Inspired by Studio Ghibli’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky, HOT・B’s revered arcade classic Steel Empire is long remembered for seeing players soar through fantastical worlds themed around steampunk aviation.
Charting a flight path to the SEGA Mega Drive, many years later it would dock with Game Boy Advance. But now, some 13 years after it first saw release, it arrives on Nintendo 3DS remodelled, refuelled and more ready than ever to hypnotically dance around bullet hell.
Steel Empire casts the player in A.D. 18XX, at a time in which the Motorhead Empire had started waging war on neighbouring countries. With mankind fearing its own destruction, The Republic of Silverhead rose ready to fend for their own survival and bring peace to the world by defeating the Empire’s daunting armies.
Players will take to the skies as a pilot serving in the Silverhead Republic’s army, either sat behind the Etopirica (ET-02R) or Zappellon (ZP-02N) – with each being differentiated in their attack pattern, speed and durability. As with any side-scrolling shoot’em up, or shmup as they are affectionately known, gameplay is ridiculously easy to grasp meaning that there isn’t really a barrier to you soon dominating the skyline.
You steer your chosen aircraft using either the Circle or Control Pad, with the A and Y Button letting you shoot to the right and left respectively. If you ever feel that you’re facing dire circumstances, players can slam the B Button to use ‘The Thunder’ – a super bomb that will decimate any on-screen enemies.
Downing enemies will provide a chance to increase your score while securing three power-ups will see your ship’s level increase. That will reward you by steadily improving your firepower, the highest level being capped at 20. While supporting planes can be called upon to triple the stream of bullets that you rain down on inbound foes.
With four difficulty settings, the experience can be as empowering or tense as you want to make it. Stock and credits can be increased on the options screen, softening the strain of an early demise and stirring the courage necessary to conquer Steel Empire‘s campaign.
Your time will be extended by competing on ranking boards, unlocking achievements, and collecting artwork from the original Steel Empire that can be viewed within an in-game gallery. There’s also an opportunity to save replay data, which you can sit back and watch whenever you wish.
Everything oozes retro appeal, from the pixellated steampunk aesthetic right through to the rousing soundscape. Boss fights deliver particularly astounding set pieces, the player chipping away at hulking vessels that loom over the majority of the screen.
Even as someone who has had less experience with the genre, it is clear that Steel Empire delivers an experience to be cherished. As a remake, even retreading old ground produces a dizzying sensation as you soar through skies darkened by hellfire.