Steel Empire was originally released on the Sega Genesis / Master Drive, all the way back in 1992. The steampunk-styled, side-scrolling shooter was one of many ‘shmups’ that was popular in the early 90’s. It has been recently remastered for the Nintendo 3DS eShop.
To be honest, I have never been an avid ‘shmup’ player – the games were a little too tough for my youthful gaming skills in the early 90’s, and it wasn’t until recently that I started to enjoy them a lot more. For example, I really got into Nano Assault EX and the shooter sections in Fractured Soul, both of which can also be downloaded on the 3DS eShop. For the record, I still don’t like the term ‘shmup’ — short for “shoot em up” — but it is the nickname given to the genre by its fans – so I’ll stick with it.
Steel Empire for the Nintendo 3DS is certainly a solid shooter, possessing most of the qualities that you would look for in the genre. There is lots of action, a ton of enemies and incoming projectiles on the screen, gigantic bosses, and so on. It is hardly revolutionary, but the steampunk style of the game holds up very well thanks to the popularity of the theme in modern games.
There are power-ups to collect. You can level-up your ship and widen the area of your shots / increase your firepower up to twenty times throughout the game. There are even two different vehicles to choose from: one is quicker and less bulky, while the other – a zeppelin – is slower but harder to take down. When the going gets rough, you can press the “B” button to shoot a smart bomb and clear the screen of enemies.
The 3DS version receives the added benefit of stereoscopic depth effects, bringing to life the detail of the re-designed backgrounds, explosions and vehicle models on the screen. It’s actually substantially more attractive-looking than its Genesis counterpart (see image below), which isn’t much of a surprise, but is nonetheless nicer to look at. The frame rate is very consistent and there is rarely any kind of choppiness marring the action.
I enjoyed playing through Steel Empire, but it was the very quick finish – roughly 28 minutes between the opening scene and the ending credits – and the overall lack of content that quickly made me question the value of the game. I was provided a review copy of Steel Empire, which made it pretty difficult to feel so positive about the game upon realizing the download price for anyone who has to buy the full version on the eShop. You will be forking over thirty bucks.
Unless you are the most dedicated ‘shmup’ fan out there, or you feel particularly nostalgic for Steel Empire, there is very little reason that $29.99 is a fair asking price for this re-make. There are only seven levels in the game, and despite the fact that it encourages re-playing with two unique ships, four difficulty settings and twenty “achievements” to unlock, I find it all but impossible to rationalize spending a dollar per minute on the experience. There are high score rankings but they are restricted to your own copy of the game – no different than the original Genesis version. Why couldn’t there have been online leaderboards to compare your play-through scores with other Steel Empire players?
A lot of the games offered on the Nintendo eShop get price drops and temporary sales. I am not saying that Steel Empire is something that fans of the genre should pass up entirely, but I would definitely recommend waiting around for a reduced price. I think the re-make is definitely worth $10 to $15, but $29.99 is cold-blooded robbery for an obscure classic that was originally created over two decades ago.