Within a few steps into the world of Assault Suits Valken Declassified, it is immediately apparent that something distinct is going on. That’s because the steps themselves feel different.
Compared to traditional run ‘n’ guns such as Metal Slug, for example, the movement in the Assault Suits Valken remaster is considerably more deliberate, physical and powerful. And so it should be. This is a game about piloting a towering mecha in a conflict that spills into space as humanity wars over Earth’s few remaining fossil fuels.
As such, rather than jittering about its stages with the pace and energy of a prolific Nintendo plumber, your mecha stomps, barges and pounds – and all those actions feel strikingly physical. Powered by boosters, the jumps become soars, but the sense of weight is always present, and the landings shudderingly impactful. To so successfully convey such a distinct sense of physicality and raw strength in a 2D game with arcade leanings is a remarkable feat, and sits at the very heart of what makes Assault Suits Valken Declassified such a rewarding play.
In fact, it’s not truly a purebred run ‘n’ gun. Fans of the Assault Suits series will rightly insist they are ‘mecha action games’. In the case of the brilliantly sharp, atmospheric, even cinematic Valken, you’ll find scrolling-shooter and arena shmup sections, and plenty of striking set pieces that tiptoe over the edge of the traditional platformer genre framework. And as much as the focus is on moving through levels taking down enemies and their infrastructure with various ranged weapons (and an eternally reliable punch ability), it’s also a title that very much wants you to linger on the narrative, setting and scripting.
Before pulling any more of the panelling off Assault Suits Valken Declassified and peering into its guts, a quick bit of historical context. Originally developed by Masaya and released as a SNES exclusive across 1992 and 1993, Assault Suits Valken stood as an improved follow-up to – and prequel of – its forebear, Assault Suits Leynos. Assault Suits Valken came to the West as Cybernator, albeit with considerable censorship and localising edits. Over time Leynos and Valken have enjoyed a scattering of ports, but each has been rather straightforward, or even a little flat.
Now, however, Rainmaker Productions and porting house M2 – famed for its exquisite ShotTriggers shmup modernisation series – have endeavoured to bring today’s gamers the Assault Suits Valken release we’ve always deserved.
As for the game itself, Assault Suits Valken Declassified comes as an eShop exclusive for now. As an overall package, it doesn't quite bring the spread of rearranged modes and meticulous additional features that ShotTriggers releases like ESP Ra.De. Psi serve up. And yet you do get a deeply engaging and carefully realised port of the full Japanese original, with a fresh translation, and an impressive selection of archival extras.
There’s only a scattering of basic display customisations in the realm of scanline and CRT barrel settings, but what you do get is a very polished port that looks and moves great on modern screens (although the scanlines don't translate well in screengrabs, so bear that in mind as you peruse the docked shots throughout this review — they look great on the big screen itself). And as it was with the original version of Assault Suits Valken, Declassified delivers a very good game indeed, with lashings of irresistible style seemingly informed by '80s sci-fi action cinema and anime. It’s all spun together to form a world defined by the power of industrial military complexes, humanity’s flight into space, and global conflict. It's a rather irresistible place to spend time.
The emphasis is almost always on combat – with plenty of exploration evocative of Castlevania and its ilk stitching things together. It’s packed with interesting, varied level design, and those aforementioned sections that inherit many conventions from other related genres. The result, for players, is that there’s always new ways to strategise and play with the basic multidirectional shooter mechanic.
The pacing across seven reasonably large stages feels sharp and momentous, even with the mecha’s near-lumbering physicality – although some may find that distinct presence a little too hulking. New sections constantly demand new approaches, keeping it interesting. The difficulty is up there, and at times you’ll need persistence and resilience to defeat. It wants to make you work to progress. Fortunately, though, Assault Suits Valken Declassified isn’t too much undermined by one of its fundamental modernisations; namely save states. They can feel so close to cheating that they can undermine a straight-up arcade shmup, but here save states feel like a great way to actually progress and improve if you aren’t blessed with countless hours to invest.
The inclusion of original and rearranged music pumps more tone, energy and vibrancy into the experience, and visually it’s a gorgeous work. From the menacing interiors of a vast enemy ship to beautiful sweeping rural backdrops or moments where the entire colour palette shifts to a sweep of fiery oranges and reds, Valken keeps throwing up plenty to catch the eye.
Alas, there is a shortcoming amongst all this quality. Too often the screen becomes cluttered by scenery, enemies, explosions and ordnance to the point it can be hard to read. At times it’s a little hard to know what exactly damaged you, why something hit you but didn’t cause harm, or generally track hazards and collision. Over time it can feel less overwhelming, and some might argue it replicates the sense of sitting inside a mecha that’s the target of an entire energy force. Too often, though, the disconnect with what exactly was happening on screen triggered a sense of being distanced from the game, dampening the sense of immersion.
It’s worth noting those moments are occasional rather than defining; a disappointing sporadic element of an otherwise superb game, rather than anything like undermining.
Away from the game itself, the archives – largely handled by Rainmaker Productions – include a pre-recorded superplay by a world-level player, a jukebox for both included musical scores, a surprisingly charming recorded interview with original designer Satoshi Nakai, a remarkable spread of concept and production art that assert just how much effort was put into character and worldbuilding, the original SNES manual, new artwork by Valken character designer Satoshi Urushihara, and a translated recreation of the original 80-page guide book. So quite a lot and then some, and brilliantly presented. We’d have loved to have seen some ShotTriggers-type arrangements; one of M2’s refined ‘super Easy’ modes, perhaps, or another that throws in entirely new mechanics.
And yet we still have a very good port of a very good game that never made it to the West in its original, best form. The quality of life improvements are a welcome edition, and the archives a delightful treat that seem presented and compiled with authentic affection for what Assault Suits Valken is.
It might not be perfect, but if you have any affection for mecha and anime culture, classic action gaming, or shooters and run ‘n’ guns, Assault Suits Valken Declassified is very much worth strapping yourself into. The odd quirk aside, it's a very well-thought-through creation, defined by tight controls and movement, tidy level design, and a bounty of ideas. And then there's all those lovely archive materials. Tread carefully, though. This mecha is a beast.
How on earth can they justify a price point of $25 for a port of a single SNES game?
Loved Cybernator on the Wii U VC. Count me in.
Thanks for the review.
Wild. This is one of my favorite SNES games, and I always hoped for a sequel. Not paying $25 for a shiny port, though. Maybe if it included Target Earth and prettied it up I'd bite.
Metal warriors was cool too but Cybernator just had that special something that made it a classic.
Yeah, $25 is a bit steep for this. Will definitely wait for a sale.
Is this the same game or series as the U. S. game Metal Warriors?
I loved Leynos 1 (Target Earth) on the Genesis, and Leynos 2 on the Saturn, but never got to play Valken/Cybernator. I’m thrilled it’s on Switch now, and courtesy of M2, but I’ll hold out for awhile for any physical release.
I hate paying physical prices for digital games. 😅
I'll wait for a price drop but would had been nice if this game had extra contents add to it like what Pocky and Rocky Reshrined, Zombies Ate My Neighbors/Ghoul Patrol, Return of the Ninja Saviors, and Wild Gun Reloaded all Super NES games that got remastered treatment had to offered.
@mechayakuza It certainly is up there. I think fifteen would've been fair. If they had added the usual M2 extra modes, twenty-five would have been definitely warranted.
SOLD! I love this game.
I'm in. Love these games.
I shoulda read the text first, but looking at the screens I'm all...wait.. that's... oh, yeah, hey, I remember playing Cybernator on the SNES. Totally had forgotten about that game. I thought that might have been an early-ish SNES title, but checking the date, no it would have been part of the wave 2 stuff after developers had time with the systems. I honesty can't remember if I liked the original or not. Still a blast from the past though.
Found the SFC version in the wild a couple years ago at a place called The Game Room in Charleston, SC. Great place! Tons of imported stuff.
@bransby No. They're different games and not related directly. Obviously, Metal Warriors was designed to feel similar to this game. In fact they were developed by different companies. Aside from the similarities of the games, some of the confusion comes from Konami publishing both of them, despite not developing either game.
Space laser robots?! I'm in!
@mechayakuza ...says someone who clearly didn't read the review...
@BeefSanta I did read the review, thank you very much, and the extras still don't justify the price.
Easily wait for a 2 dollar sale for this one, unless we get a physical copy option of course.
@mechayakuza you're welcome
Why does Europe get this for so much cheaper? $25 USD converted to pounds is £20.36, yet NL has the price listed at £14.99. Which comes out to $18.41 USD and if you have the means to easily convert, I suggest buying the European version now. I was considering this if it was under $20.
It's not really my kind of game, but I might get this if not only to both give it a try, and do my bit to encourage these kind of ports being made. I love the fact that so much effort goes into bringing these games to an audience that, by the most part, didn't even get to play them first time around; so i appreciate the risk of releasing it without the safety net of nostalgia.
@Kilroy I noticed this too, mostly as it is quite unusual. In my experience, if a game is say $20 for the US release, it just gets converted straight to £20 ($24.50 as of today.) It always does my head in.
@mechayakuza Hey - I wrote the review above. My sense is they put a tremendous effort into pulling together old archive materials, putting together the included animated audio interview, translating that 80-page book on the background story etc. That, of course, might only appeal to a smaller percentage of people who see value in that. But I wonder if that took considerable extra budget/time/headcount.
Perhaps one day we'll see such modernising ports sold with and without extras.
Oh wow, didn't expect to see also a review on the same day as that interview, nice, further confirmation that I'll definitely buy this game eventually (even better if on sale, but I'm certainly not getting it now because I'm still focusing on the 3DS and Wii U eShops purchases while I still can)!
By the way, here in Italy (and most likely elsewhere in Europe) the MSRP is €16,99 so yeah, really don't know why the US release costs more.
Brilliant game have Cybernator on Snes cartridge.
@mechayakuza I wonder how the can justify $60 for a lot of the current games, lol.
@Kilroy it's Euro 16,99 on the dutch shop think NL quoted the dollar price wrong
@romanista https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Switch-download-software/Assault-Suits-Valken-DECLASSIFIED-2355914.html Pounds, not euros
Next up, the same devs should buy the rights to Metal Warriors and christen it "Assault Suits Gideon".
@spadgy Thanks for the review. I was spending a lot of time reading it waiting for the description of the unique control system that didn’t quite appear, but certainly was referenced. I know some games writers get taught to not delve in to that as much as possible, but it’s definitely something I look for in reviews of some games to get a feel for whether or not I could be at ease physically playing them after a bit of mindset adjustment and practice. Thank you for your time.
I did also enjoy the philosophy within the review that might baffle some, but makes a lot of sense as a stylistic choice for anyone that makes it halfway through this game.
Darn, its not available in Canada
Lol it’s already on sale and at 40% off!
45 days or so after release.
What a rip-off, had they’d priced it this much from the beginning I would have purchased it day 1 post-reviews, now I’ll wait for an even bigger price drop instead, just because I can see them doing crazy sales like 70%off soonish
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