Review: “Gleylancer” (Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PS4)

Retro shoot ’em up aficionados have plenty to celebrate of late, given the increasing number of re-releases and collections of classic shooters recently landing on pc and consoles. The latest of these is Gleylancer (not Gley Lancer, ya’ dummy-dums!), a sci-fi horizontal shooter originally developed by Masaya and released for the SEGA Mega Drive in 1992 exclusively in Japan.*

Now, thanks to Ratalaika Games, gamers outside of Japan can enjoy Gleylancer on their PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch platforms. But is it worth the wait, or is Gleylancer better left in the past (and across the Pacific)?

Uniformly-dispersed asteroids… check!

You play as Lucia Cabrock, a young Ensign in the intergalactic federation of something-or-other. Lucia is also the daughter of Ken Cabrock, a high-ranking officer aboard the federation flagship, Oberon. During a confrontation with a warring race of aliens, the Oberon is captured and jettisoned into distant space. Unable to accept the fate of her father, Ensign Lucia Cabrock and her friend Teim commandeer (steal) an advanced, experimental fighter craft known as the Advanced Busterhawk Gleylancer and set off across space to rescue the Oberon and defeat the alien onslaught.

You’ll face off against those extraterrestrial bastards over 11 stages. Along the way, you can juice up your ship’s offenses with multiple shot upgrades, including laser, dual shot, spread, gun saber, burner flamethrower or ricochet “bound” shot. You can also obtain two satellite blasters to flank your ship, and you can select from several firing patterns to fit your style – search, rotating, reverse, etc., which can be swapped on the fly in this latest re-release of the game. It’s not the sure choice for every situation, but “search” is probably the best bet for most of your alien-blasting needs.

“For great justice, take off every Advanced Busterhawk Gleylancer!”

Lost in Space… Oberon Edition

Each stage should seem pretty familiar to veterans of 2D space shooters. You’ll battle across open space, an ocean, an ice cave, a large battleship, what appears to be an enemy alien hive, and more. Most of the stages are pretty straightforward, left-to-right fare, but the screen will occasionally scroll vertically, giving those areas a more natural sense of place.

For the most part, though, there’s not too much in the stage designs that will impress enthusiasts of the genre. The stage 4 boss was fairly clever, as he slowly reduces the play area around your ship, something I’ve not seen in a 2D shooter. The “save the flagship” moment in stage 10 was a nice change of pace, too, but it admittedly came very late in the game.

Visually, some of the stages can be pretty enough, and I have to imagine that the ample use of parallax scrolling was a graphical highlight for Gleylancer upon its 1992 release. It still looks nice, but it’s more on the good side of average than it is exceptional. There are a few nice effects scattered about from time to time, such as the water warping in stage 2 or the ice shards in the cave.

A less than inspired boss design

Other than the stages, the weapons, enemies and bosses are largely generic and unremarkable. There are a couple of exceptions, sure (the ice snake looked pretty cool), but Gleylancer’s boss fights were lacking when compared to its contemporaries. Hell, they were lacking compared to 1987’s R-Type. The real kick in the pants came with the final boss, who is essentially encased in a giant ball. This would have been passable as a boss fight somewhere around stage 3, but it made for a really unimpressive finale.

Other than some cool effects, Gleylancer still earns some kudos for presentation. There is an extensive intro sequence and cinematic interludes every few stages, all of which have a nice, anime-esque look to them that was sure to impress back in 1992. On the sound side, the music is adequate, but none of the compositions are catchy enough to stick with you. The voices are your typical, scratchy Mega Drive fare, too. Some more impactful sound effects would have made the battles with the larger enemies more engaging, too.

I’m sure he’ll take that into consideration, Ensign.

Do you even lance gleys, brah?

Compared to other shoot ’em ups of the era, Gleylancer was a bit on the easy side, even with the “one hit kills”. but what do you expect when you play as a girl? (dodges internet rocks) In total, Gleylancer can be completed in 45 minutes or so, and genre veterans should be able to get through normal mode without much headache. Many enemy bullets are destructible, and other than the final boss, most boss fights are relatively quick and painless.

For those seasoned shooter veterans, there is a hard mode featuring tougher enemy placement, and a mania mode beyond that, so you are welcome to crank it up to your liking. And for the mainstream journalist types, there is an easy mode, too. If that’s still not enough (maybe you write for Polygon or Kotaku, eh?), this version also features a rewind function that allows you to reverse time if you make a mistake, so there really is no excuse for not seeing the entirety of the game.

This guy really needed some sound effects as he bounds around

The Good Side of Average

Taken outside of its original place and time, Gleylancer is a solid, capable game that simply doesn’t stand out when compared to other 16-bit shooters. If you’re looking for the best the era had to offer, you’re much better off spending your time with M.U.S.H.A., the Thunder Force series, or even Sol-Deace. However, if you are new to the shoot ’em up genre and are hoping to find something a bit more approachable, then Gleylancer is a good fit, especially given the quality-of-life changes made to this modern re-release.

If nothing else, picking up this new version of Gleylancer beats paying out the nose for an import Mega Drive cartridge. Even loose, Gleylancer sells for several hundred dollars on the secondary market, making the $6.99 asking price for this re-release quite a bargain. It is also worth noting that the stage 8 bosses single-pixel nipples were not censored, either, in case you are an anti-censorship purist (as well you should be!).

Am I really going to end on that point? Yeah, I think I am.

All of those background elements scroll in parallax, and its pretty cool

*Disclosure: A copy of Gleylancer for Nintendo Switch was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.

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