Platinum Games Brings the Heat with Sol Cresta
A little game called Moon Cresta distinguished itself from the rest of the Space Invaders clone club by playing with the traditional three lives concept. Instead of three separate chances, players gradually acquire three distinct spaceships, each with unique abilities. These ships lock together into a tower of power reminiscent of (but predating) Galaga’s twin ship concept. The risk-reward is a great hook; you have much more firepower, but you’re also much bulkier and easier to hit. Moon Cresta is a legit blast even in 2022… it’s colorful, weird-looking, and drips with a stilted, awkward, but delightful charming early arcade flavor al la GORF or Galaxian. Its 1980 contemporaries like PAC-MAN, Defender, and Centipede might have looked flashier, but Moon Cresta has tremendously compelling gameplay.
Moon Cresta’s first sequel Terra Cresta is what happens when a game developer who loves Moon Cresta plays Xevious. It’s a vertical scroller that builds on the ideas of its predecessor but applies five years of collective game learning and advancing technology to create something really engaging. The Xevious influences are apparent in the art style and palette, but the gameplay is much more dynamic. The docking ship concept is expanded as you collect a number of extra ships, each with unique abilities. These act in some ways like a more-involved version of Gradius options, fusing increased firepower with weapon variety. But you also get access to formations, granting you the power to configure your squadron to meet different threats with different attack patterns on the fly. It works really, really well.
There are other Cresta-family games for arcade and home systems alike, though none until now ever really fully captured the innovation and spirit of Moon Cresta and Terra Cresta. But at last, somehow, in the Year of Our Lord 2022, we have a new Cresta game, and it’s from Platinum, directed by Takanori Sato, who also did design work on Wonderful 101 and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Nice.
Sol Cresta is a delightful evolution of what made 1985’s Terra Cresta so engaging. It’s a system-based shooter, where dodging enemy attacks is only half the test of your dexterity. You’ll also be juggling your formations, constantly tweaking the configuration of your ships to meet the shifting threats around you. Your formation modes are extremely important as they govern your attack and defense capabilities at every moment, and finding the right combination to meet evolving threats is the key to defeating the more insidious enemies and crowded sections of the game. There are a LOT of gauges to keep an eye on, and you’ll be a little overwhelmed at first, but it all starts to click pretty quickly as you experiment with your toolbox of very powerful options.
Sol Cresta feels like something from a wonderful alternate universe where arcades never died and classic quarter-fed brawlers and shooters remained mainstream concerns for gaming. It revives solid mechanical concepts that have laid fallow for far too long and manages to create something uniquely fun and very original. It’s the best of modern design philosophies and the deeper shooter mechanics you remember from the best of the genre.
Sol Cresta Dramatic Edition is up for pre-order now at Limited Run Games. It’s available for Switch and PS4. There’s also a Collector’s Edition that’s crammed with Cresta goodness, including an adorable mini-arcade cabinet display piece.
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