Thanks to Limit Break for the review code
Title: 1993 SHENANDOAH
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 07/09/2020
This seemingly retro inspired spaceshooter may not have much of an in-game story besides “free the planets from hostile takeover”, but the real life story behind this is pretty noteworthy. Originally planned for a 1993 release, this game was made for the Amiga line of computers, and was scrapped before it could be completed. Several decades later, it was continued as-is, and while it plays on newer consoles, everything about this game is all Amiga, and follows as much of the limitations as possible, basically making this a new-old retro game!
Indeed, originally being made for the Amiga in mind, 1993 looks and feels exactly like a game for the system, barring the obvious benefits of widescreen and some new UI elements that wouldn’t have been possible on that system. But the scrolling, the sprites, the colors, the music, the sound, it all fits the computer to a T, and it’s pretty damn impressive for the time this game planned to launch. It’s even more so impressive, due to four-player co-op being prominent, with little slowdown or any sort of conflicts whatsoever! (yes, even in the original 93 version) This is without a doubt, a visual treat.
Sadly, the music and audio isn’t that special to write home about. They’re accurate to the hardware no doubt, but that also means they’re really limited to a fault, with the music being pretty generic and sound effects being drowned out by it, even with all the options you could try to change, I couldn’t seem to fix this. So while it’s accurate, it also reflects a fault of the hardware that didn’t age that well.
1993 is your typical horizontal shooter, with the main objective of each stage being to reach the end goal and defeat a boss, shooting down everything in your path. Inspired by games from the time, 1993 does feel like a blend of all palettes, while also trying some ambitious ideas on top of the established.
Along with your usual sidescrolling shooting action, 1993 sports an upgrade system, where collected coins can be spent on new weapons, upgraded versions of those weapons, and different ships with differing stats! For a game meant for 93, this is pretty impressive, and does work to add some replay value and variety to the mix on multiple playthroughs, along with being able to select the planets in your own order.
Each stage is broken into two acts: a “travel phase”, where you fly to the planet with a distance counter going down, and a “main phase”, where you fly in the planet itself to reach a boss and liberate the planet from its grasp. The controls are pretty standard, with a shot button, a screen-clearing bomb button, and a rotating shield that you can use to block enemy shots. Per some games of this genre, you have checkpoints you get sent back to, even in co-op mode, as death will just last until the other players reaches a checkpoint or die, meaning that you can’t use it a crutch unlike some others in the genre. Likewise, your bomb stock is shared between all four players, so you’ll have to be super careful in multiplayer.
Typically, the stages are a decent length, and the level designs are OK: Yet, I found that even on the easiest setting, there were wild inconsistent periods of frustration, where one part of a level would be the usual difficulty curve, only for it to suddenly spike due to dealing with obstacles with picky hit detection, enemy bullet spam, or long checkpoint gaps, before going back down again. The hit detection here is rather poor, and I can’t help but feel that the shield was added as a way to try and mitigate this, yet some tight corridors are still no help, leading to inconsistency overall.
Still, the co-op mode is pretty interesting, and playing with two players was a fun time, yet unfortunately, a big flaw of this game comes from how the save slots work: there are three of them, and they lock you to the amount of players you picked at the start. That means you cannot subtract or add players mid-playthrough, for any reason whatsoever, which can be pretty irritating if you were playing solo for a while and want to add a friend, since they won’t be able to jump in: vice versa if you have 2 people over and later decide to play with four, or subtract down to one. This is just baffling, and I can only assume it’s tech-related akin to some of the other limitations present in this game, but I’d at least hope they’d try to remedy this somehow for the sake of QOL.
In conclusion, while I really wanted to like 1993 more than I did, I can’t help but feel some aspects of the game didn’t age that well, or weren’t polished up as much as they should have been. The graphics are outstanding, and while the sound is lackluster, it still fits the Amiga vibe very well. But the stages are just so inconsistent in how fun they are to play, that I can’t help but feel there should have been more spice to this experience.
The differing ships and powerups are neat, as are the abilities to upgrade them, but considering how that means you won’t encounter in-stage upgrades like you would in a lot of other space shooters, it makes 1993 feel pretty vanilla in spots, especially when you’re starting out with the defaults. Easily the most interesting aspect of the game is the four-player co-op, but since I was only able to play with two, I can only assume that it would be similar to that, and since the two-player mode has a silly save file limitation, this is a game you may need to expect to play through several times if you want to enjoy this with a group of friends, and the difficulty with checkpoints near the end of the game may even be a game-killer.
Still, for being a cool piece of history restored, I do have to give this game some admiration, even if I really wished it could have been a lot more interesting to play.
I give 1993 SHENANDOAH a 5 out of 10.