Cybernator - or Assault Suits Valken as it is known in Japan - is one of the finest action titles on the SNES, boasting awesome visuals, inventive levels and one of the most authentic representations of military mecha yet seen in gaming. What's even more amazing is that the game was designed almost entirely by one man: Satoshi Nakai. Nakai was interviewed recently for The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Volume 2, and gives a fascinating insight into how the classic title came to be, as well as elements which didn't make it into the final product.
One of the most memorable aspects of the game is the fact that bullets visibly damage the surfaces in each level. Nakai reveals that he wanted to include this after making the Mega Drive / Genesis forerunner, Assault Suits Leynos (Target Earth in North America):
It goes back to Leynos. If a bullet hits a gasoline tank, it explodes like you would expect. And if a bullet hits a cannon, the cannon also becomes damaged or destroyed. That seemed odd to me. I thought, if that's the case, then why not also shoot out the floor? I remember the programmer hating the idea. But I suggested making minor things destructible in every stage, and we talked about how that had never been done before.
As for content which didn't make the cut, Nakai mentions a branching pathway system which would have allowed the player to tackle the game's levels in a nonlinear fashion:
There was one idea we had to cut from Valken. It was called the "X-System". Looking at it now, that sounds pretty lame... Originally there were two starting points: The Moon and the Earth. And two ending points, also on the Moon and the Earth. The Atmosphere stage was between them, so the stages were arranged in an X pattern, with players able to proceed through Earth-Atmosphere-Space, or Space-Atmosphere-Earth order. Of course, players would also have been able to finish by going in an Earth-Earth and Space-Space order.
This open-ended approach sounds fascinating, but it's not the only thing that never went into the final production. Level ideas were also culled:
Valken has a stage where you shoot down shuttles, and a stage where a space colony crashes, and we also made a moon base stage that didn't make it into the game. A lack of time was the only reason we couldn't pull off these ideas. We made the game in a timeframe that would be unthinkable today, and if we'd had a year and a half to make the game, I think we could have done it. Now that I think about it, there was one more stage that didn't make it into the game, the Harbour stage. We even designed a submarine-style boss for it.
Cybernator is available right now on the Wii U Virtual Console - you should really buy it if you haven't done so already. If you're interested in hearing more about Japanese game development, then it's well worth investing not only in Volume 2 of John Szczepaniak's Untold History, as well as Volume 1 - which we reviewed a while back.