The Game Gear shooter library is wonderful ... for people who hate choices. There are two traditional shooters available, double that if you import. Master developer Compile put two out, both of which are supposed to be very good. Naturally, those are the two that stayed in Japan. That leaves us here in the west with Aerial Assault and Halley Wars. Neither does a very good job of standing out, but the latter is easily the better of the two.
Halley Wars isn't a game anyone will be immersed in right away as it fails to make a good first impression. Especially early on, the visuals are frightfully boring. A clear night sky may be pretty in reality, but loses its charm translated onto the Game Gear. The rest isn't much more exciting; had the game been released on the original Game Boy the color would not have been affected all that much. Improvements are made as the game progresses, but barring a few interesting parts graphics are a bust throughout. Even for a default ship, you begin a bit on the slow and cumbersome side, and the little ping-pong balls you shoot aren't too menacing, either. The only thing that really seems promising in those first few minutes is the sound. Simple and upbeat melodies reminiscent of some of the better 8-bit tracks we have all come to know and love and sound effects that actually sound kind of like what they are supposed to represent, but not too much like it. It's all good.
Once speed and power-ups start getting cranked out like dirty e-mails from a Senator's office, the gameplay gets interesting. Being transformed from a blind, helpless kitten to a pouncing tiger in a matter of minutes is a great feeling. The sprites are all very small, making this one of the few games that actually makes the Game Gear screen look big. Loss of graphical detail is easily made up for by the huge amount of space to move around in; which is hard to appreciate when still slow and weak, but speed and spread shot alleviate that problem. With no glaring faults to slow the gaming experience down, form then on the game finds a nice groove and just kind of coasts onward from the momentum. Nothing really wrong with that, per se, but they probably could have also taken off and brought the game to the next level, too. At least the coasting doesn't stop at "The End." An impressive amount of effort was put into making each skill level not only harder than the previous one, but almost an entirely new experience. Not only are there more enemies in medium and hard, but new enemies, with new patterns and with less wait between waves. It may not seem like a lot, but it gives a whole new level of replay value to a game that otherwise may not have had much.
Like its colleague, Halley Wars lacks the finesse and intensity to be a top shooter. But whereas Aerial Assault does about everything wrong, Halley War at least gets the fundamentals down well enough to be playable and maybe even enjoyable.