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
CYVERN: THE DRAGON WEAPON
Released by Kaneko in 1998
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
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
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.