The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Kyukyoku Tiger
(PC Engine - 1989)

While not the most innovative entry in the shoot-'em-up genre, Taito's Kyu Kyo ku (or Black) Tiger is an appropriately authentic translation based on the 1989 arcade title. Its streamlined approach is straightforward and can probably considered fairly traditional. It doesn't diverge from expectations with its gameplay structure and overall approach owing more than a little inspiration from the Seibu's classic shoot-'em-up Raiden. Its a vertically scrolling shooters with gameplay and mechanics that might feel overly predictable by today's standards. The immediate impression is probably that the game shares more than a few visual similarities to Raiden. It has a similar look with a muted pallette, psuedo-3D shadow graphics and similar level structure. Both games even share a similar gimmick, with super bombs players can dispatch to cause massive explosions that clear the immediate area of enemies. Where the titles diverge lies in some minor stuctural areas, with more open level design and slightly lower difficulty levels.

Obviously, it's a given that these both of these releases take advantage of the PC Engine hardware in terms of technical achievement, showcasing the console's ability to accurately reproduce arcade-level visuals and gameplay. It was released somewhat early in the console's lifespan but remains an impressive achievement. Later titles, especially CD-based titles were a little bit smoother and more polished but Kyukyoku's hu-card impresses because its only half-step behind some later releases in terms of quality. This release represents everything that should be present in an authentic arcade conversions, with the usual modes of play and little touches such as extra credits and an attract mode that give it a coherent look and feel. Almost immediately, you can feel the game's arcade roots are nearly identical but go a little beneath the surface and you'll find some interesting variations between them that reveal some surprising elements that can lead to more lasting, deeper play.

Despite its strong arcade-inspiration. KyuKyoku Tiger was a surpsingly complex shooter, making it one of the more interesting games released on the console in terms of play mechanics. It doesn't stray too far from what you'd expect as the lone helicopter faces off against an array of enemies including ground-based tanks and air-based planes. Your mission is to defeat waves of enemies that encircle your position, using a variety of weaponry. This is the key to its lasting appeal and depth. The system is fairly straightforward and versatile. KyuKyoKu Tiger's tiered system consists of different power-ups glow in different colors when released and you can wait until the color matches your current weapon for a quick upgrade or change weapons and patterns on the fly. This gives you some leeway in how you approach the levels. It makes for a surprisingly flexible game with different styles of weaponry. These distinct attack have varying levels of effectiveness and ease-of-use that allows for more varied gameplay. Along the way, you'll also locate other enhancements, such as points and other bonus features. As in many shooters, the more you collect power-ups that faster they upgrade your firepower. This can happen quickly when you stack them up, increasing the range and power of your shots until they fill the screens. As you power-up, the quicker you're able to defeat enemies, earning additional points along the way.

The standard weaponry goes a long way on each level, but you also have a limited stock of super-bombs that you can use during the levels. These explode off the screen and wipe-out any foes in your path without any effort. The strategy behind their timing depends on your situation. You can unleash them when you're faced with a difficult part of the stage, helping you get through tricky situations and passing through immediate danger. However, the bombs are limited in number, so you might want to save them for later on. This is especially true during the boss battles and latter sections, which can be quite difficult to beat. KyukyoKu Tiger's gameplay is otherwise fairly straightforward, unfolding at a steady, consistent pace that offers a good balance between challenging areas that seem to overflow with enemies and bullets, and somewhat calmer sections that give you a less intense fight, where you can almost rest. Black Tiger unfolds at a fairly good pace throughout with its speed, intensity and difficulty gradually increasing as you reach the later stages.

It follows the structure of traditional shooters, and each stage leads to a boss confrontation. As stated earlier these battles rage with more intensity, as the massive opponents throw waves of bullets at the player at a much faster rate. Learning to anticipate thier moves, memorizing the pattern of the attacks, and responding to their flowing attacks takes some practice, but this version isn't excessively difficult. It may take a few attempts to beat each boss individually. but they can be beaten eventually. Its mostly a matter of avoiding their line of fire, waiting for them to move into a vulnerable position, hitting their weak spot and getting out of their sights when they regroup. Once defeated, these bosses usually collapse and explode. At the end of each stage, you're rewarded with a score that's a multiple of the bombs left in your stock and how many bonus pods you've collected. Perfoming a good run through the level can bring a huge bonus, and make it easier to gain extra lives and bonuses.

Its straightforward play-mechancis and traditional structure lend it an immediate accessibility, while its evenly-scaled play balance is offers challenge without excessive frustration. However, Kyukyoku Tiger's most-lasting appeal comes into view only after repeated play throughs. Its unique power-up system allows you to experiment with different weapons and take different tactics with the confines of a standard shooter. You can, of course play right through the game, balsting through its levels consecutively, but you'll probabaly miss a lot of the depth and nuance that make it so appealing even at this stage. The conversion is excellent in this regard, playing smoothly without much slowdown making for a frentic, satisfying experience. While its not the flashiest or deepest shoot-'em-up on the console, this conversion is fairly consistent in terms of gameplay mechanics, level structure and weapons alongside a diverse set of weapons that keeps things from becoming monotonous. Its a fairly standard design is well-implemented throughout, giving Kyukyoku TIger an enduring appeal and enjoyable play. Its quality is highly tuned and making it another impressive title in the extensive PC Engine shoot-'em-up library.

- Michael Palisano