Solar Eclipse (also known as Titan Wars) Review

Developer, Publisher:

Crystal Dynamics

Console:

Sega Saturn, Playstation

Players:

1

Rating:

T

Release Date:

1995

Genre:

Rail shooter

-Greg Livingston

The best thing about Solar Eclipse isn’t anything about the game itself, but rather, its context.

In a rail shooter, you fly a space ship in a 3D environment and blow up enemies using laser guns. You can move laterally (side to side, up and down), but your forward progress is always fixed; in other words, you’re on rails. It’s like you’re flying down a one-way corridor.

It’s a genre that’s never been glutted with games. Most rail shooters worthy of note—your Panzer Dragoons and Star Fox 64s—experiment with the genre, and not unsuccessfully. Those games are great, but finding a good rail shooter that doesn’t experiment can be difficult. In a sparsely populated genre dominated by games that take the basics for granted, I’ve always wanted a rail shooter that just felt normal.

When I learned about Solar Eclipse, it looked like it would fit the bill. This makes for a boring review, but my expectations were met.

At the beginning of the game, there was a grace period where enemies were stationary and took blind shots rather than aiming for me. However, it wasn’t long before they learned to fly in simple patterns and shoot directly at me—a tactic you’ll find in even the most basic rail shooter. Dealing with enemies was a matter of giving chase and pegging them with my lasers while dodging their return fire.

The task of shooting down bogeys was made a little awkward at first by the touchy controls. Press left on the d-pad, and in an instant, your ship’s nose will point towards the far left of the screen. In retrospect, this game could have used a controller with an analog thumb stick, but alas, such things did not exist in 1995.

Luckily, Solar Eclipse is aware that new players might have trouble with accuracy. I was eased into making more and more precise shots over the course of the game. The first level’s big, stationary enemies made perfect target practice, and enemies grew harder to catch with each passing level.

As enemies gained greater mobility, and I slowly learned to master the game’s controls, I found myself more and more engaged by an element of the game I wasn’t prepared for: its stage structure.

On one hand, the stage structure was typical of rail shooters. Planetary terrain often aided and abetted enemies in their attempts to kill me; turrets would hide at the bottom of trenches, and wily enemies would snake down winding passages while taking pot shots at my ship.

On the other hand, I was interested to find that stages were often wide, offering several spacious paths through the same area. In one particular stage near the middle of the game, I repeatedly died on a part where I had to dodge enemy fire without crashing into nearby buildings. Then I noticed that if I moved far enough to the left, there was another path beyond the wall. It was laden with turrets, and I found I was able to bob and weave between volleys of turret fire more easily than I could handle the enemy-and-building combo.

The multiple paths strewn throughout each stage explore stage themes in unique ways, and trying all of a stage’s paths was always worthwhile just to see which one I could handle the best. Plus, it was just fun getting to see all of the different areas in each stage. Come to think of it, it reminds me of the Sonic the Hedgehog trilogy in that respect.

Which is to say nothing of the outer space portions. In outer space, I was met with an absolutely enormous play field chock full of content, both enemies and powerups galore. Almost entirely bereft of structure, these big chaotic portions make great counterpoints to the highly structured portions that take place on planet surfaces.

As the game went on, enemies got harder to pin down, and I got better at pinning them down. (As in destroying them with lasers.) It also became more important to explore each stage; in addition to plain old spare paths, I started to find little hidden passages chock full of goodies.

For instance, during the final stage, if you look hard enough, it’s possible to keep yourself going indefinitely with hidden 1-ups. This proved crucial on my first playthrough, since the final stage’s darker portions require quite a bit of precision. Some enemies lit my path when I killed them, but I had to avoid hitting the red lights that guided my way.

In the end, multiple paths allow Solar Eclipse to tackle stage themes with a nice degree of variation and subtlety, but they don’t add anything crucial to the gameplay; the way you take out enemies and avoid enemy fire is pretty basic. Really, Solar Eclipse is great because there’s nothing special going for it, aside from the (totally skippable) live action cutscenes. In a genre where it seems like every game has something to prove, Solar Eclipse is novel simply because it doesn’t set out to prove anything. All that Solar Eclipse does is take the genre and hone its core aspects.

Pros:

  • Smartly maintained difficulty curve.
  • The game saves after every stage. When you game over, you get all of your lives
  • back, and you continue from the start of the stage you died on.
  • Stages themselves are lengthy and have reasonably placed checkpoints, so the game sets a nice level of challenge without going old school.
  • Multiple paths through each stage keep things interesting and give you options for how to deal with a certain situation.
  • The control scheme offers some cool options. You can modify your ship’s speed with the A and C buttons or tilt your ship so many degrees with the L and R buttons. Rarely (but not never) are these explicitly required, so it’s up to you to experiment and see what works.
  • There are four unique weapon powerups. While they’re not the best balanced bunch, as some are clearly useful more often than others, each one has its turn being useful.
  • Experimenting with weapons can be as fun as experimenting with each stage’s multiple paths.
  • Nifty bosses.

Cons:

  • Touchy controls.
  • Not much depth to the gameplay. This is about as vanilla as you’ll get with a rail shooter without going to the ultra-simplistic Space Harrier or the poorly-running Star Fox.
  • Maybe this isn’t a serious con, but I wish there was a stage select. After beating the game, I just want to revisit certain stages.

Verdict:50% - This game’s hook is that you pilot a space ship and enemies try to shoot you down. If that’s all you need, you’ll have a good time with this one. Otherwise, I’d stay away, as there’s nothing here to wow you or draw you in.

Solar Eclipse Game Sample - Sega Saturn

Are you a rail shooter fan? What’s your favorite?