Thursday, June 07, 2007

Photos - Shienryu on Sega Saturn

Shienryu was one of the earlier arcade shmups to appear on Saturn. I first heard of this title from Next Generation, which dismissed the game as warmed-over leftovers in a tepid three-star review. Then again, they were nearly always dismissive of any traditional 2D games. Let's face it: Next Gen's writers were technology nerds. We didn't mind at the time, since, hey, it was a thrill just to read some actual criticism in a prozine.

Well, that's out of the way, and the era has long since past. We can enjoy things on a more balanced level, without any of the silly politicking. And despite any prejudices you may carry, this is a really fun game, more so than I expected.

Shienryu appeared in arcades on Sega's ST-V system, which was a beefed-up Saturn and used fairly extensively during the 32-bit days. The game is standard fare for the overhead, vertically scrolling shooter, with endless waves of flying saucers, rolling tanks, and ever-increasing mother ships and bosses to dispatch. Three weapons are available, all cliched and not very inventive. There's the usual bullet spread shot, a concentrated electric beam that hones in on targets, and bursts of rockets. Of these, the rockets are my least favorite. Maybe it's because they fire so infrequently, or maybe because they don't go boom the way I like. Maybe it's just because they're colored yellow. I don't know why; I'm just not fond of shmup powerups that are yellow. Twin Cobra comes to mind - maybe that's the culprit.

You know what I miss? That flamethrower from Fire Shark. That was inspired. Why are we always relying on the same weapons, game in, game out? You're playing out the oldest genre of videogames. Show up with one idea that's actually your own.

This game gets compared to Raiden a lot, and it's easy to see that in the graphics, especially the way everything explodes in tiny shards of debris. I enjoy watching details like that; I'm mindful of how taxing on the animation things like this require, and it's always the first thing to be cut from the home versions. Saturn finally enabled arcade-perfect shmups, with all that extra sugarcoating.

There's also the way the alien worlds are integrated in later levels, the way tanks and ships move around arranged corridors, moving about their business, instead of merely flailing at you in endless suicide bursts. I think it's a key detail of good shooters from the '80s and '90s, one of those things Toaplan did better than anyone else.

So it turns out that Shienryu has some charms after all. Certainly not perfect, and it's easily overshadowed by the flashier, brasher Saturn shmups. A little weird, really. This game offers most of the same bells and whistles as the others, save those show-offs at the top of the class, the ones named Silvergun, Sokie, Garegga and Cotton B. That's what happens when you pack too many student into the same classroom.

Shienryu features the same screen layout options as all of its peers on Saturn. You can play normally with a scaled-down screen (to fit onto your televisions), or turned on its side in full glory. That's always the better option, especially for showing off, or those times when you're just too damned tired to get up. Not bad for an arcade game that wasn't worth more than five bucks at Aladdin's Castle.

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