A game I didn’t discover until 2018, does it hold up to the classics I enjoyed as a kid?
Who has Mach-6 speed, helabad weapons, and a love for wastin’ dweebs in tanks? You do.
It’s the gnarliest fighter-bomber game ever. So hot it feels like a coin-op. Why? Two-mega power means we cram a lot more game in the cartridge. So you get more action for your money.
Collect weapons to build up your firepower. Then send a missile up his tailpipe. Dive in close to pepper the deck with cluster bombs. Killer Explosions, incredible graphics. Cool sound effects. Hundreds of screens of dogfight mania. These guys aren’t wussies. They have planes, tanks, rockets, air mines, missiles, cannons, and a lot more.
Can we talk about that back-of-box text for a second? This was the late 80’s, before Sonic and the Sega Genesis took stage in North America and truly ramped up the badassery of advertising. Sega was a pioneer in the attitude dept, and they constantly pushed the envelope of what was cool in commercials. This box art was ahead of its time, and any kid under the age of 12 would probably think they were tubular just for holding this box in their hands.
The person that wrote this box art probably wore shades while working. The person that wrote this box art probably drinks raw eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I want helabad weapons! I want to waste dweebs in tanks!
"You don't even get to fly an SR-71 Blackbird!"
So, the game doesn't live up to the box art. You don't even get to fly an SR-71 Blackbird! Your prop plane is never going to reach Mach-6! They had the cahones to put the most badass jet in the history of flight right on the front of the box, then pit you against an army in a little generic red 1942-style prop plane.
Despite my love of the box, and the un-attainable level of hype it brings, the game itself is actually decent as far as late 80's shooters go, even if it does fall short of the box.
A Little History
Developed by Sanritsu Denki Co., and released in 1989, the game was sent off to the races as one of the later titles for the system. Put along side the other late-life-cycle titles like the 8-bit Sonic games, Mickey Mouse games, and Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, you can start to see why the reception here was lukewarm. Bomber Raid was based loosely on the Sega Arcade game “Sonic Boom”. While I do see some similarities between them, this SMS game is very different.
The game reminds me of the Capcom classic 1942 from 5 years earlier. With a similar setting, similar protagonist, and lots of over-ocean flight, one could easily assume that there was some influence here. Both games even feature some large battleships to destroy, with their own plethora of anti-air weaponry.
Bomber Raid has a much different power-up system than 1942, however. It’s decent if not very unforgiving.
As you fly along wastin’ dweebs, you run across flying, blinking discs called Power Pods that make absolutely no sense in the context of the game. Were they UFOs?
Shooting these Power Pods will release one of four different things. One is a flying cross that spins and will kill you if you touch it. Shooting it down will net you a cool 100 points. The other three are all actual power-ups.
The “S” will increase your speed. A few of these is as absolute necessity to keep yourself out of harm’s way, but as far as I can tell there is no limit to how fast your ship can move. If you stay alive long enough, it will become crucial to avoid these. You can quickly turn your plane into a virtual rocket ship, and controlling it with any sort of finesse becomes impossible.
The “P” will upgrade your main front-facing weapon, increasing your fire power. Every 8th one will not only increase the power of your gun, but change its sound and visual effect too. There are a total of 10 (80 “P” pickups!) stages of gunfire upgrades that you can attain, and you will need to make sure you keep collecting to get there, or you run the risk of succumbing to the spongy-ness of the later enemies.
The “1” power-up can be shot, to change it to a “2”, “3”, or “4”. Each one will add a companion ship to fly along with you, up to a maximum of two.
- The “1” adds a ship to the left and right. They shoot to the left and right.
- The “2” adds to the upper-left and upper-right, and shoots to the upper-left and upper-right.
- The “3” adds to the lower-left and lower-right, and shoots to the lower-left and lower-right.
- Finally the “4” adds planes directly behind you, but they shoot left and right just like the “1”.
There are definitely use-cases for each of these, and depending on the stage you’re on, you may want to entertain switching it up to deal with certain enemies. I did find that the 2nd option is over-all the most useful, and I was able to complete the game with only that.
"If you die in the later stages, it has the capability to end your run."
Herein lies the trouble with this system, as is the case with many shmups of the era. If you die in the later stages, you can easily get yourself in a sticky situation where you're not fast enough or strong enough to continue with the game. Struggling to find those "S" power-ups while getting shot at from all over can be a tricky task to overcome, and it has the capability to end your run.
Thankfully, the game is only 5 stages long and can be completed in about 30 minutes. It's not too much of a stretch to say that your run that you end up finishing the game with could very well be a no-hit run like mine was. The game is overall pretty simple and easy, by shmup standards.
Bomber Raid is a fantastic controlling game. It’s tight, fast, and easy to weave between bullet fire from the majority of the enemies you face. The amount of enemies is pretty good, but the patterns they use when flying onto the screen can be a little repetitive. This lends well to the ease of the game, as once you know how you’re getting attacked, you can judge how to deal with the situation much easier. The gameplay is what really puts this game on the top, if you ask me. It’s quite basic, but also quite fun.
As this title is one of the few on the Master Sytem that doesn’t work with a Genesis controller, it really is a button-mashing fest if you’re not one of the lucky few with a Sega Rapid Fire Unit.
And because I’m bad-luck-brian at times, I found out after completing it, that there is a fan-made patch you can apply that fixes this issue. I played this on my Master System, but had I known about the patch, I would have played it on my Genesis with an Everdrive and a turbo-capable ASCII Pad MD-6 gamepad.
As is often the case with the Master Sytem, the graphics are quite nice, and very vibrant. The use of the colour palette here is well done, and the flickering is kept to a pretty minimal state with well-timed enemy volleys and the use of background images instead of sprites for the large ships. There are some points where visibility of the enemy bullets can be a little hard to see, due to the background being a similar color. It’s not often a problem though, and you’ll find that it works pretty well.
The bullets from your ship are displayed with interlacing as well, so they only appear on 1/2 of the frames. This is totally fine on a CRT where the frames will blend into each-other nicely, but a keen eye can notice it on a fast LCD.
As far as 8-bit graphics go, this title is a fine example. It’s not exceptional by any means, but some simplicity for shooters is needed, due to the limitations of the hardware. I think it’s pleasing to the eye, and a great example of the high-contrasty colourful graphics the Master System is known for. It kind of reminds me of Rambo: First Blood Part II, actually. Another great game on the Master System that I need to get around to completing…
Sound & Music
The in-game sound is where this title really falls flat. Like the title of the article suggests, they really should’ve taken this in another direction. The sound of the weapons firing is annoying and grating, the constant hissing from exploding enemies is overwhelming, and some of the later power-up levels are just horrible!
As a Sega contracted title, the developers at Sanritsu Denki Co. were keen enough to make sure they included an FM sound mode for this game. That means you’ve got the option to play it with the Yamaha FM chip instead of the PSG audio, if you’ve the means to do so. Unfortunately, the FM side of things doesn’t fix the terrible sound. The FM sounds are slightly less jarring, but no better.
The music in both PSG and FM is quite good. It’s typical military-sounding fare, and it loops short tracks to really good effect. It’s not repetitive in any way, and this may be one instance where I prefer the PSG audio over the FM. I grew up with a Master System in Canada, though, so I have a tendency to like the PSG audio.
It seems like the general public could take-it-or-leave-it when it comes to Bomber Raid, but I find it quite endearing. I think the gameplay loop is fun and relatively short, which makes it a nice pick-up-and-play title. However, when compared to some of the other shooters on the system like R-Type and Power Strike, it certainly doesn’t come out on top. It really is a fun little game, and the easy difficulty is perfect for beginners to the genre. Turn that game sound down a little, and you’re in for a good time.
Developer: Sanritsu Denki Co., Ltd.
Released: February 4th, 1989
Platform: Mark III, Sega Master System
The SR-71 is too fast anyway, I wouldn’t even want one.
– Great controls
– Bright colourful graphics
– Military-style music that’s good in PSG and FM
– Ease of gameplay is great for beginners
– Don’t get too many speed power-ups!
– Sound effects are sub-par