The Nintendo 64 may not be famous for housing very many shoot-em-ups, but it had at least one under its belt in the form of Hudson Soft’s Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth. While Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth is certainly a fun title, it doesn’t necessarily bring anything to the genre that you couldn’t see elsewhere.
Basically, if you’ve played a Japanese space shoot-em-up, you know what to expect. You can fire a never-ending onslaught of lasers at countless enemy ships, while avoiding their fire in a top-down perspective in rail-shooter levels. It’s basic stuff, but fun.
Players can control either a red, blue or green ship. Each ship has a standard shot which you can shoot to infinity and beyond, which is used with a press of the A button, as well as special attacks that are performed with the B and Z buttons. The standard shot can be upgraded if you collect enough power-ups (which look like yellow and green spinning… thing. I honestly don’t know what they’re supposed to be). Additionally, you can deflect some enemy shots by doing a barrel roll with a press of the R button.
Because your ship is so powerful offensively, it only makes sense that it would be on the fragile side in terms of defense. It only takes a couple of hits before you see the game over screen, at which point you have to restart whatever stage you were on from the beginning. If you keep getting the power-ups, you get a few extra hits, but you’ll also lose your weapon upgrades. If you die, you’ll restart the level with your starting lasers which, in later stages, can make things really difficult. So you’ll really want to memorize the level and enemy layouts to preserve your weapons and health.
If you want to rack up points, the red and green ships are desirable, as their guns can shoot in wider areas (with the red ship even being able to shoot directly behind itself while shooting in all directions ahead, after enough power-ups are grabbed). This allows the red and green ship to keep hitting enemies non-stop, thus racking up combos and points. But the blue ship is a lot stronger and more ideal for the boss fights, as its special weapons (a barrage of missiles and a comically oversized laser) are devastating. I really enjoy playing as the red ship, but I find the first boss incredibly difficult when playing as it. Meanwhile, the blue ship only needs to use its specials a couple of times and the boss goes down without taking a hit. So you could say there’s some decent variety in play styles at least.
Being an N64 title, the game obviously isn’t much to look at. On the plus side, this is a genre that never really gained much from graphical fidelity, so it’s easy to look past its archaic visuals and just enjoy the mayhem. The music is also pretty simple, but really upbeat and catchy, as you would expect from a Hudson game of the era.
Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth remains a fun game, and I have many fond memories of it (not least of which being that it never received a cartridge that would fit in a western N64, and came bundled with the “Super 64” peripheral just to play it). But it’s also pretty standard for its genre. Playing a game of this kind on the N64 may have been a treat back in the day, but if you’ve played other shoot-em-ups, Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth may only have a limited appeal.