Retro re-releases falling outside the familiar safety of the M2, Hamster, or Code Mystics stables are usually one thing and one thing alone — a plain ROM bundled with some inoffensive but unspectacular emulation options. It’ll work, it’ll be official, and... that’s about it. If those bland goals had been all this new port of Gleylancer had aimed for, it still would have been more than welcome as in its retro-tastic physical form the game is expensive even by import-only Mega Drive shmup standards. In many ways, even just a cheap and convenient alternative would have been a definite improvement.
What we actually got is far more ambitious than that. The emulation in this unassuming package includes not only the usual raw pixel, 4:3, and stretched screen modes — with toggleable scanlines — but also multiple shadow masks, CRT gamma settings, and optional corner darkening. You can even pick from two different types of screen edge curvature as well as fine-tune the intensity of the effect. Pixels gain a slight (and again, adjustable) softness to them, getting admirably close to imitating the sort of depth you’d find on an old tube TV set. Best of all, you can see these effects applied in real-time to whatever screen the game was on when you accessed the menu, allowing you to easily tweak everything to your liking without going back and forth between the game and the settings.
While playing, six quick save slots can be easily accessed and, if you’re playing in Modern Mode (which boasts a full English translation), an all-new instant Mover swapping system and free directional fire tied to the right analogue stick. You can even rewind the action at the touch of a button. Made a stupid mistake, or simply want to test how close you can graze a bullet without risking being sent back to the last checkpoint? A separate “Cheater’s mode” is also available for those who want to use it, granting access to the classic level-skipping, invincibility-toggling cheat menu that was already present in the original game without having to perform any finger twisting input codes. And if that all sounds either too easy or too different for comfort, the original Japanese version of the game is never more than a few button presses away, unsullied by modern tweaks, translations, and other conveniences.
Whatever the mode, there’s no doubt Gleylancer’s a brilliant 16-bit shmup. The game’s fantastic use of parallax scrolling adds not only speed but excitement to its varied eleven stages; taking you down through icy depths, weaving between small gaps in tight tunnels, slowly looping around a gigantic battleship, or hurtling through an asteroid field. The ways your Movers — the floating gun turrets that follow your ship — can behave are so different from one another they have a direct impact on how you tackle everything from “popcorn” enemies to end of level bosses, and the newfound flexibility of Modern Mode feels like the perfect twist on an already brilliant idea. Gleylancer is as fresh and thrilling as it’s ever been, only now it’s as authentic — or accessible — as you want it to be too.