By ShellShock
Revised on 12/06/07

 

   

 

 

(The) Steel Empire

Players: 1
About: Steam-punk shooter
Courtesy of: Hot-B
Back in: 1992
Originally on: Genesis
Also on: GBA

 
             
 

Ever heard of Gaelco? What about Promat? Comad? No, they are not prescription pills. They are small game companies nobody cares about that at some point (sometimes even their whole career) made the incursion into the erotic/pornographic puzzle genre. Unlike Kaneko's classic "Gals Panic" series and Namco's lame but great looking "Dancing Eyes"; Promat's "Perestroika Girls", Comad's "Miss World '96 Nude" and Gaelco's "Glass" among others threw away what little remnant of class they had out the window and jumped on the porn bandwagon in hopes of making a quick buck.
Hot-B was among these companies too. But they didn't stop there, no sir. If you look beyond their dubious R-rated history of now denied "Play Girls" arcade series and buried "Super Shanghai Dragon's Eye", you will find that they also took a shot at the fighting genre and have an unreleased Arkanoid-like title. But their crowning achievement and biggest pride is, of course, the "Black Bass" and "Blue Marlin" fishing simulators. Remember that little black and white fishing game for the original GameBoy that nobody ever bought? Although most of us don't care about fishing, let alone on a video screen, both series are underground cult hits and seem to be the best of their kind (not that they have much to compete with).

And then, out of nowhere, Steel Empire. How does a company that made 3 adult titles, an awful street fighter clone and fishing simulators come up with the creative and cool looking Steel Empire?
Despite what you might read from other online sources, this horizontal shoot'em up wasn't made by Flying Edge. They are its publishers. Besides, Acclaim and its many labels and divisions (Flying Edge, LJN, Arena Entertainment, etc) were not much of a home for creative minds; most of their titles coming from movie, sports, cartoons and tv show licenses.

Megadrive cover
Genesis cover
Confusions confusions...

Steel Empire is just a simple horizontal shoot'em up with a little identity problem. For example, if you live in Europe and want to buy the Megadrive cartridge you would have to look for it under "Empire of Steel". BUT, if you want the recent GBA version, it's called "Steel Empire". Now if you live in the U.S., the box for the Genesis version reads "Steel Empire", while the game's title screen reads "The Steel Empire". Confusing uh? By the way, in Japan it's called "Koutetsu Teikoku".

Japanese Megadrive cover

This Sega title was never that great of a game, but its stylish design taken right out of a Jules Verne novel and its unusual movie-like presentation will surely draw attention and keep you interested for a while. Maybe even thru all of the 7 levels.
You see, hot-air balloons, steam powered tanks, huge flying fortresses and other strange (and even goofy) machinery are the game's main attractions. Original bosses and mini-bosses too, each with different destructible parts, although you'll have to fight some of them again towards the last stages. Add some interesting level designs like a high speed chase thru a narrow mine shaft, taking down a flying submarine over the sea, and even soar over the moon's surface after being shot out of a cannon and there you have it: Steel Empire. Something your garden variety Thunderforce, Gradius or Darius can't offer.

Hmmm....

From the moment you switch the power on on your console, you are greeted with an early 1920's cinematic presentation. A reel of black and white film flickering on the screen sets the mood for the game's era, and continues throughout its entirety in the form of small cut-scenes. A very nice detail.
As part of the "Silverhead" republic, you take on General Styron and its "Motorhead Empire", who's taken over the world. The slower but tougher "Z-01" zeppelin or faster but weaker "Striker" airplane are your two choices of aircraft at the beginning of each level. Both have the same and only type of upgradeable shot during the whole game (you can shoot both forward and back with 2 separate buttons), but in addition to that, the zeppelin hurls anti-air mines while the airplane drops bombs to annihilate ground squadrons.
The Silverhead republic's pride, the "Lightning Bomb", is available on both airships and performs as the usual screen-clearing emergency weapon; and a set of 2 small optional pods will aid you in shooting after you collect the proper "Option" item.
An unusual "experience" system is the way to upgrade your shot. Picking up 3 small "EX" icons raises the aircrafts shooting level by 1 for a maximum of 20, and you keep your level even after being shot down or continuing. Because of this and the handy energy gauge, the difficulty level is quite forgiving even though both your fighter's controls tend to be a little bit too sensitive.

Japanese GBA cover

On to the bad news, as you can see the color palette is very limited. Occasional but horrible bright greens, pinks and purples shouldn't exist in a game with a mechanical, rusty steel theme. My first thought was blaming the hardware, but we have seen better in Thunderforce and others.
Terrible sound effects (I do blame the hardware now) and some slowdown crown the game's defects, and the soundtrack would have sounded great if it was played in better hardware. From the title's military march theme to the fast rock during the mine escape. Good stuff.

European GBA cover

12 years later, after being completely forgotten, the Genesis exclusive shooter comes to the european and japanese GBA markets. Reprogrammed by Star-Fish, Hot-B's most respectable title raises from the grave and makes full use of Nintendo's better hardware to become one of the best shoot'em ups in the system. Almost every issue that prevented the original from becoming a great shooter has been eliminated. Better sounding effects, a colorful palette and some Mode 7 effects were added, more fluid animation, totally redone graphics and an all-round higher quality presentation are evident right from the start; but redesigned bosses and mini-bosses, tighter controls and improved but still balanced gameplay are the icing on the cake.
What's missing? The music now sounds closer to a NES, a very well known issue since the GBA doesn't have a dedicated sound processor.
All in all, a greatly improved game. Too bad it wasn't published in America.

 

 

 

 
Steel Empire - Genesis
 
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
For the last stage, you are shot into space thru a huge cannon.
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
Urgh... horrible color choices like these are common.
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
I guess the moon has an atmosphere after all...
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
An example of how goofy some enemies can get is this flying tractor.
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
The high-speed escape thru the mine shaft adds a little variety.
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
 
Boss and mini-boss comparison
   
Steel Empire - Genesis
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
Steel Empire - Genesis
Steel Empire - GBA
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
Steel Empire - GBA
 
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
Steel Empire - GBA
 
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
Steel Empire - GBA
 
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
Steel Empire - GBA
 
 
Steel Empire - Genesis
Steel Empire - GBA
   
       
 
Versions comparison

Genesis
 

GBA