Aleste Branch: Super Hyped Amor

I was all set to discuss how I dislike the fact that many intriguing modern games merely echo older ones. A lot of my most-wanted list is filled by either spiritual successors or full-bore remakes of established titles, whether it’s the Contra overtures of Blazing Chrome or the new Link’s Awakening recast of my favorite Zelda game. While I’m glad to see classic visions return one way or the other, I was prepared to argue that sequels and remodels are never as exciting as the prospect of a new and fully original creation.

But then Aleste Branch comes along and makes me a liar.

M2 announced Aleste Branch last year and dropped a few details earlier this month, so all we have is a title, some art of series heroine Ellinor (aka Terri), and a model of her ship. So why am I twitching with unironic glee at each new shred of information they release?

Well, Compile’s old Aleste line is my pick for the most consistently amazing series of old-fashioned shooters. It’s a loose-knit collection that includes both official Aleste games and tangents like Spriggan, Gun Nac, Zanac, and The Guardian Legend. Heck, you could even throw in Golvellius. As far as I’m concerned, if it’s even a vaguely shooter-like game from Compile, it’s an honorary Aleste.

All of these shooters, Alestes or not, share excellent underlying aesthetics. They’re quick and intense, with cunning enemy placement and a healthy variation in obstacles and foes. They’re also generous with power-ups, so you’re never far from grabbing a new weapon or recovering from defeat. And while Aleste games favor standard mecha and spaceship designs, they’ll flavor things with striking music and the occasional weird surprise. The best examples lie in MUSHA, a tour-de-force of everything I could possibly want in a shooter.

Better yet, most of the Aleste line premiered on home consoles instead of in arcades, so the thoughtful stage design challenges the player without the need to extract another quarter every five minutes. Nor do you have to worry about putting up with screen borders or rotating your TV for that authentic vertical-shooter experience, both common issues in arcade ports. Aleste makes the most of any hardware it favors–even the tiny-screen Game Gear outings are great.

Compile was remarkably prolific in the early 1990s, and Aleste titles popped up everywhere, often with new Americanized names like Power Strike and Space Mega Force. Yet this time of bounty couldn’t last for Aleste, or shooters in general. The public grew weary of game after game about piloting a lone ship against an alien fleet, even when those games were as impressive as MUSHA and Robo Aleste. Compile drifted toward the broad appeal of their Puyo Puyo series, and their shooter staff splintered. Ex-Compile developers worked on cult favorites like Battle Garegga and Dimahoo, but they just weren’t the same as a true Aleste.

It’s been far, far too long since we’ve had a new Aleste game, and I think it’s in capable hands. M2 is best known these days for porting older games with exceptional flair, but they’re just as gifted when they’re making new material, as they did with Rebirth versions of Contra, Gradius, and Castlevania.

M2 is just the right group to put together an Aleste that will do justice to the proud names of Moo Niitani and Jemini Hirono. And then the shooter shall rise again. We shall witness revivals of every classic from Axelay and Battle Mania to Wings of Wor and Hotdog Storm. We shall bask in the fluorescent gleam of store shelves dominated by Truxton and Cyber Core sequels. And we shall magically turn into ten-year-olds with no responsibilities or problems that an afternoon of Grind Stormer can’t repair.

Really? No, of course not. I just want Aleste Branch to get a domestic release. I’m even willing to go against my better judgment and fight through the hordes of true fans and filthy scalpers to get a physical copy from some exploitative limited-edition publisher. It’s no mere nostalgia hit for me. The Aleste games are still paragons of the whole shooter ethos, and for me that’s every bit as exciting as a brand-new idea.

I just hope Ellinor/Terri has kicked her smack habit.