Three classics in one package?

Caravan Shooting Collection [Compilation Of Shooting Games]

Three Games In This Collection.

Japanese Game Box Front

The Caravans were popular indeed.

Where's Waldo?

-General Information-
Version: Japanese
Year: 1995 (1985, 1986, 1987)
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Developer(s) and Others: Hudson Soft, Tecmo, etc.
# of Players: 1
# of Saves: None
Estimated Market Value as of 07/01/2007: $15 - $30 (U.S. Dollars, USD)
Other Info: This is a 10-year anniversary release celebrating some of the first Caravan game tournaments sponsored by Hudson in Japan.

This is the first "compilation" review on the site and I'm gonna do it in style. Ordinarily, I like to talk a great deal about individual games, but what happens when one individual game happens to contain several other games? You have to talk about all of them naturally! This is gonna be one hefty little read, so if you don't want to stick around, I politely ask that you take the exit door to your left.

(*whisper**please don't leave**whisper*)

This is Caravan Shooting Collection, a title that sponsors three games. They are Star Force, Star Soldier, and Starship Hector to us folks that live in the U.S. While the names of the first two are the same in Japan, you should know that Starship Hector is "Hector '87" in Japan. Hudson was famous back in the day with great games like Bomberman and Bonk under their belt. As part of a celebration, Hudson started having what they call "Caravans", and they were official game tournament gatherings held once a year. This started back in 1985, with the first Caravan being about Star Force. The following year presented Japanese gamers with Star Soldier and the year after that was for Hector '87. There are other Caravans that Hudson sponsored, but this particular title deals with the first three Caravans (1985-1987).

As you can see in the picture below the box scan, these events were very popular, and people would go so far as to sit outside or hang around in the nosebleeds to take a gander. This isn't what particularly amazes me about this however. I'm more impressed by the merger that took place. You see, the series was actually in part by Tecmo, yet Hudson held the events. I can't say whether this was due to a special deal made between the two companies or if they were at one time close business partners, but the two groups have since walked very different pathes.

Tecmo is publishing higher end titles like the Dead Or Alive series, the Fatal Frame series, and the resurrected Ninja Gaiden series, with the PS3 kicking off Ninja Gaiden Sigma (as of this writing). Hudson...has not fared so well. Once a mighty gaming empire with things like the PC-Engine under their wing (in cooperation with NEC), Hudson hasn't been doing much of anything lately. Even their once reputable Bomberman series is losing its luster and the license has been tossed back and forth more times than a hot potato. Even Bloody Roar, which they published, started out as an excellent 3D fighter, only to be reduced to mediocrity (Thy name is Bloody Roar 4). I pray for them as of late. Hopefully, they will rebound like I know they can.

Well, I've told you enough background about Caravan Shooting let me tell you about the games that lie within!

Star Force (1985 in the U.S. and Japan)

STAR FORCE!!!! I actually prefer the U.S. box art.

U.S. (NES) Game Box Front On The Left.
Japanese (NES) Game Box Front On The Right.

Star Force is a very simple vertical shooting game that took the world by storm back in the mid 80's, particularly in Japan. As the U.S. box brags about the success of the game on the Japanese market, the game sold over one million copies, which was probably a bigger feat back then than it is today. However, one has to ask: "What was so great about this game in the first place?" I could come up with a lot of brash remarks, but instead, I will tell you that games weren't all about glitz and glamour in those days. High resolution 3D models, overly intricate plots, CD quality sound, multi-year projects...none of those things really mattered back in the golden years of gaming. All that mattered was THIS. All that mattered was that you had a feasible product put before you that could entertain you for a couple of hours or more...but it didn't need all the strings that are attached to many modern day games. They were simply about having fun.

The graphics were nice for its time. People must realize that this is 1985 we are talking about. In comparison to games like Super Mario Bros. (A great game, don't misunderstand me), Star Force wasn't too different from most other games from the early to mid 80's in terms of graphics. The game had simple backdrops and some neat sparkling stars in the vastness of outer space. The sound consisted of only a handful of well placed bleeps and bloops that I've come to love from the era, with the sound affects being average in every respect.

What more could you demand in that time? Sure, you COULD ask for more, but that is perhaps Star Force's greatest flaw: It's too long, and inadvertently delivered too much and not enough. Contradiction? I prefer to think of it as a paradox. The game had many levels, some good music, feasible level designs and a gameplay engine that worked...but they went too far when they attempted to one-up other games of the time. We're usually used to seeing a couple of stages in an old shooting game, or a shooting game in general, but this game gave you over twenty. This wouldn't be bad if the game wasn't so simple. You'll be doing the same exact thing on the same levels with the same one or two soundtracks over and over again. Even worse, should you fail to defeat the end stage boss, you must start part of the level over again. If the game cut itself short like most other venerable classics like Donkey Kong, this game may have been showered with praise in a similar fashion. Instead, it gets the cold shoulder for being more than redundant.

Game Screenshots

Title Screen I think it looks good for 1985. The boss is very easy to beat.

Star Soldier (1988 in the U.S., 1986 in Japan)

Why is that man holding a gun? This box is pretty cool.

U.S. (NES) Game Box Front On The Left.
Japanese (NES) Game Box Front On The Right.

So...only one year later in 1986, a second vertical shooting game was worthy of being placed in Hudson's memorable three game compilation. It goes by the name of Star Soldier, which the humble guys over at Taxan decided to publish for distribution in the U.S. It's a good thing too, because Star Soldier is significantly better than Star Force. It also entertained many people of the days, and once again, it did so without hardly any of the modern intricacies that some may take for granted today.

There isn't much to say here. It took nearly everything that served as a hindrance from Star Force and removed it or made things better. The game doesn't have as many levels, though it still has over a dozen. However, this is remedied with a better soundtrack, nicer graphics and a better gameplay engine. In Star Force, the animation was simple and nearly nonexistant. This time around, enemies are more detailed and some even have animation such as "the ominous floating head", who loves to blast you whilst running at the mouth (kinda like some people I know, heh). You have more power-up levels, and even become a super soldier if you get enough. This allows you to shoot in many directions and even withstand a blow from enemy fire. The game even incorporated clever level segments where your ship disappears from view, allowing you to bypass the ever present kamikaze foes. The last interesting thing about this game is the boss battles. You have a limited amount of time to defeat them. Should you fail, you must start the whole level over again! This certainly boosts the challenge department! Star Soldier is a solid title.

Game Screenshots

Title Screen Watch out for those spinning snail things! The bosses actually pose a threat this time around.

Starship Hector (1990 in the U.S., 1987 in Japan)

I find this box very unattractive. We got this game in the 90's? Why???

U.S. (NES) Game Box Front On The Left.
Japanese (NES) Game Box Front On The Right.

You know what? I find it strange that Hudson would rip the art off of the Japanese box of Star Soldier and slap the guy on the box of the U.S. Starship Hector. That's just a tad bit tacky if you ask me, especially because he wasn't redrawn in any way, nor is it even the same game! Okay, okay, so they removed the yellow stuff behind the man...though that doesn't make me feel better. The game is known as Hector '87 in Japan and rightfully so, since the game was released in that year. This means the U.S. got it pretty late, and it shows. Even still, I wouldn't classify this game as a masterpiece back in '87 either because it kinda takes a few steps back from Star Soldier.

While the graphics are further improved and the sound is even better than Star Soldier, the gameplay takes a hit. Sure, you have more detailed environments and better animated (and more detailed) enemies, but you don't gain any power-ups at all! You only have a standard shot and the ability to launch bombs at foes on the ground. Also, you only gain life restoring items by shooting different objects on each level. If you haven't guessed it already, that means you don't die in one hit, unless a powerful enemy has a head-on collision with you. The game also gives you the cool feature to do timed runs to see how high you can score and how quickly you can take out bosses (which definitely makes sense because this was used in the Caravan competition).

There is one more thing that makes Hector '87 different from the other two games in Caravan Shooting Collection though. This game is one of the earliest NES/FC shooters to incorporate both vertical and horizontal levels within the same game. This may or may not have inspired other companies at the time to follow suit, such as Konami with their popular "Moero TwinBee: Cinnamon Hakase o Sukue!", or Stinger in the U.S., both which are moderately similar to Hector's play style. However, this echoes back some of the game's faults in my mind. The game is very difficult, but more than that, the game has made some choice moves, such as making players have to restart levels from the beginning should they lose. This is particularly annoying during the horizontally designed levels. Still, the addition of more vitality mostly outweighs this minor gripe of mine. Hector '87 is a fairly average game overall.

Game Screenshots

Title Screen The style of dropping bombs reminds me of the first NES Twinbee. One of the vertical levels.

So In Conclusion...

Let's go back to the 80's.

Let's go back to 1985! Let's go back to 1986! Let's go back to 1987!

Caravan Shooting Collection is a fairly common Super Famicom game that may take a couple of lucky gamers down memory lane, but is it worth it? Depends how much you value the green stuff (or whatever colors your currency comes in). I had a pretty good time with it, but some may argue that the game should have been enhanced like the compilation titles such as Super Mario Collection (Super Mario All-Stars in the U.S.). However, they just brought the games to the SNES in their original form. I would have liked to see these titles get a facelift myself, but what's done is done. You get three decent shooters in one, for a price that's probably less than buying all three individual games complete for the original NES. The games are also ported nicely, even if they don't have any new cosmetic differences (unless you count soft-reset...yay, soft-reset). A gaming lunatic like myself found something of interest with this game, but since all three games were released in the U.S., I see no major reason to pick this one up unless these games weren't released where you live. Either way, that's it for this big writeup...but I'll give you one last parting gift. See if you can beat the crazy scores the champions of the Caravan tournaments made within a 5-minute run:

Star Force = 314,900
Star Soldier = 1,051,500
Hector '87 = 1,068,000

This is a challenge brought to you by Hudson themselves, as translated from the Japanese manual. They give you hints on how you can try to match these scores. Who knows, maybe you'll unlock a special Caravan Shooting Collection exclusive.

- Written by Vyse the determined -

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