She’s surprisingly optimistic.
Sponsored by METAL
PUBLISHER: Toaplan (JP), Seismic (US)
RELEASE DATE: 12/21/90 – (JP), 1990 – (US)
I won’t forget the first time I fought an enormous cyborg/human face in MUSHA. It descended slowly onto the screen, eyes shut, robotic tentacles attached to the side and back of its skull. Suddenly, its pupil-less eyes opened and explosive cogs shot out its mouth. Rectangular pieces of the wall burst forth towards me at different speeds. I moved constantly to avoid their touch. When the wall wasn’t blocking my view, I rained bullet death upon the face. It jittered every time it took a hit. Eventually, the face’s eyes shut and it opened its mouth. Explosions erupted around it. It looked in great pain, like it was screaming, but there was no sound other than the music. The face dissipated, then it was back to the onslaught, like nothing had happened.
The face in question.
MUSHA is full of surreal, overwhelming moments like these, moments where you don’t have time to understand what’s happening to you. You keep moving, keep firing, and pray that you keep your head while chaos continuously erupts around you. It is an uncompromising, unapologetic shoot-em-up, and one of the best I’ve played on the Genesis.
You play as Terri (a.k.a. Ellinor in Japan and Europe), a mech fighter pilot whose entire squadron has been destroyed by the robot armies of Dire 51. The latter is a once-peaceful supercomputer gone rogue, now intent on killing off all mankind with its legion of mechanical terrors.
Probably best not to land on that symbol of ancient evil.
If you wait to start the game, a brief animated intro will play, showing main character Terri and her mech squadron on their way to infiltrate Dire 51’s base. The intro’s too short to get a feel for each member’s personality, but based on the mild banter, you understand that they are used to fighting with each other. Without warning, mechs start getting hit. Each of Terri’s squad is shot down by a huge laser. When the game finally begins, only she remains, left to face the overwhelming nightmare alone.
C’mon, let’s sweat… bab-eh!
Well, not completely alone. Terri’s mech, properly equipped, is a beast, and will keep her company on her dark journey. There are three special weapons: the Blazing Beam, which shoots solid green laser beams forward out of her mech; the Vanishing Buster, a bomb cluster with a decent spread; and the Defensive Detonator, a shield that also kills enemies if they get too close. All of these can be upgraded up to four times. If you get hit once, you lose your upgrade, but remain alive. Get hit again and you die.
Ladies and gentlemen, pagodas on rails!
In addition to the special weapons, power chip containers emerge on a regular basis. Shoot them to collect the chips and gain an option, a mini jet that will fight by your side. Three chips gains you one option, six chips gains you two, and the more chips you have, the more options will stockpile in your inventory. You can only have two by your side at any one time, but if one dies, another will instantly take its place. The options only fire in one direction at a time, but you can choose from six different directions, including in front, behind, and rotating around you.
Hello GWAR face, my old friend…
With two options strapped to your mech and an upgraded weapon, it’s impossible not to feel like an invincible supersoldier. MUSHA does an excellent job at both making you feel like you can take on the world, and humbling your ego when you’re doing really well. Within each level, there are points where you will easily destroy any enemy that comes into your line of sight. There are also times when four different types of enemies swarm the screen and unleash homing missiles and projectiles and lasers all at once until you realize you’re not as awesome as you thought you were, and it’s only God’s grace that’s kept you alive this far.
Wonder what that middle turret’s gonna do…
Just as the story is slightly more detailed beyond the conventional “save the world” premise, so too are the enemy designs, which range from slightly off-kilter (spider robots, flying eyes, other mechs) to downright terrifying (any of the flying heads). The levels aren’t quite as creative, but they have their moments. Flying amidst the clouds and floating Japanese castles is both eerie and beautiful. Likewise, navigating through the constricting corridors of level 3’s cave while a river of lava runs below you provides an unsettling sense of scope.
Neo-Tokyo’s taking pretty good care of itself.
MUSHA‘s soundtrack perfectly reflects the insane on-screen action. The guitars, drums, and synths are relentless, like the notes can’t wait to express themselves. Composer Toshiaki Sakoda wields the Genesis’ Yamaha sound chip like a weapon, with each track a prog-epic unto itself. I’ve come around on the Genesis’ sound in recent years, but even I didn’t know it was capable of making such beautiful noise. A masterful achievement.
MUSHA is actually the fourth entry in Compile’s long-running Aleste series, which began on the MSX. While the original Aleste was eventually released in Europe and the States as Power Strike, its direct sequels – Aleste Gaiden and Aleste 2 – were released on the MSX in Japan only. Although main character Ellinor (or Terri, depending on where you’re from) does make a return appearance from Aleste 2, it’s not necessary to know series’ lore in order to enjoy MUSHA.
Too many jawbreakers, not enough jaws.
MUSHA isn’t a shoot-em-up for those who have only dabbled in the genre. MUSHA is for the jaded old veterans who think they’ve played it all before. The game’s unrelenting energy and passion doesn’t just upstage other shoot-em-ups for the system: it decimates them – and, dare I say, every other title released for the Genesis in 1990. MUSHA is a reminder that shoot-em-ups can thrill better than any other genre, and is a testament to the power lying in wait within Sega’s 16-bit console. An absolute masterpiece and one of the best games on the system.
Good work, Ellin- er, Terri!