For home computers and consoles in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, it was considered essential to have conversions of popular arcade games. Sometimes, on very rare occasions, this meant pixel perfect replica’s, but often there were compromises as arcade hardware offered technical specifications far in advance of anything you could buy for the home unless you were rich. In the early ‘90’s, that gap was perfectly demonstrated by SNK’s Neo Geo, which offered perfect arcade games because they were running on hardware equivalent to the arcade machines themselves – with a price to match. Yet as time progressed, the gap closed, and this is where Starblade comes in.
A Namco arcade title released in 1991, Starblade is an on-rails shooter featuring, for the time, rather decent 3D graphics. True, they take advantage of the on-rails nature of the game and we’re not getting any kind of texturing but what you do get are big, bold and colourful polygons that move at a fair clip. Naturally, there were console conversions. Never mind the lacklustre Sega CD version with some of the enemy ships reduced to wireframe models, or the later PlayStation release (entitled Starblade Alpha). No, we’re looking at the 3DO version that offered not one, but two versions of the game!
From the menu screen, you can choose either version. The difference? The first option gives you the original arcade graphics whilst the second gives you 3DO enhanced graphics with bitmaps. The is serious stuff here! Depending on how you view early 3D graphics, you’ll either love or hate the upgraded version. Me, I kind of like it but the resolution is just low enough to make the new style a bit too blurry and I prefer the original’s honking great polygons. That said, if you squint hard enough with the upgraded graphics, you could pretend you’re watching an early episode of Babylon 5. Of course, that could just be my failing eyesight… It is a nice touch though and covers both bases when it comes to marketing: arcade original and super-dooper shiny new console graphics. In either version, they move along at a decent clip, though there is some slowdown when the screen gets busy.
Sound is pretty limited but you do get a decent amount of sampled speech, even if it does get a little repetitive. Whilst aiming for a Star Wars vibe, the voice acting falls flat as the guy providing it sounds ever so slightly bored. Who knew space combat could be so apathetic? There is no in-game music; just various sound effects, that sampled speech and a very jarring alarm when your shields are perilously low. What music you do get, on the high score screen, is instantly forgettable.
Controls now and here is a gripe. The arcade original had a joystick controller and the later PlayStation version could use the PS mouse. The 3DO settles for the standard controller which is ok, but a tad sluggish. The developers thought of this and with the use of L and R buttons, you can speed up your targeting reticule. However, the reticule is still a too slow and you will take hits when you feel you should be hitting every incoming missile. Maybe this was a design choice. After all, it’s an arcade game that demands re-plays – the whole point is to get people to keep feeding those coins in. However, for the home conversion, I really would have liked to have seen more responsive targeting controls. Mind you, I think using a mouse with the PS version is taking things too far.
For all of that, there is still one key flaw to mention. It’s an arcade game, which in this case means it suffers from a lack of re-playability. As part of this review, I used an unlimited continues cheat to see how quickly I could finish the game, and at something like under 25 minutes, once you’ve finished the game, that’s it, you will have seen it all. OK, playing without cheats provides a hefty challenge but my point is this. Outside of the fancy graphics option, little else has been added to the title during the home conversion. This leaves me is a quandary: Who is this game for?
If you’re a fan of the original arcade then you’ll love this conversion. Technically well done and with the aforementioned graphical bells and whistles, it really does give you the arcade game at home. However, if you just have a passing interest or just fancy a quite arcade blast, then there isn’t much here to justify the full price tag. True, this has always been an issue with arcade titles but it’s especially valid here. Even getting onto the scoreboard requires you to complete the title, and that’s something that will take some time, especially with the aforementioned sluggish controls. I can’t help but think that players might get bored and simply give up.
Is this a classic 3DO title? No, not by any means. It is, however, an accomplished conversion of a title that, prior to the 3DO, simply couldn’t have been seen on a home console. Despite that, the game has a severe long-term replay problem that maybe should have been addressed in the conversion process and as such, is not worthy of a higher score.
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Despite iffy controls and a severe lack of depth, this is a technically accomplished arcade conversion that will appeal to fans.