A legendary name echoing past glories of pure essence of 2D vertical scrolling shooters, Made in Japan by Compile. It may now start fading from the memory of new generations, but there was a time when 2D shooters ruled the world, and Aleste was their king!
Aleste the first is actually the unofficial sequel of Zanac, a seminal vertical shooter ahead of its time released on MSX, NES and FDS (Famicom Disk System) notable for its fast-paced gameplay and for the futuristic adaptive artificial intelligence of enemy waves.
When Compile decided to release the sequel of Zanac to Sega’s 8 bit home console, the Mark III, it had to switch publisher from Pony Canyon who originally published Zanac to SEGA, who manufactured the Mark III console. This move resulted in Compile having to give up the name Zanac entirely for the sequel because of copyrights issues.
Interestingly, the name ZANAC may have been chosen because it is an anagram of the city of NAZCA and the game’s initial levels are reminiscent of the Nazca valleys. Compile needed to come up with a different and compelling name for Zanac’s sequel, so Aleste was chosen.
Apparently, Aleste comes from the term Arrester and specifically, from what is known as a “lightning arrester”, which is a device used on electrical power systems to shield them from lightning. As strange as this may sound, that’s apparently the source of inspiration!
Aleste was originally released in February 1988 on the Sega Mark III (the Japanese Master System). It used a 1 Mbit Cartridge and supported FM sound. It was also released for the Master System in the west after being renamed Power Strike. In July of the same year, the game was ported to MSX computers as a 2 Mbit cartridge and also supported FM music. You can read about the difference between the two versions here.
In 1989, a side story called Aleste Gaiden was released as part of the Disc Station Special 4 - Autumn Edition. Here, the player was in control of a futuristic ninja equipped with an enhancing combat armor.
Later the same year, one of the crowning jewels of the series, Aleste 2, was released on 3 disks for the MSX2 lines of computers. It featured glorious cut-scenes, beautifully detailed graphics, inspired music and mesmerizing gameplay. This was not a shooter, this was a fucking mystical experience!!
In 1990, Musha Aleste, a 4 Mbit cartridge, was released for the Mega Drive. The player now controlled some kind of mech equipped with a mind-shattering Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor or simply M.U.S.H.A. for short. Whatever that is anyways.
In 1991, GG Aleste was released as a 2 Mbit cartridge for Sega’s 8 bit battery-sucking color portable, the Game Gear. While technically an outstanding game, the fast scrolling proved to be an issue for the Game Gear LCD display, with ghosting effects plaguing the action on screen.
In 1992, another heavy-hitter in the series, Super Aleste (Space MegaForce in America) was unleashed on the all-powerful Super Famicom in the shape of an 8Mbit cartridge. It featured extensive use of Mode 7 effects such as scaling and rotation while surprisingly, slow-down remained within acceptable levels.
In the same year, another masterpiece from Compile, Dennin Aleste was released for the ill-fated and underpowered Mega Drive CD-ROM add-on unit, the Mega CD. It featured a unique feudal-Japan setting and again the player controlled some type of armored mech, just like in Musha Aleste.
In 1993, GG Aleste II was unleashed on the Sega Game Gear as a 2Mbit cartridge. This sequel was immensely improved over the first portable incarnation. It was a triumph of special effects with mind-boggling smart bombs explosions, pseudo 3D bonus levels, you name it. The upped graphical variety and sheer sense of speed coupled with the extra detail in the levels made it the killer application for the Game Gear. Moreover, the ghosting effect which plagued most Game Gear games was less evident here because of the method utilized to draw the graphics.
In the same year, Power Strike II was released exclusively in Pal territories. Interestingly, it was an entirely different game from the Game Gear version and from Aleste 2 on MSX2 and in fact, it doesn’t even look or play like any of the two.
Offshoot: Spriggan Series
In 1990, Spriggan was initially supposed to be released as part of the Aleste series, it eventually got released just as Spriggan on the PC Engine CD-ROM 2. The top-down view, the armored flying mech the player controlled and some of the bosses and weapons inevitably brought to mind Musha Aleste although the gorgeous and colorful Fantasy theme of the backgrounds gave it a different vibe.
In 1992, Spriggan Mark 2 was released again for the PC Engine CD-ROM 2. It was initially supposed to take part in the same Fantasy universe as Spriggan the first but the project then evolved into something entirely different and ended up including a SCI-FI setting and a side-view.
In 1996, Naxat released on Super Famicom a side-scrolling shooter called Spriggan Powered. Despite the name commonality and the obvious similarities in terms of graphics and gameplay to Spriggan Mark 2, this game is believed to be unrelated to the Spriggan series. It was developed by Naxat.
A very rare prototype PCB called Spriggan Powerd also surfaced at one point in the Japanese auctions site Yahoo Auctions. It is hard to draw any conclusions on the game judging by the sparse material found online, so see the screenshots for yourself.
|Spriggan Powerd, unreleased arcade coin-op unrelated to Spriggan Powered on Super Famicom
In 1999, From Software published for PS1 a 3D SCI-FI action adventure game called Spriggan Lunar Verse based on a 1990s manga unrelated to Compile shooters.
All said and done, one may ask what are the chances to see a new entry in the Aleste series? Unfortunately not many since Compile ceased to exist in 2004...