The first Aleste game in about 28 years, GG Aleste 3 is a sequel to the pair of handheld entries that appeared on the Sega Game Gear in 1991 and 1993, and developers M2 and director Manabu Namiki (composer on such shooter classics as Battle Garegga) have programmed the game so that it could conceivably run on that ageing bit of Z80 hardware.
What does this mean from the player’s perspective? Chunky pixels, warbling chiptune music, and a somewhat limited number of bullets and enemies on screen. This isn’t to say GG Aleste 3 feels outdated, however: it’s still a fast-paced and immensely absorbing horizontal blaster with some classy music and superb design flourishes, from big, imaginative end-of-level boss designs to the tiny birds that flutter across the trees at the start of stage two.
GG Aleste 3 (or Galvanic Gunner Aleste 3) also stands in stark contrast to the kinds of modern shooters that have appeared in more recent years: the great curtains of swirling ordnance that define the bullet hell subgenre are nowhere to be seen, and neither are there additional baubles like elaborate score mechanics.
Instead, the sequel quite rightly harks back to the style and pace of earlier spaceship shooters; here, the emphasis is on memorising enemy patterns and controlling the centre of the screen. In this respect, GG Aleste 3 remains true to its series lineage: like earlier games, your craft has primary and secondary weapons. The first can be upgraded by collecting the tiny pellets that shower forth as you gun down certain enemies, while the latter can be switched and upgraded by grabbing lettered power-up icons.
There are six secondary weapons; these range from homing missiles to more defensive spinning shields to bolts of energy that fire straight ahead, and each has its own glorious name (‘Rising Laser’ is my personal favourite).
GG Aleste 3 is by no means the hardest in the series, but there’s a pleasing balance here that feels nicely pitched for modern audiences: getting hit will downgrade your weapons, but it won’t rob you entirely of your defences like, say, the original Aleste – also known as Power Strike – which was an unremittingly harsh game. GG Aleste 3 doesn’t exactly tear up the shooter rule book – as always, it’s blast the bad guys, avoid the bullets, save the galaxy – but it does provide an experience that’s so true to its retro roots that it all still feels somehow fresh.
GG Aleste 3 captures something that eludes a lot of abstract-looking bullet hell shooters: a cinematic sense of occasion. The first stage alone, where you blow up gigantic star destroyers by hitting their vulnerable cores, makes you feel like you’re in the midst of an 8-bit space opera.
A satisfying throwback to a bygone era of Compile shooters.
Format: Switch (tested) / PS4 / Game Gear Micro
Price: £35 (approx)
Release: Out now