Sunday, February 12, 2023

Spriggan Powered (SNES)

Checkpoints OFF
3 Difficulty levels
6 Stages
Ship speed fixed
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Developed by Naxat Soft
Published by Naxat Soft in 1996

Series like Spriggan aren’t what you normally see (or used to see) in the gaming world. Spriggan Mark 2 - Re-Terraform Project had already shifted lots of things around in comparison to the first Spriggan, including pivotal features such as the scrolling direction. Both games were released for the PC Engine CD in Japan and at least complement each other as far as the overall theme goes, an aspect that the third chapter Spriggan Powered inherits. Final game in the franchise and released exclusively for the Super Famicom at the end of the console's lifespan, its development is credited to ghost company Micronics with no involvement whatsoever from Compile.

With Compile off the boat, it’s no wonder Spriggan Powered feels a lot different from Spriggan Mark 2. Even though a couple elements are kept in place in the gameplay, this time you control only one mecha from beginning to end with no story intermissions across six levels of increasing difficulty. Dynamic performance takes a hit and at times the game feels sluggish, especially during some of the boss fights. The music isn’t bad but not remarkable either and in graphical terms the game is serviceable, yet sprites tend to be small. A touch of mode-7 effects in the first level doesn't really add to the overall appreciation, but I do like the excessive use of green. Such an underrated color, especially when it comes down to shmups.

Recurring enemy Quinsquin stars in the opening movie and shows up in the initial stages
(courtesy of YouTube user Game Archive - No Commentary Gameplay)

Overall the stage structure of Spriggan Powered is quite simple, with a midboss halfway the level and a main boss waiting at the end. Interesting design decisions serve to spice up the action, such as the vertical stretches where you go into outer space or approach the surface of a planet, the light beam that allows to you to see inside the dark caves of the alien-themed 4th stage or the constant threat of being crushed by closing walls in the final level. Moreover, each stage is unique in how enemies attack: in the 2nd level it’s recommended to stay far back due to enemies suddenly coming out from the clouds, whereas in the 3rd you’d better stay in the middle of the screen lest you get toasted by enemies coming from behind. The 5th level deliberately throws a confusing background filled with meteors, thus demanding extreme attention from the player. Lives lost are costly in the long run because the game has no extends and definitely requires some dedication to be beaten.

Our powered mecha always arrives to the action in ship form, quickly transforming into a nifty robot capable of firing a brief bullet salvo at the press of button B. This means you don’t need to mash the button like crazy to achieve a steady firing stream, just tapping it at a regular rhythm will suffice. Every now and then a subweapon power-up carrier appears, releasing an orb that cycles colors between orange (fireball), blue (piercing laser shots), red (shot enhancer) and green (homing shot). It takes two consecutive power-ups to maximize subweapon efficiency.

The reason why there’s no autofire in Spriggan Powered becomes clear after you’ve collected at least one power-up. By holding button B you’ll charge the so-called “potential” attack, which triggers a special maneuver according to the active subweapon color: orange (exploding blast), blue (slows down the action for a brief while), red (close-up flare) and green (outward rotating blast). Each potential attack consumes one third of the elemental gauge, an energy reserve that also serves as fuel for the activation of the shield with button A. The shield is a type of electrical deflector that protects the robot from incoming bullets and cannon fodder, and just like the potential attack can be used for as long as there’s elemental energy available.

Lost elemental energy is then recovered by destroying enemies and by picking up the gray orbs left behind by specific targets. Besides filling the elemental gauge faster, these gray orbs also grant score bonuses that increase in value only for the duration of the level in steps of 100, 200, 400, 800, 1.600, 3.200 and 6.400 points (max). If you die these bonuses are reset to the initial 100 points. The same bonus is applied to power-ups if you keep collecting orbs of the same color, but this progression is valid throughout the whole game. It's only reset if you die or if you take an orb of different color than the one you're using.

A giant creature awaits at the end of stage 4

As mentioned above, keeping the same subweapon throughout the whole game is essential to achieve higher scores. However, at the end of each level you’re also granted a few extra bonuses based on stage completion, elemental gauge stock, risky techs (a rudimentary grazing mechanic that rewards tight bullet dodges) and the refusal to use the shield (No shield) or special attacks (No potential). This gives an immense flexibility to the scoring system, but notice that the further you go the hardest it is to avoid using elemental energy, especially when you realize how effective potential attacks can be against bosses. Except for the slowdown (blue) they’re all capable of nullifying all enemy attacks. Finally, another mundane scoring device is in the act of milking the destructible bullets from some of the bosses. Fortunately they all time out, so you can't leech them forever.

While certainly not in the same league of the most accomplished shmups on the SNES, Spriggan Powered delivers some good mecha shooting action and serves as a decent bastard finale to the trilogy initiated by Compile. Regardless of how players see it, it's certainly the best outing by Micronics on the console if you consider the company was also responsible for Raiden Trad and Acrobat Mission.

Given that the final screen tallying after you beat the last boss disappears quite quickly and the game doesn't have a score buffer, it's good to devise some sort of technique to capture your final result. Here's mine, playing in the Normal difficulty. For those who enjoy cranking up the challenge level, an extra setting above Hard can be enabled with a special code.

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