Review: GG Aleste 3

Compile’s Aleste series stayed silent for much too long. It includes some of the best shooters ever made, but it drifted away in the 1990s thanks to Puyo Puyo and Compile's general fracturing. It wasn’t until recently that M2, masters of reviving old games, got the rights to Aleste and announced the all-new Aleste Branch as well as a Switch and PlayStation 4 collection of four older Alestes from the Sega Master System and Game Gear. And then M2 gave the Aleste Collection a brand new game with GG Aleste 3: Last Messiah, designed as an actual Game Gear title running on precise system specs. Because M2 is insane. 

In fact, GG Aleste 3 seems engineered to make you think you’re also a little insane. From the moment it shows Luna Waizen (or Lluna Wizn, as the manual has it) suiting up and joining the proud family of Aleste spacefighter pilots, everything about GG Aleste 3 is calibrated to the Game Gear’s pixels and display size. It gnaws at your sense of time and leads you to believe for a moment that the year is 1994 and you’ve imported a title for the recently obsolete Game Gear just because of a brief, enthusiastic review in the back pages of Diehard GameFan or Sega Power. That’s how faithful M2 was in creating a new Compile shooter.

But what makes a Compile shooter, anyway? For starters, it ignores a lot of genre standards. The 2-D shooter was largely a creature of arcades back in its day, when the likes of R-Type and Raiden drove sales by making players memorize the way through repeatedly deadly stages. That tendency continues today, where the whole point of most shooters seems to rest not in beating the game, but in replaying it, mastering the scoring system, and learning everything so well you can finish it without using any continues (which are often unlimited and penalty-free). And while there's nothing wrong with that, it’s a shame that this focus on high scores and one-credit exhibition occludes the other ways a shooter can engage us. 

Compile never had that problem. Their shooters were made for home computers and consoles, and so they never had to compromise their design for the sake of getting another quarter in the machine. If typical shooters were sometimes too short and too stingy with their power-ups, Compile’s offerings emerged as lengthy, measured challenges with plenty of space to experiment. 

And that’s what GG Aleste 3 brings back. Luna’s ship has the usual Aleste weapons: a direct laser, a reverse-aimed fireball, a revolving shield, arcing fire bombs, crescent homing shots, and diagonal firing. GG Aleste 3’s arsenal isn’t novel, but it embraces another tradition: an Aleste game never leaves the player without power-ups for long. Red booster ovals and weapon icons drift into the screen every few seconds, letting you enhance your basic shots and switch sub-attacks very easily. Most important of all, grabbing any power-ups makes you immune to any bullets for just a moment.  

You’ll need that precious scrap of invincibility, because GG Aleste 3 challenges you any way it can. It may be a Game Gear title, but M2 wasted not a single dot of the screen. It’s filled with enemy fighters, immense space battleships, artillery mounds, roving tasks, armed mecha, and the many little bullets all of them fire. That’s to say nothing of bosses with complex and ever-changing attacks, whether it’s a sphere that bangs around the screen or a giant crablike tank whose blob projectiles catch and slow your ship instead of just demolishing it. Even the levels themselves are hazards, the most memorable being stage five’s trip up a space elevator that drags your ship to give the sensation of rotating around a giant column.

GG Aleste 3 grows wonderfully intense as it pushes reflexes and demands that you use every possible tactic: dodging bullets, slipping around a boss mecha’s screen-choking onslaughts, snatching a cascade of red power-ups just so you’re invulnerable for the split second it takes to survive a barrage of lasers. Aleste games are known for long levels, but it’s never a burden with GG Aleste 3’s habit of switching up challenges. There's nothing like the realization that what you thought was a level boss was just the halfway mark. It’s actually a little draining in that brutally euphoric way that only the best action games really grasp. 

The only drawbacks lie with M2’s deliberate choice of Game Gear hardware. The screen’s size and resolution make for somewhat cluttered play, especially when you can’t quite tell where your shots end and the enemy’s varied projectiles begin. There’s also an accurate share of halfway helpful slowdown and some flicker, all in fidelity to the Game Gear’s limitations. Even the soundtrack, catchy as it is, invites conjecture about how much better it might sound if M2 hadn’t been so in love with the idea of making an actual Game Gear game some 25 years after the system stopped mattering. 

To fill out the screen, M2 gave each game in the Aleste Collection an elaborate border full of various stats, tracking everything from short bursts of bulletproof status to how close the player is to earning a force field that absorbs one hit. The most memorable touch might be a little portrait of the pilot for three of the four older games and, of course, GG Aleste 3. Watching Luna smile, grimace, and laugh doesn’t haven any effect on gameplay, but it’s a nice bit of encouragement.

On that note, GG Aleste 3 even preserves a series tradition of making the player feel guilty. Go through the game on the demanding “special” mode, where enemies vomit even more bullets upon defeat, and Luna’s ship will emerge undamaged as she heads to the beach to relax. If you merely play it on Normal, however, the final shot finds an injured Luna recovering in a hospital and glaring at you, the fumble-fingered nitwit of a player who couldn’t get her through the game unscathed.  

Aleste Collection is an excellent package overall, with carefully presented and enhanced versions of Aleste/ Power Strike, Power Strike II, GG Aleste, and GG Aleste II. But it’s GG Aleste 3 that seals it all up as something remarkable. Going beyond preservation, M2 reached into history and blended the inspiration behind true classics with a new and clever vision. GG Aleste 3 excels whether you’re playing for high scores or whether you just want to enjoy one of the best shooters in recent memory…and, technically, the best thing in the Game Gear’s library.  

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