M.U.S.H.A.

Ah yes, the game with the ridiculous acronym.  M.U.S.H.A, or Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor is one of the greatest games for the Genesis.  I love low profile games like this, the ones that come out of left field and blow you away.  M.U.S.H.A.’s greatness should come as no surprise however as it was created by Compile, the masters of the genre.  As part of their long running Aleste series it does the series proud with its slick action, original setting, and solid mechanics.  If you have even a slight interest in the genre you need this game in your life.

By the year 2290 mankind has established colonies around the solar system.  One such colony opposite the moon housed the AI Dire 51.  This AI eventually grew too smart and decided it would rule the solar system using new types of armor it had developed.  To combat this menace the M.U.S.H.A team is sent in using their prototype armored suits.

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Although it takes place centuries in the future the world of 2290 is rooted in the past.  The game’s visual aesthetic mixes feudal era Japan with mech technology that is still visually distinct today.  Aside from the rest of Compile’s Aleste games there really isn’t any other game that looks like this.  Large Japanese temples and samurai armor clash with futuristic technology in a setting that is incredibly compelling.  On paper it shouldn’t work but it is realized beautifully. 

M.U.S.H.A keeps its weapons system light with just three main choices.  Fire provides bombs, thunder emits a large continuous laser, and water creates a rotating shield.  Collecting more of each weapon will upgrade it up to four times at which point they change dramatically.  The water shield becomes two larger circular orbs.  The thunder laser eventually becomes two separate but larger beams.  The bombs in particular turn into miniature black holes.  Each is incredibly useful and while it is hard to avoid choosing a favorite it can be advantageous to switch every now and then.  There are separate buttons for primary fire and special weapons with good reason: as hectic as it gets you might need to lay off attacking just to see what is going on.

The guardians are the most interesting.  Collecting enough capsules will eventually provide two guardians in addition to upgrading your standard shot.  For the most part they function like options in Gradius.  But their usefulness goes beyond that.  There are four preset options governing their behavior.  Reverse to cover you from behind, 3-way to create a wide beam, roll makes them rotate around your mech, and forward supplements your shots.  Free, is the most devastating.  Here they aggressively seek out the nearest enemy and follow them.  This is particularly useful against bosses.  While they are invincible direct hits cause them to spin out of control for a few seconds leaving you vulnerable.  It’s a nice weakness to prevent them from being far too powerful. 

I’ve played many shooters on the Genesis and few can match M.U.S.H.A.’s intensity.  There are very few moments of calm and the few that exist give way to absolute chaos moments later.  This is one of the few shooters on the system that has slowdown.  The fact that the game isn’t chugging every few seconds is a damn miracle in my opinion.  Enemy waves are well paced as the game switches between larger gunships and mechs to smaller cannon fodder. 

Despite how chaotic the game can be at times it still remains completely fair.  It takes a lot to actually die, usually three or four direct hits.  While you lose all power-ups the game is not shy and doles them out regularly, even during boss battles.  With so many enemies it becomes easy to rack up extra lives.  Which is fitting since you’ll need them for the game’s vicious second half.  By that point your skills will truly be put to the test.  It’s a near perfect difficulty curve and one that few games manage so well.

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M.U.S.H.A is a technical beast and pushes the system to the limit despite its early release.  The number of sprites clogging the screen is very high and the game only slows when they are combined with numerous explosions.  Despite its singular setting the visual design never gets old thanks to varied terrain.  It’s especially true when you see the layers upon layers of scrolling that create a beautiful illusion of depth.  The only area I wasn’t too enthralled with is the music.  The hard rock soundtrack is well composed but isn’t to my liking and is largely forgettable.

In Closing

M.U.S.H.A. is one of the greatest shooters of all time, let alone for the system.  Very few games can match its intensity and pure gameplay making this a bonafide classic.  The only problem is finding it.  It was already hard to find at release and time has made it worse.  Loose copies usually run in the hundreds of dollars which is way too much.  It has only been re-released once, on the Wii virtual console.  However you choose to play it M.U.S.H.A is simply fantastic.

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