With the arrival of the Super NES and other 4th-generation systems, developers were able to utilize the additional power to create more accurate ports of arcade games. But as the Super NES ports of Final Fight & many others have shown, there was still a long way to go before console ports could be just as good as their arcade originals. While U.N. Squadron/Area 88 may seem like a typical arcade port of the time, Capcom made it somewhat different from the arcade version, adding in features here & there to sweeten the deal for Super NES owners. But was it enough?
U.N. Squadron/Area 88 was originally released in arcades in 1989 on the CPS-1 hardware (Capcom Play System 1). The game was later ported to the Super NES in July 1991 for Japan, September 1991 in North America, & late 1992 for Europe. It’s based on the manga & anime of the same name (Area 88). The plot of the manga & anime follows Shin Kazama, a pilot from an acclaimed flight school who was tricked by a friend into signing a contract to work for Area 88. Shin has no choice but to serve out his 3-year contract or pay off $1.5 million in bounties. None of that is shown or explained in the game though.
The game is basically your standard horizontal shooter in which you fly to the right, destroying as many enemies as possible while collecting power-ups and avoiding enemy bullets as well as other obstacles. Unlike quite a few shoot em’ ups at the time, U.N. Squadron lets you purchase weapons with money collected from defeating enemies. Not only that, but each of the 3 playable pilots have their own abilities. Shin Kazama can upgrade normal shots the fastest, Mickey Simon can use more than 1 special weapon at the same time, and Greg’s recovery time after being hit is the fastest. The health system in this game is a bit weird compared to the arcade version. Your plane can take more than 1 hit, but after being hit, the energy bar will flash and a warning sound will play temporarily. Should you get hit during this time, your plane will be destroyed and you will lose a life. I really don’t like this considering that it kind of makes the game harder than it has to be. You only get a few continues in this game, so be careful.
When you turn the Super NES on, you see a nice intro of Shin’s plane taking off from the runway all in Mode 7 glory, which isn’t present in the arcade version. The graphics are obviously inferior to the arcade version, but Capcom pulled through and made the Super NES port look pretty good. There are some moments where the game slows to a crawl due to many bullets & enemies in the stage, but it still plays fine for the most part. We have to consider many developers, including Capcom, were still coming to grips with the Super NES hardware at the time. Just like many other Capcom shooters, the company opted for a more realistic, modern military approach for the aircraft & environments as opposed to a futuristic theme. Overall, the graphics are well done here.
Unfortunately, I can’t really say the same about the music. It simply doesn’t have the impact that the CPS-1 version music has & feels really weak as a result. Some of the music still sounds ok like the 1st level theme and the music that plays in the forest fortress level. Sound effects are ok, but nothing really special.
As I’ve said before, the Super NES version is quite different from the arcade original and it’s not just in terms of graphics & sound. For starters, each pilot comes with a set plane for the entire game in the arcade version. In the Super NES version though, each pilot starts off with the same plane (the F8E Crusader), but by earning enough money, you can purchase new planes that have different abilities from the starting plane. Another difference is that in the arcade version, you progress in a fixed path of levels throughout the game. In the Super NES version, you can pick what levels you go through after finishing the initial one. At first, only a few levels are open, but more will be unlocked as you progress. The health gauges work differently in each version of the game. In the arcade version, the health gauge works just like in many other games so you don’t have to wait to get your energy meter back up every time you get hit like in the Super NES version. There are also some different bosses in the arcade version & vice versa. Unfortunately, the Super NES version is only 1-player while the arcade version allowed for co-op, making the former harder in a way.
Overall, U.N. Squadron isn’t too bad for an early Super NES shmup & especially not too bad for an arcade port. It’s good to see that Capcom made the game somewhat different from the arcade version to make up for the weaker hardware. However, some of the changes hindered the port quite a bit. This is one of the Super NES’s cheaper shmups. You can find it online for $10-20 if you know where to look and for that price range, the game is certainly worth a try. Don’t expect this to come to the Nintendo Virtual Console anytime soon because of licensing troubles.
4 out of 5 stars
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