Wednesday, December 16, 2015

M.U.S.H.A. Review

Right from the start, after the awesome intro sequence, the music kicks in, letting you know this is no ordinary shooter.
The shoot 'em up genre has deep roots, tracing all the way back to the dawn of arcade machines in the early 1980's.  A genre that still persists today, there are several sub-genres that diversify the general premise of moving and shooting: horizontal, vertical, isometric, bullet hell, run 'n gun, single screen, and others.  There is some debate as to which home console was the best console to represent the genre, but usually the three that come up time and time again are the PC-Engine (Japanese version of the Turbo Grafx-16), Sega Genesis, and Sega Saturn (Japanese library; the U.S. has barely any games of the genre).  There are so many titles to choose from that even review websites dedicated to the genre struggle to cover most of them.  It may have been one of, if not the most popular genre in video gaming during the 3rd and 4th generation of consoles.  Once the 5th generation appeared, there was sea change as 3D games favored platformers and open world exploration.  Shooters are more suited to the traditional 2D model of gameplay, and game developers thought 2D should be left in the past. The shoot 'em up seemed to become just a niche category, a shadow of what it was.

This is my favorite genre, and this review will cover one of my favorites: M.U.S.H.A., which is an acronym that stands for Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor.  This game is known as Musha Aleste: Fullmetal Fighter Ellinor in Japan.  This game was released in 1990 in North America, so it was an early Genesis title.  For anyone who had a Genesis in the early days, you can tell if the game was an early or late release by the complexity of graphics, music, sound, and gameplay design.  Some early titles didn't age well, understandably.  Musha is impressive in that it was so ahead of its time in all of those respects.  Compile, the developers of the game were known for their shoot 'em up lineage, and they knocked it out of the park with this one.
The graphic design elements are a unique blend of classical Japanese themes and futuristic ideas.

The graphics are stunningly vibrant.  Sprites are brightly colored, and pop off the screen.  The color palate is expertly applied as there is always very clear distinction between the sprites and background.  Character design and variety is very cool, based on blend of classical and futuristic Japanese motifs.  Weapon fire and is easily distinguished and very neat.  As the weapons power up, the size and intensity of the shots increase in a satisfying and impressive manner.

Power ups become seriously awesome.
There is so much action on screen, but the gameplay never feels hopeless or overwhelming.  This is a difficult balance to achieve, as so often shoot 'em ups resort to crushing difficulty to alter the gameplay experience as a player progresses.  Not the case here.  Even though there are enemy flight patterns, they don't feel like typical enemy patterns.  You can play through the game several times, and not really know what's coming next because the enemy movements are interspersed and not obvious.  There is also no slow down.  Slow down was practically expected during this era on games like this, but there is none to be found.  I have no idea how they achieved this, given the level of action, but it goes to show that the developers clearly understood how to get the most out of the system.
Interactive environments enhance the gameplay.

The weapon system is easy to pick up.  You have a main shot, button C, which can be powered up by collecting capsules released by the capsule chip (I'm not sure if its a friend or foe, I guess that would be sad if it were a friend that you have to shoot down to power up).  These capsules increase your main shot up to 4 times the original strength.  Every third capsule will also provide you with a helper drone, which acts as an option.  These drones can be positioned differently by pressing the A button:  forward, 3-way, free (they fly around independently, seeking targets to shoot at), behind, reverse (fire opposite of your movement), and rotating around you.  This is a nice feature as you will learn that some arrangements are better than others for certain circumstances.  These drones can be stockpiled, and they will take a bullet for you, effectively acting as a shield.  When that happens, they spin off, shooting wildly and explode.  Another one subsequently takes its place from your stockpile, which is tallied on the top right of the screen. And that's not all.  There are different secondary weapons that can be picked up and fired with the B button: bombs (orange), lasers (green), and a rotating shield (blue).  These power ups an be leveled up to four times as well, whenever you pick up the same colored icon.  If you take a hit, your secondary weapon is lost, but when you pick up a secondary weapon icon again, your power level will be only one less that it was when you took a hit (as long as you don't die).
The iconic dropping floor scene is pretty memorable. 

What would a shoot 'em up be without good music?  A mediocre game.  Lots of games suffer from meh music and that drags the game down, making what could have been a great accomplishment just another footnote.  This game has really, really good music.  It borrows from early '90's techno and metal, and uses sounds that you've never heard from a Genesis.  If possible, play on a model 1 Genesis, the one with the stereo-out jack on the front and plug it into a stereo.  Its that good.  The sound effects are good as well.

Now if there is a fault with this game, its that it may be too easy for some hardcore shoot 'em fans. Between the amount of power ups, self-sacrificing drones, and continues, this game is a relatively easy going affair.  I myself am not that good, so I'm ok with this not being too hard, but I know that some would factor difficulty into an overall grade.

As far as a grade, I'll just say that this game is AWESOME.  I don't want to get into quantifying the various aspects individually, at the end of the day, my rating should be how I feel about the game.  I do believe it is one of the best of its kind on the Genesis, and even possibly one of the best games of all time.


This game is also highly regarded in most gamer circles, and highly sought after.  In this day an age, it is increasingly unlikely that you will stumble upon one for cheap, unless someone's parents are cleaning out their garage and selling games in a box at a garage sale.  I first purchased it on the Wii virtual console, and that's not a bad option as the Wii pro controller is fantastic.  About a month after buying it there, I walked into a game shop and saw it in the glass case for a criminally low price, relatively speaking.  Obviously I bought it and it remains my one of my best bargain buys of all time.  If you are a fan of the genre, do yourself a favor and check it out.  You won't regret it.