In the long-distant past, when the shoot-em-up was king, there was a company called Toaplan. They pretty much dedicated all their time to making shooters, helping to define the very genre with releases like Tiger Heli (the first shoot-em-up with a screen-clearing bomb attack) and Batsugun (the long-distant relative of the curtain fire/bullet hell shooter). However, come 1994, they went bump rather swiftly, and a couple of companies rose from their ashes, with practically all of them going off to make more increasingly life-destroying shoot-em-ups. The death of Toaplan wasn't something to be mourned, but celebrated instead, giving life to a new generation of shoot-em-up developers... And, well, maybe it'd help us forget the odd Toaplan clanger. Like Fire Shark. I really don't like Fire Shark. Peeee-ewwwww!
Err, in any case, after Toaplan's demise, three new companies were formed- Cave (DoDonPachi, Mushihimesama), Eighting/Raizing (Battle Garegga, Bloody Roar) and Takumi (Mars Matrix, Night Raid)... And then there's Gazelle. You can read about them here, but we'll give you the condensed version- originally a company that exported arcade PCB's abroad, they already had a development team when some refugees from Toaplan decided to join. While they did port a few Toaplan shooters to the home consoles of the time (they were Toaplan Shooting Battle Vol. 1 for the PS1 containing Tiger-Heli and Kyukyoku Tiger/Twin Cobra, and Batsugun for the Saturn) one by one the older Toaplan members migrated to Cave. In any case, the strange thing about Gazelle is that, excluding their home ports...
They only ever made three games.
Now, we could talk about Air Gallet (which has a hilarious voice sample during the attract sequence).
After all, every Toaplan off-shoot was required, by law, to make at least one shoot-em-up.
But we won't, because to be honest I find it a bit boring- look at what Cave and Raizing were up to at that point instead.
We could talk about their final game, Quiz Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon - Chiryoku Tairyoku Toki no Un, which gives away the game we'll really be playing.
But we won't, because it's a quiz game, what exactly were you exppecting?
Nah, we're gettin' to the good stuff! Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, all up in your business!
And yes, for the record I'm going to keep calling it by its full name. Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon. Every. Single. Time. And there's nothing you can do about it. Not a damn thing. That's why I love this job, I can do whatever the hell I want and even though there's an editor around to stop me, he's too much of a punk to do anything! Hahahah- Hey, Ed, wait, what are you doing? Let go of me! I have to get the message out to the people! Wait, put the needle down! We can talk about this! Ahh, I'm feeling faint... sleepy... happy...
[Sorry about that. We've managed to get him to stop going on tangents now. This article will now be sensible and devoid of any shenanigans.
Anyway, out of Gazelle's library of games, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon has Air Gallet beaten by several country miles. It may be a Final Fight clone, released at a time when these sorts of games were dying out, but at least it's pretty nicely animated, and with a rather surprising number of moves at your disposal. Then again, is that why we're playing it? Really? Pfft, nah! It's because it's really silly.
Now, before we continue, there is something important to establish: this game is based on the manga/anime of the same name. Now, when it comes to manga and anime, I'm more in the camp that appreciates such paragons of entertainment as Fist of the North Star and Cyber City Oedo 808 and, apparently, Puella Magi Madoka Magica- look, I don't know how that happened either. So, it is with a sickening amount of glee that I say to you, the reader, that I have not taken the liberty of researching this series at all- I'm playing this game with no prior knowledge of Sailor Moon at all. Usually, I'm quite reliable for looking into things on a whim- hell, I even looked up Fruits Basket on Wikipedia, just for an off-the-cuff joke about the series in the Outfoxies article on here. This time around, though, nope, nah, can't be arsed.
[I've done my best with that paragraph. Still sounds impossibly, aggravatingly smug. He doesn't mean it, he's just an idiot.
As a result, we'll be taking the game on at face value. The story is inconsequential- people are rabble-rousing in the streets! Knock seven bells out of them! The controls are also pretty standard stuff, although there's a surprising amount of attacks available. One button's for attack, and another one's for jumping. In addition, you can run, grab enemies to do a basic throw, perform a variety of different attacks in the air (the exact number depends on your chosen character) and, of course, press both Attack and Jump together for a crowd-control special that takes away some health. There's ever-so-slightly more moves available here than in Final Fight, and the running manoeuvre is always welcome (see also: Streets of Rage 3, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs) but there aren't any additional weapons to pick up along the way, which is a huge pity.
The third button is a bit different, harking back to Golden Axe- it's your magic button. During the game, you can pick up small blue crystals (up to a maximum of five) and pressing the magic button uses all of them up, as your chosen Sailor takes over the screen in a rather fancy animation, then... All the enemies fall down. That's it. It seems relatively inconsequential, really, especially since some of the animations aren't even attacks, just your character, uh, existing I suppose. At least in Golden Axe, your attacks felt like they were actually attacking the enemy, especially in Revenge of Death Adder. I guess it's mostly fan service for hardcore Sailor Moon fans as they're taken straight from the show.
Now we've got the basic play mechanics under our belt, it's time to deal with the playable characters. You're actually given quite a lot of choice here- instead of the usual 3 characters (Average, Quick but Weak, Mike Haggar-esque Beefcake) like in almost every other brawler, there's 5 schoolgirls to pick from. Unfortunately, the differences between them are far, far more subtle than in other scrolling beat-em-ups, but they exist, really! We had to do extensive scientific testing to figure this out! No, really, we had notepads and everything. As ever, it's time for a rundown, complete with our detailed and precise analyses on whether you should play as this character in this game.
Nah (although she's the fastest).
(no, seriously, she has a special super-fast aerial attack only she and Venus have)
Pick in co-op if Player 1's got Jupiter already
(for the aforementioned aerial attack).
Anyway, before we jump in and begin to experience true horror, one more bit of housekeeping; I decided to be merciful to myself, and play through the game with just one character, rather than replaying it over and over again to get a different character in each screenshot. Well, aside from the screenshots above, obviously. You know what they say, there can only be one. Just like Highlander, except with more sailor uniforms. Picking one character allows for much more comedy, and allows me to weave an intricate narrative of the two battles taking place here: The chosen Pretty Soldier Vs. the enemy hordes, and Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, the game, Vs. me, the long-suffering writer. I suppose there's also the desperate struggle between me Vs. the poor suffering editor, but that doesn't count- that's in every article.
For our purposes, then, we're gonna be playin' as Sailor Jupiter partly because I almost always play as the designated 'power' character in scrolling beat-em-ups (and by that I mean "I always play as Mike Haggar") even if in this game, the distinction is hardly monumental. The other reason is for her aerial dive attack which really works a number on the bizarre enemies. Also, we're not playing as Sailor Moon. No way, no how. Finally; brunettes are hot. Hey, don't look at me like that, there's going to be at least one lewd joke in this review... And I've used it up on the first page. Looks like we're clear, then!
I'll regret this tomorrow, and so will you, but let's play Pretty Soldier SAILAH MUUUUHN!
Sailor Jupiter's never-ending fight for justice begins on the next page!