Night Striker

Anyone who was around in the 80s has bought more than one video game based off of screenshots, a magazine or ad.  My interest in Night Striker was peaked due to a preview in Diehard Gamefan.  It looked incredibly cool in screenshots but unfortunately they don’t tell the whole tale.  The Sega CD port is competent but suffers due to its graphics which unfortunately do affect gameplay.  It is far better than the tragic Genesis version of Galaxy Force 2 but that isn’t saying much.  You are better off buying the import Saturn or PlayStation versions instead.

The best way to describe Night Striker is as a love letter to Sega’s greatest arcade hits.  It has the 3d movement of Space Harrier, the obstacles and cityscapes of Thunder Blade, and the branching paths of Outrun.  It bears such a close resemblance to Sega’s Super Scaler games that if it weren’t for the Taito logo on the box you would think Sega created it.  This weird Frankenstein’s monster of features sounds like a disaster in the making but in fact creates a game that is better than the sum of its parts.

At least in the arcade.  Night Striker was a beautiful game in the arcade with its ridiculous sprite scaling and art direction.  While the Sega CD can scale sprites it isn’t anywhere close to as capable resulting in some of the most hideous pixellated sprites I’ve seen.  From a distance it looks okay but once they approach the screen they devolve into indistinct blobs.  All of that nice art is mostly wasted here.  I will give it credit for at least matching the speed of the arcade game.  This is an incredibly fast game and the CD version replicates that almost perfectly.

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Your guess is as good as mine as to what the hell is happening.

Unfortunately the game’s graphical issues affect gameplay.  Since the game is so low resolution and pixelated judging the distance of objects and enemies is hard.  For a game as fast paced as this it is a big problem resulting in many cheap hits.  It is absolutely crucial to be able to discern what the hell is even approaching, especially in later levels where it becomes incredibly hectic.  Night Striker is a pretty intense game and remains so here but for all the wrong reasons.

Boss battles suffer the most due to the heavy pixelization.  Most of these fights consist of some massive mechanical contraption that scales in and out of the camera.  But with pixels this large you can barely make out what they are supposed to be, let alone their attacks.  I basically used the tactic of rotating in a circle and firing blindly which actually worked out pretty well.  Sure it works but it isn’t the slightest bit satisfying, especially when this is supposed to be one of the game’s highlights. 

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It’s too bad the graphics nearly ruin the game as there is still plenty to love when you aren’t frustrated.  Rather than the fantasy landscapes of Space Harrier the game opts for futuristic cityscapes.  Why the game seems to take place completely at night I’ll never know but the artists use varying hues to paint the cyberpunk inspired cities in atmosphere.  The levels come in three varieties: open stages with waves of enemies, tight tunnels filled with obstacles to dodge or some combination of the two.  There are six different final levels and depending on the stage your ship transforms into a new vehicle which is pretty cool.   These range from being accompanied by a helicopter to a motorcycle and even a giant robot!

A single run through Night Striker takes about twenty or thirty minutes.  However the branching paths offer plenty of replay value.  In total there are twenty one levels with any single path consisting of about seven stages.  While the map conjures up images of Darius this isn’t nearly as varied as that series.  Many of its level themes such as the various tunnels are virtually the same with a different color palette.   But I’ll gladly take it as the game is still enjoyable despite its issues. 

In Closing

Taito did as well as can be expected but this port of Night Striker is still lacking.  As much as I like it I also can’t recommend it, especially with the presence of perfect Saturn and PlayStation versions out there.  Fantastic music and good gameplay but not enough to save this version.  Oh well.

 

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