Reviewed and only available Nintendo Switch and released by Rainmaker Productions – Release on March 30th 2023 for €/$24.99.
Assault Suits Valken, also known as Cybernator in the West, is a game that received moderate praise upon its original release on the Super Famicom and SNES in 1992. However, it never really gained enough traction to be part of the Canon for the SNES and end up on ‘best of” articles or videos. By chance, I acquired the Japanese version as part of a lot containing 20 random Super Famicom games. I played it for a bit and found the gameplay mechanics intriguing, but I couldn’t overcome the game’s punishing difficulty. With no extra lives, only three credits, and sparse health drops, progressing through the first few levels took me ages. Unfortunately, I lacked the perseverance to make it any further than that. This re-release promises to overcome exactly that problem.
Fossil fuel warfare
The game is set in a futuristic sci-fi world where fossil resources are scarce, and two factions are engaged in a massive war to gain control of Earth’s oil reserves. The conflict takes place between the Axis forces and the Federation factions and has spread to space and the moon, where both sides have constructed battle stations to launch attacks from. You play as Jake, a marine who serves as an Assault Suit pilot for the Federation. Jake and his platoon are stationed on the battleship Versis, where they embark on a mission to hunt down and destroy the enemy’s most powerful weapon, the Assault Suit Bildvorg, which is piloted by the game’s primary antagonist, Axis Major Beldark.
ASV takes you through nine levels, each set in various locations on and around Earth. What makes ASV different from other games of its kind is that not every level ends with a boss battle; you must complete mission objectives, such as preventing a rocket or shuttle from launching or escaping from an enemy base after destroying it.
In general, ASV’s levels will often take you through a open landscape or semi complex maze of corridors filled with defensive measures like mines and other explosive intrusion-detecting objects, as well as lower-ranked assault suits and robots. Occasionally, you’ll run into enemies of equal rank, which are often staged as plot devices and mid-level bosses.
Your Assault Suit is equipped with a potent machine gun that you can aim up and down in about eight steps. This enables you to attack objects above and below you. Additionally, you can fight in close range by beating enemies with the Suit’s fists. Your mech also has a shield that can only be used when you’re standing still. Throughout the game, you’ll find more weapons hidden in the levels, which you can easily pass by if you’re in a hurry. It’s important to find these weapons as they’re pretty potent and very useful in particular circumstances.
Quality of life improvements
The initial issue I had with the game about 15 years ago has been mostly nullified. The steep learning curve mainly has to do with the way individual enemies must be approached. Your Assault Suit is powerful but limited in maneuverability due to its weight. Rushing into battle is not recommended as the amount of weaponry you must cope with can be devastating. Staying in tight corridors while being shot at is also unwise. The game forces you to choose between controlling your enemies and picking them off one by one, while taking lots of damage yourself or rushing through them to reach a more open space where it’s easier to evade enemy fire.
Living on the edge
The game does not, really, support the player in trying to survive the onslaught that much. Health power-ups aren’t plentiful and once found they give you a very disappointing amount of extra health. It keeps you limping on your last leg for way too long, eventually finishing you off with some mid-level boss deep in the already long levels. Occasionally, this gives you the sensation of living on the edge if you stay alive long enough, but there is just no way you can win the end-level sequence in such a crippled state. The levels are very long, and due to the mech’s characteristics, the pacing is at times feels a bit sluggish.
The moniker ‘Declassified’ has to do with the additional content you get with this package. It features an audio, image, and video gallery. The image gallery contains original digitized promotional art, the complete manual, CD booklet, and even a strategy guide. These not only give you insight into the game itself but also into magazine and desktop publishing of the early 90s. The video section contains an interview with the game lead director Satoshi Nakai. Unfortunately, Satoshi-san is only present in audio, supported by concept drawings and gameplay bits, which doesn’t make it a very compelling watch, but undoubtedly interesting for devoted fans.
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The game has a bit of a cult status, and I understand why. The game's 16-bit graphics look 'realistic' with a gritty, combat-ridden world, realistic-looking war gear, and compelling gameplay. However, the game just will not be for everyone. Its unwillingness to provide enough health drops and the length and pacing of the levels will cause the average player to give up. The added features do a lot to overcome its core difficulty, though. The additional content is certainly interesting, and there is a lot of it too. At its core, it is a good, challenging shoot 'em up aimed for its fans and gamers looking for something to sink their teeth into.