Sol-Feace – Sega CD
Platform: Sega CD
Developer: Wolf Team
Release Date: October 1992
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
*See bottom of review for cheat codes.
Screw battletoads… This might be the hardest game EVER made. Read on and you’ll see why.
Immediately following the developer’s introduction, Sol-Feace kicks off the game with a truly deep, thorough, and well-designed story line. The words scroll across the screen from top to bottom, but due to futuristic CD abilities, a well-enunciated man is able to read the story out loud. Ominous music fills the room as you sit in the dark and engulf yourself completely in the story:
In the distant future approximately 300 solar systems, including our own, are under the domination of the computer form, the GCS-WT. Having been under the cruel control of the GCS-WT for centuries, the humans unite and plan to end the oppressive control of this machine. Unfortunately the human underground movement is detected by the interplanetary security force of the GCS-WT before the overthrow can begin. The humans are branded as an unnecessary and dangerous race, resulting in their systematic genocide. But the movement had not completely died.
Edwin Feace, a scientist from the Altile Solar System managed to penetrate the security code of the GCS-WT and destroy the data in the date bank. The humans believed that GCS-WT would be inoperable for 300 hours while it was recovering from the destroyed data. The last hope for the humans was to reach the planet Earth while the GCS-WT was inoperable and destroy the computer life-form. With this task in mind, the starship “Sol Feace” left for a treacherous journey.
It’s a tad bit long and very detailed, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that a game would take so much time to put together such a comprehensive story for a game that seemingly had little to no marketing. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has heard of this game. BUT, among the line of great Shmups, Sol-Feace delivers in ways that Gradius III wishes they could have (and don’t get me wrong, Gradius III is one of my favorite games of all time). I typically skip through an entire intro and regard it as unnecessary mumbo-jumbo. But for some reason, I was compelled to read this story and I found myself surrounded with anxiety as I couldn’t wait to continue through and see what happened next.
Next I found myself watching a somewhat-anime of lightly animated (mostly still frame anime pictures) of Edwin Feace and his partner as they battled the GCS-WT enemies. It’s a new experience for me, and that had me on the edge of my seat. I’ve played this game a dozen times at least but I never took the time to focus on the story, much less actually listen to and watch the story. Needless to say, I was thrilled with their efforts.
Sol-Feace starts off simple and easy as you hit the start button and you’re thrown right into the heat of battle. You are Edwin Feace and you are operating this starship, the Sol Feace, as you dodge bullets and kill enemies as they attempt to thwart your plans to destroy the machine. Gradius III offers endless spaceship customization and one begins to wonder if they’ll ever get to play. Not Sol-Feace. The battle starts right away.
The controls are easy to pick up and the game starts you off with a power-up right in your reach. This will increase the range of your lasers and will help you tremendously. Even on the lowest difficulty setting (between the 2 choices of NORMAL and MANIA), the game can prove to have some true challenges. I noticed floating debris and was afraid that it might damage my ship. The larger pieces do but the smaller pieces don’t. So don’t worry.
I somehow breezed through the first couple of missions without getting killed once (I guess my practice on Strikers 1945 earlier got me ready for this one!), but I still felt challenged. I was amazed at the responsiveness of the controls on the d-pad, as I had originally feared that I would struggle tremendously without the joystick.* But the round shape of the d-pad makes the Sega Genesis 3 button controller so special. It allows your thumb to just sort of roll around the d-pad, which proves to be an essential skill if one wants to be successful and advance through these challenging levels.
You might notice the levels rapidly increasing in difficulty. You only have a limited number of lives, so be wise and don’t gamble too often. If a power-up is out of reach, it’s probably not worth risking one of your lives to get it. The chaos really ramps up as you get to mission 3. It’s just madness from here on out, but hopefully by then you will be strong and ready for the challenge. I died in stage 3 as I just couldn’t do much to stay alive. It was really kicking my ass and I couldn’t avoid anything. But one thing I noticed was that the levels are somewhat short. So giving it another go around felt like the right thing to do!
NERD HINT: Don’t get discouraged when you get a game over and it takes you to the title screen. There’s a continue option right above configurations! Nerd On!
My second go-around was much tougher than the first. I guess my patience was a little low, or it could be this sweet sudsy elixir taking hold of my reflexes and suspending them… But who knows. I’m no doctor. Each level is designed with a beautiful backdrop and offers up a variety of settings created with such vibrant and brilliant colors. The enemies are varied as well and each enemy offers their own unique type of attack. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a battle with a boss, but it’s not enough that you have to duke it out with some crazy huge boss that shoot missiles out of his butt and spits cannons from his mouth, he has a slew of other enemies at his disposal that fly around and attack you while you’re trying to get just a few hits on the boss. These bosses take 100,000,000,000,333,303,444,000 hits each and then when you’re done with that boss, you’ll fly about 20 yards forward and face another near indestructible boss. It’s not fun. It’s stupid. It’s stupid difficult. But with the 99 lives on, you can take some of the pressure off and embrace the madness.
Sol-Feace is hard. This game is hard as balls. But that’s what shmups are all about. Sol-Feace requires precision, peripheral vision, lightning quick reflexes, patience as you wait for an opening to develop so you can get through unscathed, maze solving as you pick the best route to take to avoid the barrage of bullets and lasers coming at you, and a willingness to accept the fact that you can’t win. The AI isn’t very advanced and all the enemies seem very formulaic in their efforts to kill you in the same way from the same places. The bullets are designed to home in on the Sol-Feace Starship though, so beware. Many times I found myself laying down some serious gunfire on a large machine only to get hit with a single… stray… bullet….. From nowhere! It requires the player to keep his eyes peeled and be prepared for anything. One will find themselves moving all the way to the bottom of the screen, all the way to the front, and rarely hanging out on the back line.
Overall Sol-Feace is magnificent. One might notice the completely unnoticeable loading times. It’s almost as if there is no loading at all. Sol-Feace is overly difficult and far too unforgiving for any minor misstep. But there are endless frustrating rewards to be had at any point in any level. While Sol-Feace is only a one player game, you will oftentimes find yourself competing against yourself to go further than you did last time. Sol-Feace holds itself up very strong against other popular recognized shmups such as the Gradius series, Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga, Don Pachi, Strikers 1945 II, and more. It might not be better than any of those games, but this game deserves to be in the honorable mention for top 10 shmups of all time. It offers all of the challenge, all of the crazy gunfire, all of the power-ups, and all of the chaos that make a shmup well… a shmup!
The shmup genre is all but dead in North America, but Japan is still churning these games out and has been the leader in such games. The Japanese are known for their higher ability to master any video game and to play such challenging games with ease. Rumor is that Nintendo thought Super Mario Bros 2 for the NES would be too hard for Americans, so they turned an unreleased game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panis into what would be the Super Mario Bros 2 game that we grew up with and learned to accept as a Mario title, despite the odd game mechanics and overall strange feeling.
I highly recommend Sol-Feace from a perspective of anyone who wants to play a challenging game and frustrate the crap out of themselves. It’s not for everyone, and some people will find that they just can’t beat the first mission. But others will relish in its beautiful graphics, wonderful music, thorough back story, and feverish gameplay. If The Cubist has a code for this game on his Game Genie, I’ll crap my pants with joy. I have only reduced some of its scoring due to the absurd amount of difficulty. This game is a truly impossible experience, even with 99 lives it’s near impossible.
*I did attempt to play this game with a joystick, thinking it would simplify the movements of the Sol-Feace starship with a more fluid range of control. But I was wrong. I felt that it actually reduced my reaction time as I had to move this huge 4 inch joystick just to get any movement. My entire hand would have to move to go from left to right. But on the d-pad one only needs to roll their thumb or slide their thumb and it reacts instantly. Surprisingly the basic controller is hands down superior.
Submitted by NerdBerry
There is a cheat mode that opens up new options in the configurations screen. AT THE TITLE SCREEN Press the following in a fairly fast motion: A, B, C, A, B, C, B, C, B, A – You’ll hear a chime.
Activate cheat mode. Go into configurations. Set the mode to Easy and press right 4 times for 99 lives! You’ll know it worked because it’ll say Mode – MY99 (see picture).
Activate cheat mode. While you are playing, press A+B+C to skip levels.
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