Gleylancer (also often written as Gley Lancer and its full name, Advanced Busterhawk Gleylancer) was a Japan-only horizontal shoot-em-up released for the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis to us Yanks) way back in 1992. It was developed by Masaya Games, whom you may know from their work on the Langrisser series, Cho Aniki, Cybernator, the Assault Suits series, and another horizontal Sega Genesis shmup that actually was localized, Wings of Wor (Gynoug).
Until it was digitally released for the Wii’s Virtual Console in 2008, the only way to legally play Gleylancer was to import the Mega Drive version from Japan. Even then, it was just a port of the Japanese release.
Thanks to the folks at Ratalaika Games and the PR firm PR Hound, Gleylancer has finally been localized in English and is now available on all modern platforms for the incredibly generous price of $6.99 USD. As a Sega kid and a fan of the 16-bit era of arcade shooters, it was surreal finally playing an English version of a game I’d only experienced in… other… ways. *ahem*
It’s a story in itself that non-Japanese gamers can now play a Sega Genesis classic for the first time in 2021. It’s another that Gleylancer is still pretty damn good.
Here you play Lucia, a young pilot who hijacks the titular prototype ship Gleylancer and goes against military orders to rescue her father, a captain in the space federation forces. Cutscenes are Genesis-as-hell, being superbly anime-inspired and wouldn’t feel out of place in a Phantasy Star game, but this is a 1992 shoot-em-up — the story isn’t a selling point. It’s there, and that’s cool (again, the cutscenes are very pretty and timeless).
Piloting the Gleylancer, Lucia shoots her way through 11 different space-themed stages, collecting power-ups, blowing up aliens, and doing her best not to die. The usual shmup trappings apply, but what sets Gleylancer apart from some of the others is its “gunner” system and the ability to change the speed of your ship.
Your default shot always remains the same but collecting a new weapon actually spawns a floating gunner orb that uses it instead. You can have up to two gunners, both using whatever the last weapon power-up you grabbed, but these gunners can also be manually controlled or given A.I. commands that can be adjusted on the fly.
As for weapon types, they range from your typical laser that hits hard but doesn’t cover a lot of ground and a flamethrower that kicks a lot of ass but doesn’t reach out very far, to bullets that ricochet off walls or even turn into literal lightsabers. You can have them shoot in the opposite direction of your ship, rotate around you, mirror your movements, and automatically target enemies on screen. Different situations call for different A.I. commands, which can be swapped at the press of a button, which is new to this version of Gleylancer.
Also new to the 2021 release is the ability to manually control your gunners with the right analog stick, turning it into more of a twin-stick shooter. You can thankfully increase and decrease your speed, which you’ll need to do to avoid certain environmental hazards and dodge enemy projectiles. In the original game, there was just a three-button layout, so you adjusted your speed by pressing a button multiple times – gradually increasing your speed to the max of 4 and then reducing it one notch at a time. For example, starting at the default of 1 you’d have to press the speed button 3 times to reach maximum speed, and then again 3 more times to revert back to the default. Imagine bumping your speed from 1 to 2 and then having to press the speed button FOUR MORE TIMES to hit the default. Not fun! Now you can use LT and RT to shift it however you’d like. It’s very nice.
There isn’t a ton of creativity going on here, in terms of environments. There are alien bases, ice caves, a sunset, and regular-ass space, but the lack of busy backgrounds does make it easier to spot hazards and bullets that aren’t yours. Enemy designs are fine too, as are the boss models. One of my favorites is a gross alien queen latched onto the ceiling while a massive egg sack hangs from her back. Bosses are kind of a pushover, though, since Gleylancer isn’t overly difficult on the default setting.
If you want more of a challenge, hard will definitely give it to you, but “vintage” mode is an accurate representation of the original 1992 Mega Drive release that removes all the (very good) new additions and goes back to the 3-button scheme. The 6-button controller, if you recall, didn’t release until 1993.
Gleylancer is a really good nostalgia trip, though! It’s the classic shmup action I love but improved with modern control options and quality of life additions, as well as a rewind function. And if I want the pure retro experience, vintage mode exists. I’ve had an absolute blast playing a newly-localized Sega Genesis game in 2021 and the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard this year. It’s full of bangers and has a killer final boss track that I won’t shut up about on Twitter.
If you’re interested in display options, you can toggle between a stretched wide-screen mode, a 4:6 direct aspect ratio, and a pixel-perfect mode. You can soften and sharpen the pixels, add a variety of CRT scanlines with a ridiculous amount of customization, and choose between three different wallpapers.
Overall, I know I’ve said it already, but the life-long Sega fan in me was smiling ear-to-ear while playing this forbidden fruit of a game. And more Sega shmup action is on the way to modern platforms as well since Ratalaika and PR Hound are releasing the aforementioned Wings of Wor under its original name, Gynoug, next week! Give me ALL of the retro shooters!
A digital Xbox code for Gleylancer was provided for the purpose of this review by PR Hound.