Review: The Legend of Steel Empire (Nintendo Switch)

It’s Silverhead vs. Motorhead in this shoot-’em-up war set in a steampunk-ish 19th century. Who will come out on top? Lemmy tell you about The Legend of Steel Empire.

Originally released for the Sega Genesis in 1992, Steel Empire would go on to hit the Game Boy Advance in 2004 and Nintendo 3DS in 2014. Another decade, another Nintendo release. The Switch version comes with some visual enhancements that give the game a modern feel while thankfully retaining the charm of its 16-bit origins.

Review: The Legend of Steel Empire (Nintendo Switch)

The story, in case you need one, is that the Motorhead Empire has conquered the planet, and they now police it with gargantuan airships, trains, and flying fortresses. As a member of the Silverhead Republic, it’s up to you and your choice of one of two aircrafts to clear out Motorhead’s technology and free your people.

Why rest the hopes of a republic on one ship? I don’t know. Maybe because all of the ammunition on the planet is apparently aboard that ship. It’s not important. What is important is that you select the right craft for the right level. This being a shmup, you’ll face a barrage of “bullets” that come at you from all directions in myriad patterns. Are you better served by the Etupirka’s speed and smaller profile at the risk of less armor, or by the Zeppelin’s ability to absorb hits while sacrificing speed and maneuverability? Skilled players will be able to get by with either. I, on the other hand, would often get halfway through the game’s campaign-mode levels before realizing I stood a better chance with the other ship. Count on plenty of restarts/replays as you build your skills and work your way through.

No matter which ship you take, attacking is a three-button affair; you’ve got your standard attack and your limited-use full-screen attacks.

The interesting twist is that your forward and rear attacks are set to different buttons. You don’t just turn around to fire the other way, you flip between the A and Y buttons. And you’ll do this a lot. The larger enemies have a habit of moving to the opposite end of the screen, forcing you to dodge bullets as you do the same to keep up the attack. This need to navigate the entire screen—as opposed to constantly firing in one direction—really gives The Legend of Steel Empire a unique feel and pumped-up energy.

Of course, there are plenty of power-ups to be obtained. As you’d expect, they provide more powerful attacks, a wider area of fire, etc. Some of these power-ups are so essential that I would occasionally quit mid-level if I lost them. There’s no point in facing some of the bosses if your ship isn’t decked out. Combined with the just-hold-down-the-attack-button approach to combat, there’s never a shortage of explosive action happening on the screen. Whether you’re fighting a boss or its initial minions, the action is intense.

Thankfully, it performs well and looks good in both docked and handheld modes. This is largely due to the mixture of 16-bit sprites with modern HD backgrounds and informational frame layout. The Legend of Steel Empire is fun to look at throughout, but especially when a new boss first reveals itself.

The audio, however, is a head-scratcher. Someone was asleep at the mixing board, as certain sound elements completely drown out others for no good reason. A little more subtlety in the balancing would’ve been appreciated. Also, there’s an audio effect in the title screen that is so annoying I assumed the game had glitched and frozen at launch. Had I been wearing headphones, I would’ve ripped them off and thrown them to the floor.

That aside, The Legend of Steel Empire provides a high energy, highly entertaining adrenaline shot of arcade gaming. Multiple difficulty levels allow players of all skill levels to hop into their chosen aircraft and have fun, although even the easiest setting offers enough challenge to make the victories rewarding.

The game is not long at all, but trying a higher difficulty after each completion provides incentive for multiple playthroughs. I’d like to see the game priced about $5 cheaper, but score chasers will get plenty of bang for their buck.

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