Monday, September 4, 2023

GG Aleste II (Playstation 4)

Checkpoints OFF
3 Difficulty levels
6 Stages
Ship speed fixed, selectable at start
- - - - - - -
Developed by Compile in 1993
Published by M2 in 2020

Okay, time to resume the Game Gear Aleste saga brought to the spotlight again by M2 in the Aleste Collection. GG Aleste II follows on the footsteps of GG Aleste as Alice Pfeiffer, cousin of previous protagonist Ellinor, boards the cockpit of the Lance Bird prototype space fighter in order to restore peace in another fight for the future fate of the Earth. Some folks are remarkably keen on knowing more than that about the story, but I'd say it's enough to set up the premise and the mood for some more 8-bit handheld shooting action blown up to the big screen in this relatively odd entry in the Shottriggers revival series.

As we can see from the intermission screen when you boot the PS4 disc, GG Aleste II was also released as Power Strike II in Europe, a title that's totally unrelated to Power Strike II for the Master System. For all purposes both Game Gear variants are exactly the same bar the title, so go figure why have both in the disc. Perhaps to propagate the confusion with this series even further? No matter how much I think I'm familiar with this franchise I still find myself quite confused every now and then. That's why it's much better to just play these games and shoot mindlessly, regardless of how similar they all feel at first glance.

Lance Bird departs into the Space Plant wielding the Hammer hawk
Yes, on the surface GG Aleste II is a lot like GG Aleste. Stage design seems to be all over the place and can't help but feel generic, yet the game compensates all of that with intense action and a few cool bosses. There are some crucial differences between both games though, starting with the reduced amount of air across all six levels and two bonus areas that unfold like a rail shooter after stages 2 and 4. The basic rule of upgrading the main shot and the auxiliary weapon separately still applies though. Power chips are released in groups of four from specific drones and slowly increase the ship's main shot, whereas a P icon powers up the auxiliary weapon. These are reduced to only four this time: N (Neo napalm gun), H (Hammer hawk, your quintessential homing shot), R (Rising masher, laser beams) and D (Delta form, a series of options that surround and protect the ship in a triangle formation).

The auxiliary weapon needs 3 Ps to be maxed out, and upon coining the credit you're allowed to select which one will be initially used. At the start of the game and at every respawn after dying you're also equipped with one G-Strike bomb, a powerful blast with a ripple effect that damages everything on screen. That is the second button input you have in GG Aleste II, the first one being the regular shot of course. Note that this bomb doesn't give you invincibility, so don't expect to survive impossible odds with it. However, as in pretty much all Compile games of the Aleste series, split second invincibility is still in place for every item you collect.

Besides the bomb, other new gameplay features are related to the continuous collection of power chips. The ship receives a 1-hit shield whenever 20 chips are collected (the front hull aqcuires a blue thick outline). If you continue to pick up chips while the shield is active this counter will stop at 19, meaning that upon death the very first chip taken will grant you another shield. In parallel, an extra G-Strike bomb is granted for every 32 chips you're able to collect. Both the shield and the extra bombs highlight the importance of the gadgets prepared by M2 for this port, which allow you to track how many chips you need to receive the extra resources. If you play the game on an original Game Gear you'll never have an exact idea of when they might be coming, unless you're an expert at keeping count of things amidst the shooting mayhem.

GG Aleste II by M2, from the second boss to the end of the third stage
(courtesy of YouTube user alienparadox)

Though not by a large margin, GG Aleste II is certainly harder than the first game. It's still an easy fun clear, but some bosses can definitely take you by surprise with a few tricky attack patterns. Another way of getting the clear more easily is by sticking to the Napalm gun as your auxiliary weapon of choice, since the napalm spreads are capable of cancelling all regular enemy bullets. Saving bombs for the hardest sections is also a good strategy because the bomb stock is not depleted upon death, a very rare treat when it comes down to shmups (if you have at least one bomb in stock you don't get another bomb with a new life though). Finally, dying is an event that's not that harsh since you lose only one power level for each shot type. Just don't die twice or three times in a row and you'll get back up quite quickly.

The routine for score-based extends starts with 50.000 points and continues with 100.000 and 500.000 points. After that a new extend is registered at every 500.000 points. An item-based extra life can be found easily in stage 3 by destroying all space debris halfway into the level.

Click for the option menus translation for GG Aleste II in the Aleste Collection

Pretty much all the options for GG Aleste II are the same as those for GG Aleste. including the screen settings and interesting tweaks such as several steps for rapid fire and "comfort mode", which eliminates the original flicker and slowdown. I just wish M2 had added a language switch so that we wouldn't have to go into the trouble of translating everything, but alas! It's fine as it is, I guess.

My best 1CC score below was achieved in the Normal difficulty with comfort mode set to ON. I didn't tinker with rapid fire settings because they messed up the efficiency of the napalm gun. Since you can theoretically exploit bosses with no time limit for item carriers, M2 considered GG Aleste II broken and only allowed completion time as a method to track the player's performance, just like they did with GG Aleste. However, climbing up the online leaderboards in the sequel is a lot harder to do because it requires uncommon strategies such as suiciding in order to have more bombs available.

Next: GG Aleste III.

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