Blissful Death: Giant robo shooting in MUSHA

You may recall a while back we looked at the excellent Aleste Collection from M2 ShotTriggers, which included Aleste, Power Strike II, GG Aleste, GG Aleste II and GG Aleste 3. That’s not all there is to the Aleste series, though — there are several other games worth checking out, too. One of them is 1990’s MUSHA (aka Musha Aleste in Japan), originally released for Mega Drive in 1990 and currently readily available as part of the Sega Mega Drive library that is part of the Nintendo Switch Online and Expansion Pack subscription plan.

MUSHA, which stands for Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armour, is a vertically scrolling shoot ’em up in which you take on the role of a mecha pilot named Terri as she attempts to deal with the threat posed by a super-intelligent computer threatening the Earth. The game was originally intended to be a direct sequel to Aleste, but during development the aesthetic was changed to be more heavily inspired by Japanese mecha anime, and the soundtrack was revamped with a more “metal” style.

MUSHA

MUSHA is one of those games that had a bit of a mixed reception back on its original release. During the Mega Drive’s heyday, critics and players alike felt a certain amount of shoot ’em up fatigue; there were so many shoot ’em ups released for the platform that eventually everyone reached a point where they started to become a bit tired of them. This situation has changed considerably these days, however; nowadays, the Mega Drive, like the PC Engine, is beloved precisely because of how many excellent shoot ’em ups it played host to!

With this in mind, it’s perhaps understandable that while MUSHA had a fairly tepid response back on its original release, in more recent years it is regarded as a top-notch entry in the Mega Drive’s library. Pioneering gaming YouTuber Mark Bussler of Classic Game Room, for example, frequently brought up MUSHA alongside Truxton as not only one of the best shooters on the platform, but one of the best games on the platform, full stop. He even went so far as to produce an astonishing seven-part review of the game.

But what is MUSHA, and why is is so well-regarded today? Well, simply because it’s an excellent example of a shoot ’em up. Its basic mechanics and controls are solid and responsive, and it layers interesting variations on the usual formula atop the basics. Its levels are long and interesting to explore, and the game presents a stiff challenge while still remaining accessible to newcomers.

MUSHA

Perhaps most importantly, it’s a feast for the eyes and ears, featuring huge enemy and player sprites, impressively smooth scrolling, a rocking soundtrack and some satisfying sound effects to complement the action.

MUSHA’s mechanics, like many of the other Aleste titles, revolve around collecting power chips and subweapons. Shooting specific enemy types allows you to acquire power chips, which will increase the power of your basic shot, and collecting coloured (rather than numbered this time) power-ups allows you to equip various subweapons; these can be fired independently of your main cannon, and can be increased in strength by collecting additional matching-coloured power-ups.

There’s another use for power chips, too, which is to add option craft to the side of your mecha. For every three chips you collect, you acquire an option; up to two of these can fly alongside you at once, with the remainder being added to a stock. Options can block shots, but can also be destroyed if they’re hit; if this occurs, one from your stock will come out to take the place of the destroyed one.

MUSHA

Options can also be toggled between six different arrangements, which allow you to supplement your frontal firepower, increase your spread, fire behind you, shoot in the opposite direction to which you’re moving, fire in a “rolling” pattern around you or home in on enemies. A simple tap of the Mega Drive’s A button (Y on the Switch) changes through these formations in order; unfortunately, if you miss the arrangement you want, you’ll have to toggle through all of them again, since there’s no “back” button!

Between the three different special weapons — one of which is more of a spinning defensive barrier — and the various arrangements in which you can put your options, you can make yourself quite a formidable force of death-dealing destruction in MUSHA. And that’s good, because there are lots of things that would like to make you dead.

Each stage features a good combination of popcorn enemy formations and more powerful foes that demand a little more tactical play, and the overall sense of pace ebbs and flows nicely. It’s not relentless — but it is challenging and thrilling. And that’s just how a good shoot ’em up should be.

MUSHA

Bosses are a particular highlight, often drawing heavy inspiration from traditional Japanese imagery — the first stage, for example, concludes with a Japanese castle on tank tracks, with miniguns poking out of the windows to take pot shots at you. All the bosses have distinct, learnable attack patterns that make repeated play of MUSHA incredibly rewarding — and the game features an excellent difficulty curve that ramps things up nicely as you progress through the seven stages.

It’s not hard to see why MUSHA is such a beloved game from the Mega Drive’s library — and with its inclusion in the Nintendo Switch Online and Expansion Pack subscription, it’s a lot more accessible than ever. Original Mega Drive copies can command astronomical prices these days; boxed copies typically command £150 to £300 depending on condition, and cart-only versions are often reproductions or ROM hacks.

So then, what are you waiting for? One of the best shoot ’em ups out there awaits, so, as the saying goes, get in the robot, reader.

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Pete Davison
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