That does look pretty boss.
No doubt about it, this is an aerial assault.
DEVELOPER: Sanritsu (Game Gear port by SIMS)
RELEASE DATE: Master System: 12/90 – (EU), 1990 – (US)
Game Gear: 06/05/92 – (JP), 1992 – (US, EU)
Compared to some of the more visually extravagant and innovative shoot-em-ups on the Master System – Fantasy Zone II, Power Strike, R-Type, etc. – Aerial Assault initially looks and plays like a tremendous regression. Continue past the uneventful first stage, however, and you’ll appreciate the game’s creative flourishes. Lightning strikes emerge from the stormy skies and attempt to incinerate your plane. Tiny bombs with adorable parachutes float down from above you. And after four grounded levels, the last level thrusts your fighter jet… into space? Huh. Didn’t see that one coming. Aerial Assault isn’t a top-tier example of its genre, but it surprised me often enough to keep playing.
Don’t tell me how to feel, game.
You control a prototype jet plane named “Freedom Fighter” and your mission is to destroy the N.A.C., an evil organization who wants to control the world, as evil orgs are wont to do. You take out any planes, helicopters, ships, mines, and any other stationary/airborne ephemera that may appear in your line of sight, then move on to the next mission, hopefully with a clear conscience.
No civilians were harmed in the exploding of this battleship.
Aerial Assault‘s got powerups on powerups. There are nine standard weapons, including 3-Way Shot, 8-Way Shot, Explosion Shot, Chaser Missiles, and Wide Lasers. As with all shoot-em-ups, only a few of these weapons are helpful. Thankfully, powerup planes (you’ll know them by their swivel) appear on the screen regularly, so if you don’t like your weapon, shoot them and get a new one. There are also several secondary bomb-type weapons – Triple Bomb, Hyper Ball, Napalm, etc. – that launch from beneath your plane; perfect for ground enemies, heartier airborne enemies like large planes, and bosses. Lastly, be on the lookout for Shields, 1-Ups, Speed Boosts, Bonuses (in the form of Easter Island heads, a nice nod to Gradius), and even 1-Downs.
These missiles… they’re not my kind of missiles.
Compared to many shoot-em-ups, Aerial Assault‘s five areas all flow smoothly into each other. The game moves your fighter across a serene ocean, to above the clouds where you watch the sunset, to a brief respite back on land. After you destroy the mountain fortress boss, you enter a claustrophobic underground base, defeat what you think is the final boss, then get shot out into space for the real final showdown. Another neat feature: no two levels have the same enemies, quite the feat given how long these levels are.
Even the Joker wants in on the aerial high jinks.
Not all is wine and roses in the cockpit, though. While the solid shooting, excellent controls, and engaging soundtrack will motivate you to see the end, each level could have at least a third of its length trimmed and it wouldn’t be missed. If you die mid-level, you reappear on screen immediately. That’s good! Unfortunately, once you die, any speed boosts you may have received are gone, and you reemerge slower than a depressed tortoise. That’s bad, especially in later levels when enemy projectiles cover the screen, and it’s all you can do to maneuver out of the way.
This ain’t your old man’s greased lightning.
A perfunctory, forgettable title like “Aerial Assault” doesn’t exactly instill hope that Sanritsu and Sega care about their completed product, but thank goodness we don’t judge games by uninspired names alone. Aerial Assault doesn’t have much flash or big, gorgeous sprite work, but I never knew where it would take me next. If only more shmups could do the same.
The only version of Aerial Assault that Japan ever received. My condolences.
This box art brought to you by… the 90s!
Despite the Game Gear and Master System sharing almost identical DNA, Aerial Assault on the Game Gear is not a straight Master System port. The game feels slower and more labored, like it’s all the handheld could do to show three enemies on screen at once.Your once sleek fighter jet has been reduced to a lumpy Matchbox toy. Powerups are far less plentiful, and the zoomed-in viewpoint, while necessary to see what’s happening on the Game Gear’s blurry screen, does little to bring you into the action.
Little Billy heads to war.
The level backgrounds are similar between the two versions, though there is the occasional new one (hey look, a cityscape!). And as in the Master System version, levels run on for far too long, especially when the game just keeps throwing the same couple of enemy types at you over and over. Sure, it can be argued that neither version of Aerial Assault is outstanding, but the Master System version at least tries. Whatever good genes the latter provided the Game Gear version must have gotten lost along the way. Portable Aerial Assault is a dud.
The end times come for Billy and his army men.