1993’s Power Strike II is an interesting installment in the Aleste series for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s not called Aleste — the game that was actually called Aleste 2 only came out for MSX in Japan in 1989.
Secondly, it was the last game in the series to be developed by Compile. Thirdly, it was only ever released in Europe and Brazil — not even Japan. And finally, it swaps the sci-fi future of the previous Aleste for a steampunk alternate history version of Italy in the 1930s.
Yes, according to Power Strike II lore, the early 1930s saw the world in a bit of a state after the Great Depression of 1929, forcing many people into poverty — and a significant number of the impoverished into a life of crime. This being a steampunk alternate history, however, the impoverished criminals somehow had the resources available to mobilise a series of mechanised monstrosities and become Sky Pirates — and it’s up to you to bring peace to the skies over Italy.
Honestly, the steampunk angle pretty much ceases to matter outside of the narrative setup for the game, because once we get into the action it’s pure Aleste. We’ve got the same numbered power-ups from the original game, we’ve got the same adaptive difficulty level and the same varied, flexible playstyle as in the first game — this time around, you can even choose your starting power-up so you can get right into making use of your favourite weapon.
Like in Aleste, gameplay in Power Strike II alternates between surviving a lengthy “field” section filled with choreographed setpieces and enemy formations to deal with, and boss encounters that challenge you to overcome some tricky attack patterns. On paper, it’s a fairly conventional shoot ’em up — but it’s the game’s own little tweaks to the formula that make it special and interesting.
Firstly, the game features a mechanic called “Super Burst”, whereby holding down the fire button causes you to rapid-fire both your primary and secondary weapons, and releasing it causes you to unleash a “charge” you’d built up according to how long you’d held the fire button down. Said charge is not only more powerful than your normal shots, it also allows you to cancel certain types of bullets, making it a powerful defensive move if timed right.
In the original Master System release of Power Strike II, there was no on-screen indicator of how much Super Burst charge you’d built up, but in the excellent M2 ShotTriggers version of the Aleste Collection, one of the features on the M2 Gadgets for Power Strike II is a numerical and graphical readout of your Super Burst charge level.
This makes it much easier to judge when would be a good time to let go of the fire button and set off your Super Burst; purists, of course, might scoff at making use of such “tools” that weren’t available in the original, but if so, you can always turn the M2 Gadgets off, remember!
Secondly, the game adds another type of power-up called Spin Shields. You can carry up to two of these at once, and the colour they are when you pick them up determines exactly what type of Spin Shield they are. Regardless of type, they will spin around you and cancel bullets, but red shields will increase your standard shot power, blue shields will make your shots pierce through enemies, and yellow shields will increase the spread of your shots.
Much as with the Super Burst mechanic, the M2 Gadgets also provide additional information about the Spin Shields you currently have equipped — including both the type and the amount of power they have remaining, which drains with each bullet they absorb or enemy they destroy. This is very helpful information, as it gives you an idea of how well-protected you are at any given moment — and when you need to start thinking about being more careful!
To be honest, you’ll want to spend most of your time in Power Strike II being careful, because this is not an easy game. It’s easy for the screen to get thick with bullets and enemy formations, so it’s important to make good use of all the tools at your disposal to try and keep the skies (and ground) ahead of you as clear as possible. And when boss time rolls around, you’ll need to watch their attack patterns very carefully to find suitable openings — as well as keeping well out of the way as necessary!
The original Aleste was already pushing the Master System and Sega Mark III pretty hard, but Power Strike II goes even further, with higher resolution, more detailed graphics and a significant amount more going on at any given time. Naturally, this leads to a certain amount of expected slowdown and flickering at times — but it’s pretty impressive quite how well the Master System manages to keep up with the action even when things get hectic.
And, as with the other entries found in the M2 ShotTriggers Aleste Collection, the addition of the M2 Gadgets actually makes the game feel surprisingly “modern” despite its technological limitations — the on-screen information makes it clear that there are actually some rather deep, interesting mechanics at play rather than simple shooting.
If you’re exploring the Aleste series in its entirety, don’t sleep on Power Strike II just because it isn’t called Aleste, or because it never got a Japanese release. This is authentic 8-bit Compile blasting at its finest — and is one of the finest shooters the Master System has to offer.
But that should be no surprise from a series that managed to put out some amazing shmups for the Game Gear, of all platforms — more on that next time!
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