One of the reasons I enjoy the old-school gaming so much has got to be the bevy of side-scrolling shooter games. This is a genre that most have forgotten about, if they were even familiar to begin with. This is also the reason I finally got my filthy hands into the Neo Geo's cookie jar. Pulstar is visually astounding, with a difficulty level for everyone and solid controls. Still, as is the nature of every truly great shooter, it can be harsh and unforgiving.
Unless you're willing to cash in your 401k it's going to be quite a hassle tracking this thing down. I was lucky enough to get mine from a friend of a friend whose brother had the game but not a Neo Geo. That, in itself, is the biggest deterrent when it comes to the Neo Geo; the lack of availability and the staggering price tags. However, for the time this was as good as it could possibly get, and it shows every time you play it. Pulstar still impresses me whenever I put it in. From the ship you control to the highly imaginative enemies and bosses, this game shan't disappoint. The backgrounds tend to be on the sparse side, but with so much going on in the foreground you won't have time to nit pick.
One of things I've never liked about shooters is the incorporation of losing a life when coming too close to the screen's borders. I know it's most likely a personal pet peeve, but it gives new meaning to the expression "tight squeeze" when you're bombarded on all sides by enemy fire. But, again, this is something that will keep you on your toes and force you to practice.
The levels themselves are very diverse and the enemies are rarely found in more levels than one. My personal favorite is the interior of a giant meteor, with huge rock-dwelling worms and what appear to be balls of worms that split apart and scatter across the screen. Again, the level of detail in the enemies is amazing.
As is pretty standard with most shooters for the Neo Geo, the system of either charging your shot meter one direction by holding the button down or charging it the other direction by pressing the button very fast is employed. I like this idea, as it adds depth to something as simple as how you want to attack the enemies.
The only thing I've found that stands out as not cohesive with the rest of the game would have to be the 3D effects that begin each level. It was 1995, so I'm able to give them the benefit of the doubt, but they really look out of place in an otherwise 2D game. Besides the rest of the game has an anime-inspired feel to it; I just feel they're a tad un-necessary. Thankfully, you can turn these off to reduce loading times.
If it's at all possible to find this gem I would seriously advise you do so. I've found very few shooters that stack up to it even by today's new Dreamcast shooter standards. It's high time I review a game that I genuinely enjoyed again; back to the CD-i (groan)....