I'm saddened there's no 32X or SEGA CD section, but next year I'll write a few SEGA CD ones (Lunar, Lunar:EB, Snatcher, Popful Mail) if you add one!
Do you like Star Wars? Do you love SEGA retrogaming? Do you dislike playing as anthropomorphic animals in your serious space shooters?
If you answered “yes” to at least two of these questions, do not ever play SEGA’s Star Wars Arcade for 32X or StarFox for Super Nintendo, and immediately experience Shadow Squadron/Stellar Assault.
I was fortunate enough to have been raised on PC games as well as consoles, and Star Wars flightsims X-Wing and TIE Fighter were complex, nerve-wracking, genuine flight simulators putting you in the cockpit of iconic, full-featured starships, making you a hero over the course of long, detailed campaigns.
Star Wars Arcade on 32X (which I paid $70 for at launch) is ugly, has no freedom of movement, and features Admiral Ackbar with a Brooklyn accent and possibly a brain disorder asking you to “Wipe out … enemy fightahs” almost every mission.
Nintendo wasn’t better, either. StarFox is in my opinion an unattractive, chugging on-rails shooter not terribly enjoyable with its framerate. With furries. (“Light years beyond” THENEXTLEVEL, Nintendo? Bzyw zeet dwa zzt, I say to that!)
I spent a quarter of this review explaining about how unsuccessful console attempts were at recreating the feeling of PC space combat, right? Well, our beloved SEGA achieved it with the unheralded Shadow Squadron, and you can imagine how I thought it might change gaming forever (but didn’t).
You can fly, you can fly, you can flyyyyyyyy!
NiGHTS’s charm and playability creates an amazing feeling of freedom and atmosphere (and I hope you agree if you’re a big enough SEGA fan to be reading about obscure 32X games on a SEGA fansite). Piloting a futuristic Last Starfighter-esque craft in 1st person delivers the same satisfaction, in a way I’ve never gotten from any other console space game.
Shadow Squadron gives you complete freedom of movement: a true 3-D world in space. (How many early Playstation or Saturn games can claim that?) The 32X handles it very impressively, with minimal slowdown and a nicely playable framerate. It’s probably the finest 3-D showcase of the platform, and a sign that if the system had a longer lifespan it could have done some really fun, impressive things (at least with unshaded, flat polygons).
You’ve got two ships with different attributes: essentially a Star Wars X-Wing and a Y-Wing (which like a “real” Y-Wing has a two-player mode for pilot & a gunner, or you can play one-player mode and play gunner with autopilot for on-rails shooting).
Shadow Squadron makes great use of the 6-button controller, too, with an array of weapons, speed control, and views. It even uses the damn Mode button for an actual in-game function! This game is seriously as close to a showcase title as the 32X ever got.
It’s pretty short though, unfortunately, but the six missions are varied and challenging. And with true 3-D freedom you have the option of playing through the game in an unlimited number of ways.
You really only have one “wipe out … enemy fightahs” mission – the first one – but Shadow Squadron has the good sense to add capital ships, a la X-Wing/TIE Fighter, that you can actually blow up piece by polygon to disable parts of the craft in turn. Your HUD gives you a lot of info on the ships around you, as well. Very cool, and proof that SEGA did not take the lazy way out with this game.
You’ve eventually got to destroy this crazy, huge StarGate/Halo apparatus that’s really dangerous, for whatever reason. It’s awesome though, and even with minimal story gives you the feeling you’re apart of an epic struggle and only you can turn the tide.
Dude, where’s my Star Wars?
If SEGA had licensed Star Wars for THIS engine, it would have garnered acclaim and attention, because it’s as close to those PC greats you’ll get in this era of video gaming. I do recall several magazines giving it high marks, but by the time this came out most game writers were too busy gushing about how how sexy the Playstation looked (I still don’t get that, Game Players) to give this gem the print it deserved.
SEGA is my favorite game company because so many of their creative, original titles forge an immersive connection between the player and the game worlds they generate. It’s a shame most gamers missed Shadow Squadron by virtue of the 32X itself selling far less units than StarFox the cartridge did.
But for any fan of SEGA retrogaming, give it a shot – the Force is strong with this one.