|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Once upon a time, long before Street Fighter and Daytona hit the arcades, variety ruled the gaming scene. It was a time when not every game was either a racer or a fighter, and another genre was strong among its peers: the shooter. Most notable among them were titles such as Gradius, Raiden, and 1942. Thanks to Square, who brought us Final Fantasy VII, the shooter makes a brief return, in the form of Einhander for the Sony PlayStation.
"Einhander" is the code name for a kamikaze assault squad in the year 2242. Players take the role of an Einhander pilot fighting for the moon against Earth in a war for resources. Six stages, dozens of bosses, and wave upon wave of enemy ships are all that stand between you and victory.
Five ships are available, each with an assortment of weaponry. Each has a basic cannon plus room for additional "gunpods" — special armaments packing extra punch, but limited ammunition. These pods can also shield the top or bottom of the ship from enemy fire, depending on their position. Otherwise, there are no bonuses or power-ups.
Shooters may be considered basic, but Einhander's controls are not. With seven buttons to consider, players will have their hands full. The fighters can move at four speeds, switch between three weapons, fire two simultaneously, and rotate one into different positions — all the while dodging enemy fire from every direction. This level of control provides the ships with the necessary versatility to fight their way through the opposition, and players will be able to do just that after a few training sessions with the game.
The required quick reaction times and limited ammunition make Einhander a grand challenge. Enemies rarely swarm areas so much that it cannot be breached, but only after several attempts. Ten continues, at three lives each, are allotted per game, and a single game will last an hour at most. The bosses are equipped with unexpected weapons and attack patterns; players will be left guessing whether it is truly dead, or preparing to unleash armageddon. Each session will get players a bit farther past the enemy lines; progess will be slow, but steady.
Einhander's graphics are superb. Enemy ships fly in and out of the screen, while the levels progress slowly or quickly in any direction. The occassional diagonally- sideways perspective will appear, offering the robotic fiends the opportunity for an imposing entrance.
The music is equally marvelous. The fast-paced rhythms or slow-paced tunes may not always match the action on-screen, but more often than not provides the situation with the perfect background. Gunfire and explosions make for adequate sound effects. Each stage is introduced by a female voice detailing the new mission, while terran police issue warnings and threats in English and German.
The statistics from each crusade, successful or not, are saved and compiled on the memory card. Players may review their records in several areas in a variety of graphs to note their improvement or slumps.
A two-player mode would definitely be appreciated. Most all classic shooters have this feature, and would work well in Einhander, be it simultaneous or alternating.
Einhander isn't about to revitalize the shooter genre; such an evolution is unlikely to occur anytime soon. But Square has nonetheless provided an excellent title with a challenge unique among the current plethora of offerings. Kudos to Square for spotting this oversight in today's market and supplying something to temporarily fill it.
This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 18-May-98