SILPHEED / Game Arts / Sega CD

Silpheed was a relative obscurity in the West. Originally published for Japanese PCs in the mid-1980s, it appeared on American shelves a couple of years later as part of a deal between Sierra Online and Game Arts to port a few of the latter's titles to English-speaking markets.

It was a somewhat remarkable game, however, in that it was one of the first shooters for any kind of computer to actually have smooth scrolling and gameplay comparable to the consoles of the time while also managing to implement some basic polygonal models. Nevertheless, it made relatively little impact in the West, which makes this Sega CD remake and port kind of hard to understand.

It has some interesting ideas, though. Chiefly, the use of an FMV background layer with polygons stacked seamlessly on top of it here and there to provide the illusion of flying over a dense asteroid field or massive battleship with lots of independent moving objects. It's an interesting call-back to the original Silpheed's status as one of the first PC shooters to have polygonal models on the playfield. Visually, the craftsmanship in implementing it has also helped the game to age much better than most of the rest of the grainy FMV-filled Sega CD library.

This remake keeps most of the fundamental gameplay quirks of the original game - shields that deplete instead of lives, selectable weapons between levels that unlock based on how many points you rack up, even the semi-hidden continue that you'll probably have to read about somewhere before you realize it's possible. Other than that, though, it's really more of a totally original creation than a remake.

The biggest difference? It's just way the hell too busy. You've got all sorts of stuff everywhere in the video layer, beams everywhere, particles everywhere ... it's very easy to lose track of incoming enemy shots, but even worse is that the game loves to sneak sudden and very quick shots on you from the sides (which really just feels cheap given all the stuff downfield you always need to have your eyes on).

Another addition to this game is constant radio chatter in your ear from some sort of crew that you're never properly introduced to. This is one of those things that seems like it could be a cool idea on paper, but once it was actually implemented they should have seen it was just distracting and pulled the plug on it. Even with good headphones on, I can't even tell what they're babbling on about half the time.

Aside from the visual busyness and the distracting chatter, the main thing that drags the game down it that it commits the cardinal sin of having stuff that's initially harmless in the background suddenly switch in and out to being harmful in the foreground with no real visual distinction between the two.

The level backgrounds are also much more of a reason to play than the bosses are, which resemble the simplistic poly models used in the original 1986 game. I love how the radio guy yells "LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT THING!" when the first boss appears, and it's barely bigger than your own ship.

Though it aged reasonably well visually, all the other extra stuff Game Arts bolted on here really didn't improve on the original game. It's just too busy now, and a lot of the time this makes the hits feel cheap. It also doesn't have the charm of the original with its valiant MIDI music and it doing stuff you didn't expect a PC shooter of the time to do. "GAME ALBERT!"

Links :

* If using Kega Fusion to play, turn on "Perfect Sync" if it freezes / crashes

Videos :

* Gameplay Video