The Phenomenal Playstation (PS1) Shmups Library
Note from racketboy: Following up on his epic Saturn Shmups Guide, BulletMagnet, walks us through the original Playstation’s well-rounded shooter lineup. It’s difficulty to declare a solid winner in the 32-bit 2D shooter wars, but the PS1 puts up an awesome fight against the Saturn. This guide will take us on a journey through the Playstation’s best down to the quirky andmediocre.
A couple of notes to keep in mind… First, while I obviously tried my best to include every shooter released on the system, the PS1’s library is much larger than the Saturn’s, and right up until the end of the writing process I kept stumbling upon obscure titles I’d previously missed. While I’ve made use of every resource I could think of to make this article as comprehensive as possible, the possibility still exists that I could have overlooked something – if this is the case, please let me know and I’ll get around to adding whatever I’ve missed.
Second, you might already be aware that a sizable number of shooters released on the Playstation were also available for the Saturn, and already have entries in that article – thus, if an entry covering one of those titles appears to be lacking certain core information about a game, chances are that it was already covered in the Saturn shmups guide, so feel free to check it out for additional details and such.
Picking up where Batsugun left off, newly-formed Cave, one of the few consistent shooter developers still in the business today, began its journey to the top of the genre heap with this release. PS1 owners sick of hearing about how much better the Saturn is for 2D games ended up getting a reprieve when this port hit the shelves – boasting a nearly arcade-perfect presentation and no slowdown problems (plus a budget re-release), this is the preferred pickup for most any shmupper with a Playstation. That said, the scrolling shooter genre was in something of a state of transition at the time, and this is one of the games which headlined that shift – nearly fifteen years later, how does it hold up on its own?
Taking the mechanics of the “C-Type” craft from Batsugun a step further, each of your three selectable ships will let loose its “regular” shots when the fire button is tapped, but will switch over to a more condensed, powerful laser if the player holds it down. Doing this will also slow your movement speed, which can come in handy when weaving through tight bullet spreads, as well as determine whether you use a standard full-screen bomb or a Mega Beam O’ Death when you decide to hit the B button. “Enemy chaining” also makes its debut here, awarding you extra points for taking down lots of enemies with only minimal gaps between kills, though you can also keep an eye out for opportunities to uncover hidden “bee medals” with your laser. You’ve got a pretty small hit area to work with, so you can (and had better) exploit small gaps between enemy bullets to get out of almost any situation.
Well, at least until you get to Stage 4 or so. As you progress, DonPachi almost seems to start pining more and more for memory-heavy “old-school” challenges, and will assume that you do too, sending quick waves of enemies, guns blazing, darting in from every which way with no warning, forcing you to either remember where they came from and when next time around or inevitably die in the exact same spot. This schizophrenic streak, paired with a LONG power-up curve (which is reset to square one when you die) will likely jar some players right off their couches, wondering where on Earth such a sudden and unforgiving change of tone came from. These annoyances aside, however, DonPachi should serve as a nice segue into “modern-style” shooting for a majority of players.
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Attention, those of you who happen to be both purists and Cave fans – prepare to prostrate yourselves before your Playstations. While the Saturn port of DDP offered an extra mode at the expense of an arcade-perfect reproduction, those willing to fork out the extra effort (and cash) required to get their hands on this edition are free to banish any recollections of blocky explosions or muffled music to the abyss. It’s just the arcade game and not much else, but it’s as close to the original as a home port has come, and that’s a very good thing – some of you already know why that is, but everyone else, keep reading.
While many of the basic components of DonPachi (ship types, lasers, chaining, etc.) are back for an encore, nearly every element has been refined and polished to a new level altogether. For one thing, you can now choose to make each plane a “shot” or “laser” type, which beefs up that aspect of your firepower and also prevents it from returning to “pea-shooter” status after death. Stages are now designed to encourage much longer chains than before, so hardcore scorers will have plenty to keep them busy, though everyone else can get through fine via several other (though less lucrative) point allocation methods, most notably a “max bomb bonus” which builds up as you collect extra nukes. While the aforementioned chaining, though optional, is definitely a memory exercise, most of the previous game’s “out of nowhere” deaths have been exorcised, replaced by more aggressive enemies overall and a more gradual learning curve. The end result is a more exciting and smoother-flowing experience than before, which will almost certainly keep you hooked, and eager for another go even after you’ve finished.
The graphics, while similar in overall “style” to DonPachi, have been given a complete overhaul, and the detailed sprites, sparse rendering tricks, and bevies of neon-colored bullets are still a pleasure to behold more than a decade into the title’s life. The cheese-metal soundtrack is an ideal accompaniment to the fiery explosions and other assorted chaos, though the songs repeat too often for my liking. One annoyance to note, however, is that in this version players will need to turn on the “Wait” option in the pause menu each time they begin, or else the game will run a bit too fast. Another inconvenience that the PS1 version forces you to deal with is that in 2P mode both participants must use the same ship – and even in 1P mode you’ve got to make your selection in the Options menu. Weird. Aside from these relatively minor setbacks, and the rather steep price, DoDonPachi shines at least as brightly here as on the Saturn, and is an essential addition to nearly any shooter fan’s collection.
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Everything changed for Squaresoft during the 32-bit era. Among other things, its longtime exclusive relationship with Nintendo came to an end, and the runaway success of Final Fantasy VII catapulted its name to sudden household status within the gaming community. As if the aforementioned wasn’t enough, somewhere in the middle of it all they decided to put out, of all things, a side-scrolling shooter – one with an odd German title (literally, “one-hander”), to boot. Notwithstanding, the title was well-received, and remains one of the PS1’s best-known shmups two generations later – strangely enough though, despite a healthy amount of fan fervor, a sequel has still not come to fruition.
Though you might expect Squaresoft to have made an attempt to redefine the genre, as they did in the RPG realm, they actually chose to stick rather closely, in basic gameplay terms, to long-established standards. You scroll sideways, you shoot stuff with a weak machine gun, your only default weapon…meanwhile your enemies are firing all sorts of nifty stuff back at you. Wouldn’t it be nice to get your hands on some of the bad guys’ big guns for once? Actually, you can do just that – aim carefully at certain enemies’ weapon pods and you can blast them right off, ripe for the collecting, thanks to your craft’s handy-dandy manipulator arm. A choice of three selectable ship models allows you to handle the pilfered weaponry slightly differently, giving you some flexibility in how to approach the game – the ability to adjust your speed on the fly also helps. In terms of scoring, blasting lots of enemies at once increases the point multiplier, so knowing which weapons to take into which enemy formations ahead of time is a must for getting your initials to the top of the list.
As Square was wont to do, it made about the best possible use it could of the PS1’s 3D abilities – while dated somewhat by now, the overall ambience of the game is still effectively conveyed, and the soundtrack, while relatively standard techno, also does its part in setting the mood. Don’t let the attractive settings distract you though – while relatively “modern” by shooter standards, Einhander’s not afraid to throw some near-unavoidable deaths at you, not to mention send you back to a checkpoint with all but your default armaments down the tubes. Some players might have been somewhat disappointed that this title didn’t change everything, as they might have hoped, but for anyone willing to take some punishment in exchange for the opportunity to hit the baddies with a taste of their own medicine, brush up on your Deutsch and pick this up.
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As gaming lore would have it, Konami had initially planned to bring this storied shooter Westward, but ended up deciding against it – a shame, because not only is Gaiden (“side story”) one of the few Gradius entries created and tailored specifically for home console play, but it’s widely considered one of the series’ best, and a title that has the potential to appeal even to players who aren’t particularly fond of its siblings. As fate would have it, the game did eventually make its overdue trip via the PSP’s Gradius Collection, but for those seeking the “original” experience Gaiden did well enough in Japan to earn a budget re-release twice over, so tracking a PS1 copy down isn’t too tough or costly.
For starters, this iteration offers you four selectable weapon sets, a la Gradius II, in the form of four distinct ships – more importantly than that, however, you also get to choose from four shield varieties, and are even given the otherwise unheard-of ability to rearrange your power bar. That’s right – if you want the Option or Shield section positioned at the far left for easy access, go right ahead and plunk it there. These tweaking opportunities give you much more freedom in terms of playstyle than almost any other Gradius – now you can build your strategy around everything from quick, frequent invincibility bursts to hugging the ceiling and bombing away. Once you’re set up and ready to go the game plays more or less like a “classic” Gradius, though now you can also power up your Missile, Double, and Laser to “level two” if you select any of them twice.
The game’s look, for its part, is what I’d define as “attractively understated” – while few areas will make your jaw utterly drop in terms of what they throw at you visually, everything from the first level’s snowstorms to the second’s heaps of scrap metal to the third’s refracting crystals, and so on, looks good without drawing undue attention to any specific aspect of itself. The music is similarly suitable, though again not to the point of distraction. Aside from what’s already been said, all I can think to add is that Gaiden is considered to be one of the easier series entries, though considering how difficult the rest are that’s not saying a heck of a lot. All told this is probably the best place to go for an introduction to the “classic” Gradius experience, as it’s hard to argue that it’s been done better anywhere else.
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Chances are that even most longtime gamers have never heard of Sky Think Systems – this is certainly understandable, considering that, aside from a pair of puzzlers (Kururin Pa! and its sequel), this was their only commercial game, and none of the company’s output ever left Japan. Quite a shame, I have to say, considering that Harmful Park is one of its era’s most unique and fun shooter offerings, combining a multi-faceted scoring system with a healthy dose of cheery eccentricity. A meet-up with this rare title will cost you, though (frequently to the tune of triple digits), so it’s good to know exactly what you’re getting before taking the plunge.
Charged with the task of taking back an amusement park from an evil scientist, you’re equipped with a (potato) gun, (ice cream) laser, (pie) grenades, and (jelly bean) homing shots, each of which can be accessed either via “scrolling selection” or assignment to a specific button. Each is powered up individually, which takes awhile, but in exchange only the weapon you’re using is powered down upon death – your current armament also determines the effects of your bomb. You’ll want to learn how to use each effectively, since aside from collecting gems and other items your main source of scoring potential is the ability to take down multiple enemies in a single shot – for instance, horizontal lines of them are best handled with the laser, close groups with the grenades, and so forth. Oftentimes setting up rivals for a lucrative kill can be risky, not only to your “shoot down percentage” bonus but also due to the occasional and frustrating “come-from-behind” assaults that can pick you off if you’re not paying attention.
While both surviving and scoring are fun in and of themselves, the game’s real claim to fame is in the trimmings – while the raw quality of the graphics isn’t particularly impressive (some animations in particular are rather stiff), the wacky enemy and level designs, including a host of visual puns, are still a hoot to see in action, from popcorn poppers of death to zombie elephants to an inflatable dinosaur boss. It’s all so constantly and unapologetically silly that you can’t help but enjoy yourself – if you need a break, though, the programmers also included a trio of minigames, based loosely on Pong, Combat, and the versus racing sections of Sonic 2, all of which support multiplayer. While the game is not very challenging on “Normal” and below, turn it up any higher than that and you’ve got a fight on your hands – however you play this, though, you’re all but certain to get back in line for another ride afterwards.
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Regarded by many shmuppers as the first truly “arcade-perfect” console shooter port, as well as the first to include a vertical-screen option, this early PS1 release is a compilation of top-down standard-bearers Raiden and Raiden II, and was considered viable enough to receive releases in all three regions. All of the localizations play well, though the US version lacks true tate mode (however, if you have a Gameshark there is a code to “unlock” it) and the Japanese version (which got several re-releases) is missing some of the “restart” options included in the Western iterations. Minor differences notwithstanding, just about any shmupper should have this in their collection.
Ask most non-shmuppers to name any random shooter off the top of their heads – if they don’t go with Gradius, R-Type, or an older title like Galaga, they’re likely to mention Raiden. While its relatively unexciting pseudo-futuristic military trappings won’t stand out much today, that’s largely because this is the title that set in place much of what we now consider “stereotypical” genre features. You’ve got 2 types of weapons and missiles to (very gradually) power up, a bullet-eating bomb (with a nasty startup delay), a big hitbox, and yellow enemy bullets (which are likely moving faster than you can) to dodge. Scoring doesn’t go much beyond fixed-value medals and shooting things, so anyone in the mood for some old-style blasting (and not much mercy) will be greeted with open arms.
Raiden II hangs on tight to many of the elements introduced in its predecessor, but takes them a step further – the same basic setting and overall styling is here, but the detailing has been improved, making the Raiden world a good deal more attractive than it was initially. You’ve also got a new third weapon to collect (the famous purple “toothpaste laser”) and, if you use the 2P ship, a faster-activating (albeit weaker) bomb, as well as slightly tweaked movement. By default, you also instantly respawn after death instead of being sent to a checkpoint. While not a drastically different experience from its predecessor otherwise, the extra level of polish is still very much worth noting. The ports of both games, as mentioned earlier, are pretty much spot-on – while there are few extras to speak of, the optional arranged soundtracks are a nice touch.
As a closing point, there was a 2002 Japan-only release, also on PS1, of the first Raiden (and the first one only), under the “Major Wave Arcade Hits” label – it’s not expensive or hard to find, but if you want both Raidens make sure to stick with Project.
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At first blush this might look like a “remix” of Raiden II, and on a VERY basic level that’s what it is, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a lot more on offer than a mere rehash. First off, the game features three separate, and somewhat misleadingly-named, modes to play through, each with its own layout and rules – “Training” (more or less a “score attack” mode featuring one long level), “Novice” (the first five areas from Raiden II), and “Expert” (a full eight stages based on, but different from, Raiden II). While you’ve got the same weapons and whatnot from the previous game, nearly everything else has been given an impressive overhaul.
The main addition that DX offers over its brethren is a load more scoring variety and depth. Remember those plain ol’ medals from before? Well, now they decrease in value if you don’t grab ‘em quick – however, if your timing’s good, you can actually turn this new feature to your advantage. After a medal wears down to its lowest value, it will flash for a split second – grab it right then and you’ll be rewarded with several times its original value in points (same goes for the “Miclus” dragons, when they show up). Also, by hovering over certain spots for a moment or two, you can reveal secret landscape features to blow up for additional bonus points. Bosses are now timed as well, and worth more if you can find ways to kill them quickly – finally, certain risky/aggressive behaviors (like zipping through narrow spaces between bullets) will also add to your score. And we’re not quite done – aside from the points immediately awarded to you during a stage, you’ll also have everything tallied up at the end of each level for additional rewards, so to max out your scoring potential you’ll want to do as much of everything as you can. In short, a formerly simple shooter has become a score attacker’s paradise.
The icing on the cake is that, while the arcade rendition of DX was pretty full-featured on its own, the PS1 port (the only home conversion ever released), not content to simply replicate the original faithfully (which it does), has a load of exclusive (and great) extras. Not only can you adjust your autofire rate, record replays, and unlock a boss rush mode, but also watch a superplay, check out an image encyclopedia, and choose between three different in-game soundtracks (including that of the arcade-exclusive Viper Phase 1). Long story short, if you like Raiden, you’ll be in heaven here. And even if you don’t, it’s still worth your while to give this entry a try – you might be surprised at how addictive it can be.
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So a fairy has popped up out of your favorite fairy tale book and asked you to help rid the happily-forever-after realm of an evil wizard who’s been messing up the stories. You readily agree to go, but then she inquires, if you’re going to serve as a hero and all, where do you keep your fighter jet? Being a regular kid, of course, you possess no such thing. Maybe a giant robot, she asks? Sorry. A quick glance around the room reminds you, however, that aside from a little sister to serve as Player 2, you do have a vacuum cleaner handy…
No, I didn’t make that up – that is, indeed, the sequence of events that leads you, in Kyuiin (pronounced similarly to “queen,” it’s meant to evoke the sound of a vacuum cleaner’s engine), to ride around on a Hoover fighting giant frogs and who knows what else. Despite the kiddy trappings, there’s some score attacking to be done here – while shooting enemies with one of four collectible weapons will take them down, for more points you’ll want to use your vacuum hose to suck smaller ones up (and use them for bomb ammo) and sneak behind bigger ones to whack them with the electrical cord. Basically, you’ll want to do as little shooting as possible to come away with the most impressive numbers – some might be turned off by this, though others are more likely to appreciate a departure from the shmupping norm (in case the thematic elements weren’t already enough).
Unfortunately, past the unique ideas the game runs into problems – for one thing, your character is both large and vertically-oriented, which by default makes evading attacks tough. Also, while your vacuum can slurp up some bullets as well as enemies to make this task a bit easier, the hose constantly wriggles up and down on its own and cannot be frozen in place, which frequently allows a stray small fry or its shots to sneak in and nail you. Though you can take two hits before dying, the initial one will knock off the vacuum’s hose and your bullet-absorbing ability with it, making surviving long enough to encounter a repair kit even harder than playing “normally”. On top of this the mixed 2D/3D graphics come off as rather mediocre overall, though the soundtrack is surprisingly rich. Finally, while the game got a “Best” reprint, it’s still hard to find – all told, the game’s unique play mechanics can be fun, but this unusual tale is definitely not one for the masses.
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70’s Robot Anime Geppy-X
Plenty of shooters have been clearly influenced by various anime over the years, but few wear this fact on their sleeves as proudly as 70’s Robot Anime Geppy-X, a parody of/tribute to the ever-popular “giant robot” subgenre masquerading as a shoot-em-up. Spanning an almost unheard-of four discs, there is a truckload of stuff here to make mecha fans giddy or cause them to laugh out loud – levels are grouped into pairs and set up as television “episodes”, complete with opening and ending theme songs, and even a commercial break in between, hocking fake Geppy products, from action figures to shampoo. Over-the-top voice acting, retro-styled character designs…you name it, it’s probably in here, impeccably preserved.
Of course, there’s also the matter of how the game actually plays – as your robot scrolls sideways, you can use the trigger buttons to shift between 3 different forms at any time. Each transformation has a “main” and “sub” weapon, both of which can be charged up for a more powerful attack, but also must be leveled up separately – other than that, you can turn your mech around to attack enemies behind you, and unleash an occasional screen-filling super attack. You’ve got a basic set of weapon powerups and health refills, but otherwise your only goal is to get from one end of each stage to the other intact. It’s a cool enough setup, but the interface is a bit clunky – your robot, as you might expect, is a big target, and hesitant to react to certain commands (i.e. you can only turn around or transform when you’re not doing anything else, including shooting), which makes quick responses to many threats on the player’s part all but impossible.
As was mentioned before, all the retro-cheese is great, though in similar fashion to a TV series DVD marathon you’ll wind up skipping the theme song and other repeating segments after you’ve seen them a few times. Progress in the game itself is also something of a drawn-out affair – your life meter does not refill between stages, and your weapons are reset to square one if you load up a saved game, both of which can put you in a tight spot very quickly, especially as you get farther in – to reach the end you’d best be prepared to conquer the whole thing in one go. All told, old-school robot fans will want this just to give their nerd cred the mother of all shots in the arm – those looking for solid shooting action might want to hesitate, especially considering how rare and costly this one tends to be.
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While the Saturn was king on the shmup front when it came to exclusive arcade ports, the PS1 bested it by a wide margin in terms of unique console-only offerings, including this, the first R-Type game to opt for a polygonal presentation. While those once-impressive visuals have obviously aged a bit by now, the overall design and ambiance are still strong – more importantly, however, Delta introduced several new elements into the series’ long-running formula, which were carried over into R-Type Final on PS2 and established as constants for the rest of the series’ unfortunately short life…well, at least until R-Type Tactics and R-Type Resurrection were announced.
As always you’ve got your Force pod, bit options, and 3 collectible weapons plus bombs and missiles, but the speed ups are history, as now you can (and at times, must) switch between four movement settings at will. Of course, you can also select three different spaceships to commandeer, all with differently-behaving Forces and weapon sets, a la R-Type III – this gives you some nice flexibility in terms of play style, i.e. do you prefer having your Force chase after enemies and blast them automatically, or maybe latching it onto rivals and using the “umbilical cord” which stretches between it and your ship to block bullets? The most noteworthy addition, though, is the “Dose” meter – if you use your pod, as opposed to your shots, to damage enemies and absorb bullets, the meter will gradually fill. Once maxed out, not only does the Force do additional damage, but awards extra points when used offensively, as well as a single-use screen-clearing attack. Survival is still task one, but now you’ll also need to apply a little extra technique in order to give yourself the best shot at the clear, not to mention a high score.
Of course, all the new stuff doesn’t affect the series’ main claim to fame, namely its reliance on repeated playthroughs and memorization of stage layouts to guarantee success. Granted, if you have a “bomb” stocked it might save you from some sneaky rear-attacking drones in close quarters, but it won’t do squat when a gigantic mech foot is heading for your cockpit because the screen didn’t scroll as quickly as you’d hoped. So long-time players needn’t worry, they’ll be right at home here – further, many of your fellow faithful consider Delta to be perhaps the finest of its series in terms of overall design, as well as a good place for R-Neophytes to begin. While the game was released in all three territories (with an unlockable gallery and some nice player stat tracking intact), there’s still some demand for it on the second-hand market, so be prepared to search a bit before reeling in a copy.
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GunBare! Game Tengoku 2
Following their hijinks in the Saturn-only port of the first Game Tengoku, Jaleco’s motley crew of video game and anime spoofs apparently felt like changing things up – not only did they decide to put down roots exclusively on the Playstation for this followup, but in the process left behind their sprite-based origins in favor of a 3-D makeover. Not stopping there, they also decided to tack on a feature not seen in any other shmup to date – instead of having the second player pilot an additional onscreen ship as usual, here your partner will have to pick up a Guncon and blast enemies with it, a la Lethal Enforcers or Time Crisis, even as you fly around and dodge bullets as per usual. Apparently collecting eggplants for bonus points wasn’t wacky enough.
While most all of the basic features of the first game are still here (a decent character selection, score attack mode, the aforementioned eggplants), quite a bit has also changed – for one thing, you’ve got a Raystorm-esque lock-on cursor now, which allows you to attack background enemies, but it feels very tacked-on, as it can only track two targets at a time, takes forever to find its mark once fired, and doesn’t affect scoring at all. Unfortunately, Raystorm’s “uphill” perspective is also along for the ride, and can prevent you from moving to the far edges of the screen, making collecting items and dodging shots a real pain. Even any sort of “traditional” stage structure has been deep-sixed – instead of working toward the one-credit clear, you simply select one stage at a time (out of five, with a sixth unlockable), and when it’s done you select another. There’s no “total” high score to shoot for, just per-stage records.
To sum up, while the first game felt like a shooter with some “fan service” elements attached, this one is more along the lines of a fan disc with a shooter clumsily duct-taped onto it – your main “goal,” when you get right down to it, is to use the eggplants you collect during the levels to buy various video clips and other things (you can also use them to give your character more power at the start of each stage, but it’s close to cheating, as the game’s not very challenging to begin with). While the trademark humor is thankfully intact, and certain segments in particular are a hoot (this time they’re skewering vector graphics and Tamagotchi-esque virtual pets, among other game-related targets ripe for the picking), most of the graphics have aged badly, and all told it can only be considered a step down from the first entry. I wish I could recommend this one without so much hesitation, but I’d advise shmuppers to think hard and honestly about just how much they liked the first game before springing for the sequel.
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Geki-Oh Shooting King
On technical merits alone, this port of Shienryu is inferior to its Saturn equivalent – scores are not saved, tate mode is nowhere to be found, and there’s some extra slowdown present. There are also, however, three things that Geki-Oh can claim which its counterpart cannot – it’s inexpensive, it’s available in all three regions, and it has a few extra modes thrown in. As such, if you’re unable to acquire (or play) either the Saturn port or Double Shienryu on the PS2 this isn’t a bad pickup.
In terms of the basic nuts and bolts the “main” Shienryu on offer here is mostly unchanged from its arcade and Saturn counterparts – you’ve got three collectable weapons, some bombs, and some basic score items to collect as you blast whatever happens to be in your way, most notably some sort of big mean mecha-dragon. While Geki-Oh boasts of having nine different modes to try, three of them are simply “easy”, “medium,” and “hard” difficulty variations of the arcade game, and two others (“Comical Mode” and “Ancient Mode”) are identical to “normal” mode except for some silly presentational alterings.
The other variations are a bit more interesting – “Stingy Mode” is sort of a 2-stage score attack, which gives you no power-ups and makes all enemies worth only 1 point, while “No Mercy Mode” speeds up enemy fire to the point that you pretty much can’t stop moving without being hit. Danmaku fans might enjoy “Slow Mode,” in which enemy bullets are far more numerous but are also slowed down, along with your craft’s movement, encouraging lots of pattern weaving – weirdest of all is “Pocket Mode,” a simplified shooter in every sense of the word, which looks like it could have been created for the Japan-only Pocketstation peripheral. All told, while this isn’t the best version of the core game available, the extras are interesting (and the price is low) enough to still make it worth a look.
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Gaia Seed: Project Seed Trap
In a way, you might consider this the Radiant Silvergun of the PS1…by “in a way,” of course, I mean “in terms of price,” as this is probably the most expensive shooter on the system, and also much harder to come across than Silvergun. So what do you actually get for your efforts if you determine to add this one to your collection? Well, it’s definitely not as unique or “epic” as Silvergun, though that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in a nutshell, this is a solid pickup in most respects, though its rarity, and the corresponding price spike, likely put it out of the grasp of all but the most devoted shmuppers.
Off the cuff, this game is most similar to the early-to-mid entries of the Darius series – you have a “main” and “sub” weapon (actually, 2 of each to collect), a shield (which regenerates when not being hit), and no scoring system beyond collecting surplus powerups and destroying enemy formations. Aside from an occasional “intense fire” power shot, that’s about all there is under the hood – up on the surface, the graphical quality is nothing particularly notable, though the settings are evocative and change frequently, always giving you something new to look at. The music is also varied and not a bad listen at all.
Decently-traveled shooter players will notice, in addition to the aforementioned Darius elements, references to (or ripoffs of, depending upon how cynical you are) several other shooters – Gradius fans should definitely feel at home while fighting the third boss, for instance. In any event, the only thing aside from the price tag that keeps me from recommending this one is its overall low level of challenge – despite three difficulty settings to choose from, the regenerating shield (on TOP of multiple lives) makes the journey less than taxing to complete, and may make some wonder if the trip, pleasant as it might have been while it lasted, was worth the investment.
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Bokan Desu Yo!
While the first Bokan shooter made an appearance on both of the “main” 32-bit systems, this followup, for whatever reason, ended up as a Playstation exclusive (and, surprisingly, got a limited PAL release as “Time Bokan: Yatterman”). Once again you’re walking (or pedaling) in the shoes of the ever-popular Tatsunoko villainess Doronjo and her hapless flunkies, determined to deliver a heaping helping of anti-justice to those pesky costumed superheroes. Those who played Bokan to Ippatsu! shouldn’t have too much trouble settling in, though there are a handful of differences worth taking note of between the two games.
For one thing, there are two modes to choose now – a “normal” game as well as the “special” mode, which plays identically but throws in a few extra levels, different cutscenes, and an additional selectable vehicle once you’re partway through. Otherwise all nine of the tanks, airplanes, and other wonky rides from the first game are available from the start, though some of their weaponry has been changed around – of course, you can still collect skull icons for temporary invincibility, though you now have the handy option to activate it whenever you want, rather than being forced to use it as soon as the meter’s filled up. You’re also still packing unlimited bombs, and this time, if you’re willing to take the risk of holding onto a loaded one for a few moments, you can power it up into an even bigger dose of exploding death.
The latter addition, however, can’t help but feel somewhat wasted, since the last game’s main scoring tactic, namely destroying multiple enemies with a single bomb, is nowhere to be seen, replaced instead by collecting the red gem point items as quickly as possible. Otherwise the game plays pretty much identically to the first…and, many shmuppers will be dismayed to learn, isn’t any more challenging than its precursor either. All told, despite the tweaks described above, a safe rule of thumb here is to recommend this to players who enjoyed the first Bokan shooter and its cartoonish goofiness, while advising those who didn’t to continue to keep their distance.
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Bokan to Ippatsu! Doronbo: Time Bokan Shirizu
Aside from the slightly different title, a handful of minor presentation differences, and the existence of a “Best” reprint, this is the same Bokan game as was released on the Saturn. You’ve got the same garage of garish super-vehicles, the same unlimited bomb stock, the same ability to roll out of the way of enemy fire, and the same meddlesome heroic types in need of a serious TNT-applied attitude adjustment.
While not a bad play-through, the theme and relative lack of challenge will put off “serious” shmuppers as much as ever – as with many other PS1 shooters, though, this one got a reprint, so it might be cheaper to find on Sony’s system. On a final note, be sure not to mix this one up with the subpar racing game Bokan GoGoGo, also released on the PS1.
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Raystorm and Raycrisis
While the Playstation version of Raystorm, a 3-D followup to Layer Section, lacks some of the extra content from the Saturn version, which was released later on, the system’s more advanced 3-D capabilities result in a better-looking game overall – further, thanks to the cleaner presentation, there are fewer issues in spotting enemies and bullets amidst all the floating polygons, so the playability improves a bit too. Thus, for most players, this is the preferred port on technical merits, not to mention the easier one to find, having been localized to all three regions, unlike its counterpart.
The basic idea is similar to its predecessor, except with a slightly “tilted” vertical-scrolling perspective – aside from your basic blasters you’ve got a lock-on cursor floating in front of your ship, which allows you to fire homing projectiles at anything that passes under it, and the more enemies you can waste at once the more points you get. A few additions, most notably a second selectable ship and a smart bomb, give you a bit more flexibility, but you’ll still end up being taken down by unforeseeable threats much of the time. Only minor changes were made for the localization, so purists shouldn’t have many issues here – on the flipside, however, it’s definitely not a newbie-friendly title, at least on default settings.
Raycrisis, the final entry of the “Ray” trilogy, is actually a prequel to the other two games, and sends you flying around inside the brain of the computer that you’ll find yourself fighting from the outside in later entries. As a result your surroundings are more surreal and free-form than before, covered in wonky colors and populated by even weirder enemies. The basic gameplay isn’t too far removed from Raystorm, though one addition of particular note is the “Encroachment” meter – basically, any enemies you fail to destroy will increase the meter, and if it gets too high the current level will end early, landing a blow to your scoring potential. This makes getting through the stages a more frantic affair for score-crazy types, as they’ll be unable to risk spending too much time setting up juicy multiple kills – while it can be argued that this feature allows for a bit of flexibility in terms of difficulty depending on the player’s potential, many simply find it to be more irritating than it’s worth.
Other than that, the only other changes worth mentioning are a third selectable ship, several color choices for each, the ability to pick three of the first five stages to go through, and a “Special Mode” which sends you through all the levels in one fell swoop, but with fully-powered weapons and a few system changes. Working Designs also insisted on keeping Pocketstation support for the localization, so anyone who imported one can load and play “PocketRay” on it. Import-savvy types might be interested to know that a “Double Shooting” compilation featuring both Raystorm and Raycrisis in one package was released in Japan – not a bad way to get ahold of both in one fell swoop. One final but important note is that there’s a bit of “drag” on the ships in both of these games, which will pull them slightly toward the center of the screen after they stop moving – it’s not a game-killing issue on its own, but enough of an annoyance to put some off.
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While Darius Gaiden managed to swim its way onto both of the 32-bit systems, its followup (and the final Darius game to date) was only ported to the PS1, and was a system exclusive for a long time, until the Taito Memories collections on the PS2 hit the shelves. There are various theories floating around as to what exactly the “G” stands for, though about the most credible I’ve heard is that it’s short for “Genesis,” as this game supposedly occurs earliest in the series’ timeline. In any event, aside from the distinction of being the only Darius to use polygonal graphics, this title is notable for its numerous additions to the stubbornly basic workings of its ancestors – many players (even quite a few sprite lovers) have taken such a liking to these new features that they’ve praised this entry as the best Darius game released.
The standard blaster/bomb/shield weapon combo is still here, of course, though as in Gaiden once you’ve reached a certain level you can’t be powered down below it. Moreover, this time around you can not only capture and “convert” mid-bosses, but almost any non-boss enemy in the game to help you out, via a limited supply of “capture balls.” Your bomb stock is gone, but replaced with a more interesting feature – remember those captured enemies I mentioned a second ago? If you don’t need them fighting alongside you, you can sacrifice them either to clear the screen of small fry, or to fire up an Enormo-Beam o’ Death – of course, bosses have access to their own EBoD, which gives you the opportunity to pit yours against theirs and mash buttons in an attempt to do massive damage, a la Metal Black. While interesting to mess around with in and of themselves, taking advantage of captured enemies and their various uses is also essential for scoring.
While the port replicates the look of the original faithfully (not too surprising, since the arcade version ran on Playstation-based hardware), it is unfortunately plagued with a good deal more slowdown here than it was there – on the plus side, the game includes a unique Boss Rush mode, and also earned itself a trip to all three regions, making it easy to find. Of course, being a Darius game, you’ll be faced with lots of seemingly-impossible challenges until you’ve memorized where to dodge and when the best time is to bring out your big guns, but anyone who’s played the series before already knew that. If you’re up for this most non-traditional of fish fries, the PS1 is a good place to fill up your plate.
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In the Hunt
Irem’s unique submarine shooter rises to the surface on the PS1, and despite the system’s purportedly inferior 2-D abilities, actually turns out a bit better here than on the Saturn, having largely exorcised the latter’s slowdown problems. As on Sega’s system the game managed to secure a release in all three regions (not to mention, surprise surprise, a reprint in Japan), so it’s not a particularly tough one to locate on the radar (sonar?) either.
Of course, even with the improved speed all of the game’s innate problems are still floating around, most notably a sluggish player craft that’s frequently forced into areas which greatly restrict movement – not the most appealing of combinations, especially when you’re being shot at. You do still have the unique setting and detailed sprite graphics though, so you could certainly do worse than this as far as a cheap pickup for your PS1 is concerned – heck, you even get an optional arranged soundtrack and slightly easier “Playstation Mode” included alongside the arcade originals. Just keep in mind that the developer is best-remembered for R-Type, not this.
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Speaking of R-Type, for reasons unknown, Irem felt compelled to offer most of its shooter love to the PS1 during its heyday – aside from its most famous exclusive offering, R-Type Delta, the company’s most notable gift was this simply-titled compilation of R-Type and R-Type II, the first arcade-perfect home ports of both titles. Many long-time shmuppers hold the original game in particularly high esteem, especially considering its release date, for its unique level designs and the debut of the handily indestructible “Force” device, which could be attached to the front or back of your ship or left to float free – you’ll need to memorize the layout of the levels to use it most effectively though, as a sudden rear attack is frequently tough to react to unless you’ve got everything in position ahead of time. Aside from a small selection of weapons and accessories you’ve got no “get out of jail free” cards either, so be prepared to Blast Off and Strike the Evil Bydo Empire many times before succeeding.
R-Type II plays nearly identically to the first, though you’ve got a few more laser and missile choices, along with the ability to charge up a stronger beam cannon. There are also fewer stages this time around, though you’ll still be hard-pressed to make it through them all in one credit. Alongside the games themselves is a small but nice selection of extra content, including enemy and ship data, a rundown of the story’s chronology (R-Type being one of the few shooters that bothers to include much of a backstory to begin with), and the ability to skip ahead to later stages instantly to practice. All three regions were treated to this release, so unless you’re particularly turned off to older or memory-heavy titles you owe it to yourself to snap it up.
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Strikers 1945 II
The PS1 avenges itself upon the Saturn after the former’s lackluster port of the first Strikers sent Psikyo fans over to Sega’s side. This time around, not only is the Playstation edition the better of the two, but the game makes its way overseas to both the USA and Europe – of course vertical mode was cut and it was confusingly renamed to plain old “Strikers 1945”, but whatever. There’s nothing much to mention in terms of extra features, but a well-done port of the arcade original is no bad thing, especially to aficionados of Psikyo’s style. Of course, most of this game’s audience likely knows the basic drill already – World War II setting with giant robots, random opening stages, orange bullets, and memorization tactics.
Indeed, this title plays very similarly to the original Strikers 1945, and thus much of Psikyo’s previous output as a whole – for one thing, it retains the scoring system of the first, which rewards you for collecting point items at the right moment. The only real major change, aside from a slightly reworked roster of airplanes, is a new charge shot system – you can still charge up more powerful attacks like before, but this time there’s a meter which affects how strong it will be. As you shoot down enemies with your “uncharged” weaponry it will slowly fill, up to a maximum “level” of three – a fully-charged blast can inflict huge damage, even on bosses, but can’t be used often, as the meter will empty afterwards. Thus, you’re forced to strategize to a greater extent than before – do you want to use a few weaker charge shots to make the stages easier, or save it all up for a swift takedown at the end? All told, if you don’t mind adding another Psikyo title to your collection, take a little time to find this – and guess what, this one is yet another member of the “budget reprint club” in Japan, so importing it should be cheap as well, if you’d rather not deal with the shortcomings of the localized versions.
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Thunder Force V: Perfect System
After witnessing the solid reception that their 3-D Thunder Force got on the Saturn, Techno Soft decided to send it over to the PS1, saddled with a few extra features – now-defunct publisher Working Designs also took notice, and determined to release the game in the US, with another handful of changes, most notably in the form of a few hidden ships and modes, which become available after completing the “regular” game. As was mentioned in the Saturn section, the presentation here is actually worse than it was on its original console, especially in terms of the backgrounds, which look far flatter and more lifeless than before – considering that this edition was touted as an improvement over the former release, not to mention the PS1’s reputation for beefier 3D abilities, it’s a strange and slightly disappointing sight to behold.
Just about everything else, for its part, has survived unscathed – all the stages, weapons, and other features, plus the extras, are all present and accounted for. As on the Saturn, though, this is a double-edged sword, since the newly-added “kill things quickly for more points” scoring system is thrown out of whack (along with much of the rest of the game) by the super-powerful Free Range weapon, which is nigh-unstoppable when you have it and sorely missed when you lose it. Of course, those who enjoyed blasting stuff with wild electronic rock tunes wailing in the background in the earlier entries can certainly still do that here, which isn’t a bad thing to have on your resumé. One final feature that this title shares with its Saturn counterpart is a reprint of the Japanese release, so a little effort should see you through if you’re looking for this.
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Zanac X Zanac
Another sought-after PS1-exclusive shooting specimen, this compilation of old and new served as the swan song of longtime developer Compile, noted by shmuppers for Blazing Lasers and its ilk, but known to most as “the Puyo Puyo guys.” While three and a half slightly-varying versions of the original Zanac (Disc, ROM, Arranged, and Score Trial) are included here, the real showpiece is an entirely new chapter in the series, Zanac Neo, which brings the series closer to “modern” shooter standards. While some of the company’s castoffs can be seen more recently in the credits of releases by Milestone and Compile Heart, this is the original group’s final project, and a must for fans of their older work – your devotions will certainly be tested, though, as this is one of the rarest and costliest shooters on the system, frequently breaking the Ben Franklin barrier.
What may strike you most about the original Zanac is how manic it is, considering how long ago it was unleashed upon consumers. Stuff comes flying from all directions with surprising frequency, and you don’t have a modern-sized hitbox or smart bombs to bail you out – what you DO have is a moment of invincibility whenever you snag an item, which you’ll need to learn to use to survive. Otherwise you’ve got a basic blaster and a selection of eight subweapons (most of which are controlled by a second button) to see you through – while the game varies what it throws at you somewhat based on the weapon you’re using (a unique feature at the time, and even now, really), you can still find yourself dying repeatedly after screwing up once, thanks to low post-death invincibility time and a long road to maximum weapon power. Of course the graphics and sound are also quite outdated, but on the whole even those who prefer more “advanced” shooters might find themselves surprised at how much they find to like here.
On to Zanac Neo we go – while the visual and aural face-lift (bringing the series to somewhere between 16- and 32-bit standards in terms of its presentation) is the most obvious new feature, there’s quite a bit more to have a gander at. You’ve still got the same core main/sub weapon setup, but now you can select from three ships (and a fourth unlockable one) to further vary your enemy-blasting possibilities – moreover, you’ve now got a “charge shot,” which can set off chain reactions (and point bonuses) among enemies close to its target, as well as cancel bullets, though it needs time to recharge between uses. There’s also a simple “chain” scoring system – as long as you don’t let any enemies escape without being shot down, your score goes up faster than normal. Of course, missing that one speedy bugger can be frustrating, as can semi-frequent “what hit me?” deaths, though a generous extend rate (another carryover from the original Zanac) helps to offset them (perhaps a bit too much). While Neo isn’t as far removed from its predecessors as some might hope, others will love it for that same reason – which camp you belong to will likely affect how willing you are to hunt this elusive package down.
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Capcom Generation 1, 3, and 4
These compendiums of Capcom classics are pretty much exactly the same as their counterparts on the Saturn, save for two facts of interest – first, each of these titles (as well as Volume 2, which contains Ghosts n’ Goblins and its two sequels, and Volume 5, a Street Fighter collection) got two reprints in Japan, making them possibly easier to track down, and second, the first four volumes were bundled together and released in Europe, a boon to PAL gamers looking for an old-school fix. Otherwise, these are the same arcade-accurate ports with a bit of fan-friendly extra icing on top. A quick overview of each:
Generation 1 includes 1942, 1943, and 1943 Kai, three of Capcom’s most famous early shooters. As the titles suggest you’ve got a World War II setting on your hands, though obviously things have been spiced up a bit – 1942 is the most basic of the bunch, but also the preferred game for some, thanks in large part to the “fuel” meter introduced in 1943 and carried over to its “remix,” Kai. While the later games have better presentations and more varied weaponry, the traditional “lives” have been replaced with a “fuel” meter which constantly decreases and must be maintained by refills. While relatively unique, some consider it more of a hindrance than an enhancement – in any event, for others this trio might be worth picking up for the games’ historical influence on the genre, if nothing else.
Capcom’s time machine heads about as far back as it can go in Generation 2, which features Vulgus and Exed Exes as well as two non-shmups. Both titles are very basic, especially the former, which is the first game Capcom released – about the only things it has over Space Invaders are background scrolling, more advanced graphics and a limited-use missile weapon that can destroy a line of enemies. Exed Exes adds in a few more powerups, bonuses, a bullet-clearing bomb, two-player mode, and some slight technical upgrades, but both games have a tendency to flood the screen with enemies whose numbers are hard to control with the basic weaponry you’re given. If that sort of setup has a tendency to frustrate you, hesitate before you plunk down the cash for this one.
While the only candidate on Generation 4 that might qualify as a “true” shmup is Gun.Smoke, I figured I might as well devote a few words to Commando and Mercs as well for the heck of it. The first title replaces the usual flying spaceship with a walking cowboy, and gives you three separate buttons to aim his guns at five different angles to take down a seemingly endless supply of bad guys. Commando doesn’t scroll automatically, but allows you to aim your machine gun in eight different directions, or toss a grenade forward to take out covered adversaries – its sequel, Mercs, runs on the same basic concept, but spruces up almost everything, from the graphics to the more varied weapons and settings. Anyone who enjoys Shock Troopers or other such games should be interested in a look at some of the genre’s front-runners on offer here.
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Konami Deluxe Packs
As is the case with the Capcom Generations collections, Konami’s shooter compilations are equally well-executed on the Saturn and PS1, though the latter’s editions, as usual, ended up getting a bunch of reprints (oddly enough they’re still not much less expensive than their counterparts). While lighter on extras than Capcom’s similar offerings, it’s tough to complain about arcade-perfect ports of some of the company’s most notable shooters, especially if you’re not interested in the recent PSP equivalents. Again, a quick overview –
Let’s start with the Gradius Deluxe Pack, which includes the first two arcade entries in the series. The original title, as you’d expect, introduces many of the set pieces that the games became famous for, such as the power-up bar, orange-oval options, and ring-spitting Moai heads. It’s pretty basic compared to its descendants, but is still surprisingly fun even today. Gradius II further refines the formula, giving players a greater selection of weapons and a more personality-infused presentation – the famous announcer got his start here. As with any Gradius game these two can sometimes frustrate if you die and lose all your enhancements in a tough spot, but if you can get past this rough patch you should be in for a pretty good time.
On its heels is the Parodius Deluxe Pack – as with its inspiration, the first two arcade-released Parodius games are found here. The two play nearly identically – that is to say, like Gradius, but with a few extra features, such as the bells from Twinbee, stuffed in here as well. The only major difference is that the second, Gokujo, has more characters and a wackier, more entertaining presentation, though the first certainly isn’t without its notable moments (giant invincible Vegas dancing girl, anyone?). Otherwise, with the addition of the crazy humor, almost everything that I could say about the Gradius games applies here in equal measure. As on the Saturn, PAL gamers were treated to a localization (under the simplified name “Parodius!”), though the USA was once again left to do without.
Switching things up a bit with a pair of vertical shooters is the Twinbee Deluxe Pack, featuring the popular Detana Twinbee and Twinbee Yahho! While Detana weirdly lacks a tate screen option, otherwise things are as they should be, presenting a bright, colorful world and a bunch of wacky things to see and (cutely) destroy. Aside from the trademark trimmings, the most notable things about both are the Xevious-style “two-plane” gameplay, which requires players to not only shoot flying enemies but separately bomb ground-based ones, as well as the famous “bell” powerups, which will change their colors (and rewards) when shot. Yahho! adds in a few additional weapon options as well as some of the best graphics seen in a cute-em-up – there’s nothing especially “deep” to be found here, but it’s still fun just to see everything this series’ world has to offer, as long as the sugar-coated setting and some slightly dated mechanics don’t put you off too much.
Last but not least is the Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus – “plus,” apparently, because it includes three games instead of two, namely both Salamanders and the remixed variant, Life Force. Oddly enough, this is the only PS1 “deluxe pack” that didn’t get a reprint, making it the hardest and most costly to obtain. Considered a “sister series” to Gradius, these games contain many of the same elements, though (with the exception of Life Force) they ditch the power-up bar and stick to “traditional” pickups, as well as exchange checkpoints for instant respawn after death, and send you to some vertically-scrolling stages along with the horizontal standards. In some ways the changes are for the better, but sometimes they can also prove extra-frustrating – whether one prefers Salamander or Gradius is mostly a matter of taste.
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Jikkyo Oshaberi and Sexy Parodius
While the first three Parodius games saw release on the PS1 via a pair of compilations, the latter two earned themselves stand-alone releases, and are particularly sought-after to boot. In case I needed to tell you this, the ports are just as good here as on the Saturn – neither ever got a reprint, though, so these games are a tad harder to come across than their earlier counterparts. They also play differently in several ways, though most of the core aspects of the former titles are still here in one form or another.
Jikkyo Oshaberi Parodius, also known as “Chatting Parodius,” was originally released on the Super Famicom, with the 32-bit remake attaching the subtitle “Forever With Me.” As the title suggests, there is a background announcer who never shuts up, though you can turn him off in the options menu – the game’s most interesting elements, however, are gameplay-related. While the presentation, as you’d expect, is not quite up to par with most of the other Parodius games, and as a console-based entry it’s a bit easier than the arcade games, it has the largest character roster in the series, as well as the most scoring tricks and extras, including tandem two-player attacks, two “mini-modes” and a bunch of hidden collectible fairies to look out for. One or two of the extras are PS1-exclusive (the Saturn had a few unique offerings of its own), but for the most part the game is the same regardless of system.
Again, the title of Sexy Parodius gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect – while there’s nothing pornographic in here, there is plenty of anime cheesecake and PG-13 innuendo alongside the trademark silliness this time around. Once more, though, the title’s most interesting element is gameplay-related – while you’re completing stages in order as usual, each level has an extra task to pull off (collecting a certain amount of items, shooting down enough of a particular enemy, etc.) aside from just beating the boss and getting out alive. Whether or not you complete the task at hand determines not only the inter-stage image you’re treated to, but also which level you go to next, and eventually the ending you get. Everything else is pretty much the same, except for a new “item” that you can feed other items to make stronger, but overall, so long as the game’s shameless appeal to its audience’s baser instincts doesn’t dissuade them, Parodius fans shouldn’t be disappointed. FindJikkyo Oshaberi Parodius on eBay
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Image Fight and X-Multiply
Irem’s semi-obscure and tough-as-nails duo is available on each of the major 32-bit systems, and since both editions are close to arcade-perfect, shooter fans can rejoice – and prepare for a virtual beatdown of epic proportions. There’s not much of anything to mention in terms of extras, but there is plenty of challenge for anyone interested in some of Irem’s non-R-Type shooters. X-Multiply, a side-scroller, plays most similarly to the aforementioned standard-bearing titles, but instead of a Force device your ship will grow a pair of bullet-blocking metal “tentacles”, which react based on the way your ship is moving. You can’t detach them to dispatch distant threats, though, so you’ll need a slightly itchier trigger finger than usual, not to mention the ability to stomach some really weird settings and enemies – all in all, though, if you like R-Type you’re likely to welcome this offshoot with open arms.
Image Fight, one of a select few Irem vertical-scrollers, is actually the first shooter the company released after the original R-Type – as such, despite the difference in screen orientation, the gameplay feels surprisingly similar. While the signature Force pod has been ditched in favor of up to three gunpods (which can be either fixed forward or aimable in different directions based on movement, as well as “thrown” at enemies), and your speed can be adjusted on the fly (one of the earliest appearances of this feature), the same basic memory-dependent strategy for success is required here, and the game will punish you severely until you get it right. That said, the Turbo CD-exclusive sequel is even more merciless, though I don’t know how much comfort that’ll bring you – either way, if you can conquer this bugger in one credit you’ve earned yourself some respect.
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While the Saturn’s MSX Collection is probably better-known, this three-game set was actually Konami’s original release of its old MSX titles onto a contemporary system – the “Ultra Pack” on Sega’s console came a bit later. Be that as it may, it’s pretty obvious that the latter is the better buy, since it collects everything from these three volumes into one disc and isn’t much rarer or pricier. Of course, whichever you end up buying, be forewarned that most of the shooters (about ten in all, depending on how strict your definition is) do not run very well – this isn’t the fault of the PS1, but of the original MSX hardware, which all but guarantees you very choppy scrolling and difficult maneuvering, and none of those issues have been touched up at all here. As a result, the games included on these compilations serve best as an “interactive history lesson”, if anything.
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Konami Arcade Classics
Released as Konami 80’s Arcade Gallery in Japan, this collection is pretty much what you’d expect – ten of the company’s oldest arcade offerings, including (of course) four shooters, on one disc. While each of these titles plays well (as should be expected on a console several generations more advanced), the trimmings are scarce – there’s little bonus material, and several standard options (including some found in the original DIP switches) are mysteriously missing. Not to mention, of course, that these games are, well, really old. That said, though, Konami hasn’t re-released many of these games since, so this package might be your best/only option to relive any fond memories you might have of these titles. A quick summary of the shooters on offer –
Scramble is the oldest of the bunch – it’s a pretty basic side-scroller, in which you control a rocket which can fire straight ahead or bomb the ground below, hopefully taking out any missiles or other obstacles in the way. You also, however, have to watch your fuel meter, and refill it by destroying fuel tanks as you coast along (doesn’t make much sense, but hey, it’s 1981). Super Cobra plays almost identically to Scramble, except you’re a chopper this time – both are solid considering their age, though your lengthy craft can be a frustratingly easy target for enemies (and walls).
Time Pilot is a “free-scrolling” overhead shooter, where you’re always moving forward but can steer yourself in any direction – using your “futuristic” craft and its basic dot shots, your objective is to destroy a certain amount of enemy planes to advance, while collecting parachuting guys for bonus points. Gyruss is commonly considered the forerunner of the “tube shooter,” though you’re technically only in a “half-pipe,” giving it some kinship with Tempest – while synthesized classical tunes warble in the background, you travel through the solar system shooting down formations of aliens while avoiding their returning salvos. Both games hold up surprisingly well, though the fact that you’ll likely die not so much via enemy fire as sudden kamikaze attacks can be frustrating.
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Namco Museum Vol. 1 – 5 and Encore
While it’s likely not the first company you think of when it comes to scrolling shooters, the creators of Pac-Man and Soul Calibur actually have quite a bit of history behind them in the arcade shmup realm, though most of it stretches back quite a ways. Which is where these collections come in – if you can get ahold of the whole set you’ll have nearly 40 of the company’s game-room releases from back in the day at your fingertips, nine of which are shooters. Each volume has at least one of those nine on it, so you’ll need to seek out all six even if you’re just looking for the shmups – fortunately, volumes 1 through 5 were released in all three regions, though Encore never made it outside of Japan. A quick overview of what you’re getting with each –
Two shooters, Bosconian and Galaga, are the features of Volume 1. The latter is the first and most popular sequel to Galaxian (featured below) and introduces the series’ signature “tractor beam” enemies, which can steal a ship from you, but also give you an opportunity to win it back later and double your firepower. Moreover, you can now quickly dispatch a few baddies as they first spiral into their formation, as well as snap up some bonus points in occasional “challenging” stages. Bosconian is a free-scroller a la Time Pilot, though your main goal, as in Fantasy Zone, is to destroy a set amount of enemy bases, and you’ve also got a handy tailgun to compliment your nose-mounted weaponry. Volume 2 adds Xevious (which is covered in the Xevious 3D/G+ section) and Gaplus, which builds further on Galaga by improving the presentation a bit, speeding up the overall pace, allowing you to move up the screen a limited amount, and offering an occasional opportunity to turn the aliens’ own tractor beam back on them and capture a few helpers of your own. Oddly enough, Galaxian, the earliest release in its series, wasn’t added to this collection until Volume 3, where it’s the only shooter included – on a basic level it plays similarly to Space Invaders, but with slightly better graphics. The main difference is that while the “main” enemy formation above you doesn’t encroach in your direction, it instead sends individual bogies swooping down to try and pick you off – score-attacking snipers can use this to their advantage, as dive-bombing enemies are worth more points than “docked” ones.
The sole shooter offering on Volume 4 is the obscure side-scroller Ordyne, which could be considered a more “traditional” take on Fantasy Zone – while featuring a cute-em-up atmosphere (and nice graphics overall) as well as a similar shot/bomb setup and purchasable weapon upgrades, it ditches the Defender-esque stage layout for a “straight” left-to-right progression. Volume 5’s contribution is Dragon Spirit, basically a legendary reptilian take on Xevious, with air and ground targets as well as separate powerups for your two weapons – despite the advancements, however, it doesn’t feel like much of a step up from its inspiration. Finally, Encore finishes up the collection with Dragon Saber and Sky Kid – the former, obviously, is a followup to Dragon Spirit, and adds more interesting settings as well as instant respawn, default rapid fire and a charge shot. Sky Kid is notable if only as one of the few shooters which scrolls from right to left – you control a biplane which can shoot down enemies or loop-de-loop to escape, not to mention that you can button mash to attempt to save yourself after taking a hit. Each stage also gives you a single bomb to pick up, which you can drop onto a specific target for bonus points – don’t forget to nail the landing at the end, though. It’s unusual, but actually pretty fun.
A few of the games included on certain volumes vary slightly depending on which regional release you pick up, but all the shooters are consistent, so you don’t need to worry about those. Otherwise, the titular “Museum” feature includes a hunk of perusable memorabilia for each game, though some of the images and such come with heavy load times – thankfully, though, the games themselves play pretty much exactly as you remember them, and include screen orientation options and most everything else you’ll need. If you don’t mind the somewhat dated technology on display, not to mention the amount of discs you’ll likely need to track down, this might not be a bad museum to spend some time in.
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Nichibutsu Arcade Classics/ Moon Cresta
Another once-popular developer with a cult following, Nichibutsu (aka Nihon Bussan) only offered PS1 owners a single (and very old) shooter, Moon Cresta, though it did so twice over – first, it was included as part of Nichibutsu Arcade Classics along with Crazy Climber and Frisky Tom, and later on it was given a stand-alone release on Hamster’s “Arcade Hits” label. The game itself is a rather simple variation of single-screen standards a la Space Invaders and Galaxian, with a single noteworthy “hook” that was expanded in its sequels – your three “lives” are actually three adjoining parts of a single battleship, and if you survive long enough playing as the first, you’ll be given a chance to “dock” with the second piece and raise your firepower, and the same goes for the third. However, doing this also makes you a bigger target for enemies, and is equal parts rewarding and frustrating. Compared to the many other “classic” shooters available on the system this one doesn’t hold up particularly well, especially considering how few trimmings it gets – neither version is lacking much of anything if you’re looking for arcade perfection, but if you’ve never played this one before, definitely try before you buy.
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Toaplan Shooting Battle 1
While for many players Toaplan’s later work and art style (a la Truxton or Batsugun) ended up as unofficial representatives of the company’s shooter output as a whole, longtime fans can clearly recall their earlier titles, including the two-and-a-half helicopter-themed shmups compiled here, namely Tiger Heli, its sequel Kyukyoku Tiger (aka “Ultimate Tiger”) and its semi-alternate version, Twin Cobra. Each of these games are reproduced in arcade-perfect fashion on this disc, though there aren’t a whole lot of extras to be found – also worth noting is the fact that the game refuses to play correctly on pretty much any setup except for a genuine Japanese PS1 – even on a J-PS2 or similar “legit” setup you’ll likely run into problems. The game’s not a very easy one to find either, so before you set off in pursuit of it you might as well know what you’re out to encounter.
Tiger Heli was the second scrolling shooter produced by the company, after Slap Fight (aka Alcon) – as you’d expect it’s pretty simple, giving you a single (limited-range) weapon, a supply of bombs, and two types of collectible (and destructible) options. Other than a few semi-hidden “bonus” targets there’s not much aside from survival to concern yourself with – of course, survival is plenty by itself, and your chopper’s slow speed doesn’t help matters. Enemies coming from behind, in particular, are a menace simply because you can’t get below them faster than their bullets can reach you – adversaries who start clogging the screen with shots as soon as they enter the screen are no fun either, thanks to the limited range of your guns. Kyukyoku Tiger tightens things up some, offering more enemy and weapon variety, instant respawn upon death, and a presentational upgrade. One curious design decision was making the bomb slower to activate than in Tiger Heli – ack! Its regional variation, Twin Cobra, is the same except for the inclusion of simultaneous 2-player and a remixed soundtrack. While this era has passed some shooting fans by, there are still plenty who hold it in high regard, and these are the best ports of this trio that you’re likely to find.
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Capcom’s three-game set appears on the PS1 in much the same form as it did on the Saturn, and again under the “Arcade Gears” label. Alongside “Roosters” (aka “Midnight Wanderers,” a platformer) and “Don’t Pull” (a block puzzler) you’ve got “Chariot,” a side-scrolling shooter, set in the same fantasy world as Roosters and starring the same two elfish characters, this time equipped with some flying gear. Most elements are fairly by-the-book – you can collect and equip either wide or narrow shots, as well as a ground bomb; you’ll also want to amass a stock of tail options, which can block attacks or fuel power shots, but need time to regenerate afterwards; there are score-item coins which increase in value if collected carefully.
Along with the eye-catching setting each of these elements works fine, but as you’d expect from a shooter that exists only as part of a compilation, the execution of some of the genre basics (most notably minimizing unfair deaths) is a bit on the shaky side. As with the Saturn port, I might first recommend trying this (legally) on Capcom Classics Collection 2 on the PS2 – if you like it enough to spring for a slightly more “arcade-perfect” experience, then you might want to start searching for one of the 32-bit incarnations, but expect to stay on the lookout for a while.
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A trend-setting title in myriad ways, Namco’s Xevious is all but unanimously considered a genre classic among shooter players. This compilation not only features the original game and two of its variations, but a completely 3D remake. The first game is simplicity incarnate – you shoot airborne enemies and bomb ground-bound ones (via a set-position cross-hairs, a particular innovation). No power-ups, just a handful of hidden bombing targets – otherwise, just try not to die. The graphics and music are very simple and repetitive by today’s standards, though they set some new benchmarks during their era – otherwise, just make sure you’re prepared for a challenge, as the game’s rank will come down hard on you if you aren’t prepared for it. Super Xevious plays pretty much identically to the original, but ups the difficulty even more, including new enemies and patterns, as well as vehicles that you can “rescue” for bonus points.
Xevious Arrangement, originally part of a three-game arcade board (Namco Classic Collection 1) which also included original and “arranged” versions of Galaga and Mappy, is, again, not too far removed from the first game, but boasts a nice set of enhancements. The backgrounds have been upgraded, though most of the sprites are the same, and the soundtrack has been given a welcome overhaul as well – additionally, your shot and bomb fire rates have been increased, a (scarce) power-up for your gun can be found, a handful of set pieces were rearranged, and finally simultaneous 2P and some extra-challenging end areas have been attached. 3D/G, as you’d guess, is a new game entirely, done with (rather plain-looking) 3D graphics and a slightly tilted perspective – more importantly, though, you now have 3 collectible weapons to choose from and standard autofire to put off the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome. Overall, this package has something for just about everyone, and can be found relatively easily in all three regions, so unless Xevious is really not your thing you probably ought to hunt this collection down.
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Gatchaman: The Shooting
Just in case the pair of Bokan games wasn’t enough to satisfy your old-school anime shooter cravings, here’s one more vert-scroller with a Tatsunoko licence to whet your whistle – be aware, though, that when you see the “Simple 2000” label on the cover, you’d best take it seriously. Four of the five main heroes (everyone except Ryu) has a pair of stages to tackle, one on foot and one in a vehicle, which can be completed in any order – after that, one more section and the game is over.
The structure is about as textbook as they come – you can shoot, bomb, and power yourself up, but not much else – before you even ask, forget about any sort of scoring system. The game is also very easy on default settings, which gives you a refillable life meter – you can switch on “sudden death” in the options menu to threaten yourself with a one-hit Game Over, but the game itself doesn’t get any harder, just less forgiving. On the plus side the graphics are rather nice (though they, along with the music, get a bit repetitive) and there’s a modest gallery to unlock, not to mention the cheap price tag – still, there’s no reason to expend a whole lot of effort tracking this one down unless you’re a fan of the anime.
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This is perhaps Takumi’s least-known shooter, having managed only a brief arcade appearance and a late port to the PS1, neither of which left Japan. Looking past the borderline-abstract graphics and hard-rock soundtrack (complete with a handful of bizarre “shouting voice” sound effects), it plays relatively similarly to many of the company’s other games – you’ve got lots of bullets, a small hitbox, “ceremonial” powerups, the ability to fly over enemies without damage, a temporary invincibility mechanic (plus a regular ol’ bomb), and loads of digits on the score counter. Once you’re into the nitty-gritty, however, you’ll find that you’ve got a different sort of beast on your hands.
First off, the aforementioned invincibility mechanic – in similar fashion to the shield in Giga Wing or Mars Matrix you can activate the “Hug Launcher” (a “ghostly” version of your ship that fires in front of you) to give yourself a momentary respite, and as usual it needs a few moments to recharge afterwards. You can forget about absorbing or reflecting bullets, though – not only do you not need to hold the launcher button down (instant activation is nice), but to use the launcher effectively you’ve got to not only target an enemy with it, but “bounce” it between any and all baddies on the screen to make it last longer (and activate a point bonus or two while you’re at it). While supposedly there’s a method to this, most of the time you’ll have just as much success mash-waggling the directional buttons at random. Then there’s the scoring system, which appears at a glance to be a simple “collect stuff bad guys drop” setup. You’ll notice some funky goings-on if you observe the “thermometer” at the left side of the screen, however – as you collect the aforementioned score items it rises, and you gain more points for destroying enemies. Any items you miss that fall off the screen, though, will lower the meter in equal measure, and can even send it into negative territory, causing you to LOSE points when you kill something. The game, thankfully, accommodates, offering three different score tables, “positive,” “negative,” and even a “neutral” one, giving the highest spot to the score closest to zero – unfortunately, there are so many point items onscreen at a given time, along with all the bullets, that collecting or avoiding them is too frequently an exercise in utter chaos.
And then there’s the matter of the port itself – for one thing, the two-player simultaneous option from the arcade version is gone, so you’d best plan on flying solo. Moreover, the controls, quite simply, feel a bit slippery, at least when played on a modded US console or Japanese PS2 – movement just isn’t precise enough to allow you to squeeze into the necessary safe spots consistently. Some attest that playing the game on a genuine Japanese PS1 alleviates this problem, but either way it’s an all but game-breaking problem for everyone else. If not for this issue in particular I wouldn’t mind recommending Night Raid as a “curiosity” pickup for the adventurous, since it’s certainly unique, and not expensive to acquire either – as things stand, though, buyer beware.
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X2: No Relief
Players familiar with the Amiga scene, or perhaps fans of the Worms series, are probably most likely to recognize developer Team 17 and know of its old-time computer shooter Project X – well, lo and behold, nearly half a decade after the original a sequel appears on the Playstation. Published by Capcom, originally released in Europe and eventually brought to Japan, US gamers, as usual, never got a shot at this one – that said, all things considered, they weren’t missing out on a heck of a lot. While the graphics (a mixture of renderings and hand-drawn stuff) hold up pretty well, and you’ve got three selectable ships to cater to your play style, the underlying structure hangs on tight to many “Euroshmup” characteristics that have made this unofficial sub-genre something of a pariah within the shooter community.
Principally a side-scroller, though it will occasionally shift to an overhead vertical perspective, there’s no real scoring system to speak of, though the game tries to make up for it with excessive weaponry. There are LOADS of weapons to collect here (not counting smart bombs), and you can have several of them firing at once – while causing mass destruction is fun in and of itself, not only does this reduce the challenge level (a refillable energy meter is an additional culprit on that front), but makes spotting enemies and their shots a pain in the neck (especially by the end, when your tooled-up arsenal will all but completely block out a good portion of the screen). Add uninspired enemy formations and attack patterns to the mix (even the final boss plays like a broken record) and I’m hard-pressed to recommend this to anyone except those who greatly enjoyed the Amiga shooter scene back in that day – the rest of us are likely to have moved on. If you must have this game the later Japanese release is slightly better-balanced than the PAL version, but it’s also pricier and more elusive.
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The hyphen and extra gibberish at the end aren’t the only things that were added to the PS1 port of Soukyugurentai, one of the premier Saturn shooter ports – alongside the original arcade game is an Extra mode, featuring new cutscenes, voice chatter during stages, and an additional (and overpowered) selectable ship. Unfortunately, along with the new stuff comes a slight downgrade to both the graphics and the sound, and more importantly, extra slowdown. In summary, locking onto bunches of enemies and blasting them to kingdom come is still very much present, and still fun, but this is definitely not the optimal way to experience it.
In its favor, the game, as on the Saturn, was reprinted and is not very expensive to acquire, so if the PS1 is your only option this is worth picking up – otherwise, even without the system-exclusive song and dance, spring for the Saturn port instead.
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One of the Playstation’s earliest titles, it won wide acclaim at the time of its release, mostly due to its impressive CG scenes and in-depth story, two gaming elements which rarely show their faces within the shooter genre, and were scarce overall back in the day (in hindsight, of course, a gamer could use the existence of a cinema- and story-heavy shmup to bewail the decline of How Things Used to Be, but I digress). The game saw release in all three regions and is easy to track down even today – the question you’re asking, of course, is how well it’s held up over the years, and whether its unusual feature set, which has by and large not been copied by other shooters, can still impress in this day and age.
If you strip away the gloss, the game employs a pretty standard setup – you can switch at will between four weapons (which are powered up individually), collect two missile types, drop a bomb if you’re in trouble, and keep an eye out for health meter refills after the fact. You’ll note that I’ve yet to mention the perspective you play from – another key facet of Philosoma’s eye-catching quality back in the day was its constant shifting of the player’s viewpoint, from side-scrolling to overhead to behind-the-ship to angled. Pretty much, if you name it, you’ll probably see a section or two of it in here. It’s neat in its own way, but unfortunately hobbled on a basic level – no matter what perspective you play from, dodging certain enemy attacks is nearly impossible (as is often the case in health-meter shooters), making success largely a matter of conserving enough shielding from other sections to get through the unfair ones. Having your current weapon downsized to square one upon death doesn’t make things any easier. All told, Philosoma is best picked up as a curiosity – or, perhaps, to see one of the few storylines in a shooter worth more than a passing mention.
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What goes around comes around, I suppose…while the Playstation received the superior port of Strikers II (see above), its version of the original is mired by excessive slowdown, much like II is on the Saturn. Especially considering how many shooters ended up receiving nearly identical ports to the two systems, I can’t imagine why the home releases of these two games turned out the way they did, unless Atlus/Psikyo had the most schizophrenic porting team the world has ever known working on them. In any event, while this port is far from unplayable, get the Saturn equivalent if you can, since there isn’t much else to distinguish them.
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Space Shot and Sanvein
Near the end of the Playstation’s life, smatterings of budget-priced titles began to emerge from the shadows, circling like buzzards over the system’s gray plastic carcass – these two shooters found themselves among that crowd, the former a side-scroller from C.I.I. and the latter an arena shooter from Success. Both were brought to the US and Sanvein also made it to Europe, so neither is much of a struggle to acquire – when they were released, either of them was likely worth the paltry entrance fee for famished shmuppers, but what about today? Sanvein, for its part, is an overhead title somewhat in the vein of Smash TV, giving you a choice of three “main” and “special” weapons and tasking you with the mission of clearing out all of the “boss rooms” in each level via a Darius-esque branching arena setup.
What makes things interesting are 1) the fact that there are no “lives” here, just a time limit, which is decreased if you die, and 2) the absence of any traditional powerups – to give yourself more destructive ability you need to clear out some of the “non-boss” rooms before going for the big guy, so you’ll need to budget your time wisely. It’s a simple setup, but its semi-abstract presentation isn’t bad, and most any conveniences (selectable stage paths, visible enemy life meters) that you might ask for are present, so if you see this one at its expected cheap price it might turn out to be a nice surprise, if its style agrees with you.
Space Shot is something of a composite side-scroller, seemingly cobbled together using spare parts from other shooters – you’ve got a standard pair of gun options that can be moved around your ship or locked in place, a Soukyugurentai-esque lock-on “net,” a Thunder Force V-style “over weapon”, and even a dash maneuver a la Steam Hearts, of all things. A few elements have been tweaked to make them a bit more interesting – most notably, you can use the fiery burst left in your wake after a dash (which lowers your “over meter”) to damage enemies. Doing so repeatedly earns you a point bonus, as does dash-dodging bullets in succession – thankfully, after giving you all this stuff to use, the game includes a Training mode with a handful of exercises to help practice some of the required techniques. Unlike Sanvein, though, the graphics (both in-game and cutscenes) were unimpressive then and look worse now, and the various amenities, though they can be ignored to some extent, tend to get in the way more than they should. It’s hardly the worst shooter you’ll encounter, certainly, but make sure you’ve acquired some of the better stuff for the system first.
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The Darius series’ penultimate game takes up residence on the Playstation as well as the Saturn, and is pretty much the same, aside from a different opening cinema. Of course, while this means that the game’s good points (branching stages, nice graphics and music, the ability to “capture” midbosses) are all present and accounted for, the same goes for the bad (a very unforgiving rank system, some near-unavoidable patterns, difficult recovery after death). For fans of the series this is definitely a worthy play, especially considering the smattering of improvements that have been made over previous entries, though others might find its overall structure a bit too Draconian – one caveat, though, is that the PS1 version is far rarer than its Saturn counterpart (or the PC port), and much more expensive as a result. This edition, as a result, is likely only worth seeking out for collectors, as it’s far more accessible elsewhere.
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Sonic Wings Special
There’s no collectible mini-CD this time (I’m sure that the legions of Mao Mao fans out there are inconsolable), but in terms of most everything that actually, well, matters, the PS1’s iteration of this “composite” Sonic Wings title is (stop me if you’ve heard this before) all but identical to the Saturn version – some fans give it a slight edge due to its clearer music and sound effects. You’ve got all the characters (geriatrics, dolphins, ninjas, pop stars, etc.), all the aircraft, all the levels, the same simple item-based scoring mechanic and pretty much the same performance all around. That said, this game definitely doesn’t do much to refute the over-applied label of “generic” that its genre is often saddled with, so don’t expect very much that you haven’t seen before when you pop in this disc, especially if you’re familiar with Psikyo’s output.
That said, there are plenty of levels to see and pilots to take for a spin, so anyone who doesn’t mind one more go at a plain’ ol fighter jet shmup shouldn’t mind the window dressing (or lack thereof) too much, and the relatively cheap price and ready availability work in its favor as well. A warning to European gamers, however – while this title received a late trip into PAL territory in 2004, with the vertical screen option and boss rush mode intact, this version does not allow you to save any data. Aside from the annoyance of having to scratch down your high scores on a scrap of paper, this also means that you won’t be able to keep any unlocked ships – unless the de facto smaller lineup doesn’t bother you, you’ll likely want to hunker down and go for the import instead.
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Due to either the Saturn’s relative lack of success outside of Japan, or because PS1 owners were somehow expected to react more positively to the notion of shooting bearded wizards out of the sky, Psikyo’s fantasy-themed side-scroller was sent to the US on Sony’s system but not Sega’s. As with most Western shmup releases it was given a budget price and is not overly hard to find, but the core gameplay can quickly become frustrating thanks to your chunky onscreen avatar and its relatively weak distance-attacking abilities. The fantasy setting and smattering of RPG elements are a nice change of pace from the genre’s usual offerings, but the digitized graphics and frequently overwhelming enemy attacks, coupled with an especially short duration, will make this a hard sell for many – also, the Western version, aside from missing some translated story segments, lacks any sort of save feature, which is not only an inconvenience for keeping track of high scores but renders the lengthier “Original Mode” all but completely unplayable. Still, there is a small group of fans who consider this game underrated, so if you’ve got a few extra bucks to burn and don’t mind taking a bit of a risk, this title might end up pulling you in – still, you’d best keep the complaints about it in mind as you make that decision.
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Dezaemon Plus and Kids
Sony’s system, as it turns out, got not one, but two entries in Athena’s long-running create-a-shooter series – the basic idea and setup are more or less the same for both, but as the titles suggest the latter has a simpler layout and shallower options, and was marketed mainly toward younger budding shmup builders. Each title also has some sample games on it – well, actually, only Plus has “some” (including another Daioh tribute) – Kids, believe it or not, boasts a whopping 101 playable user-created shooters, accessible via the “Select 100” menu. While each of these games, understandably, plays pretty similarly, it’s still cool to see all of the different coats of paint that the participants came up with to spice up the same simple core engine, from ninjas to cyborgs to things I have yet to identify. As a bonus, included with each submitted game is a “comment” selection, which allows you to view the illustrations and notes that each game’s creator included with his entry – for some, this feature alone will make Dezaemon Kids a worthy purchase. Otherwise, either of these titles require creativity, experimentation (doubly so if you don’t know the language), and a lot of memory space to take full advantage of.
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Jaleco CollectionVol. 1
Ever wonder where the characters and ships from Jaleco’s parody shooter series Game Tengoku (the second of which is covered earlier on in this article) originally came from? Well, the four mid-80’s shmups included in this seven-game collection will answer your inquiries into a few of their origins. Argus, a vert-scroller, is a relatively cut-and-dry Xevious imitator, in which you use both “normal” shots and ground bombs to dispatch enemies on both levels, though a handful of powerups and wide-layout levels set it apart a little. Exerion (Jeynus’s original game), while intended to simulate a “3-D” shooter, is really a single-screen top-down shmup when you get right down to it, giving you a slow-firing twin blaster and a limited-use machine gun to fight off your enemies. Formation Z (Z-Dyne’s debut) is an interesting hybrid – most of the time you’ll be running automatically forward on the ground, aiming your gun and occasionally jumping to avoid threats, but for a limited time you can transform into a jet and take to the air, and progress more rapidly. Finally, Field Combat (home turf of Miki, apparently – not sure about Misato) puts you in command of a UFO-like tank, which can’t shoot, but can bomb, Xevious style, as well as capture enemy troops and turn them over to your side, to be deployed at your leisure – careful not to get slowed up by the terrain, though. While the ports are fine for what they are, be advised – they’re of the Famicom/NES versions of these games (with some minor graphical improvements), not the original arcade releases. Oh, and in case you were curious, there never was a “Volume 2.”
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Space Invaders Variations
Taito’s forever-repackaged classic got no less than four incarnations on the PS1, though three of them were Japanese exclusives – and each of those was a slightly enhanced reprint of the same game. The earliest release (titled simply Space Invaders) is the same version as was released on the Saturn, featuring the original game along with new Versus and Time Attack modes. A year later, in 1997 (the series’ 20th anniversary), the inaccurately-titled Space Invaders 2000 hit the shelves – it’s the same package as its predecessor, except with a lower price tag, Dual Shock support, and demos of side-scroller G Darius (featured elsewhere in this article) and train simulator Densha de Go 2. Finally, in 2001, an even cheaper “Simple 1500” remake known as The Invaders completed the trifecta – the demos from 2000 are gone, but a new “3D Mode” is included, in which you can switch between the original viewpoint and a “3D” version, featuring a behind-the-player camera angle. Some of the extra features included on this trio might interest fans of the original game, but for the rest of us they’ll simply look like an excuse to re-market a decades-old game ad nauseam, “classic” or not.
In 1999 Space Invaders X, the only entry to get to the US (once again confusingly retitled “Space Invaders” after being relocated), made an appearance – the 3D graphical once-over, while not bad for the time, lacks some personality, but the gameplay has made several notable advances, some of which were carried over into the recent (and excellent) Space Invaders Extreme. There are fewer barriers to block your shots (yes, you’re actually trusted to dodge enemy bullets all by yourself), as well as more enemy varieties (including bosses), special weapons, scoring tactics and a “time attack” element – in short, this is one of the few Invaders releases that truly feels like a step forward rather than a rehash. Also, in case you haven’t played it enough yet, you can unlock the original game, dubbed “Classic Mode” here, but the enhancements present in the main game will almost certainly be the main draw for a majority of players – and rightly so.
As a final note, if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Invaders nut, you might be interested in the highly obscure Tsuntsun-kumi 3: Kanjivader – this one wasn’t made by Taito, but was put on the market by mega-publisher Kodansha as a teaching tool to help kids learn their kanji. The shooting, obviously, is more or less an afterthought in this product, though its legions of octopods with big pouty lips might be good for a few laughs – otherwise, though, you’re advised to steer clear.
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The long-time game-makers ended up putting out a total of five different collections of their old-school arcade releases for the PS1 – Arcade’s Greatest Hits – Atari Collection 1 and Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits were released in the US in 1996, Atari Collection 2 and Midway Collection 2 in ‘97, and Atari Anniversary Edition Redux in 2001 (all four games were released a year later in PAL format). The ports on each collection are of good quality, and most of them also feature a nice selection of extras, including developer interviews – each one, of course, also has a shooter or two thrown in there, so which one of these to get (assuming you’re a fan of games this old to begin with) pretty much depends on which selection you like best. Here’s an overview to get you started –
The first two Atari titles feature a total of six games apiece – Collection 1 has Asteroids and Centipede on offer for shooter fans, plus Battlezone, Missile Command and Tempest on the “borderliner” front. Asteroids uses an overhead perspective and allows movement in any direction, but unlike the later Time Pilot doesn’t move the ship forward automatically, requiring “thrust” from the player. Both you and the titular asteroid obstacles (plus the occasional flying saucer) will reappear on the opposite side of the screen if moved over the edge, so use this to your advantage. Centipede is a simple single-screen offering most comparable to Gaplus, since you can move freely within a limited space – of course, you’ll want to do your best to keep the ever-descending centipede out of your territory, along with several other nasty bug types and hard-to-destroy mushroom obstacles. The only shooter on Atari Collection 2 is Millipede (though Gauntlet, Road Blasters, and possibly Paperboy have some shooting semi-characteristics), which plays almost identically to Centipede but adds in exploding DDT canisters which you can shoot and, if you time it right, do some major damage to the bugs with.
Redux, the most expansive of the bunch, packs in a dozen games total (though not all are new), half of which are shooters (including Asteroids and Centipede in a second appearance) and an additional quarter of which (Battlezone, Missile Command, Tempest) are borderliners. New offerings include two Asteroids offshoots, Asteroids Deluxe (which is nearly the same as the original, except that “hyperspace” has been replaces with a shield and a few other minor changes) and Space Duel (which gives you the option to play as two tethered ships, or cooperate or compete with a second player), as well as the Robotron-esque Black Widow, which casts you as a spider blasting bugs which wander onto your web. The most unique game on here is Gravitar – after choosing a planet to conquer you orbit around it, picking off gunpods and snapping up fuel, but you’re constantly being pulled in by the planet’s gravity and must compensate for it. The Williams set, for its part, includes side-scrolling pioneer Defender and its sequel, Stargate (they’re tough enough as it is, but the surprisingly high number of buttons used are enough to make some players cry “uncle”), alongside twin-joystick arena classic Robotron 2084 (which still outperforms its sequel, reviewed elsewhere) and Asteroids evolution (and one of video gaming’s most famous voices) Sinistar. Midway Collection 2 has Splat! (a single-screen “food fight simulator” where you need to collect foodstuffs before lobbing them at enemies) and Moon Patrol (a side-scrolling “drive-em-up” where you jump over potholes and mines, blast rocks in front of you and shoot down enemies above you). Borderliners on tap include Spy Hunter and Blaster.
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Activision Classics and Intellivision Classics
The full titles of these compilations, both developed by ATI and released a year apart, are the annoyingly long “A Collection of Activision Classic Games for the Atari 2600” and “A Collection of Intellivision Classic Games”. Formalities out of the way, each package has a selection of around ten (depending on how picky you are in your definition) “proto-shmups” from days gone by included in their total selections of 30 titles apiece – generally speaking, the Activision set is regarded as having a better lineup, but also being a poorer conversion, a rather inexcusable flaw for games this old. The Intellivision collection, for its part, has an opposing set of advantages and problems. Either way, you’d best have a healthy (or possibly unhealthy) love of all things retro to get the most out of either of these sets.
On both collections, several of the included shooters are obviously intended to mimic their successful arcade predecessors – the Activision compilation’s Chopper Command is the most blatant Defender clone, though its companion, Cosmic Commuter, adds some interesting elements, such as picking up and dropping off customers and snagging fuel pods. Plaque Attack is a quirky Space Invaders knockoff, pitting a tube of toothpaste against small groups of evil food particles, defending a set of pearly whites – every other stage you’ll switch from the lower to the upper jaw, and actually shoot downwards, which is unusual if not particularly exciting. MegaMania is similar, except that this time you’ve got a depleting “energy meter” time limit, and have the option to guide your shots. Spider Fighter is a less-crowded Centipede, with a fast pace and fruit to protect, while SeaQuest is a single-screen side-view submarine shooter, where you blast the fish and collect the divers, as well as periodically rise to the surface for air. River Raid, an honest-to-goodness vertscroller, is (understandably) textbook save for the fuel pods you must fly over regularly, though you can shoot them too – River Raid 2 adds in speed and altitude controls, as well as a ground bomb. The most unique of the bunch is Laser Blast, where you control a floating probe and vaporize tanks below, if they don’t do the same to you first – aside from the ability to aim your laser, the coolest part is steering your spiraling vessel into an enemy to exact revenge after being shot down. If you’re interested in borderliners you could try Missile Command knockoff Atlantis, crosshairs shooter Star Master, or trade your gun in for a lasso in Stampede.
Moving on to the Intellivision bunch, Armor Battle is a “tank” game similar to Combat, though the solid walls have been replaced with terrain that will slow you down, and you can now switch control between two tanks, as well as lay mines. Space Armada is an unapologetic copy of Space Invaders, exchanging a smaller screen area for better-animated aliens, though the game becomes unfair even more quickly than the original. Astrosmash takes the aforementioned Invaders and mixes it with Asteroids – stuff falls at you, and can be shot and split apart, though you lose points for anything that manages to hit the ground. Speaking of Asteroids, Space Hawk plays similarly to that, except that you’re a jetpack pilot with a short-range flamethrower, and you’re up against aliens instead of hunks of rock. Then there’s Sharp Shot, a set of 4 shooting-styled “mini-games,” which range from a maze shooter to a football passing game. Other possible semi-shooter choices are strategy hybrids Space Battle and Sea Battle, periscope sim Sub Hunt, heli-bomber Hover Force, trench blaster Star Strike, and perhaps even the “tongue-em-up” Frog Bog – you can also get a gun powerup in the Pac-Man-esque Night Stalker.
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Galaga: Destination Earth
Even those who aren’t into shooters have probably heard of Galaga – next to Space Invaders it’s possibly the best known “proto-shmup” ever released. The original was ported to myriad systems and is still receiving remakes (most recently Galaga Legions on XBLA) down to this day, but this PS1 oddity, only released in the US and Europe, departs from the original formula to a greater extent than most. While the graphics are 3D (and not too bad-looking overall), the gameplay stays squarely in two dimensions – however, in similar fashion to Philosoma, it doesn’t keep you viewing the action from the same perspective for long.
In certain spots you’ll utilize the usual top-down viewpoint, but in others you’ll experience some side-scrolling shenanigans, and elsewhere even switch to a Star Fox-esque behind-the-ship camera. This gimmick by itself is likely enough to drive away many genre fans, though you do still come across the occasional ability to turn the aliens’ own tractor beam against them a la Gaplus, and have the buggers help you out for awhile. There was also a Windows port and a (not recommended) Game Boy Color knock-off if anyone is interested in playing it elsewhere.
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Asteroids and Centipede
In case you hadn’t already heard enough in this article regarding proto-shmups, here are two more that are still pretty fresh in gamers’ minds after several decades – of course, as stand-alone PS1 releases, you weren’t expecting just straight ports of the arcade originals, right (granted, the aforementioned classics are in there, in both cases, though neither is emulated very well)? Nope, both have been given the 3-D once-over, with varying results – let’s start with Asteroids, which, despite the graphical face-lift, plays almost exactly as you remember it. Thrusting, shooting, and an overhead perspective are still the name of the game, though some new bells and whistles are present, most notably a handful of temporary weapon powerups (mines, scattershots) and some new enemies (regenerating asteroids) and obstacles (black holes). You’ve also got both the “hyperspace” and “shield” features with which to defend yourself, as well as a selection of ships with (slightly) varying parameters and a two-player cooperative mode to mess around with. While this remake doesn’t stray too far from its decades-old roots, it’s actually the more successful remake of the two as a result, and a pretty easy-to-find (it received a “Greatest Hits” reissue in the US and a “Superlite” release in Japan) addition to the collection of anyone who enjoyed the original.
Onward, with some trepidation, to Centipede, whose main selling point is the new “Adventure” mode – not only have the graphics been inflated into 3D and a traditional level structure been implemented, but you’ve also got a handful of powerups, the ability to jump, and most notably the freedom to wander through a level at will, turning and shooting in any direction. While this sounds interesting on paper, many of these “enhancements” do more to hobble the experience than help it – you can switch between the traditional top-down view and a behind-the-ship camera, but the former makes the graphics look particularly awful (the cutscenes, before you ask, are similarly low-quality), while the latter opens you up to cheap deaths from behind. The tacked-on platforming elements are also roughly-implemented and frustrating, and the generic techno soundtrack really doesn’t suit the setting. Even those with fond memories of the arcade original from way back when are probably best served by leaving this one well enough alone.
In borderliner territory there was also a PS1 remake of Missile Command – in similar fashion to Centipede it offers you the option of “Original” (basically the same as the arcade game but with upgraded graphics) or “Adventure” mode, which exchanges the gunpods of old for a trio of spaceships (viewed from a behind-the-craft perspective) as well as the ability to purchase special weapons and the like (not to mention the requisite handful of CG scenes). The 3-D window dressing takes a little getting used to, but overall it plays pretty similarly to the “regular” version – point the crosshairs, time the explosions. It hardly replaces its inspiration, but one could definitely do worse. Then there’s the polygonal Robotron retread, Robotron X – the larger arenas give you more space to move around, but also don’t allow you to see the entire area at once (whether in “overhead” or “3D” viewing mode), and there’s no dual-analog control option to replicate the twin-joystick schematic of the arcades. The expected extra weapons and whatnot also make an appearance, but the fact remains that the game simply isn’t as fun as the original – if you absolutely must play Robotron in 3D, go for the improved Nintendo 64 version instead.
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Cotton Original and Cotton 100%
For my money Cotton’s most noteworthy adventures are to be found on the Saturn (though I’m sure that there are fans of Panorama Cotton on the Genesis who’d beg to differ), but unless you’re up for tracking down PCE or SFC carts these PS1 titles are a recommended alternative way to see where it all began for the hungry li’l witch and her ever-abused fairy companion. As was already mentioned, however, her best years were definitely yet to come.
Original, as you might guess, is a port of the first Cotton, which first saw daylight in the arcades – the reproduction is perfect (if bare-bones), but the game itself is mostly unremarkable. You’ve got a shot button and a bomb button (just a “regular” ground bomb mind you, not a screen-filling nuke), fairy options, and a limited stock of chargeable magic spells. The most interesting distractions on offer are the Twinbee-esque ability to shoot powerup crystals to change their properties, and the capability to charge up not only your magic shots but your fairy helpers, via the bomb button, to attack directly – in a tight spot you can even let loose both at once for a super ability. Otherwise, however, most of your deaths will be “where did that come from?” affairs, and the dark, dingy graphics seem startlingly at odds with the light, silly story. While the game originally received a full-price release, it was reprinted twice under the “Simple 1500” label, once by itself and a second time packaged with the puzzler Block Keeper.
Cotton 100%, on the other hand, was originally a Super Famicom exclusive, and also when the series began to embrace the “cute” atmosphere that it largely (and curiously) resisted at first. The colors and atmosphere are brighter, but as before you’ll frequently find yourself struggling to see bullets and enemies, especially when an opaque foreground element blocks your view completely. Some other features, however, have definitely improved – for one thing, you can now select from four “configurations” at the start, a la Gradius II. Each of these gives you three magic shots and three option formations which can be switched between at will, giving the player a bit more variety and freedom than before. Also, your magic is activated by a separate button, so you don’t have to wait for it to charge if you’re in a trouble. Unlike Original, this one was only released on the “Superlite” label, though it’s similarly lacking in extras…including a high score save.
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Stahlfeder and Air Grave
Santos is yet another developer that you’re likely never to have heard of, largely because they only made three games within a brief two-year span – this article, meager as it is, covers two-thirds of their total product output. Both of these vertical shooters were released within a year of each other, with Stahlfeder (“steel feather”) being the first – after selecting one of four similarly German-titled aircraft, which not only have different speeds and weapons but varying amounts of lives, you’re off to blast all manner of tanks, cranes and so on. Each plane has two weapons, a “wide” and a “laser” type, each assigned to its own button and requiring separate items to power up, as well as a generous supply of bombs – otherwise there’s not much to it, least of all any semblance of a scoring system beyond “kill things.” The game is quite easy, thanks to its plentiful shield refills, but the mixed sprite/poly graphics haven’t aged as badly as some of its contemporaries, and the inclusion of the option to alter the color of enemy shots is something I wish more titles offered.
AirGrave adds a few more trimmings to the basic shooter formula of its predecessor – there are now mission briefings and story segments between stages, as well as voice acting during both the cutscenes and actual gameplay, plus the addition of some set-value point medals for scoring purposes. The biggest change is the introduction of separate ground and above-ground planes – while a single button fires both your air- and land-based weapons, you’ve got to aim them separately to hit targets on each level. You also have a lock-on, which can target several earthbound enemies at once in a limited area – as you’d expect, more targets equal more points, so you’ve got at least a bit of score attacking to be done. Neither of these games is particularly awful, but neither is anything to write home about either – more or less the definition of “mediocre.” They’re far from the worst things you’ll ever play, but don’t spend time looking for them unless you’ve already exhausted most of the rest of the system’s library, especially seeing as both make rather infrequent appearances on the market.
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Although this game was created by a completely different developer (a four-man team known as “Club DEP,” who apparently worked under Sony’s “Music Entertainment Japan” label, and are all but impossible to find a trace of nowadays), those who have played one or more of the aforementioned Santos obscurities are likely to be reminded of them by this game, thanks to both its slightly outdated sprite work (which is quite inoffensive compared to the laughable 3D cutscenes) and overall mediocrity in the gameplay department. You’ve got three ships to select from, and while each has a unique “main” weapon, all three can collect the same two types of missiles and bombs (a weird screen-filling Buddha blast and a laser with a face) alongside a handful of simple score items.
Aside from the somewhat odd pseudo-Oriental setting (made even weirder by the selection of sound effects) there’s not much to set the game apart from the crowd – it’s also not very challenging once you’ve learned the layout of the stages, so it might be worth a try if you’re looking for an easy one-credit clear. Collector types (probably the only ones with a truly genuine interest in this) will want to sniff out a copy which still includes a poster.
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Meta-Ph-List Gamma X 2297
Now here’s a strange bird for you – a two-disc story-heavy PS1 vertical shooter, and a rather rare one on top of that. According to GameFAQs, this is the only game that the developer, ADM, ever produced – so what sort of product are we talking here? Believe it or not, despite the badly-aged graphics, some shooter fans feel compelled to call the game “a poor man’s Radiant Silvergun,” thanks to its scope and ambition, even if said elements aren’t as successfully implemented here. You can switch between three weapons, including a lock-on, which gradually level up as they’re used to down enemies, as well as adjust the firing direction of each – also, not only can you select which stages to play in order from a menu, but you can replay levels (enemies will be the same, but the background will change) if you’d like to further improve your arms before moving on. None of this is as notable as your slowdown-inducing, robot-voice-accompanied bomb, however. While the somewhat weak level layouts (and resulting presence of a life meter) drag it below what it could have been, some of the whacked-out background effects and overall oddball ambience might make this one worth tracking down for connoisseurs of the obscure – connoisseurs ONLY, however.
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Gunbird/Mobile Light Force
Oh dear, where to begin…right from the starting gate the Japanese PS1 version of this game is inferior to the Saturn port, simply due to the fact that it lacks a vertical screen viewing mode – in an ideal world, I could stop right there, having told you all you really need to know about this subject. Unfortunately, publisher XS Games was not content merely to bring this less-than-ideal Gunbird iteration Westward – no, it was determined to visit upon we unsuspecting souls one of the most infamous localization “efforts” in gaming history.
Not only have some character’s names been changed, the art gallery been nixed, high score saving been disabled, and all story segments, including the endings, completely cut out (where you’d normally see some dialogue, there’s just an awkward pause), but the game was inexplicably renamed “Mobile Light Force” and graced with a completely unrelated, Charlie’s Angels-esque cover image. Even more hilariously, at the same time the company brought over (and butchered almost as badly) Shikigami no Shiro, a completely separate game on the PS2, and had the gall to dub it “Mobile Light Force 2”, even re-using the exact same ludicrous box art. While the company has largely atoned for these debacles with its more recent Shikigami localizations, it doesn’t make those early efforts any more worth buying, unless you’re looking for an exceedingly depressing laugh or two. You’ve been warned.
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One of the few “isometric” shmups in existence, and almost certainly the one which touts that fact most aggressively in its title, Viewpoint originated on the Neo-Geo arcade system but received several ports over the years, the last of them appearing on the PS1 and released to market only in the US and Europe. Developed by Visual Concepts, the graphics have been upgraded and given a lot more detail, but the music is not as catchy as it was in the arcade version – further, while the original was no slouch in the toughness department (due in no small part to the unusual perspective and infrequent powerups), this iteration not only retains the aforementioned elements but has left behind any sense of “reasonable” challenge, to the point where playing the game is more an exercise in masochism than anything else. As but one example, remember the early trio of gates you had to shoot open to pass? Well, in this version they’ve been squeezed so close together that if you don’t move and fire near-perfectly you’re going to die, repeatedly – and that’s just in the FIRST level. Pretty much a unanimous thumbs down among shmup fans, even the slowdown-laden Genesis port is considered superior to this one.
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Well, the cover art has been changed around, but this side-scrolling take on Macross’s 15th-Anniversary big-screen appearance is otherwise identical to its Saturn sibling. The anime cutscenes still look great (perhaps even a bit better on the PS1), but the gameplay, unfortunately, is also untouched, featuring a bulky onscreen avatar, short levels, and rather mind-numbing goings-on overall (just charge and release the micro-missiles and 90 percent of the time your troubles are over). As before, this one is worth getting only either for fans or on the cheap – also take note that, as on the Saturn, the game is split up into two discs, which must be switched at the halfway point to continue. If you’re using a boot disc or other such method to play the game on a non-native system you might have trouble continuing past the switch point as a result, so keep that in mind as well.
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Aside from the different cover images (not like anyone would have much trouble identifying this title in the first place), the 32-bit Cho Aniki entry is pretty much the same here as it is on the Saturn – unfortunately, that means a second helping of cheesy digitized graphics, dull enemy layouts, bosses that take an eternity to die, and huge, hard-to-maneuver characters. Oh, and a whole lotta dudes in bikini briefs. It’s definitely as wacky a shooter as you could care to find in terms of its overall ambience (if you could even call it that), but on technical merits it scores poorly on almost every front. As with many PS1 shooters, however, it did get a reprint, so if you want this title come hell or high water it might be easier to track down on Sony’s system.
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Super Dropzone – Intergalactic Rescue Mission
If the name Archer MacLean means anything to you, then you’re likely familiar with the famous programmer’s first game, Dropzone, released near the beginning of the home console era. Featuring mechanics similar to Defender, it was well-received and even managed to earn itself a sequel, Super Dropzone, nearly a decade later. Originally appearing on the Super Famicom in Europe, it sends you back to Jupiter’s moons with a jetpack and a pea-shooter to take on yet another bunch o’ nasty aliens – seeing as they’re even meaner (and toting along some boss critters) this time around, though, you’re packing some new power-ups yourself, including rotating shields and spread and homing guns. Of course, you’ve still got your old faithful cloaking device and smart bomb as well.
Fast-forward almost eight years after the game’s original release, and PAL territories receive a budget port of Super Dropzone for the PS1 – as you might expect from a release of this nature not much has been changed or enhanced from the 16-bit original, but unfortunately one of the downsides of the switch to CD-based media is present and accounted for, namely load times. Long ones, too. Additionally, some fans of the first Dropzone feel that the control is a bit clunkier than it used to be, though obviously this isn’t a “traditional” scrolling shooter to begin with. For the price this isn’t the worst pickup you could happen across, but it’s certainly not among the system’s elite either.
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Strike Force Hydra
Supposedly developed by a team of two people, this vertical shooter puts you at the helm of a hovercraft – for the most part it doesn’t control much differently than your average jet plane or space fighter, though it can fire both air- and ground-based weapons to deal with different enemy types. Other than that, it has a speed boost and the ability to jump short distances – though the latter feature in particular was seemingly included (along with an energy meter and a generous stock of lives) to make up for your vehicle’s bulky size and infrequent power-ups, it’s more a testament to the overall poor balance and design of this title than anything else. The screen area is very wide, and as you veer left or right you’re likely to be caught off guard by previously-unseen enemies, most of which take several shots to dispatch and move in patterns that are all but impossible for your chunky ‘craft to react to effectively. To sum it up, the game also appeared on the GBA, and is more or less identical there – and even on that system it’s not considered a quality pick-up.
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PD Ultraman Invaders and SD Gundam Over Galaxian
It’s documented fact that licensed properties are often among the first to sink their teeth into any new video entertainment medium – unsurprisingly, then, not long after the Playstation debuted in Japan, “Ultraman”, a Japanese superhero series that’s been around for decades and still exists today, teamed up with Taito, utilizing the format of the latter’s trademark IP Space Invaders for its own game. The standard cannon is replaced with the silver-skinned protagonist, the invaders are weird(er) rampaging monsters, the whole thing is pumped into 3D, squished down and cute-ified, and the camera can be shifted around, but you’ll definitely recognize the proceedings within seconds. You do get to select from several Ultra characters (which play pretty much identically) and viewing angles, not to mention that some collectable weapons and a split-screen versus mode are also included, but none of these offsets the indisputable fact that neither the presentation nor the simple and brief gameplay has aged very well – and the latter was old to begin with. Off to the side, believe it or not, the same variations of the original Space Invaders found on the trio of Japan-exclusive “Invaders” releases (plus the versus mode) are included yet AGAIN on here, though there’s no tate option for any of them.
About a year later the equally-indomitable “Gundam” anime property decided to jump on the same license-borrowing bandwagon, though it determined to piggyback on Namco’s Galaxian instead. Again, the basic gameplay is pretty much the same deal as the arcade original (except for some extra weaponry and an occasional boss), and as in Ultraman you can switch between the “classic” top-down view and a third- or first-person camera if you’re feeling adventurous (or goofy). For the fans, there’s a bunch of cinema scenes and an extra “G-Changer” mode as well as another (single-screen this time) two-player offering, but not a heck of a lot for most others, especially considering how short and unchallenging this game (in the same manner as PD Ultraman) is. You’ve already heard this axiom trumpeted elsewhere, but unfortunately I’ll have to put it forth again – these two games are for fans of the original series only.
TRL – The Rail Loaders
While this article has already covered some weird shooters, this one might be the wackiest of the bunch – putting you in control of a bullet train driven by a fairy-type character (along with a partner, who will be controlled by AI if you’re playing alone), it certainly gives new meaning to the term “rail shooter.” While viewed from above, your train is indeed limited to traveling on pre-set tracks – you can switch which one you’re traveling on by hitting switches (and can back up if you miss one), but each level is timed, so you’ll want to keep moving. Moreover, while you can fire bubble shots to clear out enemies in your way (or just jump over them, which you’ll have to do to avoid certain “power down” items), doing so in rapid succession will both weaken the weapon’s power and slow you down, so blasting indiscriminately will hobble your efforts. Success is all about memorization, as knowing which tracks hold the most loot (and fewest dead ends) is what will get you to the level boss before time runs out – speaking of which, during these boss fights you can finally move your train freely, but the battles are usually so mind-numbingly easy that you might as well still be on rails. The sprite graphics are inoffensive, but the slow frame rate and pacing don’t help matters. This game might be worth a look for some players just due to its unusual (if not particularly successful) deviations from the genre (to the point where some won’t label it a shmup at all), but otherwise most shooter fans can be content to let this one chug on by.
If you didn’t already read the write-up on the Saturn version of this game in the corresponding article then you’ve almost certainly never heard of this game – pretty much anything you’d need to know about it is already there, as the Playstation port is identical, but if you’d prefer a short summary in lieu of a click or two, here it is. The game is basically a cross between Space Invaders, a Puyo-esque puzzler, and a slot machine – as crabs of various hues fall from above, you move around and try to shoot three in a row of the same color to start the slots at the top spinning. Eventually, it will award you with a bonus item, which will rotate between several colors – shoot it, and every matching crab on the screen will disappear. It’s an unusual concept, but movement is on the clunky side and luck tends to play more of a role than it should in how things end up (though I suppose that should go without saying in any title with “slot” in the title). Basically, unless you’re obsessed with Japanese quirkiness this one’s probably not worth it.
This one is really more of a puzzle game than a shooter, but I decided to toss it in just in case. At a glance it might look similar to Twinkle Star Sprites, with you and your opponent controlling a flying character on each side of the screen, but instead of enemies flying in you’ve got actual “ochi” pieces slowly falling from the top – using the four face buttons you can make your character shoot in four directions, to either move pieces around, propel them to the bottom more quickly, or even destroy ones you don’t want. It takes some time to get used to – otherwise, it’s yet another Puyo Puyo chain-heavy variation, except that the number featured on each piece determines how many of that type are needed to clear them out (i.e. you need two “2” pieces, six “6” pieces, etc.), not to mention that you can shoot away falling garbage blocks if you’re quick.
Each character can also fill a super meter and unleash offensive or defensive specials, as well as pick up occasional speed or weapon powerups – this hybrid will be too unwieldy for many, but if you’re not afraid of the occasional imperfect oddball in your collection you might want to keep an eye out. If you’re interested in other puzzle games with a bit of shooter flavor you might also want to look for Finger Flashing, Toko Toko Trouble and Vermin Kids, but as with Calcolo they’re something of an acquired taste and are not particularly easy to find.
2D Shooter Minigames
As if this list wasn’t long enough, you can also find a number of 2D shooters tucked away in a number of other PS1 games.
Other “Shooting Games” To Look Into
3D Shooting Tsukuru – Astro Trooper Vanark – Chaos Control – Cowboy Bebop – Death Wing – EOS: Edge of Skyhigh – Extra Bright – Galaxian 3 – Galeoz – Gamera 2000 – Hard Boiled – Internal Section – Jupiter Strike – Latice 200EC7 – Macross Digital Mission VF-X and X2 – Macross Plus Game Edition – Odo Odo Oddity – N2O – Nanotek Warrior – Night Striker – Novastorm – Omega Boost –Paranoiascape – Rebel Assault II – Shockwave Assault – Star Ixiom – Star Fighter – Starblade a – Super Robot Shooting – Tempest X3 – Titan Wars – Total Eclipse Turbo – Viper
Additional Credits: Many thanks to 05pro, A Black Falcon, CIT, D, dave4shmups, glitch, MadScientist, mjclark, sideshow, Spartacus, sven666, Turrican, and ZOM from the shmups forum for their contributed information regarding a few of the most obscure entries. Couldn’t have finished this without your help!