Thanks to RAINMAKER for the review code
Title: Assault Suits VALKEN: Declassified
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 03/30/2023
Two forces are at war over resources, and when one sets sights on attacking Earth under the supervision of a powerful president, it is up to a unit of Assault Suits to band together and save the world! That’s the most basic way I can dumb down the story without spoiling anything, since this story, while nothing near RPG standards, is incredibly well written, and having been fully translated for this release, I am very happy to say the translation serves the plot justice, especially compared to the original localization!
Speaking of that, this was an action platformer for the SNES known as Cybernator in the US, and that version got a lot of edits and alterations done to it to comply with usual console standards of the time; generally a really good game I even recommended in prior writeups, and have noted in prior reviews of Masaya related things as a game I’d absolutely love to see given a modern port, and well, we finally have one for the Nintendo Switch! So, how does this mech action game hold up in this M2-developed port? Let’s take a dive right on in.
While M2 have done a lot of recent retro ports in modern times, their UI and presentation have been all over the place. Stuff like Namco Museum Archives was incredibly simple, while in-depth projects like the Toaplan Arcade Garage usually stay locked to Japan. Thankfully, Valken was given a treatment a little more closer to the latter, even though it still feels like M2 put a ton of care into making the presentation and menus here feel authentic to the series.
Starting off, you’ll have a variety of options to pick from in a main menu, accompanied by outstanding remixes from an old Japanese remix CD from back in the day. You have a Sega AGES-esque credit sequence with the original sprites doing funny things, a huge gallery containing recreations of the original SFC box, manual, and strategy guide, (all fully translated into english to boot, which is some monumental work!), some related illustrations both new and old, a sound test with the entirety of the in-game OST and the menu’s remixed OST, a perfect replay video, and even a brand new video interview with one of the leads behind the game.
Needless to say, Declassified is packed with supplementary content even before you boot up the game itself, and all of it is presented with such loving care that I spent a good chunk of time just browsing through all the material, new and old. Of course, all the bonus stuff doesn’t mean much if the main game was emulated poorly, and thankfully, that is not the case, with Valken getting some of the usual set of M2 features. You have a CRT filter and a few screen size options that go along with it, and they all look fine enough.
Declassified may not have anything akin to the M2 Gadgets from some of their other reissues, but you do gain some quality of life features and toggles that can be enabled if you so choose, and while the english translation is one of the big new additions, it shockingly wasn’t done in the way some other recent ports have been done (where it was just a digital text overlay) by being such an option, for the translation is part of a new english ROM made specifically for this compilation, and switching the collection’s language to Japanese will allow you to play the original version, complete with a unique set of save states.
So, how does the actual game hold up once you finally get to playing it your way? Well, the presentation is excellent! Despite being an early 90s SFC game, the sprites are very well detailed, with great details in each stage, from the tiny people that are barely the size of your mech’s foot, destructible parts of the environments, character portraits that break in during dialogue and react depending on the current situation, to bosses of incredible scale that require scrolling the screen around to even reach.
By far the best aspect of the presentation comes from the amazing soundtrack, and my only gripe with this package is that the outstanding remixes available in the sound test can’t be enabled during actual gameplay, since both the original, in-game score and the remixed versions are all outstanding, with not a bad song to really be found in this soundtrack, in my honest opinion. All around a great 16-bit nod to mecha action properties.
Throughout seven missions, the main goal of Assault Suits Valken actually shifts depending on the stage, giving some semblance of variety, a rarity for the time, but not unusual considering how the predecessor Target Earth did this too. You start off with a simple mission to destroy a weapon before it can launch, and here you’ll find that the controls in this game can take a bit to get used to, since you have your usual shot and jump buttons, but your weapons have a cooldown, and your movement is generally weighty, which is fitting considering how you are in a mech. Equally important are the shoulder buttons, L locking your fire as you move, and R being a helpful shield for when you’re dealing with enemy projectiles on the ground.
Thus, despite the weighty jumps and the slow aiming, Valken ends up feeling pretty methodical to play, especially on ground segments where you need to rely on the shield to avoid taking damage, since these enemies hit, and they hit hard. By default you only have 3 continues, and with you only having one life with a health bar before you get to needing to use one up, Valken is old-school difficult, but still in a mostly fair way, I found, with only a few instant death pits and autoscroll crushes being the instances I felt a continue was taken away far too soon.
Looking around stages can reward you with health pickups and power chips, which can enhance the current weapon you have equipped if you pick up enough of them, up to a level of 3. Sure, the vulcan or punch you start out with may seem pretty wimpy, but upgrading them to a higher level can help them shred through tougher enemies, and this even goes for the few other weapons you can pick up in later stages, one of which is a laser that decimates enemies when fully powered, and there’s even a secret super weapon known as Napalm that murders bosses in seconds, but is very cryptic to go out and actually obtain. Still, each stage offers something interesting to change up the action, from a flying stage in space for the second level, a big stage where you climb down and destroy a fortress along the way, to a climatic final battle at a Parliament building, of all places. Some levels even have objectives you can outright fail and lock into a bad ending if you manage to screw up, which adds some tension if you really want to go after the best ending where nothing goes wrong.
All in all, Valken is a really great but challenging game, and M2’s port is pretty much flawless with not much to gripe about. The emulation is rock solid, you have save states to use if you so wish, and you can even remap the controls around, but by far the best addition to this port are the accessibility features you can enable upon discovering them, and these radically change the game, almost to the point of making it insultingly easy if you so desire. Not only can you switch from the typical slow aiming up or down to a proper eight-way aim, but you can even adjust the speed of your mech’s aim, making it go rather slow to crazy fast, and there’s also an unlimited continues toggle, and even a toggle to have Napalm as part of your default arsenal without having to unlock it. Sure, all of these combined can make the game laughably easy, but I just love that there’s so much extra stuff to tweak here.
I personally prefer turning on the infinite continues and leaving everything else as default for the most optimal experience, since while the game is tough, it definitely rewards memorization and trial and error, and having the option to not have to worry about a limit of continues before being booted to the beginning is just a great way to practice trickier parts of the game, without having to abuse save states or just napalm everything. Once you give Valken a run like that, you’ll find that the methodical gameplay and fun weapon variety really lead to a challenge that becomes oh-so satisfying once you finally conquer it, and considering how this story does go places in this uncut version, each checkpoint is one step closer to seeing a great plot unfold.
In conclusion, M2 and Rainmaker have provided pretty much the best possible version of Valken out there, and with a stellar new english translation and so much bonus material, this is honestly the best possible way to play one of the best SNES action games. From new accessibility options, bonuses, replay saving, and a full uncut experience, the only real omissions I could really gripe about are the lack of online leaderboards/replay sharing, but even then, I feel having almost every possible supplementary aspect recreated and translated into english more than makes up for that, and even arguably backs this reissue’s steep $25 pricepoint.
And yeah, the price is really the only obstacle to an otherwise phenomenal package. Even without the bonuses, this new version of Valken emulates like a dream and controls great, but with all that extra stuff, clearly made by fans, for fans, I still cannot hesitate to recommend this M2 joint enough. Sure, it definitely feels steeply expensive compared to stuff like the great Gleylancer port, but with how stellar the core game is and the sheer amount of effort poured to include nearly everything imaginable, this just might be the new gold standard of a standalone retro port. Definitely a case where the price reflects the quality.
I give Assault Suits VALKEN: Declassified a 9 out of 10.