Konami's Cybernator isn't as well-known as run-and-gun titles such as Contra, but this SNES game is a quality offering with plenty of challenge, personality and replay value. The Virtual Console exists to let gamers relive (and experience for the first time) classic games, and Cybernator will be a breath of fresh air for anyone who wants to try something different. Replacing muscular, agile soldiers with a giant, bulky mech suit, Cybernator plays like few other games of its time or genre. Just be prepared for a challenge.
Cybernator casts players as Jake, a young pilot of a mech suit who is sent into space during a war for resources necessary to save the Earth. There's more to the story, mostly told through scrolling text cut-scenes, but it's all just an excuse to go into space and start shooting things. The progression of Cybernator is straightforward; a cut-scene will explain the story and you have to get through each side-scrolling stage. Enemies are aggressive, even in the first few levels, and you'll have to quickly learn to use your gun and fist weapons to survive. Some levels also have side-objectives that can lead to a secret ending; these also contribute to the story, which picks up toward the end.
The controls take some getting used to, but once mastered are very satisfying. As Jake is in a giant mech, movement isn't as simple as running in one speed and jumping at set heights; instead, the mech feels heavy — powerful, but heavy. Jake can jump, hover, walk slowly and run, and you'll quickly learn you can't just run recklessly and shoot with precision. Shooting also takes some time to learn; Jake can shoot in several different directions, and some players may be caught off guard by how sensitive the aiming can be. You'll also feel more powerful as you collect upgrades throughout the levels and even new weapons — not to spoil anything, but there's a secret in the very first level that will be very beneficial if you're having trouble staying alive.
Cybernator's sprite work is fantastic, even by today's standards. Each component of Jake's mech is individually animated, and the background, enemies and effects are all highly detailed and sharp. The music is suitably epic, as well. One drawback is the near-constant gameplay interruptions that occur when Jake receives a call from a comrade, either telling him what he needs to do next or to warn him. The dialogue often forces the player to stop, which can be very frustrating, especially when trying to take down a fleet of enemies. Some of the levels are constantly scrolling, too, making the interruptions all the more annoying when trying to navigate the huge mech through a fast-moving environment.
The campaign is relatively short, but like many run-and-gun shooters, you'll want to play through Cybernator more than once, especially with two different endings and plenty of secrets and side-objectives to get through. Unfortunately, there's no way to skip the dialogue sequences.
If you're in the mood for a challenging 16-bit shooter, Cybernator is a fine choice — it's challenging without being unfair, and while there's a learning curve, mastering it is highly satisfying. Cybernator may not carry the same prestige and weight of some of Konami's other franchises, but it certainly deserves its spot among the classics.