Considering that it came between the Genesis and the Sega Saturn, it is almost unfathomable that the Sega CD had so few shooters. But alas, all was not lost. There was Robo Aleste! Coming from the same developer as (and playing very similar to) the revered Genesis classic MUSHA, Robo Aleste is one reason to dust off the old Sega CD.
In the year 1543, amidst a terrible civil war, the Japanese found a flying ship containing large, humanoid robots on one of their islands. Those clans who utilize this new technology prospered, while the rest predictably failed. Soon, your clan is on the losing end of a six clan alliance versus two power struggle. With the enemy army closing in, it is your duty to drive them back using your master's most secret and prized weapon Aleste. Aside from countless nameless foes and some bosses who show up only to die, you will also face your confrontational brother, and learn more about the sorceress who runs the enemy alliance from behind the scenes. Only moderately interesting, but if you are playing this game for the story, you are in the wrong genre. Shooters are about blowing things up, cool weapons and highly impractical bosses; things Robo Aleste delivers.
Even after all these years, it is not at all hard to see why Robo Aleste is so highly revered by shooter enthusiasts. Everything about it feels polished and well thought out. The detailed and polygon-free graphics are as beautiful today as they always have been, and did not go to waste. The backgrounds are nice and varied enough to be interesting, yet not busy enough to be distracting. Each has a unique feel, and the most interesting parts (like a burning village in stage one and an army lined up for battle in another) coincide with the slowest parts of their respective stages so that they may be admired in relative peace. Bosses are imposing and above average in style, but the normal enemies are actually where this game shines. Not only do they offer a large variety of attack patterns, they are some of the damn coolest looking minions on record, with a unique set in each stage. From assorted robotic samurai similar to your own craft to what appear to be little kamikaze guys strapped to kites, the enemies are what other villains should look up to.
Most importantly, Robo Aleste succeeds where it really matters gameplay. Though a step or two down in depth from its predecessor, the weapons system is still fun to play with, featuring primary and special weapons which power-up separately. In fact, RA is a salute to R-Type in many respects here. The primary weapon is what you start with, firing forward and powering up bit by bit via collecting capsules. The special weapons look and work more like the traditional shooter power-ups, in fact they rip-off the pretty bad. Not very original, but at least they ripped off something cool and did it well. There are two orbs that float in front of Aleste, and grabbing colored icons will cause them to become active; blue for giant laser beams in a frontal assault, orange for little scatter bombs, green to fire throwing stars off at angles and yellow (my favorite) causes the orbs to rotate around your mech and then fly out and attack approaching enemies. Since having all that firepower is useless without anything to shoot at, the enemy alliance is kind enough to deliver plenty of targets straight to you. Lots of targets. From a few seconds into a stage until right before the boss, enemies come in one continuous wave. Unlike most of the more modern shooters, emphasis is placed on the physical presence of the enemies. Don't expect to lose count of the number of bullets onscreen too often, but that does not mean the action is not intense. Far from it. Whether it be a swarm of small, pathetic kite-men or large dual-turreted tanks, these foes are more than willing to impede your progress. All the more reason to keep rockin'!
Although not quite up to par with MUSHA, Robo Aleste is a fantastic addition to Compile's resume, and one of the best games on the Sega CD.