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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Review


Chotetsu Brikiníger (Neo Geo CD)

This classic space shooter is an obscure and very rare title that was only released in
Japan for the now obscure Neo Geo CD system. Produced by the excellent developers at Saurus, this excellent title showcased the systemís capabilities with extensive use of 3D rendered backdrops and levels to a sometime stunning effect, giving players an added sensation of flying over its odd mixture of retro-themed mechanical sci-fi areas. Multiple ships, branching levels and a tiered power-up system added to the mix to create an intense, if sometimes predictable shooting experience that's one of the best on the system.


Chotesu Brikiníger Ė also known as Ironclad, is probably one of the rarest and most expensive games in the Neo CD library, this exclusive Japanese release is probably never going to see the light on any of the modern emulators thanks to the fact that it wasnít developed by SNK but obscure shooter specialists Saurus. Itís another in a long line of horizontally scrolling space shooters that were released in the mid-90ís. In the game, your main objective is to shoot and destroy any enemies lets you collect power-ups to increase your power-ups. The appeal of these types of games is to soak in their visuals and avoid the patterns of bullets while you battle a seemingly endless series of smaller enemies as well as some impressive bosses at the end of each stage. Brikingíer doesnít diverge from the formula and feels very close to many other titles like Thunder Force and Darius, though this isnít a bad thing since this genre has become severely under-represented since itís peak. 

The game takes a cool mechanical motif throughout, and this metallic, industrial feel helps to give the game a unique look, with a mixture of science fiction space battles and retro ship designs that makes for an appealingly off-beat juxtaposition. One of the cooler things you might notice about Brikiníger is that one of its bosses slightly resembles the infamous Big Daddies from Bioshock with its protruding drill hand, which is an impressive feat of
clairvoyance considering the game was originally released in 1996. The gameís other boss encounters are equally impressive with hyper-kinetic, screen-filling foes that bring an apocalyptic intensity to each battle. This creates a somewhat predictable structure, but one that is executed effectively, making this an immediately satisfying experience that will probably please genre adherents the most.  

One of the more interesting aspects of Ironclad is the flexibility that it gives to players, something of a novelty in this genre. Instead of locking players into a set path of level progression, Brikiníger allows you to select which level you want to go on, with multiple branching paths. This allows you to play from 14 different levels in all, and keeps the replay value high. This is definitely a cool addition to the game, and you can further individualize your experience by the ship you choose to use. Before you begin your attack, you can select from one of three different types of ships, normal, fast and power. They each bring a different set of powers to the game, though experienced players should find they donít affect your success in the game. Once you get into battle, youíll find yourself accompanied by a small satellite that floats around the screen, which you can use for secondary fire, or charge up for a massive explosion that clears any opponents on screen. 

The gameís patterns can be vexing at points, and memorization is the key to progression once you get used to its preconceptions. The initial levels are set on a war-torn, fiery world consumed by flame while smaller enemies run around the screen are impressive for their time. Ironcladís power-up system is more sophisticated than many of its contemporaries, allowing for three levels of power that gradually increase as you collect these unique power-ups. This gives you a great deal of freedom to explore different areas and attack styles while not missing anything. The game itself is fairly interesting on a number of levels. To modern eyes, itís pre-rendered graphics and backgrounds donít look spectacular, but on the Neo CD it represented something of a breakthrough.

Brikinígerís presentation is fairly smooth by Neo Geo CD standards, and it doesnít suffer from the excessive load times that plagued the consoleís other titles, making the game fairly easy to play. Another interesting aspect of Ironclad comes in its liguisitic tricks, since it was a Japanese-exclusive release, youíd expect all the text to be in that language, but it mixes in a few English subtitles to give it a cool bi-lingual feeling that should please otaku everywhere. Chotesu Briíkingerís plot is fairly nonsensical and basically irrelevant to the gameplay, though some of the later bosses are kind of strange so you wish you could figure out what is going on. The gameplay itself is smooth with responsive controls and silky movement. Brikinígerís button and power-up system is fairly easy to grasp, and anyone with any familiarity with the genre. Like many Neo titles, there are 4 levels of difficulty, ranging from fairly easy at the beginnerís stages to nearly impossible in the later stages. This makes for a fairly interesting and overall decent shooter, but the question on the minds of many players will probably be whether itís worth the effort and money to acquire. 

Compared to other shooters on the Neo CD like Pulstar and Last Resort, Brikiníger is probably about on par with the best on the console and far exceeds the systemís lesser shooters like Ghost Pilots and Sonic Wings 3 in terms of overall quality and depth. Brikinígerís impressive 3D rendered graphics and branching levels make for a challenging and intense shooter with plenty of replay value. However, when you compare it to something of equal Ďrarityí like Radiant Silvergun, the gameís somewhat average and predictable play makes the investment seem less worthwhile in terms of sheer value for money, considering how much it goes for on the collectorís market. Obviously, this type of game isnít going to appeal to most gamers, and its limited niche means its audience will likely consist of a few die-hards who enjoy this specific type of game. Those in the know, however, will find a brilliantly realized game that offers excellent balance, challenge and an appropriately high level of difficulty thatís lacking in most mainstream titles. However, as stated earlier, Brikiníger is an exceptionally rare title, that typically commands a step price. Its appeal lies primarily with hardcore gamers, and hardcore gamers who love classic Japanese Ďshmups, specifically. This high cost and obscurity will probably prevent most gamers from ever playing it, which is a shame since Brikiníger is a solid title that deserves to be seen and played by a much wider audience. Perhaps, it will appear on an upcoming Neo Geo compilation or as a downloadable title in the near future.

- Michael Palisano


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