Monday, 10 December 2012

Arcade Shmups #16

Truxton a.k.a. Tatsujin (1988)
By: Toaplan / Taito Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 80,720 (one credit)
Also Available For: MegaDrive, PC Engine

Although quite a few of Toaplan's games saw releases in the West, there aren't really that many that remain celebrated today for some reason. Of the ones that are, most are of course shoot 'em ups and one of the most acclaimed of these is also among those that I've played the least. Despite being a feature title all the way back at the Mega Drive's launch, I still somehow missed it for my entire tenure as an owner of Sega's console. Before rectifying that embarrassing error, however, I figured I may as well take a look at the arcade version first! The back-story could be taken from any number of shmups of the time but does feature some pretty good names. The planet being preyed upon on this occasion is called 'Borogo' and the evil aliens doing the preying, known as 'Gidans', are led by the evil 'Dogurava'.

With names like that they deserve to be smacked up (although I suppose the 'Borogons' can't really talk either). Luckily, one lone fighter craft has survived the onslaught (even if there seems to be a lot more then one on the title screen!) - an onslaught facilitated by five giant asteroids which presumably either happened to be drifting towards Borogo anyway or the Gidans have somehow managed to steer the spatial tumbleweed themselves. They've been busy too as the asteroids, which predictably comprise the five stages that make up Truxton, have been festooned with Gidan weaponry which is all trained on our saviour and his orange fighter in addition to many alien fighter craft as well. Even with all this, five stages might not sound like a lot but clearing them all is no easy task!

Pivotal to your success is your attack craft which happily is quite a bodacious one. Its default weapon is the 'Orange' one, a simple three-way shot, and it's also armed with three smart bombs, but it isn't long before power-ups start appearing. These include speed-ups, extra bombs, and an occasional extra life, but also two other weapons - the 'Blue' one which fires homing-lightning, or the 'Green' one which fires powerful shots but only straight ahead. They can all be powered-up which increases their range as well as power and eventually also adds fixed position 'escorts' which offer additional fire of their own. Each weapon appears quite frequently but choosing the correct one is still very important as one may be much more useful than another against certain enemies, especially the larger ones.

There are quite a few larger enemies too. As well as giant guardians at the end of each stage, there's also a mid-guardian on each as well. These usually consist of several identical craft and such battles sometimes occur more than once in a stage too, and it's these encounters which proved by far the toughest, for me at least. The standard smaller enemies rarely pose any problems, whether there are many of them swooping around in formation or lone attackers pootling about. All of them can be destroyed by a shot or two from any of the weapons, even on default settings, and the same is true of the gun emplacements that litter the landscapes. The bosses, on the other hand, are so big they can't move around much so you can usually find spots that are fairly safe from their bullet patterns.

The landscapes continue to scroll during boss battles, bringing with them more ground-based guns, but even with this you can usually concentrate on dodging the repeating bullet patterns. With those pesky mid-boss battles, however, the enemies have the best of both worlds - they're small enough that they can move around all over the place making their shots harder to avoid (as well as themselves, of course), but they're big enough that they take a good pounding (giggity) to see off. They actually slope off by themselves if you take too long to smack them up but that's definitely not something to rely on! Sadly, this all makes Truxton a rather unbalanced game to play as far as I'm concerned, and it doesn't make things any easier for you by stripping you of all power-ups every time you lose a life!

This basically means, at least for mere mortals like, your time is spent building up your power as much as possible in preparation for each mid-boss encounter, then bombing the crap out of them and hoping you don't lose a life - something that using bombs doesn't guarantee. They may look cool with their explodey skull effect, but they're not all that powerful and it's still possible to lose a life while using one. Bah, this game doesn't give an inch, does it?! Smart bombs are supposed to be a desperation measure to avoid losing a life! You don't even get an ending either - defeating the final boss just sends you back to the start of the game. I should've been expecting that though, being a Toaplan game - most of their releases that I've played are high-quality but tough!

As well as retaining these standards, the audio/visual aspects of the game are of the usual quality too which means the music and sound effects are pretty good, although not especially memorable, and the sprites are nicely detailed. I particularly like the player-controlled ship which is not only well-designed but also changes colour depending on which weapon you're using - sweet! The backgrounds are less impressive though. The stages all continue on from the last without pause and the passage between each asteroid is very similar-looking open space. The asteroids themselves are a bit more distinctive and detailed but still aren't really particularly interesting to look at. It may well be more realistic than having several distinctly themed areas to battle through but it still leaves the gameplay with the sole responsibility of keeping you playing and, to be honest, it's not really up to the job. The collision-detection seems decent enough but the controls are occasionally 'sticky', particularly when using the lightning cannon, I found, but the main problem is the uninspiring stages and unbalanced difficulty. Before finally playing Truxton I had high hopes that it would quickly fulfil its reputation of being arguably Toaplan's finest shooter but, despite a decent first impression, I can't help but feel disappointed. It's certainly not a bad game, and offers a considerable challenge for skilled shmuppers, but I soon found myself longing for something a bit more exciting and consistent. Still, there is a sequel...

RKS Score: 6/10

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