Monday 28 March 2011


Firefox 3.6 is more competent than 4.0 on this machine. That's progress!

It's like Christmas came early, and it was a really terrible Christmas. It's just what you've always wanted - DOS-based shoot-'em-up Silpheed. It was a big-ish deal back in 1988, but is it still a big deal now?

Silpheed originated on the NEC PC-8801 back in the glorious year of 1986. It boasts pseudo-3D graphics - firing into the screen as enemies fly out of it. At the time, this was an interesting and original concept that hadn't been seen be- wait.

Actually, nothing in Silpheed is "new". Even though I haven't been going out of my way to look for psuedo-3D shooters, I've covered both Juno First and Radar Scope in the past, which are both older games attempting to deliver the same basic outcome - a "tilted" shoot-'em-up to give a false impression of a third dimension. But apparently Silpheed was still an innovator. I'm not entirely sure how... but that's what the top dogs say.

I suppose Silpheed might be notable for bringing this concept to home computers. Others had attempted it in the past with mixed results, but Silpheed was probably one of the first to offer a smooth experience. I suspect that in a world of tat, the PC-8801 version was quite impressive, and this DOS version was probably pretty cool too. I'm just not entirely sure if it's something to jump up and down about because as you can see, smooth scaling comes with a cost.

The DOS version of this game is surprisingly pretty good. Admittedly, there's not much to compare it to (other versions include ports to the Apple IIgs, PC-8801 and TRS-80 CoCo... and none of these were cutting edge machines at the time), but if you can look past the dated visuals, there's a nice, challenging shoot-'em-up here. The game involves various powerups and arms you with a shield, then throws various enemies your way to make sure you can't progress past the second stage.

However, I can safely say that this game is better than Zaxxon, as it doesn't allow you to adjust your height.

It also has Xacalite, emperor of the universe. If played on a 1988-spec CRT computer monitor chances are things would look more pleasant. Different graphics settings produce different results - I'm running it in EGA mode as it's the default setting, but you can involve more colours with other graphics cards with the expense of graphical fidelity. One of the nice things about Silpheed is that it can be "cutting edge" without the need for cutting edge hardware. What a shame the PC gaming industry doesn't share a similar ideology these days.

That being said, Silpheed is fairly remarkable regardless of which mode you're running the game in. At times there's a very real sense you're playing a 3D game, and though this is taken for granted now, back in 1988 this was a luxury.

Also notable is the fact Silpheed has an Adlib soundtrack. Wikipedia says Adlib sound cards didn't go on general sale until 1990, so that's either forward planning or an error on their part (or a lack of research on mine). Forward planning would certainly be something to celebrate.

But as you can see, Silpheed hasn't aged well. There's shoot-'em-ups developed both before and after this game which are superior on almost all fronts, but as an easy-to-find DOS download there's no real excuse not to play it if you felt inclined.

There's also a nicer looking Sega Mega CD remake, which introduces Star Fox-style 3D polygon graphics and high quality audio. Again it's nothing special from a gameplay perspective, but it's a solid shooter that would have looked great when it was first released.

1 comment:

  1. Haven't I seen that company name in Super Smash Bros. Brawl's sound test?