Due to their significance in the world of shoot ’em ups, we’ll be covering all the individual titles in M2’s Aleste Collection for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch in the Blissful Death column in the near future. But I thought it was important to talk about the collection as a whole, because it really is a magnificent package — and a perfect example of how retro rereleases can and should be handled.
When rereleasing old games for modern platforms, developers are often put in a tricky situation, because different people seem to want different things.
Some people simply want an experience that is as true as possible to the original console version, warts and all — they just want to be able to play games that they perhaps never had the chance to enjoy back in the day, or which are prohibitively expensive to collect for their original platforms these days. The Evercade console is a great solution if you’re interested in this sort of experience — just look at the recently announced Renovation Collection and its bundle of games that would cost you around $1,400 if you picked them up for their original host platforms!
At the other end of the spectrum, some people see retro rereleases for modern platforms as an ideal opportunity for today’s developers to polish up the messy parts of those crusty old games as well as adding modern enhancements and quality of life features that make the experiences more palatable to a modern audience. The Sega Ages releases for Nintendo Switch are a fantastic example of this — the games feel true to their original incarnations while still having plenty of modern conveniences that, for many people, make them much more enjoyable than they were back in the day.
M2’s ShotTriggers series, of which the Aleste Collection is a part, primarily takes this latter approach — though it’s worth noting that you can actually turn most of the “modern” features off if you want a more authentic experience. But after spending some time with these games and enjoying all the insight that the “M2 Gadgets” bring to your gameplay, you may well find these new features an essential part of upping your game.
Aleste Collection includes five games in total: the original Aleste for Sega Mark III (which can also be played in its Master System incarnation, where it was known as Power Strike); Power Strike II for Sega Master System; GG Aleste and GG Aleste II for Sega Game Gear; and the brand new GG Aleste 3, developed by M2 themselves in 2020 rather than the original games’ Compile.
The latter game is a particularly interesting inclusion in the Aleste Collection, because no-one will have any nostalgia for it specifically, only the series as a whole. However, M2 made the deliberate choice to develop the game as an emulated Game Gear title rather than natively for Switch and PlayStation 4, and as such it feels like it fits right in with the rest of this collection; it feels authentically “retro” despite being a brand new title. And it’s really good; but more on that when we cover the individual titles in the collection in detail.
Each of the games in the Aleste Collection is set up to play in pin-sharp pixel format with the M2 Gadgets active. If you so desire, you can add visual filters, scanlines and adjustments to the game’s aspect ratio and screen size, and the M2 Gadgets can either be turned on or off selectively or removed altogether. You can also choose to play with a blank backdrop or wallpaper.
The M2 Gadgets are very much the highlight of the Aleste Collection experience. Besides constantly displaying basic information such as score and lives (which, in these 8-bit titles, you couldn’t necessarily rely on being visible on screen at all times) you also get comprehensive readouts allowing you to analyse pretty much every game mechanic that is going on at any given moment. In some games, you can even see the internal hexadecimal code that determines the game’s adaptive difficulty level, so you can see what actions have an impact on the game experience.
Given that all these games are 8-bit titles, the mechanics aren’t super complicated, but it is very nice to be able to have all this information readily available to you at a moment’s notice. At any time, you can see how many power chips you need to collect to upgrade your ship’s main weapon, how many lives you have, whether or not you are invincible after picking up a power-up, how much charge your special weapon has left in it, how much damage your spinning defence drones can take before they disappear and much, much more.
Probably the most useful function is also one of the simplest: a straightforward reminder of what all the power-ups do. Given that it can be easy to forget exactly what these floating number or letter pickups mean in the midst of battle, having an on-screen guide to refer to is immensely helpful — and the fact it shows how the weapon will change its behaviour at different power levels is a really nice touch, too.
On top of the games themselves, there’s also an Aleste Challenge Mode, which breaks all the games down into their component field stages and bosses and allows you to both practice them and attempt to earn gold, silver or bronze awards depending on your efficiency and how many times you need to replay. Completing challenges earns you points, and collecting the trophies provides an enjoyably compelling metagame to engage with if you perhaps don’t have time to play an entire Aleste all the way through from start to finish.
Alternatively, each game in the collection also allows you to quick save and quick load while you play, so if you’re struggling with a particular part of a game and want to try it over and over again, simply save your game before you reach it and repeatedly reload until you think you’ve nailed it. This whole package really is incredibly considerately designed for shoot ’em up fans of all ages.
Regrettably, at the time of writing there’s no sign of an official western localisation of the Aleste Collection, meaning your only option for now is to import it from somewhere like Play-Asia. Thankfully, while there is a fair bit of Japanese text in the game, it’s pretty much all on the game’s instructions screens — and you know how to play a shoot ’em up, surely? All the M2 Gadgets’ information, meanwhile, is presented in English and is thus simple to parse for even those of us whose knowledge of Japanese text is limited.
All in all, the Aleste Collection is an essential purchase for shoot ’em up fans. Not only are these simply great shoot ’em ups, presented here in a manner that is authentic to their original releases, the additional information that the M2 Gadgets provide will genuinely help you improve your game and understand how they work a bit better.
Now, how about an Aleste Collection 2 with MUSHA in it, hmm? Surely only a matter of time…
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