So, I got to play this recently and my jaw hit the floor. It might just be the best arcade space shooter of the era. I don’t know why it became so obscure and underrated, you’d think it could have stood next to the likes of Star Fox and Panzer Dragoon, especially as it’s not even on-rails. Anyway, this video does a very good job in showing off all its best aspects (and spoiling all the cool levels in the process if that matters to you). It does include one inaccuracy, it mentions the inability to switch to the third person camera because the player didn’t figure out that button only works to change views when you have paused the game (and it remains when you continue playing). But it’s really best played in first person so it doesn’t matter. Anyway, it’s a shame it was never released outside Japan and apparently remained unknown there too.
I wonder if the letterboxing is really due to being “widescreen” or just a way to run it at a lower resolution small window making it easier to achieve those visuals and action. The original Stellar Assault for the 32x apparently had an auto pilot on-rails mode of sorts as well as multi player, while it actually released in the West as Shadow Squadron (but I never saw a 32x in real life anyway). It was overall a simpler game but offered more differentiation between the two ships and it still looks pretty cool (the hud is much nicer too).