Remember the good old days of very early 16-bit gaming? (pause for brief nostalgic flashback) Back then, people didn't automatically associate the word shooter with the word Doom. Yeah, those were the days when shooters were shooters and consisted of a lone aircraft of some sort flying around the screen, blowing the snot out of everything that moved, instead of a lone soldier who ran through some narrow-walled corridor shooting monsters while trying to find his way out.
Back in those days, Flying Edge released another shooter called Steel Empire for the late, great Sega Genesis. Steel Empire was a landmark shooter. It revolutionized the genre by... Wait, no. I'm thinking of some other game. What Steel Empire did introduce was... Wait, no, still thinking of another game. Steel Empire... Hold up. Now I'm thinking of Playboy Magazine. Steel Empire... It... It... Alright, can I start this paragraph over again? Back in those days, Flying Edge released another shooter. There.
Okay, Steel Empire didn't introduce any kind of new concept or innovation. Not even the story tried to do anything different. You took control of the Silverhead Empire's Striker airplane or the Z-O1 Zeppelin airship as you tried to drive the evil Motorhead Empire, which has conquered and enslaved most of the world, back to Detroit. Nothing that hasn't been done, really.
Ditto the gameplay. This is the typical shooter, the kind that follows the blueprint right through every last nail and screw. The two types of aircraft, the Striker and the Z-O1 Zeppelin, are typical of the genre: The smaller Striker is the less powerful and resiliant aircraft, but, baby, can it move! The Z-O1 Zeppelin moves like a turtle stuck in molasses, but it's armored like a knight and has secondary fire more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Included on the package of both these fine aircraft is the Lightning Bomb. That's the standard shooter big bomb which, when released, causes everything around you to crumble into a smoldering pile of scrap metal.
You get to guide these giants of the unfriendly skies through seven increasingly unfriendly levels that take you from the Silverhead capitol to space. This is a side-scrolling shooter, not a top-scrolling shooter, which means that Motorhead's air force will show up behind you every now and then. Those guys are easily dealt with by pressing the b button, which shoots to the left. If you don't like your current choice of aircraft, you can always choose the other one for the next level, because you can switch between most levels. During the levels, you get to deal with three kinds of aircraft that Motorhead sends at you: Little guys that can be shot down with a single bullet, big guys that can take significantly more punishment, and really big guy' aka bosses. In a couple of levels, the game will get creative on you and change its scrolling direction, but you've seen it all before.
The savior of most shooting games is the weapon system, but the weapon system in Steel Empire is almost nonexistant. Both aircraft use the standard shooter pellet spray when they start, and it never changes, although you can pick up a power-up which puts a pair of tailgaters on your back end that fire along with you. Both aircraft also have secondary weapons that are fired off with the primaries. Nice touches, but nothing that hasn't been done before. You still end the game with the same weapon you started with.
Here's the control scheme: a-Lightning Bomb. b-fire left. c-fire right. d-pad-move. It can be changed, along with the difficulty and number of lives and continues, at the options screen. It's a shooter! You weren't expecting a ton of special moves and menu options, were you?
The graphics aren't very good. Although the Striker has animations for going up and down, the rest of the game's animations don't change, except for a couple of bosses. Everything stays the same when they move. But hey, the Lightning Bomb has an intimidating animation, and Flying Edge threw in some nice backgrounds, particularly in the Silverhead and Motorhead capitols.
This is the worst-sounding shooter I've ever heard. The explosions are these weak-sounding, tiny effects that mock the capabilities of the Genesis. The shots make that sound you often get trying to get that last bit of ketchup out of an empty sqeeze bottle. And the music is just plain lifeless. There's no other word for it. Lifeless. And uninspired.
Although Steel Empire is just another shooter, but dang if it ain't a another fun shooter. The bad guys are always flying and firing at you, even if they don't do it on the scale of say, a Raiden or a Mars Matrix. So in Steel Empire, you do the typical shooter thing: Fly around the screen, blasting whatever moves. It's still as fun as it ever was. But that doesn't mean Steel Empire should be the first shooter you buy. You'll want to start with another good one, a Space Harrier or a MUSHA, and forget Steel Empire until you get bored of everything else.