GameBoy Roundup: Shoot'em-ups

 

By ShellShock
Revised on 12/27/09
   

 

 

Contents:
Aerostar - Vic Tokai
Mercenary Force - Meldac
Page 2 SolarStriker - Nintendo
StarHawk - NMS Software
Page 3 Chikyuu Kaihou Gun ZAS - T&E Soft
Burai Fighter Deluxe - KID
Page 4
Crystal Quest - Novalogic
Dropzone - Eurocom Developments
Page 5
Taiyou No Yuusha: Fighbird GB - Irem
Xenon 2: Megablast - Teeny Weeny Games
Zoids: Densetsu - Tomy
Vattle Giuce - IGS Inc.
Battle Unit Zeoth - Jaleco
Final Reverse - Shouei
Volleyfire - Toei Animation
A-Force - Thin Chen / Sachen
Final Mission: Deep - Thin Chen / Sachen
Dan Laser - Thin Chen / Sachen
Sky Ace - Thin Chen / Sachen
 
 
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If the GameBoy's big-name shooters and the more obscure titles presented in this article aren't enough to satisfy your shoot'em-up hunger (or you are curious about what other strange titles in the genre were published during the portable's life time), I'm rounding up this compilation with a look at the bottom of the barrel. Just for completion's sake. Granted, you probably won't find anything worth a play-through here. Yet some of these are so unconventional and unique I couldn't leave them out. I'm sure you'll find at least one of them interesting.

 

 

 

     
Taiyou No Yuusha: Fighbird GB
Players: 1
About: Giant robot shooter
Courtesy of: Irem
Back in: 1991
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

Renowned Japanese animation studio Sunrise couldn't have made a better move when it decided to hand over production of the videogame version of Taiyou No Yuusha: Fighbird to the pros at Irem Corporation. Who wouldn't want their money-making intellectual property converted into a game by the brains behind R-Type, Image Fight, or Moon Patrol, right? Yet Irem's fashionably late arrival to the GameBoy scene in 1991 and its lack of experience with the hardware are more than evident in titles like Kung-Fu Master, Japan-only Ganso!! Yancha Maru, or their outsourcing of R-Type to B.I.T.S.; which unfortunately also ended up taking a toll on this game as well. According to scant online sources, Sunrise's "Brave Of The Sun: Fighbird/Firebird" is the second in the Brave Series, a set of eight Super Robot TV shows created by Takara in 1991. In the land-based GameBoy shoot'em-up, players control a giant robot whose ballistic abilities are closer to Ninja Commando's vertical, mono-directional style of shooting than Ikari Warriors' less restrictive approach. Charged shots, a few weapon upgrades, and generous health gauge and lives will take you past any boss and on to the end with few problems; but I recommend hard mode (choose the character Katori instead of Kenta at the beginning) for a fair semblance of challenge. Still, Fighbird GB is almost completely bland and devoid of any intense moments or real fun. Fans of the show might find it interesting because it's one of only two game titles ever made about the show, the other one also a shoot'em-up by Irem, but developed for the Famicom a year later and focused on different vehicles instead of mechs.

 
 
     
Xenon 2: Megablast
Players: 2
About: Classic shooter port
Courtesy of: Teeny Weeny Games
Back in: 1992
Originally on: Atari ST/Amiga
Also on: PC, Master System,
Genesis, GameBoy,
Acorn Archimedes, Commodore CDTV.

Here's a port of classic Amiga and Atari ST shoot'em-up Xenon 2. As most of you know, Bitmap Brothers' follow-up to Xenon is still one of the most well-known Amiga titles and was praised by game magazines of the time for its huge bosses, detailed graphics, multitude of stackable power-ups, original item shop, and impressive soundtrack containing the most accurate rendition of an artist's song (Bomb The Bass' "Megablast (Hip Hop On Precinct 13)") in a videogame to that date. It's no secret that Xenon 2 was developed primarily as an impressive showcase of graphics and sound, but long after the novelty of its presentation became technologically irrelevant, other design decisions (like its extreme difficulty level) have not stood the test of time so well. This is why Teeny Weeny Games' GameBoy port suffers the most despite their best developing efforts. With all of its wow factor gone because of the heavily compromised music, color palette, and artistic detail, monochrome Xenon 2 is left with but a scaled-down rendition of the original's already aged play mechanics to fend for itself. A sad and almost unfair downgrade for a title that 3 years prior looked and played 5 times better. You'll need a hefty dose of nostalgia and a whole lot of patience to enjoy it.

 
 
     
Zoids: Densetsu
Players: 2
About: Toy-line shooter
Courtesy of: Tomy
Back in: 1990
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

Zoids: Densetsu is just one of the many videogames based on a toy line of mechanical animals and monsters by the name of Zoids, and was developed by Japanese toy company Tomy before they merged with Takara. The variety of platforms for which they were and continue to be released is as wide as the genres they have been known to take on; from RPGs to robot simulators, from fighting games to shoot'em-ups. Obviously one of the latter, Densetsu is as pedestrian a shooter as you can think of, and one so technically primitive it might as well be a Game & Watch title. There are silly-looking bosses to kill, uninterestingly clichéd weapons to pick up, music that doesn't deserve to be called such, and a choice of giant robot upon startup which I'm pretty sure is only cosmetic. Since some of these cyber beasts prefer to travel on their own feet, the bottom 2/3 of the screen represents land, with bushes (?), volcanoes, and other obstacles to dodge. And although you can also "fly" over all this on the top part of the screen, there's no technical distinction between being on the ground or in the air except for the background graphics. Zoids: Densetsu is a perfect example of what happens when a company unrelated to the videogame industry tries to produce software without outsourcing it to experienced developers.

 
 
     
Vattle Giuce
Players: 1
About: Double plane shooter
Courtesy of: IGS Inc.
Back in: 1991
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

Beetle Juice? Battle Geese? What the hell language is IGS speaking? Is the entire title a typo, or an extreme case of Engrish? Given how obscure this double-plane vertical shooter is, we'll probably never know. Vattle Giuce evokes Zaxxon's and Viewpoint's 3D-in-2D environment in a much more rudimentary, technically-limited way by replacing the classic 3/4 perspective with a more confusing overhead view. Additionally, the third dimension of movement, the varying altitude present in said titles, has been simplified and reduced to two fixed planes: press B once to lower your fighter close to the ground to take out turrets that yield power-ups, then press B again to fly over constructions as well as turret fire. Rinse and repeat through unexplicably long stages, mindless waves of repeated enemies, and some of the most ridiculous bosses ever "designed": a moving wall of cannons and a hyperactive totem pole. Other distinct issues that prevent Vattle Giuce from reaching the average mark are how indistinguishable all three selectable ships are, very scarce weapon upgrades, but most of all how mediocre and underdeveloped the 2-plane system feels. You might want to look into Aerostar for a more polished product based on the same idea.

 
 
     
Battle Unit Zeoth
Players: 1
About: Mech shooter
Courtesy of: Jaleco
Back in: 1990
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

I'm willing to bet some of you will disagree with Battle Unit Zeoth being shoved into the leftovers bag that is this final section of GameBoy shooters. And hey, I don't blame you. The awesome cover art alone is probably what sold most copies of Jaleco's fairly popular mech shooter to impressionable children (I know I would have bought it if at the time I hadn't been drooling all over Wizards & Warriors X's box art). The in-game art style of both sprites and bosses, as well as the overall presentation, from the cool title screen to the brief cutscenes of the intro and game ending, lived up to the hype of the box perfectly. And except for Burai Fighter Deluxe, there really weren't any other multidirectional shooters available for GameBoy at the time. But put nostalgia aside, as hard as that can sometimes be, and take the time to revisit Battle Unit Zeoth today. What your young mind might have interpreted as ramped-up difficulty in the past, was obviously bad execution all along. The player's sprite, although fairly detailed and stylish, is slightly too big to effectively dodge anything. Also, enemies fly into view from both sides of the screen quicker than they can be reacted to, something the developers remedied by completely overpowering our mech's arsenal with a shot half-a-screen high that is really easy to acquire and will make sure anything in its path is annihilated before it even enters the screen. Finally, instead of moving vertically by pressing up or down, the A button must be held down to ascend, while letting go makes you slowly descend. It takes some practice to navigate through air mines this way, but this setup is nonetheless unnecessarily archaic and cumbersome. So stick with the competition. Burai Fighter Deluxe might not look as cool, but it's definitely everything Battle Unit Zeoth ever wanted to be.

 
 
     
Final Reverse
Players: 2
About: One-on-one shooting
Courtesy of: Shouei
Back in: 1991
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

Final Reverse is one of two very unique shoot'em-ups (both published by Toei Animation, even though no ties to any TV series license seem to exist) that would fit under the "one-on-one" shoot'em-up subgenre, if such a thing existed. Often referred to as a "Vs. shooter", this game is built around two-player linked battles where each of the player's multiple ships tries to take the opponent's team down round by round in a fixed-screen arena. After you and your friend select 5 (cosmetically) different fighters, their fighting order, and vertical or horizontal arena choice, the game divides each round into a "preliminary contest" and a "final contest", where the so far seemingly simplistic play mechanics get more interesting. In the preliminary phase, each fighter ship's main task is to dodge enemy fire while moving throughout its allotted playing field to draw a trail that will act as the ship's permanent path. This path cannot go over itself and must be laid down around obstructions like boulders, so thinking ahead is a must in order to avoid limiting one's movements accidentally and becoming an easier target to the enemy (don't worry too much about losing here, since this preliminary contest is a sort of time-restricted setup for the real thing). Once the clock counts all the way down or your ship's energy is depleted, the final contest begins. Power-ups and obstacles are put into play, but most importantly you also switch the previously laid-down paths with the enemy, adding a subtle layer of strategy that will determine how much maneuvering space each fighter allows his opponent to have. After that, the player with most rounds won is the winner. Still, Final Reverse sessions won't last more than 10 minutes before one of the parties starts yawning due to the lack of skill involved. And despite the various single player modes available in case your friend doesn't have a copy of this obscure game (take a wild guess on what the odds of that are), the CPU's A.I. can be beaten by a trained chimp.

 
 
     
Volleyfire
Players: 2
About: One-on-one shooting
Courtesy of: Toei Animation
Back in: 1990
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

The other and last one-on-one shoot'em-up made for the GameBoy was also published by Toei Animation. Unlike Final Reverse, Volleyfire takes a more traditional approach with almost no strategy and/or rules to worry about. With a heavier emphasis on single-player mode, the game is divided into 8 levels/locations such as planets, asteroid fields, and stars. Each of these contains 4 duels against the CPU's fighters (the last of which is a boss) that must be overcome by making good use of the lives and energy gauge provided. Power-ups and shielding objects are also present in Volleyfire, the latter in the form of multiple floating debris belts that constantly fly inbetween fighters and protect them from incoming fire. Even though Volleyfire was also clearly designed around the hardware's link system, the slightly better graphics, presentation, and traditional level-based structure prevent its single player mode from becoming as bleak and depressing as Final Reverse's. That doesn't mean, however, that it's any less boring. Even though someone at Toei thought we needed two of these games, the main problem is that the amount of skill required by them is very close to non-existent, turning players into mindless shooting zombies (which is how the A.I. also acts) the moment you start playing.

 
 
     
A-Force / Armour Force
Players: 1
About: Low budget mecha
Courtesy of: Sachen / Thin Chen
Back in: 1993
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

A-Force is one out of four unlicensed GameBoy shooters produced by Taiwanese Thin Chen, also known as Sachen, Commin, or Joy Van. It was sold both as part of their 4-in-1 and 8-in-1 multicarts, and it's a plain horizontal shoot'em-up with a random mecha as the protagonist. The controls are acceptable even if it's impossible to shoot in any direction other than forward, and Thin Chen had the decency to include a handful of weapons and a brief invincibility shield that activates with the A button but drains your energy counter. However, the same single terrible music track plays on every level, the art design is a throwback to the fighter planes and U.F.O.s we all used to draw back in grammar school, and the pace is snail-slow and boring. Still, A-Force is at least playable (something not to be taking lightly when talking about Thin Chen shooters), ranking it among the company's best. So sad.
Thin Chen's "Laugh Or Cry" moment: Someone mislabeled the mecha's energy counter "Damage" instead of something more appropriate like "Energy" or "Health". So don't be surprised when your low-budget robot explodes when "damage" equals 0.

 
       
Final Mission: Deep
Players: 1
About: Shooting gallery?
Courtesy of: Sachen / Thin Chen
Back in: ?
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

You would think the small Taiwanese company that dared challenge the GameBoy in 1992 with its own hardware, the bold and even lower-budget Watara Supervision, would at least match that kind of effort when developing third-party software. Think again. You can find Final Mission: Deep only in 4-in1 and 8-in1 multicarts, but don't let the cool title screen fool you. The gallery shooting action of this fixed-screen vertical mess is completely unplayable. You control a Twin-Bee-esque submarine that sits at the bottom of the ocean, restricted to horizontal movements and a firing rate of 1 slow bullet per screen (an excruciatingly slow one at that. You can sometimes be stuck without firing for up to 5 seconds). The objective is to shoot down as much fauna as you can with different weapons, but this immediately proves impossible due to the quickness and unpredictability of a strange, invincible multi-shaped string of dots that seems to be the main enemy. It's as if a Qix boss was suddenly and mistakenly programmed into Space Invaders. Obviously, there isn't much one can do to dodge it, and my high score never went over 200 points. How did they manage 25000 points?
Thin Chen's "Laugh Or Cry" moment: Deep's title screen music is often interrupted by random sequences of beeps and other sound abnormalities that are actually part of the track, even though it sounds like your GameBoy's sound hardware is dying. Be careful when using headphones.

 
 
     
Dan Laser
 
Players: 1
About: Overpowered shooting
Courtesy of: Sachen / Thin Chen
Back in: ?
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

Dan Laser sounds like an old comic book character or an oldschool PC adventure game, but it's actually Thin Chen's other decent shooter besides A-Force (again, when I say "decent", keep in mind I'm comparing it to other Thin Chen shoot'em-ups). Don't ask who Dan is, the developers probably don't know either. But with a last name like that, it's safe to assume his game arrived a decade late. What we do know is that Dan pilots a powerful fighter through ugly caves and empty-looking stages in this typical vertical-scrolling shooter. Even the bosses quit in disgust and left the game, so the transitions between stages are accompanied by a sudden awkward emptiness. But don't put your GameBoy down yet! To the envy of all classic shooters, Dan Laser features the aptly named "Crazy Mode", in which players can bring some justice to the programmers by erasing stage after stage of this game. No, I'm not kidding. Use Dan's infinitely powerful laser weapon to destroy not only enemies, but also all walls and obstacles in the game; leaving the screen blank. Too bad you can't save your progress afterwards.
Thin Chen's "Laugh Or Cry" moment: Somehow, enemies don't move in this game, even though they look like they are flying in formation. They are all "fixed to the ground" so to speak. It wouldn't look as cheap if at least there were some kind of background graphics.

 
 
         
Sky Ace
 
Players: 1
About:1942 wannabe
Courtesy of: Sachen / Thin Chen
Back in: 1993
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

Thin Chen is also infamous for trying to latch on to popular, legitimate franchises' success by copying most features from them and adding their particular twist. Jurrasic Boy 2, Q-Boy, and Rocman X are some of these shameless creations. And while Sky Ace doesn't go as far as resorting to misspellings to draw attention, it's pretty obvious what's in front of us is a clone of Capcom's 1942. Curiously, this is the only Thin Chen shoot'em-up that has an intro and a plot: it tells the story of a country engaging in war with another one because of its greed for oil. Coincidence? You decide. Yet as easy as it might seem to copy one of the simplest and most dated shooters around, the Taiwanese developer fails again: the player's plane is almost as big as the enemy bombers, so dodging bullets and enemies efficiently is close to impossible. Stages are inexplicably long, requiring that the player reaches an 80% shoot-down rate while said percentage goes up a ridiculous 1% every time 15 or 20 small enemies are destroyed. Weapon upgrades are scarce, and there's no "loop" dodging maneuver. Not even the plane's 8-point energy gauge (labeled "Fuel") seems to give players some advantage, so Sky Ace could be easily dismissed as unplayable even though it is possible to eventually reach the second stage with enough patience.
Thin Chen's "Laugh Or Cry" moment: This plane needs some alignment. If you look closely at the fake horizontal leveling indicator on the right of the screen, you can tell it's always veering to the right.

 
 

 

   
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