you in unison will destroy you if you don’t take them out quickly.
Target Earth‘s difficulty is unreal. You only have one life and two continues to make it through eight increasingly chaotic outer space scenarios. In true retro game fashion, the game is only balls hard because it’s so short. Once you get a feel for each stage’s layout, you can clear most of them in less than two minutes. That is, if you can endure the unwavering enemy onslaught.
The game has a couple bits of innovation: a regenerating life bar and player evaluation. The latter is given at the end of each stage and is determined by your score. The more points you get, the more armor and weapons are unlocked for you to use in the next stage. Player evaluation is interesting and would become a crucial Japanese game mechanic in the survival horror genre, but I’m shocked to see a regenerating lifebar in a game released in 1990. Originally made popular in Halo, the regeneration isn’t just a neat quirk: it’s imperative for survival. Unfortunately, bars only go up after a couple seconds of not getting hit, and it’s rare for you to have that kind of peace here.
Surprising innovation aside, Target Earth couldn’t be more mundane. The level design is unvaried (yet another space battle!), your enemies are all bland robots, and your mech, despite being hyped up in the manual as the savior of Earth, is short and weak. The action is intense at times, and it is thrilling to finally fell a boss that killed you dozens of times before, but you can get that sensation from any number of superior platformers and/or shoot-em-ups. God help me, Japan, I just don’t get it.
13 replies on “Target Earth / Assault Suit Leynos (GEN/MD, 1990)”
This title was so unforgiving as a kid. I don’t recall if I ever beat the game, but that box art will forever haunt(taunt?) me.
I so wanted to like this game. Remember it’s an early title so looked like an amazing premise at the time. But the only way to survive is it to do well on the stages. It goes back to the grading system. If you don’t score extremely well, you can’t get the best gear. And then that makes latter stages essentially impossible. It’s an extremely punishing system. I cussed this game many a time when I rented it. In the YouTube era I’ve seen videos on how to properly play the game and you have to be extremely good. It’s similar to in Gradius that if you die your toast. Except more punishing. If you don’t get on the best upgrade path you can more or less forget getting to level 4. Maybe there is some kind of appeal to such a technical punishing game? Well not for me. I often list this as one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. And I also never could get past level 3. It was just too much.
But man it was like something out of an anime at the time, big giant space armadas attacking you with large ships with smaller mechs flying out. Too bad it’s so technically demanding.
“But man it was like something out of an anime at the time, big giant space armadas attacking you with large ships with smaller mechs flying out. Too bad it’s so technically demanding.”
I could understand the appeal a bit more if the visuals were cool, but I don’t think they’re that impressive, even for the time. Everything is dark and bland, and the character designs are nondescript. Maybe I’m looking at it from contemporary eyes, I don’t know…
Pixelated mechs instantly made anything cool back then. I’m thinking, what other games had mechs! Orguss on the Sg-1000. Ok sure, we didn’t get it. Transbot! Ok that was maybe the only cool thing about that game. Uhh phantasy star 2 had some mechs. I’m talking any console now. Metal storm on the NES is like a year or two away! I guess side arms on tG-16 and Section Z on the NES kind of count.
I probably just take mechs for granted these days haha. I remember my cousin bringing back lots of Gundam models from Taiwan in the early 90s and thinking how amazing they were… point taken, Sean!
Here is a good play through. It makes it look deceptively easy. But the guy uses a trick to not kill anything else on the first stage and only kill the warship. Gaining him enough points to access all the weapons. If you read the comments there are some other tricks I. The game to max out your points. None of which I knew about. There is actually a lot of cool stuff you do in this game. A lot of varied missions. But I never saw them. You really have to know what your doing. Some people swear by this game. I think the weapon management, and the game not really telling you what weapons do what and ammo limits really screw you. So for me I’d say screw this game. But I guess if you knew what you were doing and spent enough time with trial and error figuring out the best loadour]to and what to kill , you could do well. Maybe it’s somewhat ahead of its time in an era of straight shoot em ups. If you play the game that way you’ll fail.
I really liked this game when it first was released as long as you used the cheat code so you cant die. Even now I still enjoy playing it every once in awhile but I think it is mostly nostalgia.
If I would rate it today I would probable give it a C-.
Thank you for the review!
I just found out about the cheat code. Wish I had used it for my playthrough! Thanks Jonnie!
I loved this game as a kid, but I always used Game Genie to play it (bless that wonderful device).
I’m sure the game isn’t that good if I visit it now, but as a kid, all those little bits of window dressing, like the the little pauses mid-level for dialog, and having allies flying about the screen (although they don’t really doing anything) seemed like the coolest thing ever.
I’ve only played Cybernator/Valken, but it looks like there was an abyssal leap in quality between the two games.
For some reason, I used to love this game. It may have been the mechs, it may have been the soundtrack. Maybe it was the fact that the villain was the same as the first villain in Warsong (Lance in Warsong, Rance in Target Earth, same design and all). I later learned that’s because both games were by the same developer so that’s why the character designs were so similar.
Anyway, it wasn’t until I had learned to beat it that I learned about the invincibility code. Afterwards, I kept returning to it because I enjoyed the whole mechs thing and music and didn’t have to be stressed with the code on. Those were simpler times (and I think I only really mastered it because I didn’t get new games very often so I had to stretch the life of those i got).
This review is soooooooooo off-base, along with some of the comments, that I don’t know where to start.. but I will try. It is one thing to not like the game/genre, but it is another to make inaccurate assessments that can put off potential retrogamers. For one, the reviewer is simply incorrect to say that level design was bland. Although there are 2 levels on Ganymede base (a moon of Jupiter), one is a straight on assault mission whereas the other is an escape mission to help your allies get off the moon with the aid of allied spacecraft. There are levels where you fight in out space (with zero-gravity), another where you in the upper part of Earth’s atmosphere and jump out of a spaceship to fight in mid-air as you fall to the ground. In this very level you then brave enemy-infested jungles to take out a malfunctioning nuclear reactor at an enemy base. Another where you fight in mountains and enter enter enemy HQ.. And yet ANOTHER mission where you infiltrate a space colony by first avoiding a space minefield! Another where you fight inside the enemy mothership.. The point is that the levels are not bland at all.. Quite the opposite. in fact, Target Earth has some of the most varied gameplay of the time (IMHO). 14 weapons you can choose PLUS armor, shields, and even a jetpack?! How is that a “weak mecha?” All that in 1990?! Because of the equipment selection, there were many ways to take out enemies and bosses (some better than others). I’d argue, you’d be very hard-pressed to fight another horizontal shooter at the time with more varied gameplay.
The reviewer complains that all the enemies are robots.. AND? It’s a mecha game (technically they are cyborgs and clones) for crying out loud! You just dissed an entire genre! However, even THIS statement is inaccurate, as your enemies are actually humans. Plus there are dozens of mecha and spacecraft designs total among allies and enemies. So, again, the reviewer’s comment about “bland level design” just makes no sense.
Yes, the regenerating health bar is indeed innovative, as the reviewer admits. Another, is that you had allies in battle, giving an immersive vibe that you are participating in a massive war. The storyline was ALSO innovative in this cult classic. Without going into spoilers, not very many action shooters had such a dramatic and interesting storyline. That was worth the price of admission alone.
Target Earth/Assault Suit Leynos has also garnered the reputation of being a near impossible game to beat. I disagree … It was indeed pretty challenging (above average), but nothing a bit of perseverance would not solve. There are many, many, many harder games, especially back then (Come on! You want hard? Play Battletoads on the NES!). I’ve beaten Target Earth more times than any other, even on the hardest setting (Hyper)… and the game is indeed beatable even without the very best weapons (in response to someone else’s comment).
So, it’s not surprising that this game is a cult classic with many fans, with sequels and remakes. It was soooo fun mowing down hundreds of enemies.. the visuals.. explosions… Should I mention that the soundtrack is awesome?! It is a very good game indeed. Ignore the naysayers!
I appreciate your passion, Lancer.