Monday, June 04, 2007

Astra Superstars on Sega Saturn

The only bad thing I can say about this game is that the portraits in the opening look like cheap placeholders - as though the design team intended to finish them properly but couldn't. Other than that, I think Astra Superstars is a killer game, one of the great standouts in the Saturn library.

I'll be bold enough to place Astra in the top level of Saturn fighting games, 2D or 3D. It's better than any of the traditional fighters released here in the US, except for maybe Street Fighter Alpha 2.

This game is something of a spiritual cousin to Waku Waku 7, an endearingly goofy fighter also created by Sunsoft. Astra Superstars is seen as the unofficial sequel of sorts, which doesn't really help us all that much, because it doesn't really clue us into what kind of fighter we're getting. Other than the fact that it's extremely clever and weird. But that should be enough to hook you in, right?

The hook to this game is the fact that everyone is flying in the air. Usually this should earn groans, for fear of yet another lousy and pointless Dragonball Z cash-in. But this time, Sunsoft actually makes the approach work. They make it work by offering a large collection of impressive attack moves, a wide array of characters - the girl dressed in a Santa suit is my favorite - the ability to fly above and below your opponent, and an extremely solid fighting engine.

Now here's one thing that impresses me. The grading system, a common staple of fighting games, actually judges you in real-time. Continue to whittle away useless attacks, and your grade steadily goes down. It also seems to punish you for using the same moves again and again, though I could be wrong on this. For a game so deeply dependent on spectacular, seisure-inducing combo strings, this is a nice incentive to mix things up.

Now, Astra Superstars is supported by the 1M RAM cart, but it's not necessary to play. I'm assuming the cart will reduce loading times and add a few in-betweens to the animations. It's a tribute to Santa Claus (the designers) and Sunsoft that you wouldn't even notice anything was missing, thanks to the amazing animation and endless assault of visual effects. It looks more like a Dreamcast fighter, and demonstrates perfectly just how powerful Saturn can be.

There's a whole stack of gameplay movies on YouTube. Here's a couple of them to show you just what the game is all about. But you'll still need to play it yourselves to really appreciate it.

No comments: