I guess the most interesting aspect to it is that Gley Lancer's combat is very Option oriented; if not for your ship's Options, the game would be 100% drab. Actually, they're called Movers in this game; personally I prefer something more literal like Gun Satellite, but no, Shmups always have to go with something weird like Option, Force, Outrider, Unit, Multi-Body, Mover, Gambit or Craw.
The minute you start the game, you are prompted to select what formation you want your Movers to take. The Mover formations are varied enough for just about anyone to find their favorite, though personally I like the Manual Position type where you can move the Option's direction with the push of a button... which is the one formation unavailable here. With so many formations, you also get a lot of different weapons. You get typical stuff like the Twin Shot, Laser and 5-Way Shots but you also get a Laser Sword, a Ricochet Shot, Explosives and a Flamethrower. *
And that's where this game's innovation ends. Not that it really needed it, honestly the game feels like it was made just for the sake of looking good and giving a seamless presentation with solid action and no sprite break-up. If those were part of the mission statement then bravo for the latter... I guess. Honestly, there are some parts of this game that look fantastic and then there are some parts that reflect laziness. The game uses parrallax scrolling quite well in select stages like the asteroid ring of Jupiter or the purple seas of Stage 2 and the sunlit clouds in stage 6. Other levels like the caves in Stage 3 and the red cumulus of... something in Stage 9 are solid masses lacking detail and depth. The worst happens in Stage 4, the fastest moving stage in the game down a long tight corridor with no parallax scrolling in the background!
The action in this game is pretty well paced, there's lots of enemies and a lot of movement strategy, but it's not a hard game at all, even with its active Checkpoint System. Only two out of the eleven levels in this game are challenging, half of such levels are shorter than a minute and the bosses, while cool, were all push-overs! This is the only other Shmup I've played on the Genesis where the bosses were bigger wusses than the ones in Curse!
What drives the action in any Shmup though is the music and again, this one needed a bit more work. Most of the first five level songs are very well done; there's a big emphasis on pace and a sense of battle in the first five level songs. Those level songs very catchy and the first boss fight theme sounds both awesome and dangerous. Then, half way through the game, the coolness of the soundtrack just stops. Sometimes it'll throw in a catchy rhythm like in Stage 9, but it just becomes a cycle of squeaky noises and stupid sounding fake trumpets. In fact, hearing the soundtrack I immediately guessed that part of it was done by the same guy who gave us the tunes in Steel Empire, Ranger X and the embarrassing circus music in Gynoug.
Gley Lancer is one of those b@st@rd space-Shmups where there actually is a plot, some narrative and some characters, but the story never goes anywhere and 98% of the characters are pointless. Most of this is due to the fact that the plot to Gley Lancer has been done to death: mankind travels into space, they encounter a race of aliens (that use bioships and organic monstrosities as their main attack force) and the two go to war... for no reason at all. The only way the story could've gotten any more derivative is if there was a sentient super computer that turned evil.
The game does try to make things personal; much like Aldynes, we control a young woman whose significant male in their life is taken by the aliens and she has to fight for him. In this case though, the dude in question is a Capt. Ken Cabrock and rather than getting KIA, he gets kidnapped. Why? Don't ask me, we never find out. I'm dead serious, this never gets explained! The one point of originality in the story and they never build on it or twist it around!
The young woman in question is a puffy-haired teenager named Lucia who has the insane will power and piloting skills to literally zip around all six planets in an alien binary system looking for her father killing everything that moves around her ship (Dayumn). Of course, I'm not sure if she's piloting the same ship that we see in the game's cut scenes; according to the cut scenes, the Gley Lancer is a standard jet design with a lip-stick shaped canopy, yet the ship we play as in the game looks more like a giant claw with jet wings.
What gets to me about the story though is that there are several moments in the game where there could possibly be a plot twist, a reason why the war started or SOMETHING interesting, even a reason why the aliens kidnapped Capt. Cabrock in the first place! You travel to the alien's home world and discover floating blocks containing huge, jabbering, humanoid faces and fight a giant statue of what appears to be an alien goddess with supernatural powers! You'd think all of that would warrant an explanatory cut-scene... but NO! Nothing!! If this were a Taito game they would've thrown in bizarre esoteric imagery that all had something to do with the plot and I would've bought that.
Of course, it's kind of hard explaining the importance of a spooky alien boss whose name is 'Santa Fe.' Yes, I found a copy of the level & boss descriptions and translated them as best I could and found that half the boss names are ridiculous. The first couple bosses get fitting names like 'Vinon,' 'Maxim Fighter' and 'Gokki,' but later bosses include what appears to be... wait for it... 'Lonesome Jenny' and 'Skating Daddy.' Even worse, the final boss is simply named 'Jacob.' JACOB! They called a giant mutilated-head/crystal-ball Langolier/devil-beast from Hell military leader Jacob!!
Translating this goddamn game was even more insulting; the dialogue for the scenes translates as completely basic stuff and reveals absolutely nothing you can't figure out on your own. Seriously, all the kanji and hiragana text past the opening translates to genuinely boring narrative: "Father, is that you?" "The fleet is coming to assist!" "The main enemy force is nearing!" "Captain... Don't die." Y'know, I wouldn't mind seeing an Engrish translation of this game a la Zero Wing.
What makes the so-called story worse though are the endings. There's a part near the final level where you are given a chance to save Lucia's father. It's actually a lot harder to get him killed, meaning you'll probably get the Good ending rather than the Bad one. The Good ending is a typical array of happy still shots... well drawn, but groan inducing. The Bad ending is sad for obvious reasons, but then it throws in this hilarious Engrish error riddled text crawl that makes absolutely no sense: it says Lucia killed all the alien militants including their leader, but the aliens will attack again. What??
Overall, if you go into this expecting a game worth $100, lower your expectations by a good $65; Gley Lancer is in no way a bad game, but it's not stellar.
* Wait, can flamethrowers work in space or underwater like in Level 2?