Area 88 is also a Japanese arcade and Super Famicom/SNES game. The English version of the game is called U.N. Squadron - I guess some prude had a problem with the idea of mercenary pilots. The arcade game is a typical shoot-em-up side-scroller where you can pick from three pilot/plane combinations. As you blow away planes, tanks and bosses you upgrade your main gun and gain cash that can be redeemed for weapons and plane add-ons. Unlike many arcade shoot-em-ups, your plane can actually take a few hits, so it's not just the twitch gaming of say R-Type. Your pilot makes some cute little statements every time you beat a stage - I love anime cut-scenes and engrish. Decent, but nothing to write Mother about.

The SNES version, on the other hand, is a work of art. One of those amazing unknown masterpieces of gaming. First, you pick your pilot. Each pilot has a different specialty. You then start out with a slow plane that can only load a few ineffective weapons and a few bombs. There's one mandatory mission, and from there you can pick your next target. Of course, some targets are mobile and if they come close to your base, you're forced to fight them. As you make cash from beating states, you can buy better and faster planes that can load more effective weapons. The different stages are pretty innovative, since they can range from aerial combat to attacking a submarine to destroying a jungle base to fighting a land-based battlecruiser. While it's not impossible, you have to pick and choose your planes and weapons wisely to defeat different bosses. The only disappointment in the SNES version is that only one player can go at a time as opposed to the two at once possible in the arcade.

There was an arcade sequel to Area 88. Its only claim to fame is digitized pictures of Sean Connery - beyond that, it's so bad I can't even remember the name. Just play the SNES version.

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