The SEGA 32X; when asked about good games for it what do you think after you've stopped laughing? I'm sure the couple of Sega arcade games that made their way to 32X come to mind, you might then think of a couple ports worth playing. Original IPs on the 32X worth playing? That might be harder, surprisingly enough the 32X has a couple of them. Shadow Squadron happens to be one.
The first thing I noticed about this game was the music, it is totally out of place; sounding more like songs from Sonic or some other bright platformer then a science fiction epic. This both confuses and disappoints me; good, dramatic music, is absolutely essential for blowing up capital ships. The rest of the sound is your average laser sounds and not a whole lot else, you are in space after all.
Let's be honest, by today's standards (or even by the standards set just a couple years after this game came out), this game isn't very sharp looking. Now, as contradictory as it may sound, this game isn't that ugly, and it manages to impress if you take it under the right context (that being the game is twelve years old). The game packs a lot on screen with no slowdown, something that Star Wars Arcade can't claim. Not only the enemies on screen sets this game apart from its 16-Bit 3D brothers on the Genesis, another feat is the draw in distance; there is no pop-up in most levels, ships start as little specks in the distance and as you approach them they scale into massive, screen filling ships.
Speaking of the ships, the art direction is actually pretty good; the different varities of ships are all relatively elaborate and interesting. My favorite target is the giant acceleration gate, not only is it cool looking, but if you get to close it flings you across the level. I also like when you peg a fighter, it spirals out of control before explodes. The explosion isn't pretty (flying triangles represent the remains!) but is pretty satisfying. What is a little strange is they chose lime green to color all the alien ships; almost every one is the same color.
What makes the game unique is that when you start shooting at the ship and hit anywhere but the middle, huge pieces blow off. This weakens the ships offensive power, but does not disable the ship. You are left with two choices, charge straight at the ship and blast away at the ships core, or slowly pick off the ship, part by part. The first option is quicker and conserves your ships energy, but there is a great chance that a volley form the enemy ship will tear your ship apart. The second option is the safe route, but if you're not quick about it, you will waste valuable energy. This choice isn't too important at first, but when you start running low on energy and shields later in the game, you will be forced to pick a strategy.
It wouldn't be fair to expect this game to have great controls. After all, the genesis controller just wasn't meant to have a free roaming 3D game on it. Yes, you have complete range of motion in your missions and are free to pick the order in which you complete your objective. This becomes crucial in later levels where you must budget your energy to win. It's easy to hit the bigger ships, the d-pad holds up just fine for that, but hitting the enemy fighters proves to be a struggle, luckily the game is forgiving and only requires one shot to down them(at least with the more powerful ship). Your ship shots laser and the ever present in psy-phy laser missiles. You are also given a speed boost which you need in which to beat the final mission. (The manual neglects to tell you how to do said speed boost, not funny guys.) You also have a shield, or at least you are supposed to; when activated it does nothing but drain your energy. Not that it's ineffective, it literally does not work.
There are actually quite a bit of extras to see here. You can view a gallery of every object in the game, which is actually pretty interesting if you liked the ships as I did. You can also save replays temporarily and view them from other angles. This is choppy for some reason, and I am told that it won't save a whole play through. If that's true, then what fun is that?
The game also allows you to co-op the game, one person flies while the other guns. For some, this may be more trouble then it's worth. There tends to be a lot of poor teamwork happening when people play like this. Maybe it's just me.
In the end, reviewing a twelve year old polygonal game is a bitch, you have to take into account how good it was when it came out, but that also needs to be weighed against if anyone would still play it. To answer the second question; Shadow Squadron is perched precariously between "no" and "yes" some won't care that it's full of flat sided objects, some will. It comes down to that, do you want to experience an early triumph of 3D on consoles or not?