Few genres thrived on Sega’s 16-bit system like the classical shoot-em-up, as the genre is called nowadays. Just like on NEC’s Turbografx-16, the fans enjoyed a steady stream of quality titles. Some came from the arcades while others were directly developed for the home-market. Needless to say, it was pretty hard for a shooter to stand out in those days. But still, Compile’s Musha Aleste, the quasi-sequel to the Master System hit Aleste (Power Strike), quickly built a reputation as one of the finest 16-bit shooters ever. How, you ask? Easy: By doing things the Genesis simply wasn’t suppose to do.
It’s one thing to fill the screen with lots of sprites while avoiding flicker and slowdown. But it’s another entirely to surprise the player with an introduction worthy of a Turbo Duo title and impressive zoom effects that only came into vogue later on Nintendo’s Super NES. Still, Compile pulled it off. After a furious first stage with a pretty rocking soundtrack, stage three starts out rather tame with a simple backdrop comprised of metallic plates. But quickly, these plates start dropping down smoothly and reveal a deep ravine underneath. Enemies start rising from its depth and the player back in the day just couldn’t wipe that stupid grin from his face—that’s what 16-bit gaming was all about.
Of course, the rest of the game is no slouch either. I already mentioned the rocking soundtrack,but equally impressive is the entire setting: The heroine pilots a giant samurai-mecha that seems much bulkier than the usual sleek spaceship-design of the days. Enemies and architecture sports a clear Japanese influence as well and lends the game a nice sense of exoticism. This was as far removed from the usual space-backgrounds as possible. You fight mechanical tengu, a spaceship sporting a giant, eerie Noh mask, and destroy turrets on huge temple-shaped battleships.
If M.U.S.H.A. has one weakness, it would be the weapon system. You can accumulate sidekicks, upgrade your primary weapon and pick-up very effective sub-weapons. You’ll find orange missiles, blue rotating spheres and a powerful green laser. The problem: In comparison to its colleagues, the laser seems massively overpowered—vastly superior to the other two. If your mech sports the fully upgraded laser, something that can be achieved after about two-thirds of the way into the first stage, there is no more need to change weapons ever again, since it cuts through nearly every enemy in the game like a hot knife through butter.
So yes, M.U.S.H.A. is a bit on the short and easy side. The game is simply one hell of a ride and impresses today just as it did when it was first released. After the workable sequel Dennin Aleste on Mega CD and Super Aleste on SNES, Compile struck gold with its Puyo Puyo franchise and abandoned the Aleste franchise pretty quickly. On the one hand, that’s a shame. On the other, however, Aleste probably wouldn’t have survived the following generations anyway. So let’s just be glad that we have M.U.S.H.A., the brilliant distillation of all that was great about the shooters of the 16-bit era.
Article by Thomas Nickel
GameSpite Journal 12: M.U.S.H.A.