My Top 5 Games of 1991: #4 U.N. Squadron (SNES)

Developed: Capcom
Published: Capcom
Genre: Side Scrolling Shoot 'em Up
Platform: SNES(reviewed), Arcade

Although I'm not completely certain, I'm fairly sure that  U.N. Squadron was the second game I ever played. My dad probably saw the cover and bought it for me(I was too young at the time to know which games to ask for) because of his love of Top Gun and it wouldn't surprise me if Capcom was partially inspired to make the game because of the film's popularity. I say partially because the game is actually based on a Japanese manga called Area 88, a fact I only learned in recent years. Regardless of it's origins, I loved the game and played it extensively for years.

Wait, is that guy in the background smoking? How did Nintendo's censor wizards miss that one?
 In U.N. Squadron you take control of a fighter plane piloted by one of three characters: Shin, Mickey, or Greg and fight your way through a variety of locations, each ending in a fight with a HUGE boss. When I was a kid I ALWAYS chose Mickey because one of my closest childhood friends(and still a close friend to this day) was nicknamed Mickey by myself and my sister. Though playing it nowadays I find Greg's rough, battle hardened appearance more interesting than Mickey who is, in all honesty, a slick pretty boy. Each pilot has a different specialty. Shin levels his normal shot up the quickest through power-ups found in game, Mickey is able to use 2 special weapons at the same time, and Greg has the most health and fastest recovery time of the 3.
I swear I won't make a danger zone joke...crap...
Speaking of health, U.N. Squadron has a health system that I can't recall seeing anywhere else, before or since. You have a short health bar and when you take damage you go into danger mode. After a brief moment of invincibility you will remain in danger mode for several seconds, during which if you take another hit you are killed. Once you return to normal however you can take more hits until your health bar reaches the bottom, in which case you stay in danger mode for the rest of the stage or until you can get a health pickup. It's a unique system of which I honestly can't think of another example. Modern game series like Gears of War or Call of Duty have relatively similar systems with their regenerating health in that you have to hide and stop taking damage occasionally to stay alive but you never get to a point where your health will stop regenerating permanently. If anyone knows an example please let me know.
Apparently the U.N. of this game's world is so strapped for cash that it charges it's soldiers for weapons. Harsh.
You begin each stage by selecting a plane, each having a different set of special weapons it can use, along with a few speed and normal shot differences. You need to earn money by destroying enemies and completing stages to afford any plane beyond the first however. You also have the option to buy a few special weapons, determined by which plane you choose,  most of which are extremely useful. They range from bombs to help take out opponents on the ground like tanks or turrets, to a super laser called the mega crush that kills all the normal enemies on screen and does massive damage to bosses.
Not very good stealth capability if you already know exactly where they are.
After choosing your plane and weapons, you select a stage and, depending on your progress, you can have multiple levels to choose from. Along with regular stages, there are moving levels made up of enemy fleets that slowly make their way to your base and will attack if you don't complete them, forcing you to finish the attacking level before you can move on to any others.
I don't know that having hair covering your eyes is the best idea for a fighter pilot.
The game sports some amazing graphics for the time with detailed sprites and backgrounds, great explosion  effects, and a wide range of animations for all the vehicles. One thing that sticks out to me is when enemy planes are darting around the screen and turn when they get to the edge with nicely detailed turning animations; something that too many sprite based games still don't bother to animate to this day. As I said at the beginning, most of the bosses are huge, taking up a good chunk of the screen, and a few are so big that the screen has to scroll along as you slowly destroy each part of the boss. And even with sprites of that size Capcom still put a good amount of detail into them and pushed the SNES to its limits.
This is one of the smaller bosses. Yeah, they get pretty big down the line.
The soundtrack, like most of Capcom's music of the time, is amazing. It sports a rockin' 80s sound that was probably heavily inspired by Top Gun's soundtrack(Capcom actually did sample at least one of the songs from the film, Cheap Trick's Mighty Wings, for Ken's theme in Street Fighter 2. YouTube it). The sound effects are fantastic as well. I especially love the explosion sounds when you destroy an enemy vehicle which is good since you hear it constantly. My only complaint is that when you go into danger status after taking a hit there's an incessant beeping sound that plays the whole time. This normally isn't bad, but if you are at low enough health that you are stuck in danger status the sound never shuts up. Kinda like being at low health in a Zelda or Pokemon game.

It's quite amazing(doubly so for the younger ones among you) when you think about it, that a licensed game from the first year of the SNES's life could be so great. That was the case with many licensed games for the SNES though, especially ones by Capcom. Just think about how bad most movie based games turn out nowadays. Yeah, not so great in most cases. And don't tell me it's because U.N. Squadron was based on a comic. The Uncanny X-men game for NES. I rest my case.

I've talked quite a bit now without mentioning the story. I actually don't remember if the manual said anything about it and the intro isn't exactly clear. All it says is that there's intense fighting in the area and only a madman would take this mission. Not much info there. Regardless of that, not knowing the story has little impact on the game as a whole and no, I'm not going to look it up because I want these articles to be based on what is in the games themselves. The only thing I plan to look up for these articles are release date info and maybe a few small refreshers on gameplay mechanics and controls.
No, actually this is the end of the article...dammit, my sense of humor is wretched.
U.N. Squadron has yet to be put on the Virtual Console so your only choices for playing it are buying an SNES cart of it or emulation but either way you won't regret it. It isn't an easy game and you only get 3 lives and 3 continues but it is infinitely rewarding if you can manage to get all the way through.

Number 3 of my top 5 games of 1991!
The 16-bit debut of a classic horror themed action platformer franchise.

I'll leave you with U.N. Squadron's thunderstorm stage music, courtesy of YouTube user gbelair3:

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