Released in 1998 on the Playstation, the game represented a rare foray into the action genre for Squaresoft.
Despite the companies’ reputation for producing almost exclusively RPG games, the late 90’s represented a wonderful era of experimentation and change in the types of games Square would produce.
During this time Square would branch out and produce a great number of quality games across a myriad of genres.
And Einhänder, was one of the finest space shooters ever made.
The game was absolutely gorgeous, with spectacular art design, wonderful atmosphere, and an especially noteworthy soundtrack by Kenichiro Fukui.
The basic story of the game was that, in the future, mankind expands it’s civilization to the moon, which at some point sparks a war between the people of the Earth, and the people of the Moon.
The player takes control of the moon-based pilot of a special, wasp shaped plane with a giant manipulator arm for snatching and using enemy weapons, or “Gun Pods.”
Essentially, the game represents a suicide run on the part of the player, wherein they are expected to destroy as many enemy facilities as possible to force the end of the war.
By the end of the game however, the player is faced with the unfortunate task of having to fight for their lives against their fellow soldiers, the reasoning behind which being that they were in fact expected to die on their suicide run on Earth.
Einhänder was presented in a beautifully well-executed 2.5D format.
Essentially, the entire game takes place on a horizontal scrolling, 2D plane, while the graphics and camera angles are rendered in 3D polygons, resulting in a number of dynamic angles that do little to disrupt the relatively simple nature of the gameplay.
At the outset of the game, the player is given the choice of 1 of 3 different “Einhänder” planes, the word being German for “Single-Handed.”
The Endymion FRS Mk. II was a larger plane that could house 3 Gun Pods at any given time, but could only operate one of them at a time.
The Endymion FRS Mk. III was a plane recommended for beginners, as it fielded 2 machine guns by default, as opposed to the normal 1, and it could only hold and operate 1 Gun Pod at a time, limiting the complexity of the gameplay.
And the Astraea FGA Mk. I, was a beastly powerhouse of a machine that could operate 2 Gun Pods at any time, making it the most difficult to pilot, but by far the cream of the crop in my opinion.
Trust me there’s a reason they put the Astraea on the cover.
Throughout the game, the player is faced with the task of battling enemies, while properly managing their Gun Pod arsenal from situation to situation.
Gun Pods could be mounted on the top or bottom of the plane, (or both when using the Astraea) and came in a huge number of varieties, with each having limited ammo so as to require the player to switch them out constantly.
Weapon types ranged from machine guns like the common Vulcan, and it’s overpowered cousin, the Juno, to oddities like the Riot lightning gun, and the defensive chaff gun, the Hedgehog.
Several Gun Pods could only be unlocked by meeting certain conditions, such as killing all of the enemies in a particular scene, or defeating certain bosses in certain ways.
In fact, there were many secrets and branching paths in the game depending upon the player’s performance, resulting in a rare shooter that had the potential to play out differently every time.
Like any other scrolling shooter, bosses were plentiful and spectacular throughout.
Many bosses had weaknesses and could be taken out relatively quickly, (especially when using the ridiculously overpowered Grenade) though in most cases this was ideal, as many of the bosses had variable patterns depending upon the types of damage inflicted on them.
All the bosses in the game had multiple damage quadrants, resulting in interesting scenarios wherein the player would have to quickly decipher which spots made for the most effective targets.
Some of my favorite bosses in the game were the games first boss, a massive elephant like whats-it,
The spider-legged mid-boss of level 3, which could be insanely difficult if not taken out quickly,
the giant bipedal monkey robot from level 5 that makes Doom noises when it roars,
and the giant satellite that serves as the game’s second to last boss.
Of course, none of these boss battles would be half as great if not for the game’s amazing soundtrack.
The game doesn’t have a singular boss theme, though in this case I think I would call the first boss theme, “Shudder” the Best Boss Music in Einhänder:
Ah hell, here’s the rest of the boss themes I just listed, in order:
and closest runner-up to Shudder, Thermosphere
Much of Einhänder universe uses German and Greek mythological terms, and as such, the game has an appropriately German techno-esque soundtrack.
The atmosphere is moody, energetic, and undeniably futuristic, giving the game an uncommon sense of drama and urgency for a space shooter.
The game was incredibly difficult, using the annoying-as-fuck “back to the checkpoint every death” system of Gradius, and yet it was packed to the rim with so many beautiful sights and sounds that it was hard to put down.
Einhänder is one of those games that I find myself playing again every few years, and I scarcely believe I will ever get tired of it.
I wouldn’t be lying if I said Einhänder reminded me of Axelay at times.
That’s probably the biggest complement I can give to a space shooter.