For many people, one of the big attractions of M2’s Aleste Collection, part of their ShotTriggers range, was the fact that it included a brand new game: GG Aleste 3. Yes, said brand new game was not developed for a modern-day platform at all, but instead created specifically for the Sega Game Gear. The limited edition version of the Aleste Collection even came with a teeny-tiny Game Gear Micro that includes a copy of GG Aleste 3.
So yes, rather than being a retro-styled shooter developed for modern systems — think something along the lines of the fantastic Raging Blasters — GG Aleste 3 is a game that was developed for the Sega Game Gear, with all its capabilities and limitations in mind.
But with M2 being the sort of developer they are, they decided to push the Game Gear to its absolute limit — and the result is something that is not only one of the most impressive titles on the platform, it’s a game that stands up very well next to the very best titles the 16-bit home consoles have to offer.
In GG Aleste 3, you take on the role of Luna Waizen, a pilot candidate undergoing her final examination. With this being an Aleste game, her examination is, of course, interrupted by some sort of terrible disaster — in this case, a storm of cyberterrorism attacks that caused a certain organisation to seize control of the Earth’s military power, satellites and space stations.
Blasting off from the Earth Orbital Army Lunar Defense Corps “Moon Child” base — the very same we liberated in GG Aleste II — Luna is the last surviving Aleste pilot who is able to do something about the situation. And thus it’s up to you to guide her through seven stages of frantic blasting in an attempt to sort this mess out once and for all.
Despite not being developed by Compile this time around, M2 has done a great job of capturing the distinctive look and feel of classic Aleste. GG Aleste 3 maintains the series’ tradition of having primary and secondary weapons, with the former being powered up by collecting small power crystals, and the latter being increased in strength with large “P” tiles.
This time around, there are six different subweapons to use. Rather than appearing at specific moments in the stages, subweapon pickups now cycle around their letters so you can always pick the exact one you want if you time it right. The jury is still out as to whether or not M2 deliberately made the order of this cycling spell out “ACiD FaRT” to make it easier to remember — but even if they didn’t, I still remember it that way.
The subweapons in GG Aleste 3 include an “All-Range” shot, which fires in the opposite direction to that in which you’re moving; a series of projectiles that fire straight forward; an arrangement of defensive bits that rotate around your craft; a storm of fire bombs; a pair of lasers either side of your craft; or a “turret gun” which acts as a spread shot.
All the subweapons have their uses in various scenarios, and doubtless each player will find their own favourites. I personally favour the turret gun because having a good spread of bullets is always useful, but the piercing abilities of the fire and laser weapons are also handy — particularly when dealing with bosses.
The bosses are especially spectacular when you consider the limited hardware that is pushing them around the screen. They’re all gigantic, imaginatively designed, and make use of challenging but learnable attack patterns. Some might be a little frustrating the first time you encounter them — the unforgiving nature of Stage 2’s boss is a good example — but it’s an immensely rewarding feeling to finally best them for the first time.
In this respect, GG Aleste 3 feels like it has a good grasp on what a solid difficulty curve is — certainly more so than the first GG Aleste, and definitely on a par with the second. It’s a game that’s not afraid to kick your ass, but it doesn’t overly punish you for making a mistake.
You only lose a single level of wepaon power when you lose a life, extra lives are reasonably easy to come by, and the game features a “G-Field Generator” that allows you to take an extra hit if you collect enough power-up tokens. Unlike the similar Round Field Generator in GG Aleste II, though, you can’t stockpile additional tokens while the G-Field is active; lose it, and you have to start collecting all over again. So don’t lose it.
Of particular note in GG Aleste 3 is the excellent soundtrack by Manabu Namiki. There are some wonderfully elaborate compositions in the game, even within the limitations of the Game Gear’s three-voice (plus one noise channel) sound chip. And somehow the game manages to incorporate a variety of satisfying and helpful sound effects into its action alongside the music; it really is a fine demonstration of how, in the right hands, it’s possible to do a great deal with relatively little in the way of resources.
Namiki’s music in particular sounds obviously more ambitious in scope than many other Game Gear soundtracks; there’s a much broader variety of waveforms used as the main “instruments” in the tracks, and the overall texture and complexity of the music is a lot more interesting than many tunes heard on this hardware back in the day. Doubtless at least part of this is down to the fact that Namiki probably had a bit more in the way of storage space to play with than the limited capacity of ROM cartridges from the Game Gear’s heyday, but regardless of how it happened, it’s still impressive to hear some delightfully complex chiptunes emanating from that poor overworked TI SN76489.
GG Aleste 3 is a great game, then; M2 successfully managed to live up to the legacy of the series with their own original creation. It’s probably not the Aleste you should tackle first if you’re new to the series — easing yourself in with the first GG Aleste is highly recommended, both because it’s a great game and pleasantly easy — but it’s definitely one you’ll find yourself coming back to time and time again, both before and after you’ve mastered its numerous challenges.
And so that does it for the fantastic Aleste Collection. Here’s hoping we get a second volume at some point in the future, including the widely beloved MUSHA. I’m sure it’ll happen at some point or other — in the meantime, I’ve got plenty of work to do attempting to master these lovely 8-bit games!
Which are your favourite Alestes?
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