Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bulk Slash - Sega Saturn

Bulk Slash is a 3D robot arcade shoot-em-up for Sega Saturn that feels like the classic 2D shooters of the 16-bit era, fused with the 3D platforming paradigm of Super Mario 64.  It's fast and smooth, sharp and clear, brightly colored, packed with futuristic cities and tanks and robots and massive explosions.  Here is a game that embraces the magic of "replayability," almost like NiGHTS with guns.  Here lies a textbook example of what makes the Saturn so great.

Oh, and Bulk Slash was also created by Technosoft.  Sort of.  Hudson formed CA Productions, the software studio, by stealing away members of Technosoft's staff for the twin PCE/Turbo-CD shooter classics, Gate and Lords of Thunder.  I learned this recently, and it felt like a light clicked in my head.  I had a nagging suspicion that Bulk Slash shared some secret connection to Herzog Zwei, in the robot that transforms into a jet, in the way enemy targets are protected by armored units.  Turns out my hunch was right.  I strongly suspect some members of the Herzog Zwei team were, in fact, involved in this game.

I love the variety of environments, missions, goals, and surprises in Bulk Slash.  Early levels involve flying through cities, smashing everything in sight.  Later levels involve escort missions, bombing runs, and run-and-gun missions through fortresses.  Power-up weapons are hidden around and require you to march around carefully, instead of flying and blasting everything in sight.  There's even a bit of a dating sim (a video game genre strangely popular in Japan), where you choose a young woman as your navigator, and proceed to impress her with your flying and shooting skills.  Oh, and you have to actually find these women, too.  I get a laugh whenever my navigator starts nagging me every time I get shot.  I'm trying to fight a war over here!

It's interesting how the PCE and Saturn were the two great "lost" video game consoles, condemned to failure in the West, while thriving successfully in native Japan with mountains of great games.  Thank goodness for the internet, I say.  How many of these "lost" classics would remain lost without Youtube, message boards, online retailers and downloads?  There are so many good Saturn games that you'll probably lose count, and if you're a collector, you'll likely never own all the titles.  Make sure Bulk Slash is near the top of your list.  It's a terrific video game and I can't recommend it highly enough.

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