Assault Suits Valken Declassified Review – Pristine Restoration

    Title: Assault Suits Valken Declassified
    Developer: Rainmaker Production
    Release Date: March 30, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Rainmaker Production
    Genre: Arcade Action

Developer M2 has been at the absolute forefront of video game preservation, willing to go above and beyond to restore and upgrade classic games for a modern audience. Assault Suits Valken Declassified is their latest, and this time they get some help from Rainmaker Productions, the latter handling all of the sweet extra content, and there is a lot included in this declassified package.

It was no doubt one of the most memorable releases for the SNES back in the day. This new Declassified edition essentially updates the original Japanese version of the game, with a brand-new translation along with all of the cinematics and story sequences intact. Although the game has seen a few ports on digital storefronts, the latest proves to be the most definitive for both longtime fans and newcomers.

Let’s make one thing clear: Assault Suits Valken has always been a brutally challenging game. The difficulty is unforgiving, but at least now, players have the luxury of using save states. Still, every nook and cranny of this adventure is designed to test players. This may be a 2-hour adventure spread across seven stages, but it will be a long time before anyone can comfortably clear the game, even with save states. As difficult as the game is, learning and exploring are immensely rewarding. It’s a true testament to the carefully thought-out game design during the peak of 16-bit video games.

The mech here not only looks the part but feels like one too. It’s a heavy unit that players will have to learn to pilot comfortably before they are even prepared to take on the challenges later. Jumping and boosting can take some getting used to, but the game’s first stage is almost designed as the perfect testing ground. The default control scheme has been nicely ported. However, various gun settings are also available where players can adjust the direction and speed of the gun and even modify initial equipment. This is a nice touch, given how nuanced the gameplay can be.

Assault Suits Valken Declassified

It’s tempting to rush through the relatively short stages. Still, the level design rewards exploration, as hunting for all the collectible weapons and power chips is the key to a successful run. The latter is particularly beneficial in preparation for boss encounters, so making sure the mech is all geared up is worthwhile. The bosses are short, but they hit hard, and what makes the encounters painful is how most bosses are joined by minions which constantly regenerate. In other words, you want to end these encounters quickly, and collecting all the power chips and weapons is the surest way.

Precision is crucial, as later stages are intense and precise in layouts and design. This means careful memorization, and if the constant barrage of enemies and projectiles weren’t already challenging enough, stage hazards are waiting to squash the mech too. It may all sound quite frustrating, and it does feel like it for the most part, but this is how the game is by design, and the gradual mastery of the play mechanics and various level segments feels rewarding.

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If it all does feel impossible, the release comes with a full Super Play expert replay of the entire game completed in just under an hour. Yes, it is certainly possible because the various moving parts and action segments were ultimately meticulously designed and deliberately and perfectly put together to create a logical flow. The game gets increasingly challenging, and it doesn’t shy away from experimenting with various set pieces and stage objectives. There’s a great balance between exploration, closed-quarters combat, and even rail shooting.

The core game has never played or looked better, and given the quality of the graphics and the anime cinematics, it’s hard to believe it’s a game from 1992. All the necessary graphical filters are present, including a Retro Color screen filer, although the default settings are already nicely optimized. Even the menu and banner artworks look great. M2 and Rainmaker Productions have gone above and beyond to make the package feel more than just a retro release.

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The music is new to the presentation, and the game has always been known for its fantastic soundtrack, which is fully intact here, but now there is also an excellent arranged version. This game felt truly epic in its time, and even now, the presentation and game design come together to create a grandiose and challenging 2D action game.

If it all gets too hard, just equip the super-powerful Napalm from the gun settings and burn anything that moves. It’s okay; no one will judge you. If anything, it’s probably a great way to learn the stage layouts before you’re ready to play the game properly.

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Rainmaker Productions has done a fantastic job with the extras and preservation, thanks to which the release feels like something worthy of a limited physical edition down the line. The most notable addition is the complete translated recreation of the original Japanese handbook, and this comes quite handy to prepare for the game and is definitely worth diving into. Other extras include a gallery of artwork with some new illustrations too. As well as the game manual and the CD booklet of the official soundtrack.

Other extras include a music player. Most insightful is a series of interviews with Satoshi Nakai, the original designer and illustrator who also created new illustrations for the Declassified package. Strong artwork was vital in bringing a game world to life, given graphical limitations back in the day, and it’s great to see how much intricate care went into creating the in-game universe.

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Assault Suits Valken Declassified is a superb package that not only restores and updates a Bonafide classic but comes jam-packed with worthwhile extras. The extras go beyond novelty as the strategy guide, interviews, and even a fully recorded perfect playthrough all help get the most out of this mech action game. The core experience is brutally challenging with a steep learning curve, yet it has never looked or played better than it does here. This is an easy recommendation to fans, and while it may seem intimidating to newcomers, there’s a lot to explore and discover here, and all of it is rewarding.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!