I love “failed” systems. I have a fair few of them in my collection, because despite the fact that they were a commercial failure, more often than not they have their fair share of fantastic games that you can’t get anywhere else. And, as GG Aleste demonstrates, the Sega Game Gear is absolutely no exception to this rule.
The Game Gear might not be the first place you’d think to look for some top-notch shoot ’em up action, but as we’ve already seen in our explorations of the original Aleste and Power Strike II, developer Compile was, for some reason, seemingly fascinated with putting out games for platforms for platforms you wouldn’t tend to associate with shmups.
And, damn, they are good at putting out shoot ’em ups on platforms where you wouldn’t expect to see them, for sure; GG Aleste has, since my first encounter with it as part of M2’s excellent Aleste Collection for Switch, become an all-time favourite that I keep coming back to.
In GG Aleste (the GG stands for “Galvanic Gunner”, not “Game Gear”, as you might expect), you take on the role of teenage genius pilot Ellinor Waizen. Since she’s a top pilot, she’s had a spacecraft designed specifically for her — and wouldn’t you know it? A perfect opportunity has arisen to make use of it.
In 2065, an organisation called Moon Child destroyed the Integrated Earth State’s Space Defence Force, and conquered the Earth. The few surviving SDF soldiers were sent to a colony to work for their new mechanical masters — but Ellinor’s grandfather Seft Waizen manages to sneak in the GG Aleste fighter craft for her to make use of. She’s the surviving humans’ last great hope for survival — and perhaps liberation. Will she succeed?
Well, probably yes, to be perfectly honest, since GG Aleste is a very easy shoot ’em up — but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. Far from it, actually; if nothing else, it’s a delightfully satisfying blaster whose low difficulty level can serve as a much-appreciated massage to the ego any time you need it. And sometimes we all need something like that.
Aside from that though, it’s a very well-designed shoot ’em up. Eschewing completely unique attack waves for each stage, GG Aleste instead makes use of an approach where there are a variety of different possible enemy formations that you’ll see over the course of the game as a whole, and you’ll repeatedly encounter them in various sequences.
This actually remains a popular approach in shoot ’em ups to this day — to name just one, the fantastic Raging Blasters does it — and is a great means of making the game quite accessible to shoot ’em up newcomers. Instead of having to memorise entire stages at a time, you just need to familiarise yourself with the various formations that might come your way — and recognise the tell-tale signs that one of these formations is about to start.
Naturally, each new stage does introduce new elements, but the fact that you’re still encountering familiar attack waves right up until the end of the game keeps things feeling fresh and consistent — much like you’re fighting an army of machines. And that’s just one of many ways that GG Aleste is a strongly thematic-feeling shoot ’em up; there’s a distinct sense of an unfolding narrative as you play through the game.
This is primarily achieved through the progression of levels, which are varied and interesting in terms of design, structure and even length; one of the most memorable levels in the game is also one of the shortest, since it consists of nothing more than a strafing run across the top of a single, large enemy battleship. But in context it makes sense; before our Ellinor would be able to attack the enemy base, it stands to reason that she’d need to blast a significant hole in their fleet.
The final stage is a particular highlight, featuring a distinctly bio-organic look and feel, culminating in a delightfully weird-looking boss that has a both human-looking and animalistic face; as the battle proceeds, you proceed to blow large chunks out of both of these features, making your opponent look more and more monstrously mechanical as time passes. Eventually, your final conflict is against nothing more than a little escape pod — but that damn thing can actually put up a surprisingly convincing fight.
Ellinor is well-armed for her mission. Like other Aleste games, the GG Aleste features both a primary forward-firing and secondary weapon, though in this case both weapons fire with a single button. The forward-firing cannon can be upgraded by collecting “P” chips that drop from specific enemies, while the secondary weapons can be switched by collecting letters, or powered up by grabbing large “P” blocks that look distinct from the “P” chips.
As always for Aleste, the variety of secondary weapons allows for many different play styles, and includes the usual piercing laser, napalm bombs, homing energy blasts, wide-ranging wave beams and spinning shields. Getting defeated doesn’t cause you to lose everything as in the original Aleste; it simply drops both your primary and secondary weapons down by one level, and there are plenty of opportunities to build those back up as you progress.
There are lots of opportunities to earn extra lives, too; a couple of bonus stages over the course of the complete game can reward you with a huge amount of points (and, by extension, extra lives) and, so long as you pay close attention to what’s happening on screen at all times, you should be able to negotiate most situations that the game throws at you.
Like the other installments in the Aleste Collection, the modern ports of GG Aleste feature the M2 Gadgets around the side of the play area, providing helpful feedback and information on what is going on.
This is particularly welcome with the Game Gear games, since the original platform’s limited resolution tended to mean that developers would eschew displaying the player’s score on screen during actual gameplay — here, however, your score plus how many points you need for your next extra life are displayed at all times on the Gadgets.
There are subtle mechanics you might not notice were it not for the Gadgets, too; the momentary invincibility that occurs any time you pick up a power-up is probably the most notable one. This is actually a mainstay of the Aleste series as a whole, and it’s a helpful system to get your head around — it means you can often put yourself in danger to grab a helpful power-up so long as you zip back out of the way immediately!
GG Aleste lacks the dynamic difficulty level of many of the series’ other entries, which might account for the relative ease with which it can be beaten — but as noted, the fact it’s easy shouldn’t discourage you from playing it. On the contrary, its gorgeous designs, excellent sense of wordless narrative and solid gameplay make it highly enjoyable to play — and the additional features of the M2 collection mean that you can also challenge yourself to speedruns and no-miss runs with tools that help you track your progress in those regards.
Is it the best Aleste? It’s certainly a damned good one — and there’s two more GG Aleste titles to follow after this one. So don’t pass this one up if you get the chance to give it a go!
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