Shooting! Shooting! Shooting!
It’s that time again, folks: two or three times a year, Japanese shooting game specialists conspire to release all their big reissues at the exact same time, each believing their game will be the one to cut through that crowd, and each probably slashing their sales to a fraction of what they might otherwise be if they weren’t competing for a finite amount of attention from a dwindling audience.
Yokai Douchuuki (Shadow Land)
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (worldwide)
- Price: $7.99 / €6.99 / £6.29
- Publisher: Hamster / Namco
What’s this? An adventure-tinged action game set in an adorable and somewhat cheeky rendition of Japanese hell, originally developed and distributed in Japanese arcades in 1987 and in extremely limited quantities overseas as Shadowland, adapted for PC Engine and Famicom and later reissued on the Japanese Wii Virtual Console, but never reissued internationally until now; players are tasked with controlling the mischeivous child Tarosuke, who has been dragged to hell as a punishment by God and, equipped with a chargeable yokai-busting shot and whatever useful items he’s able to acquire along the way, has been challenged with battling his way to salvation, with multiple different endings that are determined by the player’s performance in the final stage.
Why should I care? You want to try a late-’80s sidescroller-with-a-shop system that you’ve probably never touched or even heard of… or, if you have played it and are acutely aware of the game’s merciless, aggravating difficulty, you may want to give it another try with some of the Arcade Archives-specific options, like the ability to disable the run-ending hellfire that spawns every ten minutes or so and makes no-miss runs nigh-impossible.
Useless fact: Even in its home incarnations, Yokai Douchuuki was too inhospitable to every find wide success, but Namco did try to capitalize on their earlier marketing push by reusing the cast and world for baseball and F1 racing Douchuuki games.
- Platform: Nintendo Switch (Japan)
- Price: ¥1500
- Publisher: G-MODE / And Joy
What’s this? The tenth entry in a long-running series of detective adventure games centered around a game developer working as assistant to a detective agency, developed and published by And-Joy and Genki for Japanese feature phones from the early ’00s; set in mid-1999, this entry centers around four characters — a college student, a mysteriously well-informed individual, a certain new detective and a certain freelance writer — as they investigate a murder with possible ties to an emerging doomsday cult.
Why should I care? This is by far the meatiest of the phone-specific entries so far, with a multi-character zapping system and a story that finally ties together a lot of loose ends that were hinted at but never elaborated upon in prior volumes, including the origin stories of some key characters.
Helpful tip: This entry was the last one worked on by several of the original creators and while the series didn’t immediately change focus after this volume, it’s largely considered the end of the series’ classic era.
TOAPLAN ARCADE GARAGE
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (Japan)
- Price: ¥3,940 (digital) + ¥1,980 (DLC expansion), ¥7,980 (physical, includes DLC content + first-print strategy/interview book)
- Publisher: M2
What’s this? Another M2-published collection centered around a pair of vertically-scrolling arcade shooting games from the now-defunct Toaplan: the extremely popular Hishouzame (known overseas as Flying Shark and/or Sky Shark) and its notoriously difficult sequel, Same!Same!Same! (known overseas as Fire Shark), distributed in arcades by Taito in 1987 and 1989, respectively, and both subject to a modest selection of home ports. As is customary for the M2 ShotTriggers / Toaplan Arcade Garage series, these games come adorned with new “super easy” arranged modes and very granular custom game settings, an “Arcade Challenge” mode that offers extensive learning and practice tools for every segment of each game, online leaderboards, an array of off-screen “gadgets” that display useful and hidden info and a variety of screen settings.
Which games are included? The base digital collection includes Hishouzame and its international variants, Flying Shark and Sky Shark, as well as the sequel Same!Same!Same!, the rare 2P variant and the international version Fire Shark. An optional DLC pack, included as part of the physical version, adds the NES version of Sky Shark, the Mega Drive and Genesis versions of Same!Same!Same! / Fire Shark and, for no particular reason, the Japanese, North American and European versions of Toaplan’s action-platformer Wardner no Mori / Pyros, as well as the Famicom Disk System conversion. Additionally, as with every existing and upcoming Toaplan Arcade Garage release, owning this collection grants you a free digital version of Toaplan’s falling-block puzzle game Teki Paki. (Most of the additional features like the on-screen gadgets, challenge mode and super-easy arrange are exclusive to Hishouzame, Same!Same!Same! and Teki Paki, and the additional games and region variants are presented far more simply.)
Why should I care? Not only does this collection represent the first arcade-accurate reissue of one of Toaplan’s more influential and internationally successful series, it also adds a bevy of tools that will allow average players to stand a chance against Same!Same!Same!, a blatant quarter-muncher designed in direct defiance of Toaplan’s usual approach to game balance, for which the developers have openly expressed their regret. (Those who grab the complete edition may want to compare and contrast with the Mega Drive/Genesis version, which was ported by the arcade team and reflects their preferred balance for the game.)
Helpful tip: In yet another example of M2 commissioning artists for games one would think might be well below their pay grade, the Amazon-exclusive bonus for the physical version of this collection is an alternate cover featuring newly-drawn Wardner art by the classic Wizardry series artist Jun Suemi.
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PC via Steam (worldwide)
- Price: $29.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: City Connection
What’s this? An emulated reissue of the Sega Saturn port of Taito’s vertically-scrolling lock-shot sci-fi shooting game RayForce, originally released in arcades in 199X and ported to Saturn, PlayStation, Windows PC and, much later, smartphones; on top of the (relatively) arcade-compliant vertical mode and the 4:3-arranged home mode of the original port, this version offers online leaderboards, save states, slow-motion and rewind options, basic screen settings and several game-specific options, as well as enhancements to the port itself including the removal of the finite continue cap and upgraded stereo music. (Due to multiple regional copyright issues, you may know RayForce by the titles Layer Section, Galactic Attack or Gunlock — the dual title of this release references the Japanese and international titles given to the Saturn port, but you’re only really getting the one game.)
Why should I care? While one has to question the decision to prioritize reissuing a port of RayForce rather than the genuine article, the Saturn port was a genuinely great port by the standards of the day and an early standout of the Saturn’s library, and the inherent input lag of the original code is low enough that even with the unavoidable lag added via City Connection’s Saturn emulator, newcomers should be able to enjoy and appreciate the beginning of what would become a classic and influential trilogy of Taito shooting games. (There are playable demos available on Switch and PS, in case you’d rather test the input response before throwing down your cash.)
Useless fact: This release is the first of five announced Taito Saturn reissues from City Connection, the other four being the falling-block puzzle game Cleopatra Fortune, the side-view action game Elevator Action Returns, the horizontally-scrolling shooting game Metal Black and the ball-shooting puzzle game two-pack Puzzle Bobble 2X & Puzzle Bobble 3.
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox, PC via Steam (worldwide)
- Price: $24.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: Forever Entertainment / MegaPixel Studio
What’s this? A remake of the debut entry in Sega’s classic horror-themed arcade light-gun game series, The House of The Dead, originally released in arcades in 1996 and ported to Saturn and PC soon thereafter; developed and published by Polish/French outfit Forever Entertainment, this remake features completely redone visuals, music and voice acting and offers a handful of new modes and options including a horde mode that adds substantially more enemies to each stage and an alternate “modern” scoring system, as well as hybrized gyro controls as a substitute for the arcade’s infrared light-gun aiming. (The PS4 version will be getting support for Move controllers at a later date; the PC version will offer mouse aiming as an option, and one would have to presume it’ll receive an official or unofficial patch for Sinden light-gun controllers at some point.)
Why should I care? As with their Panzer Dragoon remake, Forever’s HOD remake launched with a lot of technical issues that one can presume are partially due to poor optimization for the Nintendo Switch and will largely be mitigated on other, more powerful platforms; if and when those technical issues are ironed out, y’all should be left with a modest but competent reimagining of a classic lightgun game, and one with more options that should ideally allow for something close — or for many, close enough — to an authentic light-gun experience.
Helpful tip: One of the more controversial and unadvertized changes made for the remake (and one that, to my knowledge, has yet to be explained or justified) is the exclusion of the authentic music in favor of original soundalikes, so the PC version will have yet another leg up over the other versions inasmuch as it’ll give players the opportunity to patch in the classic music.
- Platform: PC via Steam (worldwide)
- Price: $14.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: Mediascape
What’s this? The ninth official entry in ZUN’s wildly influential universe of doujin shooting games, Touhou Project, originally released for PC at the Japanese doujin convention Comike 68 and now available worldwide via Steam; TH9 differentiates itself from previous Windows PC Touhou games by taking the form of a split-screen, head-to-head competitive shooting game where players indirectly attack each other to claim victory in a very similar manner to the cult Neo Geo game Twinkle Star Sprites. (As with other Touhou Steam releases, this is the original game with virtually no changes: the game remains entirely untranslated, does not offer gamepad support, etc.)
Why should I care? The mere mention of Twinkle Star Sprites is probably all it’ll take to pique the interest of those in the know, but for those not in the know, this is not just of a select few shooting games designed for direct, interactive competition against both human and CPU players using a format reminiscent of a competitive puzzle game, but perhaps the most played and beloved example of this tiny subgenre in existence. (It might also help to dispel the notion held by many uninitiated people that the entire Touhou series is just variations on a single formula repeated dozens of times.)
Useful tip: The original work-in-progress online-compatible build of the game is included with the Steam release and can be accessed in the beta branch, but Steam Remote Play is the recommended alternative.
ROM HACKS & TRANSLATIONS
Diligent PlayStation translator Hilltop has followed up last year’s translation of Square’s “racing poem game” Racing Lagoon with a translation patch for a very different game: Harmful Park, a comedic side-scrolling shooter developed by the short-lived Sky Think System that was barely played in its day but has become a staple recommendation by PS crate-diggers over the last twenty years due to its inventive set-pieces, well-crafted pixel art and surprising abundance of minigames, and now people can also enjoy it for its very silly, freshly-subtitled cutscenes.
LIMITED-EDITION PHYSICAL PRINT RUNS
Contra Anniversary Collection (PS4, Switch) physical editions (and much more) from Limited Run Games
- Price: $34.99 (standard) / $64.99 (“Hard Corps Edition”, “Classic Edition”) / $174.99 (collectors edition)
- Availability: from April 29, 10:00 May 29, 23:59 Eastern until June 12, 23:59 Eastern
As befitting the series, Limited Run Games’ physical release for 2019’s M2-emulated collection of almost every pre-3D Contra title is total overkill: in addition to the standard version, there are both “classic” and “Hard Corps” editions with NES silver-box and Genesis clamshell case designs, respectively, as well as a massive collectors edition with soundtrack, physical art/history book and much more, as well as a bevy of additional merch including posters, pins and skateboard decks.
Dragon View (SNES) cartridge reissue from Piko Interactive x Limited Run Games
- Price: $59.99 or equivalent
- Availability: from April 29, 10:00 May 29, 23:59 Eastern
As a Japan-made sequel to a big-in-Japan conversion of a French Amiga game, and one that attempts to wrestle a very European RPG in a direction somewhat akin to Zelda II, Kemco’s Dragon View occupies a unique place among SNES software, and a small but devoted fanbase. Less unique is its current status as Piko detritus, but that’s late-stage capitalism for ya.