Going to the video store as a little kid was awesome. Back when we didn’t have the internet to tell us everything about a game, we would stare at the boxes and decide if something was worth our time. We could strike gold, or we could be stuck an entire weekend with a terrible game. It was our version of the lottery and we couldn’t get enough of it. On one of those occasions, I stumbled upon a badass robot busting through a wall in menacing fashion. That game was Cybernator, and I immediately fell in love once I started playing it. It seems I have a good track record with robots on box arts, as shown by Wild Guns.
Cybernator is one of those games that are forever in my list of feel good games. When I learned that M2, a studio that’s been responsible for some of my favorite ports, was porting Cybernator, I was elated! I might have been one of the few people who caught a glimpse of this and immediately expressed excitement on twitter. And now it is finally here to deliver the ultimate way of playing Cybernator!
Publisher: Rainmaker Productions
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: March 30, 2023
Assault Suits Valken Declassified is an enhanced port of the original game. It contains the ORIGINAL game, localized for international audiences. It also contains several enhanced features that are par for the course for M2 such as artwork, music player, replays and all manner of retro filters you can think of.
A christmas miracle
To say that Assault Suits Valken Declassified snuck on me would be an understatement. I didn’t knew this game was coming, or that it was in the works for that matter. If I’m being honest, the only reason I found out about it was because I was looking for a YouTube Nintendo trailer and I stumbled upon it. I might have been one of the few people stateside that were excited for the japanese release!
No entiendo Japones, pero acaso estoy viendo que VAN A SACAR CYBERNATOR PARA SWITCH!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?— Azor Battle Network 🔜 Combo Breaker 2023 (@azormx) February 20, 2023
I was still trying to figure out how to purchase it from the japanese eShop when, once again, the western release snuck up on me. I’ve been very vocal in the past about disliking shadow drops because I rarely drop what I’m playing to play something else. This wasn’t the case. The day it released I dropped everything and once again dove into my most precious childhood memories.
The Cybernator we’ve been missing out
One of the things that baffled me the most was why this game wasn’t titled Cybernator Declassified. I initially dismissed it as just their way of retaining the legacy of the original title. After all, the 90’s was a time were many names and titles were “westernized” to appeal to international audiences.
But I was wrong.
The reason they put so much emphasis to naming it Assault Suits Valken was because Cybernator is NOT what the game was intended to be. I didn’t pay too much attention to the plot of action games when I was a little kid. I never really knew what Cybernator was supposed to be about other than mecha pilots in some space war. As it turns out, it might not have been my fault after all.
The lost narrative
While playing Assault Suits Valken Declassified I realized the story was really easy to follow. Sure, it might have been SNES story telling, but I could tell something was going on that I wasn’t previously aware of. And the reason for this was international censorship and editing. Cybernator was a censored and edited version of Assault Suits Valken.
This is also the first time the original Assault Suits Valken has been translated to english. The cutscenes that play during the stages have so much heart and emotions, especially when compared to the bland text boxes present in Cybernator. It makes me really happy that they opted to go for a translation instead of porting Cybernator.
Playing through Assault Suits Valken was akin to replaying your childhood memories through rose tinted glasses. When remembering old games, like PSX titles, they look better in your head than they really were. This is what happened to me, except I was actually playing the rose tinted version. I had to go back to Cybernator to realize just how much had been left out, and how better the original title is in comparison.
Friday night tv room
For those unfamiliar with Assault Suits Valken, the game is a mecha action platformer that originally released in the SNES era. The game takes place in a future where nations are waging a war for the Earth’s resources. As the pilot Jake, it is your role to carry out missions for the federation in order to end the war once and for all.
Your Assault Suit is by all means a two legged tank. Movement in this game is slower, but it feels more impactful. Jumps carry a certain weight to them and even your dash can make it difficult to control your momentum. Your shield even makes you completely invincible to enemy attacks!
My favorite element of this game are the weapons. There are 5 different weapons to collect (one of them being secret) and they all have a different play style. By collecting P power-ups hidden throughout the stages or dropped by enemies, you can level up your weapons! This lets you play the game in your own style and make every new play through a unique experience. Will you opt to max the destructive laser, or will you try to punch every enemy?
As is the norm with these ports, Assault Suits Valken Declassified offers several ways of enhancing your playing experience. One of them is the classic set of filters that let you go as far as to making it look like a CRT TV and everything in between.
It also lets you toggle a free play option if you don’t want to be worried about credits. You can also enable the Napalm as a starting weapon without having to go through the original unlock conditions (which are still present there). Though you will have to unlock that option first by watching the credits of this port.
Finally, you are free to use save states should you require a little help during the game. Or maybe even if you are just looking to replay a favorite stage or boss. There’s plenty of slots for save states, so have fun!
A war told in 7 stages
Even though the game isn’t as long, it feels very much complete. An experienced player can beat the game in under an hour. Like most games of the era, they are meant for you to play over and over to uncover different secrets and polish your technique. While I don’t consider this game to be hard, you do need to get acquainted with the weapons and movement in order to make it to the final stage.
And even if you reach the final stage, you might find out that the conclusion to the war wasn’t what you expected. Maybe you could have done more. Perhaps you could have saved more people. What if you did something different? And this is where it gets interesting! Each stage has a mission to complete, but failing that mission doesn’t always equate to a game over. For example, you can fail and let Arc Nova crash into the Earth and it will change the story of the game. You’ll even see it falling in the background in the next stage!
Getting the true ending will task you with doing everything right in a single play through. Every mission, every side mission, everything has to be perfect.
The super playback
Maybe you are not sure how you could play better, or how to do everything perfect in each stage, and this is where the replay feature comes into play!
Just like with most of M2’s shmup ports, Assault Suits Valken has a fully featured replay mode! You can save a replay of your runs and watch it as many times as you want. While watching the playback, you can fast forward, rewind or even adjust the speed. I don’t know if there is a length limit to replays, but it will most likely fit in a full play through.
Also included is a replay that’s called a “Super Playthrough”. This super play is a 1 credit run of the entire game with the true ending unlocked. It shows you how to best approach each level, boss tactics and even management of your power-ups. Thanks to this, not only can you learn how to play the game better, but also you can use it to watch the game and the ending should you struggle doing it on your own.
Arts and collectibles
Included in this game is a fully translated 80 page guidebook. The guidebook goes extremely in-depth into the story of the game and the characters you encounter. It gives you a better perspective on the history of the war and the motivations of the main characters. For the gameplay portion, it features tips and tricks for each level, along with fully illustrated maps with a list of collectibles. While I think the guidebook is awesome, it is a little difficult to navigate the pages and even if you hide the user interface, it reappears when you flip the pages. It’s also a shame that you can only open it from the main menu and you can’t access it while you’re playing the game.
If artwork is more your thing, there’s also a huge gallery of sketches and concept art of the game from as early as the prototype stages. You can follow the game from its earliest stages all the way through the art we currently see in-game.
The soundtrack was also arranged and is available on the music player that is included with this release. You can listen to either the original or the arranges.
Finally, there’s a very interesting interview with Satoshi Nakai about how the game came to be and the legacy it created. Even though it’s something you’ll probably watch only once, it is very insightful and a must watch for fans of the game.
It is probably very clear at this point that I am a huge fan of the original Cybernator. I’ve played it many times and my love for it never diminished. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it was actually the inferior version and that I was about to, not only get the original ported, but also enhanced for modern consoles!
I am really impressed with what we got in Assault Suits Valken. M2 has set a very high bar for ports and this proudly stands tall with the rest of them. If you are a fan of the original releases or even a fan of the mecha genre, I think this is certainly a must have game! If you enjoy action side-scrolling games, I also think you will find a lot to enjoy in this game.