Feature: Five Frantic Years - A Brief History of Aleste 1

Feature: Five Frantic Years – A Brief History of Aleste

Nintendo
Aleste SMS (1)

Compile are best known as the creators of the evergreen Puyo Puyo series, a franchise that began as a spin-off of their Japan-only Madou Monogatari series of (mostly) dungeon-crawling RPGs and gone on to weather just about all the ups and downs gaming can throw at it – not just surviving the demise of Compile itself in 2003, but arguably becoming stronger than ever, if Sega’s most recent quirky collaboration, Puyo Puyo Tetris 2, is anything to go by. But there was always another side to Compile far away from squishy puyos, colourful mazes and magic; a world of sleek spaceships and nonstop arcade-like vertical shmup action – the world of Aleste.

The Aleste series debuted on Sega’s Master System back in 1988 and was surprisingly released in all three major territories in the same year, although the US version was apparently mail order only in the beginning (as if being a Master System game in the land of the NES wasn’t difficult enough already). It reviewed and sold well enough to justify the release of a rebalanced and slightly expanded Japan-exclusive version of the same game for the MSX2 range of home computers just a few months later, which was swiftly followed on the same format in 1989 by the impossibly cool Aleste Gaiden (we enjoy shiny shmup ships as much as anyone, but who wouldn’t want to see them replaced by a heavily armoured futuristic ninja every now and then?) with the impressively bio-mechanical styled Aleste II coming out just a few months after that. Over thirty years on those games still remain out of reach for many of those outside Japan who fell in love with the first game, the games currently unavailable to purchase even on region-locked digital stores – and are disappointingly absent from Aleste’s very own M2 Shot Triggers collection.

But at least those titles have the decency of being plain old virtually unattainable, which is at least easier to understand than the confusing mess of ever-changing and unrelated names that followed for international fans of Aleste, ahem, Power Strike. In Japan, you’d know you were buying an Aleste game because it would have “Aleste” written somewhere on the front of the box – really, it was that simple. The rest of the world was not so lucky.

The original Aleste was released everywhere else as Power Strike, and from that starting point US (and only US) fans skip the three MSX games we mentioned earlier and get to play the excellent Mega Drive title M.U.S.H.A. (if you were wondering, that’s a backronym: Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armour) in 1990, a renamed version of Musha Aleste – not the biggest change in here by any means, but still a notable break that gives potential players no hint at all that the game is related to either the Power Strike they may have previously enjoyed on Sega’s 8-bit console or the import delights of Aleste. Sadly, this version never saw release in Europe, although it was a firm favourite in its Japanese form with importers in that region.