Silpheed is Sierra's sequel to Thexder, although the two share virtually no gameplay similarities except for being shooters. Like Thexder though, Silpheed is a decent enough PC shooter but falls short when compared with Arcade shooters of its era.
Silpheed manages to create some fairly convincing 3D graphics through the use of shading and clever design work. The perspective also helps -- instead of looking straight down on a 2D plane, you're given the impression of looking into 3D space. Best of all, it all comes with smooth object movement, a great frame rate and even some decent unit scaling effects.
Unfortunately, not everything about Silpheed's graphics is good as the game makes virtually no use of coloring. Apart from isolated patches of color, most of the game's graphics are done in black and white. Because of this, Silpheed's graphics, which would otherwise look cutting edge and elegant, look antiquated.
Like the graphics, Silpheed's sound and music are a curious combination of inspired genius and uninspired lameness. With a sound card and speakers, you're treated to the game's upbeat music. The tunes are exciting, appropriate to the tempo of gameplay and as good as music from Arcade shooters in terms of composition and execution. But, you'll only hear music from your speakers as the game routes game sound effects to the internal PC speaker.
Developers made only a halfhearted attempt at creating a set of game sound effects and, for the most part, you hear only one of three different sounds from the internal speaker at any given time. There's one sound for shooting, another for picking up power-up icons and a third when your ship's shields are depleted and it collides with something. The sound of an enemy unit exploding as a result of being shot is conspicuously absent. While the internal PC speaker may be limited in capability, it's not so weak that it can't handle a simulated explosion sound.
Each bright spot in gameplay is seemingly offset by a disappointment. For example, Silpheed can feel like a tilted Galaga in terms of gameplay because of the way enemies attack you from the top of the screen in patterns. But, unlike Galaga, you have full freedom of movement within the game's 2D plane which gives you more of an ability to evade enemy units.
You'll need that ability because the game is set up so that large sections of the screen on each side (almost a third of the entire screen in terms of area) are unavailable to you for movement. The screen area you have access to is a trapezoid with the smaller side at the top. Unfortunately, the enemy units can and do move into sections you're not allowed to use. When you're equipped with the default straight shot, these areas are virtual safe zones for enemies since you can't shoot into them.
Silpheed introduces the novel concept of sectional damage to shooters. After your shields are depleted, your ship can take several hits before it's destroyed. If these hits damage important sections of your ship, it will react differently as a result. Engine damage, for example, makes your ship harder to control while damage to a weapon pod will render it useless. The sectional damage adds more excitement to gameplay, as you will occasionally find yourself struggling with a crippled ship to reach the end of the level.
Unfortunately, this good aspect is also cancelled by a disappointment. Like Galaga, your choice of weaponry in the game is limited. You start the game with a pair of straight shot lasers and by accumulating points can earn other weapons like the phalanx gun or "V" shot. But that's all you get in terms of weapon options. Silpheed's weapons system seems almost primitive compared with the weapons systems from Arcade shooters.
Even though Silpheed has interesting graphics and an innovative damage system, it doesn't quite measure up when compared to its Arcade shooter counterparts. The gameplay is decent but, with the limited weapons system and a general lack of variety in enemies, it's just not as interesting. As a PC shooting game, Silpheed ranks quite high but if you can get your shooter fix from an Arcade, you should probably forego Silpheed and do so.
Graphics: Good 3D style graphics are unfortunately marred by a lack of coloring.
Sound: The music is quite good but the sound effects are lame. Fortunately, the former tends to drown out the latter.
Enjoyment: Gameplay is unoriginal but fun.
Replay Value: Like most shooters, the levels are fully pre-scripted.
In Silpheed, the player pilots a spaceship through levels of increasing difficulty, in a pseudo-3D vertically scrolling field, shooting everything in his path. New weapons will become available as he gathers points, and power-ups are sprinkled throughout the levels. The game is one of the first-ever that used music as a selling point.
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