Monday, January 27, 2014

MUSHA (Mega Drive)

Checkpoints OFF
3 Difficulty levels
8 Stages
Ship speed selectable
- - - - - - -
Developed by Compile
Published by Seismic in 1990

Even though MUSHA is part of the Aleste series, it is more of an offshoot than what we would normally call a sequel. Rare and expensive are two words constantly associated with the Genesis cartridge, in one of those uncommon inversions of the norm (where Japanese goods are often costlier than their Western counterparts, when these exist). Strangely enough, the Japanese game is named MUSHA Aleste whereas the Genesis version excludes all references to the Aleste brand, starting with the title. The meaning of MUSHA is clearly displayed in the game’s box: it stands for “Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor”.

Despite being released very early in the Mega Drive lifespan, I only came to know MUSHA much later in my gaming life. The oddest thing was my very first impression: in its naked form (naked = with no special weapon) this super hybrid armor reminded me of a beetle. Then for a long while I just referred to MUSHA as the game of the “flying beetle” (don’t mock me, I know beetles are capable of flying). As the intro shows, a group of pilots with their armors is suddenly knocked out by a powerful enemy from afar. You, as the player, are the sole survivor. You decide to go into battle all alone, against the express order of your commander. The adventure starts and soon you see yourself flying over elevated Japanese villages, a factory with moving walls, deep ravines, thunderbolt-stricken clouds, forests, huge battleships and a deadly enemy fortress.

According to the tradition of previous Aleste games, relentless action awaits the player in seven stages of frantic, dynamic gameplay. Graphic design excels at pretty much all levels, presenting creative enemies and bosses based on all sorts of ancient Japanese warfare/warrior culture while offering fast scrolling with lots of bullets and debris flying everywhere. Best of all, it’s virtually free of any slowdown. MUSHA is a technical 16-bit marvel, it's no wonder this game is so highly regarded by so many people.

It's real!

Replacing the spaceship with a flying robot shifted the series to a different level, and that’s another reason for the game's widespread aesthetic appreciation (the idea of a badass mecha clicked much better than the walking robot of Aleste Gaiden, for instance). The music also seems to play a big part in the community praise, even though I particularly consider the soundtrack to be overrated. One thing is certain though: MUSHA plays like a charm from start to finish, without a single dull section. It's a busy shooter and a considerably manageable achievement at the same time, easy yet highly entertaining. The lower difficulty is somehow compensated by the lesser number of extends (when compared to previous chapters in the series), which imposes a certain degree of distress depending on where you die.

Okay, so your friends were pulverized and you’re alone as flaming skulls start dropping from the top. Button C shoots, button A cycles the arrangement of your options and button B fires the currently active special weapon. Hovering harmless ships are responsible for bringing two types of upgrades: power chips and special weapons. Chips slowly increase the main firepower while adding extra options that automatically replace the dead ones (3 chips for 1 option, see beside the life stock on the top). Special weapons come in three colors: green for lasers, orange for cluster bombs and blue for a rotating shield. Rule: stick to the same special weapon to increase its power up to “arm” level 4. Having a special weapon is not only good for attack but also for defense, since you just lose it instead of dying when hit. Death and loss of all power only occurs if the robot gets shot while carrying no special weapon. I guess the comparison is appropriate for those who know Darius: a weaponless mecha in MUSHA is much like a shieldless Silver Hawk.

It’s also possible to select between eight available flying speeds by pausing. This is the only functional oversight of the gameplay: why not map button B to fire both shot + special weapon and leave button C for speed selection? Anyway, pausing is no big deal, the game memorizes the setting in between credits and even upon a console reset. The last part of the basic gameplay is the behavior of options. They eventually die by taking too much damage and get instantly crushed when touching walls. Choosing the option configuration that best fits each situation is important, as in the wall gaps of the high speed scramble of stage 3 (keep them in back or reverse) or the mid-boss of stage 7 (select form-free to hit him while you stay on the outside). The order of option cycling is form- "forward" → "3way" → "back" → "reverse" → "roll" → "free" → "forward".

First stage
(courtesy of YouTube user pestro87)

Extends are signaled by a very characteristic coin-like noise. They come with 100.000, 1 million, 5 million, 10 million and every 10 million points afterwards. Normally scoring higher is achieved by milking projectiles and taking all special weapons (4.000 points each), while beating the game adds a massive 100 million bonus to the final score. There are some very shady occurrences of bosses or mid-bosses granting outrageous score boosts, but these seem to be totally random and can’t be properly reproduced.

Unfortunately any normal attempt at scoring higher is useless because the scoring system in MUSHA is broken. I have to admit I was very disappointed when I realized that you can get as many points as you want as soon as the game starts: after the brief shower of flaming skulls wait for the chip carrier, get at least 3 of them to create an option, choose form-reverse and align yourself on one side so that you avoid the turrets and hit only the dropping bullets. When I tested this it took a little over half an hour to achieve one million points - be my guest if you want to counterstop in a few days.

Even with its natural glow diminished by the above screw-up (damn it, Compile!), MUSHA still stands as a game with remarkable fun factor. I really like the attention to details, such as the special weapon cartridges being replaced on the robot's back when you switch colors, the desperate final attempt of that recurring enemy as soon as the ending sequence starts or the black hole ability of a fully powered orange weapon (it even sucks bullets!). From what I remember, direct sequel Robo Aleste doesn't suffer from the same scoring system oversight and is considerably harder as well. Let's see if I can improve my high score on that one soon, for now I'll wrap this text with the picture below, a 1CC of MUSHA on Normal from which 5 million points were achieved with the shameful milking described above.


  1. Congratulations for 1CC and the nice review. About your question: "why not map button B to fire both shot + special weapon and leave button C for speed selection?" I think it's because of the level 4 of special weapon cluster bombs, some midboss can be absorbed by the black hole and sometimes the enemy can stop in your front and attack you and depends the position, you can lost your special weapon. Sincerelly, I think this black it's a useless attack and could be eliminated from the game.

    1. Only for complete my argument, if you have the special weapon cluster weapon and you will fight some midboss, the only way is attack him with regular shoots to not receive any damage.

    2. I don't remember dying from it, but I agree that a level 4 orange cluster weapon does cause confusion with all that sucking of enemies and bullets.... Moreover, level 3 is kinda better because it covers a wider area, ain't it so?

    3. I agree with you, sometimes I played with level 3 orange cluster weapon, but for newbies like me, the blue rotating shield is very good, because the level 4, besides the protection, the shoots causes damage and destroy the regular enemy bullets.

  2. Noticed this when it first came up while showing my brother your site again (said "Remember that guy that 1cc's so many shmups? Well he's done an insane 300 of 'em so far?!" lol).

    - I recal you mentioning that beatle ramark elsewhere. You didn't seem too impressed with this game was the impression I got too?
    - yeah, I'm noticing many now saying this game is fairly easy. Something that wasn't apparent at first but after a few more playthroughs I kinda finally seeing it.
    - this not dieing while having special weapons is also in Star Soldier series + more Compile shmups & some other shooter too I've noticed it. I think it's a pretty cool feature.
    - I sometimes don't mind pausing for speed selection, but it does break the smooth gameplay flow as a downside. So more bad then good I guess? And I guess there ain't a reason why both buttons shouldn't always be held in this game?
    - Noo!! You milked again. I say if you find these errors, don't abuse them. This way your score is honest & still a show of your skill. Cause the way it is, I'd consider that score completely obsolete since it shows zero purpose.

    So you think this is a great game too. For me it's taking it's time growing on me, but at least I don't mind it now while at first I hated it. But like always, some games really take awhile to click with me. So it's reasuring to hear you like it after 1cc'ing it.

    - Sinful

    1. MUSHA is kinda of a mystery, actually. It has an amazing flow and feel (hence the enthusiasm), yet it is an easy game (hence the "meh"). It's because of the first of these aspects that I enjoy it.

      Aaaand I forgot to mention the Compile-trademark brief invincibility... Perhaps because here it isn't as evident as in Zanac/Aleste?
      As for the milking, my apologies.... I was testing it and then I tried to get those crazy score glitches on mid-bosses but failed it. I had deleted older pics from my local folder and went with it anyway.... Well, I promise I won't milk anymore - not even for test purposes or whatever - if the scoring system is broken. :)

    2. What, really, just like that and you'll stop milking?! Cool.

      Oh, and about the music. You said it was nothing special. But I think I know why many like it or might like it? Well, it's pretty obvious for me to see. It's very guitar/rock like. And the Genesis excelled at this kind of music by leaps & bounds in my opinion. Plus it's pretty upbeat with a lot a drumiing going on to pump folks up playing this game. So very suitable for a shmup.

      Had to use the music test to hear some of the rest, but it's not the same as playing the game, will have to comment further on this after some more play. So yeah, I'm actually having some trouble with this game... you know what, I don't think I ever 1cc'ed a vert either? Maybe I have more trouble with them?

      And you never mentioned what you think of the weapons. As which is you fave & such. But I guess this is beause you were picking them all up for score?

    3. In easy areas I'll use any weapon, later on I'd just avoid blue. Orange and green are both okay.
      Music? There are some good tunes thrown in, I admit that. But as a whole it just doesn't click with me... Now Robo Aleste, that's a different story. :)

  3. Great to find your website for references! just picked it up in Japan last month and thought it was a good title as I always loved the soldier series in the PC Engines
    Been a gamer since the 70's, Arcades first then PC Engine onwards all NTSC titles & systems and all games brought in the wild.
    Not been able to read Japanese & lack of research (only couple of months ago I started to read up on the internet , I missed out on some of the shmups, mostly the expensive title, I was late on Musha...finish it in an evening.

    1. Cool!
      Ah Japan....
      I hope I can pick up something in Japan one day as well. Even if it's a cold!

  4. Will try to complete my schmups collections going forward :)
    Use to judge scmups games solely based on packaging & childhood memory.
    Can't wait to go back.
    Great work!

  5. Super Aleste's scoring system is broken too
    still, these shooters are easily among the top of the 4th gen! (of VG systems i mean)