It seems to be a theme of late that I’ve been playing great games that, for one reason or another, fall apart at the end. Luckily, Shatterhand, unlike Golden Sun, is a complete, self-contained, satisfying experience once you make it to the end. Actually getting there, though, is one of the more aggravating experiences I’ve gone through of late.
More on that in a bit, though. Developed by Natsume (SERIOUS FUN) and published by Jaleco, Shatterhand was released in 1991 in the US. The Japanese version is actually based on a TV show called “Super Rescue Solbrain”; Shatterhand throws out this license in favor of an original plot. In Shatterhand, you play as Steve Hermann, a police officer. It’s the year 2030, and a group called Metal Command is using cyborgs to try and take over the world. Steve has his arms crushed during a skirmish with Metal Command, but survives. A group called Law and Order Regulatory Division, or L.O.R.D, offers to replace Steve’s arms with ultra-tough cybernetic arms in exchange for him agreeing to continue the good fight against Metal Command. Thus, Steve becomes Shatterhand.
Of course, none of this is explained in the game. There’s a neat intro sequence that shows Steve punching away bullets with his new arms, but good luck actually gathering any of the plot from what it shows you.
Not that it matters. Shatterhand is in the tradition of such games as Final Fight or Contra–yes, there’s theoretically a plot, aliens have kidnapped the mayor’s daughter or whatever, but you don’t really care, you just want to piledrive alien gang members with your laser.
Shatterhand’s gameplay is best described as beat-em-up with some platformer elements. Your primary attack is, of course, your fists. You start by throwing jabs; after three or four, you begin throwing haymakers, which are twice as strong, but also take twice as much time to throw. Along the way, you can pick up a powerup vest that doubles your punching power, but only lasts until you take three hits. You can also recover your health at certain stations.
There are a couple of ways that Shatterhand distinguishes itself from your basic action platformer. The first is that you can collect greek letters throughout the stages, either Alpha or Beta. You can collect eight different combinations, and each combination gets you a little helper robot. Some of the combinations are more useful than others (The laser bot and disc bot are both pretty great; the sword bot is not great at all), but it’s still fun to experiment with the various combinations. Beware, though, the bots have invisible life bars of their own, and disappear after they take too many hits (Although them running into enemies damages them as well). You’ll want to keep these little guys alive, too–when you have a bot, picking up its letters a second time will get you a special suit, rendering you invincible and giving you a fireball attack for a time.
The other way the game distinguishes itself is in giving you Mega Man like freedom to choose stages in the middle of the game. After the introduction stage, you can select any order for the next five stages before moving on to the seventh and final level. For the most part, this is a cosmetic thing, but it can make a difference in terms of what letters you start with in the level, how quickly you get bots/the special suit, etc.
And there are times you’ll need that suit, because Shatterhand is not an easy game. Most levels have two checkpoints, one at roughly the middle of the level, and a second just before the boss fight. Dying puts you back at a checkpoint, while Game Overing puts you back at the Stage Select screen if you’re in the middle of the game, or at the start of the level if you’re at the first or last level.
The challenge level goes up even further in the last level, and not in a good way. This is where the game falls apart a bit for me, although not to the extent Golden Sun did. The final level is longer than the rest, and is broken up into four sections. Three of the sections end in a refight of a boss from a previous level, while the fourth ends in the final confrontation. Now, you might think each of the first three sections ends in a checkpoint after you beat the boss refight. Or maybe the second boss refight ends with a checkpoint.
Nope. You have to go through three quarters of the level on one life, or it’s back to the start of the level for you. Given the level is already longer than the rest, it’s immensely frustrating, enough to the point that I simply up and stopped streaming after my second death on the level Thursday night. Luckily, after I calmed down, I decided I was beating the game for better or for worse. And that led to this entry.
Overall, I’m glad I finally played through this. It’s a game I’ve owned for years, but never did complete, although I had gotten to the final level a couple times (Thursday night reminded me why I never beat it). Unfortunately, the game was never re-released in the US on any kind of Virtual Console, so EBay or Amazon are your best bets for acquiring it legally. If you don’t care about such silly things, though, you’re smart, you can track it down.