So as I sit waiting for one of my favorite childhood franchises to download, Starcraft 2 Beta, I tried to think of what obscure game I could talk about. Great titles went through my head; Faxandu, Super FX Racing, Milo’s Astro Lanes, Panzer Dragoon, Bug, Firepower 2000, even Link 2. But then it hit me, like the 100% install bar for SC 2, U.N. Squadron!
U.N. Squadron: Developed by another favorite childhood franchise, Capcom. U.N. Squadron is a side scrolling shooter for the Super Nintendo which offered something unheard of in this genre. A trait shared by most scrolling shooters is that when the player is hit, or hits an object, they die. However U.N. Squadron had a health bar system. When you were hit, you’d go into a “danger” state for several seconds. If you were hit in this state you died. However if you weren’t hit you would go back to the health bar with part of it missing. You were allowed to get hit about 5 or 6 times before you entered an endless “danger” state. Get hit again and you’d lose a mans.
Before I continue I feel I must explain what a “mans” is, for it will be the way I refer to them in all games. Basically, it’s the equivalent of a “life” in a game. I take the reference from homestarrunner.com featured in the Trogdor game. You played as the burninator himself crushing peasants and you had “mans” instead of lives. But I digress.
Another interesting part to the game was the inventory system. Yes you’d still pick up items mid-level, however there’s more to it. After you choose what level to play, you would find yourself at a shop with all sorts of interesting weapons. I never really used too many items (but have experimented with) because I felt the only one worth getting was called the Mega Crush. This was the “Oh shit!” button of this game. It would shoot something into the air which would rain down lasers on everything. Basically anything on the screen was destroyed, and if you were fighting a boss it would deal constant damage for the duration of the lasers. But could you only buy one item per level? Good question! No! Any items that were purchased and never used are stored permanently in your inventory and are available in the following levels.
As for gameplay, this was the first side scrolling shooting that Capcom made, al la 1942 and 1943. There were many mid-level items to be obtained, both hidden and obvious. Throughout the level you’ll notice that some of the enemies have a red tint to them. When destroyed, they dropped what was called a POW. A POW came in different colors: green, blue, or yellow. These had values, and counted as “experience”. After you collected X amount of POW, it would upgrade your ship’s ammo. The higher level your ammo, the bigger your gun bursts were. I believe you could upgrade your ammo 3 or 4 times before you reached max level. You retained the level of your ammo until you died. You were given unlimited ammo and rapid fire for every ship. I don’t know if it was part of the SNES version or not, but your rapid fire would stop after several seconds. If you truly wanted rapid fire you’d have to find a rhythm to holding and releasing the fire button, something I learned with the countless hours I spent playing this game. In order to obtain hidden items, you’d have to be shooting the area the item is. If you shot it, it became visible. Hidden items ranged from POW to point boosters (items that just gave you a decent amount of points towards your score). Score was important, like in all shooters, because after you reached a certain score you were awarded extra mans.
There were three different pilots that you could choose from: Shin Kazama who leveled up faster, Mickey Simon who could shoot two inventory weapons at the same time, and Greg Gates who recovered from the damage state quicker. The only pilot I played as was Shin. I would try the others, but they just wouldn’t fit my play style. I think my problem was at the time of playing it, I always used Shin and then tailored my gameplay around him. So when I actually tried to use different pilots, they just wouldn’t cut it.
To this day, I have yet to beat that game. I chalk it up to the game getting lost in translation. I had it as a kid growing up but after having gone to college and moving out, my parents didn’t retain it well. I’ve found it on a ROM, but it’s just not the same on a keyboard. The game itself is also very difficult. You had 3 continues with 3 mans per continue to traverse through 10 levels, with a few bonus levels here and there.
When I got my hands on it years down the road, it was funny to see how I stuck to the same strategy I had when I was younger. Save up money until you could afford the A-10 Thunderbolt II. This was so important because on the 5th level enemies would swing in from underneath you to kill you. The A-10 fired two bursts for every gun burst. One was straight ahead and the other was at a downward 45-degree angle. So you could shoot the enemies that flew in underneath. That ship lasted me long enough so that I could save up for the best aircraft in the game, the F-200 who’s gun burst took up half the screen at max level. The awesomeness of that ship would only last till about the 8th level where all hell breaks loose.
I’m sure I’d be able to beat the game if I actually tried, but I’m busy playing other games ATM. From getting my ass beat in Starcraft 2, to avoiding drowning in Left 4 Dead with Good Job!, or even playing the easily accessible awesomeness that is Ikaruga. One day, just maybe, I shall take down the beast that is U.N. Squadron.