I had bought Super Earth Defense Force many years ago, and I had never made it past level 4, which I realize after having thoroughly played and beaten it now, is exactly where the challenge picks up. It's a fun, though second-rate, shooter that seems like it may have wanted to be a Thunder Force clone. Although it's based on an arcade game, the only knowledege I had of it prior to obtaining it was a small blurb in Nintendo Power magazine that mentioned a code for changing the weather on the opening sequence. What an odd thing to have a code for. Did two graphic artists disagree on what they wanted those clouds to look like, and this is how they resolved it? Or perhaps it's just another in a series of strange surprises this game has in store.
Super EDF's graphics are fairly standard, but it contains some wild special effects that have a way of sneaking up on you. As the game begins, the first level appears to be little more than multiple layers of scrolling clouds. As you progress, the clouds and sky in the background gradually get darker and darker. The transitions are so subtle that I didn't notice it until I got to the end and realized it was darker than it was before. In level four, a satellite appears far off in the background and slowly scales larger as you approach it. But it's the level five trick that stunned me the most. About halfway through, a huge planet begins to loom into view, slowly rotating with Mode 7 effects. The first time I saw this, it actually made me dizzy. Very few things in video games have ever made me dizzy. It gave me the spiraling feeling like I was going to fall right into it! I've seen effects like that done on the Sega Saturn, and this looks just as good.
Super EDF's music is sort of a "light rock" version of shooter music. It began to grow on me by Level 4, where the pace is picked up, and the melody is catchy. My favorite song in the game is the appropriately-named "Premonition" of Level 5, a theme that begins with an ominous foreboding quality before giving way to EDF's usual style.
The sound effects are not quite as well-done as the music. The noise of your ship's laser wracking on enemies is so loud that it sometimes drowns out the music, particularly during boss fights. I would've preferred something more subdued, but oh well.
I read Super EDF's manual story and it basically plays out the same as most shooters of its kind. Mankind has learned nearly too late that an alien army hellbent on destroying earth has built a formidable base on the darkside of the moon (so I guess that giant rotating planet is actually the moon.) But just forget about all that and look at what this game shows you. Jaleco seemed particularly proud of the sequence where you approach and depart from a space station colony. After zooming in and flying under this huge sunlit behemoth (complete with little houses and grassy green fields inside), you'll watch helplessly as the stage boss destroys a large chunk of it. Then you fly away from its crumbling remains in the next stage. I love scripting like that in shooters - where background elements actually have relevance to what's going on.
Super EDF has three speed settings for your ship that you can switch between during play. The middle setting is what I mostly used, except in a few places for which the faster third setting was convenient. The size of your ship is a bit large, which can sometimes make dodging in tight spots tough, but it's not a flaw so much as an element to make sure you're paying attention to what you're doing.
One thing interesting about Super EDF is that it contains practically no actual background obstacles (except for a few parts of the final level.) It feels like a Zanac-style shooter turned on its side. The entire level design consists of enemy and bullet patterns. The first three stages are relatively easy, but the difficulty significantly picks up at Level 4, which is my overall favorite level. The toughest moments of Super EDF are as intense as some of the toughest moments in Zanac. Zanac has rows of enemies that line up on both sides of the screen, and when you cross into their paths, they rapidly close in on you. Super EDF has these same types of enemies, and they close in much faster than Zanac's!
Although Super EDF does have intense moments like that, they are much fewer and farther between than in Zanac. One of the best parts of the game is the boss of Level 4 (another reason it's my favorite). This boss rapidly spews out a burst of shots that fan across the entire screen while also sending out smaller ships that fire at you with lasers. The entire screen becomes busy with activity, especially when he lines up five of these smaller ships to attack you at once. There is another boss similar to this in the final level; a large yellow creature whose difficulty is compounded on the game's "hard" setting. The final two bosses are the same on both settings, but I doubt there could've been much done to make them tougher with the Super NES's technology of the time. They both fill the screen with as many bullets and projectiles as possible. The first form even has an indestructible ball that floats around and a lightning bolt attack that travels wildly and unpredictably. The second form is fought while flying backwards from it (!) as it spits large blobs that explode into smaller blobs. It is very, very tough to avoid these because of the rate at which they come and the frightening amount that clutters the screen.
The hard setting is not that much different from normal, but there are more enemies in some areas, more bullets, and some of the bosses have extra attacks. Although Super EDF doesn't normally suffer from slowdown, there is one particular weapon that causes major slowdown on impact, which can actually make defeating some bosses and getting through some areas easier than it should be. Although it has some very challenging moments, Super EDF is still not as difficult as the best shooters I've played, such as Zanac, Abadox, or even Over Horizon.
Shooters usually have some kind of "gimmick" to differentiate them from other shooters. Super EDF has two. First off you have a wide array of weapons to choose from at the beginning. Unfortunately, most of these weapons are useless. I find myself relying on the homing weapon for about 75% of the game, due to the large amount of enemies that swarm in from behind. You gain large point bonuses for destroying all of a single kind of enemy, and these bonuses fill up a power bar. When the power bar is completely filled, your weapon is upgraded. Your ship also carries two invincible smaller ships (like the "craws" in the Thunder Force games), which can be set to stay right by your ship or rotate around it. Each increment of the power bar also gives you a new formation for these craws, the most useful of which is a mode where they home in on enemies. Once your weapon and craws have reached their maximum level, each further increment of the power bar will grant you an extra shield. So, there is a lot of motivation to destroy as many enemies as possible.
The shield system is the other gimmick. Technically, you only have one life in Super EDF, and there is no way to gain extra lives, but you start with three shields. Each time you're hit, a shield is taken away. When you lose the last one, it's "Game Over" and continues are limited. It's similar to having three lives and instant respawning, but there's no break in the action when you take a hit.
Although I liked Super EDF, it didn't take me that long to complete both difficulty settings. The weapons and shield stocking system make the game a bit easier than it probably should be, especially near the end. You never lose weapon capability after taking a hit (unlike in the Gradius games) and I was able to stock (and re-stock) about five shields in the final level. I can't say the game blew me away, although I was impressed with some of its visuals and moments of excitement.
I have acquired a definite fondness for Super Earth Defense Force. It's a B-rate shooter, but a B-rate shooter done well. Since unknown Super NES shooters like this one are usually cheap and easy to come by, Super EDF is worth trying if you do. In fact, I think I'll go play it again, myself!
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