The SNES was not the go to system for shoot ’em ups. It had its fair share, UN Squadron is a personal favorite, but the system wasn’t really known for blazing fast action games. The lack is mostly due to the SNES’s tendency to bog down when more than five or six sprites appeared on the screen. See Gradius III for a prime example. The other shoot ’em ups on the system are what makes Space Megaforce so astounding.
I don’t know that Space Megaforce is a great game. It is too hard for me, which isn’t really a point against it considering my limited shmup skills, but it is a barrier to my ability to enjoy and judge the game. It is, however, quite an achievement, running as fast and as smooth as it does on the SNES. Space Megaforce, which is the terrible American title of Super Aleste, is an SNES shmup with no, or little, slowdown. It is hectic and challenging and most of all fast. It is unlike any other game on the system. Space Megaforce was made by Compile, a company known for its excellent shooters and Puyo Puyo before it died and was reborn as Compile Heart, which is known for churning out terrible JRPGs. Whatever wizardry Compile employed to get Space Megaforce to run as smoothly as it does has, as far as I know, never been replicated.
Its power up system manages to be robust without being as punishing as something like Gradius. In Gradius, your ship eventually becomes a tornado of destruction filling the screen with projectiles, but when you die it takes forever to build that power back up. It is almost easier to just restart and build up you power during the easier first level than to try to rebuild in the middle of a more difficult section. Space Megaforce does not give the player the same breadth of options as that game, but it is easier to keep going after a death. There are 8 or so weapons, all of which can be powered up by grabbing more of the same power ups. All of them have multiple fire patterns as well. Getting killed sucks, it always does, but you can grab on power up and be back in some form of business.
There are flaws, the biggest I encountered being the uneven length of the stages. Some stages seem endless, just super long and repetitive. The challenge is as much in endurance as it is in skill. Some are short, ephemeral bursts. I don’t know that either choice is wrong, though those long stages are not to my preference, but a middle ground would have worked better. The more I think about it the less sure I am that the stages were excessively long, but they certainly felt that way, which is as big of a problem.
Space Megaforce is pretty great. It is a stellar example of a genre that wasn’t really the SNES’s forte that somehow just ignores the weaknesses of the system to give a fast, twitchy experience.