Last Christmas season Nintendo owners were blessed with the release of the space shooter, Gradius. Since then there have been several similar releases such as Section Z, Sqoon, and Sky Kid that have unfortunately fallen short of the quality and fun of Konami’s marquee shoot’em-up. This month Konami goes for round two by bringing us Stinger, a shooter that has many similar gameplay mechanics to Gradius, but with a much more humorous and quirky atmosphere. Oh, and it features a 2-player simultaneous mode so you don’t have to take turns!
Upon starting the game you’re greeted to a short animation screen that tells some of the backstory for the game. We don’t usually need a reason to blow up enemies, but the gesture is nice and it beats having to read about it in the instruction manual like so many other games seem to do. You must save the Earth from hungry aliens called Attackons. They have gone and kidnapped Dr. Cinnamon (no, really) because they need his formula to turn the planet into a giant ball of cotton candy. Yeah, I told you this game was quirky! It’s up to you (and a friend if you so choose) to fly your Stinger spaceships and destroy the Attackon forces. If you fail, we’re all doomed to a sticky existence.
Unlike most shooters, Stinger features both horizontal and vertical levels to really change up the action. You’ll defend the entire planet over seven distinct stages, each taking place over different settings, like Africa, the Arctic, and even outer space. Like most games of this ilk, your job is to take out as many enemy fighters as possible while avoiding their shots. Pressing “A” fires a bullet ahead of you while simultaneously dropping a bomb below your position, which allows you take out ground forces. As you might expect, at the end of each stage there is a boss you must defeat to move on. These are entirely crazy in their own rights – a giant watermelon that fires seeds at you is your first boss encounter and they get stranger from there. All of the enemy designs really stand out in this game, making it very unique and one that’s sure to stand out against the competition. I mean, where else are you going to shoot down possessed coat hangers, sneakers, and television sets?
The power-up system is directly lifted from Gradius, including Speed, Laser, Shield, plus Twin Cannons. Obtaining them is not nearly as fun, however, since you must take aim at a bell that drops out of clouds. If you shoot the bell multiple times it will change color, and the color corresponds to the power-up you’ll receive. If you just want to go for points, you can collect the default yellow colored bells to try and earn an extra life, but in most cases it’s better to try to upgrade your ship. The B button fires hearts above you making it easier to fire on the bells and enemies at the same time. On the vertically scrolling stages, the buttons change slightly as there are no hearts, but this is easy to adjust to. It can be very distracting to both try and shoot down enemy ships while trying to cycle through different colored bells to find the perfect power-up. Balancing your focus on both will be required in order to successfully navigate the levels.
In addition to the bells, there are all sorts of other bonus items to collect that appear when destroying ground targets. These will gift you abilities such as firing in multiple directions or even supplying a second aiding ship. You begin the game with three lives, and when you perish you will lose all of your acquired power-ups. Don’t lose hope, however! You have a split second to chase down a ghost ship and if you grab it on your next life you’ll regain all of your power-ups you just lost. You only have a small window of opportunity to do this, so stay sharp! The game is rather difficult, so you stand almost no chance of survival if you’re going into a boss fight with a bare bones ship.
One of the standout features of Stinger is the aforementioned 2-player cooperative mode. You both share the screen and work together to defeat the Attackon squadron. There is a combined ship attack power-up called the Ripple Laser you can both collect during this mode, which really helps devastate enemy forces. To balance this, some power-ups like the Star of Hope (a gun that fires in five directions) aren’t available in this mode. I had a blast playing through the game with a friend and it’s one feature that separates the rest of the shooters from this one.
The graphics aren’t quite as impressive as recent games like Metroid or The Legend of Zelda, but the game features vibrant colors and the enemies are intricately designed (especially the bosses), which really impressed me. Gone are the black backgrounds featured so prominently in other shooters. The variety of settings is a great touch, keeping things rad and exciting.
The music in the game is catchy and seems to go hand in hand with the upbeat, and often cute and silly theme of the game. I was disappointed in the amount of songs, however. There are only a total of three and they repeat every other level until the end stage. Given that Konami has shown that they have very skilled musicians (Castlevania says hello), I was expecting more out of this title.
There is no limit to the number of continues you have, so with only seven levels, skilled players might be able to defeat Stinger fairly quickly. The game is not easy by any means, but I found it a lot simpler than Gradius. Even after completing the game, there is a good amount of replay value with the 2-player mode and the opportunity to increase your high score. If you really want a challenge, I’d recommend trying to play through it without using any continues.
I had a wonderful time playing Stinger and it is certainly a game I plan on revisiting frequently. It has become my favorite 2-player co-op game on the Nintendo, of which there need to be more. Gradius has the edge in several ways, but the hilarious bosses, colorful levels, and catchy music give this game its own charm and sets it apart from the many clones of the genre.