This classic GameCola article was originally posted in May, 2008.
What would you expect out of an SNES game called “Cybernator“? A Double Dragon-style side-scrolling fighter with robots? Perhaps some sort of hybrid shooter/RPG set in The Future, 1988, including biting criticism of the state of American capitalism? Or, maybe a lame Contra ripoff attempting to cash in on the recent release of Terminator 2?
No, no, no. It’s not Cyborg Justice, Shadowrun, or Super Turrican. In an attempt to pop out a review the day before the deadline, however, a game like any of those would have been perfect. Upon seeing the name in my ROMs folder, I assumed that some stoned computer science dropout had concatenated “Cyberdyne” and “Terminator”, and I figured that it should be an easy target. Ill prepared was I for what was contained within.
It was actually a decent game.
Much to my surprise, it was actually a game that I had played many times before. I had never expected that a Japanese game like this would have ever been released in America , much less under a name wrought only of the purest ripoff and fail.
Cybernator is a free-roaming platform shooter with giant robots. It was originally released in Japan under the title Assault Suits Valken. The original version of the game is sweet, like mint chocolate chip ice cream. The only way you could make it any better would be to smoothen it up into a milkshake, but instead of doing that, they just took out the chocolate chips. This still made it smoother and more consistent, but they removed part of what made it good to begin with.
In an effort to hide the fact that the game was made in Japan , the anime-style faces were removed from the dialog portions of the game. A great majority of the dialog was also removed, although I largely welcome this change, as nothing is more annoying than taking a big bite of mint ice cream and ending up with a mouthful of cheap, plasticy chocolate bits that you have to chew over for a minute. When I’m in the middle of dodging asteroids and shooting down robots, I don’t want to be stopped and forced to read some lame text that attempts to add to immersion with no real depth.
So, in all, I felt like the game flowed better without the extra dialog, even if you do miss out on a few small points of interest here and there. The overall fun was increased by smoothening the gameplay, which I can see being a selling point for Americans.
The graphics, in my opinion, are excellent. As a game released in early 1993, there is a certain clarity of design and a level of style that most games of the time lack. Along with the original title and anime face icons, however, I imagine that this was something that the localization team dreaded, as the entire game does have a heavy Japanese feel to it. Being a fan of both giant robots and ice cream, though, I consider the design elements a bonus.
Just as well, the music is exactly what you would expect out of a Japanese game about giant robots. It fits the mood and style well, and I don’t remember any tracks that I found annoying; but when it came time to put my helmet up at the end of the day, there wasn’t anything that stuck out as being particularly amazing.
The thing that really got me hooked was the play style. While power-ups may be an expectation of shooters, in Cybernator, they were handled in the more modern manner of leveling a variety of permanent weapons, rather than the old Contra-style “Why did I have to get the flamethrower after I just got the spread” one-at-a-time method. This keeps the strategic elements of trying to figure out which weapon you should level when you have a limited number of power-ups, but removes the annoyances and outright failures of being unable to finish the game because you accidentally picked up the laser.
Unlike most shooters, or even most platform shooters, Cybernator allows you to fully explore its levels. Unless you pass a key area that triggers a plot point, you can generally go all the way back to the beginning of the level and pick up any power-ups or kill any enemies that you might have missed. I prefer this to the forward-motion-only direction that a lot of shooters have.
I think I’ve mentioned before that controls generally have little ability to be considered “good”, but this is a game that bucks the standard. While it takes a play or two to really get used to how it works, the control setup is actually quite smooth. At least, there is a notable lack of accidentally jumping directly into enemies or pits. The developers also went out of their way to give you a range of shooting directions, instead of the normal forward-or-up. You can aim your guns in 16 directions, making a complete circle around you, and you can use the “hold” button to keep a given direction while walking or flying around.
What most disappointed me about this game was how short it is. On top of that, after you’ve played it through and gotten used to the controls, the game becomes extremely easy. The shield completely blocks attacks from all directions, so unless you’re flying, the game is basically built for you to never take damage. It’s a legitimate strategy.
Overall, this game was ahead of its time, and I was surprised to see that it had actually been released in America at some point. It’s short, but it’s a lot of fun to play, and it’s well worth taking a look at.
On a side note, four years later, the game engine was significantly polished up and improved, being reused for one of my favorite games of all time: Front Mission: Gunhazard. If anyone actually reads this review and, for some reason, is convinced to play Cybernator, Gunhazard is another great game to check out. I may review that one some time, as well, although it was never released in the West.
I’ve always wondered about that. I can’t imagine anyone actually playing a game that I review. Do people actually read my reviews? Or, even look at them? If you know, post!