A pricey classic
Steel Empire is a game that not many people were able to experience, sadly. As a child, you likely only had access to either a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis, which cut out a ton of potential classics for you to play and cherish as time’s cold embrace passed you by.
I was very lucky to experience it for a few brief days attending a friend’s house many years ago, and now, thanks to the magic of porting, everyone can give it a go on the 3DS. As long as the price point isn’t too rich for your blood, you should jump on this opportunity.
Steel Empire (3DS)
Publisher: Starfish SD
Released: July 31, 2014
What you see is what you get — Steel Empire is a horizontal shoot-’em-up with seven levels. It follows the tried-and-true “shoot and bomb” configuration of so many shooters before it, where the vast majority of time is spent on dodging bullets while keeping a continuous stream of fire going. The story is rather inconsequential, as it involves your typical “rebel versus empire” plot device — but like pretty much every other shooter on the market, the proof is in the gameplay.
Right off the bat, you have the option of choosing between the Etopirica, a swift yet small plane that lacks firepower, or the cumbersome Zappellon, which hits like a truck and moves like a snail. Each plane allows you to play with a completely different style, which lends itself well to multiple completions. I personally prefer the Zappellon, as it operates with a wholly unique movement pattern that isn’t found in most genre staples.
Steel Empire is not a bullet-hell shooter, as it follows the more traditional pattern of providing more enemies to deal with than bullets, which can get just as tricky at times. Said foes can come from the sides, the sky, or even the ground — the latter of which can be particularly difficult to hit with your ground shot, which strikes every time you fire your weapon. One hit doesn’t mean instant death, as you have a health bar that slowly drains as you take damage. As you can imagine the Zappellon is a bigger target with a larger hitbox, but it can also take a beating due to its increased health pool.
Power-ups litter the field, granting you extra firepower, bombs, bonus points, more health, and so on. What I like about how Steel Empire handles these pick-ups is that it never really goes overboard with them. The “P” tokens will slowly upgrade your standard shot over time and reward players who manage to avoid death, but it’s entirely possible to beat the game with your standard ship and some skill. It’s a very well balanced mechanic.
In terms of its presentation, Teyon has lifted the game perfectly from its source material. It looks, sounds, and feels great on the 3DS, and is a natural fit for Nintendo’s portable. The 3D effect is more pronounced than many other eShop games, and the user interface is wonderfully minimal. The same could be said about the retro soundtrack, which is phenomenal.
The stages have a ton of character to them however, and every theme is memorable in its own way. From soaring through the beautiful cloud-filled skies to dank cavernous ruins, it’s easy to get drawn into an individual level and the appropriately themed enemy models that accompany it.
In terms of extras, you’re really not getting a whole lot — you can adjust the difficulty level to your liking, up your total lives and continues, and change your button configuration. That’s … about it. You’re going to get most of your enjoyment out of playing on the hardest difficulty setting and going for the most amount of points in score-attack fashion, although there are no leaderboards.
If you have a Sega Genesis, you’d probably be better off just picking up the original cartridge for less than $10 online. The 3D effects and dual-screen interface simply aren’t enough to warrant a full $20 upgrade, but the fact remains that the game is as classic as ever and worth playing. If you’re a shoot-’em-up junkie you likely won’t feel the sting of the price tag, but everyone else will want to wait for a sale.