For the arcade game fan who plays arcade games at home, Jess Ragan's "MAMExpose" presents you with the many joys - and pitfalls - of emulation, specifically those found while using our favorite program in the universe: MAME.

In this edition of MAMExpose, we take to the skies with three detailed reviews of shooters, all released exclusively in Japanese arcades. An ocean may have seperated you from these titles in the past, but thanks to MAME, you won't have any trouble locking onto these three entertaining games.

Released by Kaneko in 1998

The only thing cooler than dragons are cybernetically enhanced dragons. That's the lesson taught by Kaneko's Cyvern: The Dragon Weapon, an overwhelmingly intense vertically scrolling shooter with an ingenious twist. Cyvern puts you in control of a trio of deadly dragons, taken from their own time and specially adapted to fight the forces of evil in the distant future. The mythological monsters are mounted with devastating laser cannons, but when modern day firepower isn't enough to cut a path through the onslaught of enemy aircraft, you can always rely on your dragon's traditional weapons. Simply hold down the fire button and you'll activate a Banish attack, which varies depending on the character selected. The red dragon spits out a scorching stream of flame, its brother in blue fires crackling bolts of heat-seeking electricity, and the green dragon shoots a concentrated beam of light.

These attacks pack a lot of punch, but it's important to use them sparingly, as they'll quickly devour your beast's Banish meter. The only way to recharge it is to fire at enemies with the standard weapon and collect the items they leave in their wake. The need for balance between the two weapons adds dimension to the game, but it's not the only thing that elevates Cyvern above your average shooter. The graphics are fantastic, with some of the best rendered characters you'll ever see in a video game, and the gameplay is just tough enough to tease you into coming back for more, rather than driving you away in frustration. Cyvern gets a commendable eight.
Released by UPL in 1989
If you like your shooters tough... I mean, so tough they'd make even an expert Ikaruga player cry, Omega Fighter is your kind of game. Most of UPL's arcade releases have featured some incredibly insane- er, creative play mechanics, and Omega Fighter is no different. It appears to be your ordinary, average vertically scrolling shooter at first, and the lackluster graphics and sound won't convince you otherwise. However, it won't take long for you to notice something odd about the scoring... there's a multiplier that determines the amount of the points you get from destroying enemies, based on their proximity to you when they blow up. The closer the ships are to you when they expire, the more the multiplier increases their base score. There's an additional bonus for blasting enemies to bits while they're rubbing up against your front bumper. You'll notice a long gauge at the top of the screen, which fills as you earn 10x multipliers. Fill it halfway and you'll receive a bomb that clears the screen of nasties. Fill it all the way and a 1UP icon appears. Catch it as it weaves its way through the onscreen chaos and you'll get an extra life.

However, it's not likely that you'll ever see either of these bonuses, because it's so incredibly hard to kill enemies just before they collide with you. Like many of the recently released shooters for the Dreamcast and Playstation 2, Omega Fighter demands exact precision and pattern memorization from players striving for the highest scores. This gives the game almost infinite challenge, but at the same time it makes the gameplay unbearably rigid for the majority of players who play just for fun. That's why I give Omega Fighter a six, despite being extremely innovative for its time.
Released by Konami in 1996
You've been waiting a long, long time for a sequel to Life Force, that great shooter for the NES which kept its gameplay fresh by combining overhead and side-scrolling levels. You may have even worried a little about how the game would turn out after playing Contra: Legacy of War for the Playstation and Saturn. Fortunately, Konami didn't make the same mistake with Salamader 2. The game was created in Japan, by talented designers who understood what made the Life Force series work. The result is a superb game that's on par with the original Life Force as well as the more advanced shooters released in the mid 1990's. You won't believe the quality of the artwork in this game... the earlier stages in particular will really jump out at you, with monstrous segmented tapeworms flying gracefully through hazy purple skies and long, bony fangs leaping out from tangled organic masses. The soundtrack is nearly as memorable as the outstanding graphics, strengthening the game's futuristic atmosphere and making the boss battles even more intense.

As for the gameplay... well, I'll put it to you straight. Konami's made changes that some Life Force fans may not appreciate. The first of these is that the power up system has been simplified. You can't select weapons from a gauge like you could in Gradius or the first Life Force... instead, you've got to take what the computer gives you. However, there are more weapons available, and many of them can be upgraded by collecting the same icon twice. Also, Konami added depth to the option system, letting the player use them as powerful heat-seeking missiles. The downside to this attack is that the options lose their power afterwards, regressing into less useful option seeds. Collecting a second seed upgrades the first into a full-grown option. If you don't mind the changes made to the basic gameplay, you're going to have a lot of fun with Salamander 2. I give the game an eight.

MAME TIPS: You can enhance your MAME experience by downloading custom icons from the Internet. There's a custom icon for nearly every game the emulator supports, and you don't even have to unzip the file once you download it... simply drop it into the ICONS subdirectory and you're ready to go. You'll find these icons at

I'm calling the next edition of MAMExpose "Dealer's Choice". I'll be reviewing all of my favorite arcade games, because hey, I'm the one writing this column, and I can do that. Got a problem with that? Yeah, that's what I thought.

You've played plenty of bad games on game consoles, but what about bad arcade games? In the next MAMExpose, we'll look at a few titles that aren't worth a second look, let alone a second quarter.

A new "MAMExpose" can be found here bi-monthly!

For "back issues" of this column, click HERE.

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Last updated: Monday, July 04, 2005 10:03 PM