Note: The videos in this article contain spoilers for 30-year-old anime and 18-year-old space shooter. If that’s the type of thing your sensitive about, consider yourself warned.
Macross: Do You Remember Love is one of the first animes I can recall watching. Released in 1984, Do You Remember Love (hereinafter, “DYRL“) is a cinematic adaptation of the popular Japanese television series, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Despite its Japanese origins, it’s not uncommon for American children of the 80’s (such as myself) to have a tangential memories of the Macross franchise: the original television series was heavily adapted for US audiences in the form of the first 36 episodes of the popular cartoon, Robotech.
It had to be about 1991 when I first set eyes on DYRL. Back then, my older brother was an avid collector of anime (back when we still called in Japanimation, junior), and it was not uncommon for him to come home with blurry VHS fansubs of all manner of Japanese cartoons. DYRL was a bit more complex than your typical American cartoon: characters fell in love, died, got involved in love triangles, dealt with the horrors of war… it was some heavy stuff. But what do I remember the most about DYRL, and every other entry in the Macross franchise? The missiles – check it out (all 20 minutes not required viewing):
SOOOOO many missiles. 9-year-old Steve was in heaven. Giant transforming robots and missiles.
This isn’t an anime website, though, so let’s get down to business. In 1997, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Macross franchise, Sega and Bandai teamed together to develop a space shooter based on DYRL, which is commonly referred to by English speakers as “Saturn Macross.” Containing over 30 minutes of footage from the film, licensed music, and additional dialogue recorded by the original cast, Saturn Macross is a fitting tribute to DYRL. And did they nail the missiles?
You’d better believe it.
In Saturn Macross, the player takes control of the VF-1 Valkyrie unit of the film’s protagonist, Hikaru Ichijo. The VF-1 Valkyrie is more or less what we’d call a transformer: a jet fighter that can also morph into a battroid (giant robot) and a GERWALK (a sort of bipedal flying tank). For much of the game, the player can freely switch between all three forms through the use of the Saturn’s trigger buttons, but the plot often mandates that your Valkyrie is restricted from doing so.
There are three main forms of attack in Saturn Macross: the Valkyrie’s gunpod (in practice, a standard “vulcan gun”), lock on missiles, and bombs. Each weapon has two forms – a weaker form with a larger area of effect, and a stronger form that targets a more concentrated space of screen real estate.
Each form of the Valkyrie utilizes the gunpod differently, with the GERWALK and the battroid sacrificing the mobility of the fighter for the ability to aim your shots with greater precision.
The action in Saturn Macross takes place across three planes, a foreground, middle ground, and background. The player is restricted to the middle plane, but enemies can freely travel between all three. Only lock on missiles and one form of the gunpod can target enemies in the foreground and background, requiring you to utilize the full extent of your arsenal.
For the most part, this is a nice effect which makes excellent use of the Saturn’s 2D capabilities. At times, though, it is difficult to discern exactly which planes your enemies are on, resulting in more than a few bogies flying right by you or scoring the occasional cheap hit.
“Why would I care if an enemy flew right by me,” you ask? Because many of the game’s levels revolve around defending the Super Dimension Fortress Macross, the titular flagship of the series, which is constantly under assault. The SDF Macross has its own life bar, which slowly decreases each time you fail to shoot down one of your targets. This adds a nice bit of tension to the gameplay, and encourages you to perform to the peak of your ability. If you watch the video below, you’ll see this mechanic in action each time I fail to shoot down an enemy craft.
What Saturn Macross does best, though, is capture the spirit and feel of some of the more memorable moments of DYRL. While it’s only a 2D shooter, Saturn Macross makes liberal use of voice acting and integrated clips from the film to give each level a unique feeling.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the game’s last level, which beautifully recreates the climactic battle from DYRL as the movie’s theme plays in the background.
Saturn Macross is not without its faults, though. Often times, the sprites seem a little too large for the screen. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver your Valkyrie when things get hectic. For that reason, I rarely found myself utilizing the battroid or GERWALK forms; it was always easier to play as the far more mobile fighter plane. There are also control issues: the game requires the player to double tap buttons to activate certain attacks, which is a strange design choice, as the game leaves two buttons on the Saturn controller unused. Additionally, the game also runs on the easy side, and anyone remotely skilled at space shooters should have no problem clearing it in under 5 hours.
That being said, Saturn Macross is a highly enjoyable game that really captures the spirit and feeling of DYRL. I’ve replayed it three times, and I’ll probably have a few more go-rounds before I’m done with it. If you’re a fan of Macross, or shooters in general, it’s more than worth your time, if for no other reason than the missiles!
Played on original hardware, upscaled to 720p through a Micomsoft Framemeister. All footage and screens captured through an ElGato HD60.
 Despite this moniker, the game was also ported to the Playstation in 1999. I have not played that version of the game – all opinions in this post are based solely on my experiences with the Saturn version.