Review Toaplan Arcade Shoot ‘Em Up Collection Vol.1 – shooting icons from another era

A quartet of classic arcade shooters from a genre dynamic gets a decent modernisation, capturing the moment the genre is headed for hell.

Toaplan’s ten years of making games has left a huge legacy. After a string of seminal 2D shooters, the team ushered in the Age of Hell with 1993’s triumphant Batsugun. After Toaplan closed its doors for the last time, former staff would found or take senior positions in many of the most important shooting game studios, such as Takumi, Gazelle, Raizing/Eighting and the powerful Cave.

Despite these contributions, Toaplan’s most famous creation is one they probably wouldn’t be too proud of. The infamous “all your bases belong to us” mistranslation in the European Mega Drive port of their game Zero Wing has transcended the studio, the genre, and even the medium of video games to become a touchstone of popular culture.

In recent years, however, a handful of the studio’s games have returned, with developer-publisher M2 already porting a handful of Toaplan shooters as part of its ever-impressive ‘ShotTriggers’ series. Now retro specialist Bitwave Games has joined in, bringing PC owners Toaplan Arcade Shoot ‘Em Up Collection Vol.1.

Here’s a trailer to give you an idea of ​​the Toaplan Arcade collection in action.

The collection here explores a four-year period of the Japanese studio’s middle history, documenting a time when the Toaplan team was exploring the fundamentals of what would later become Hell. That means you won’t find dense clouds or overly complicated scoring systems here. Instead, you can trace how, between 1987 and 1990, Toaplan’s developers began to move away from the convention of more traditional shooters and push the form into more energetic new places.

Delivered as a Steam bundle – and available as individual games without saving the full collection – Bitwave’s debut Toaplan volume features the relentless military shoot-’em-up Twin Cobra, the relentless run ‘n’ gun-shooter. The hybrid Out Zone, the classic Truxton with a great implementation, and the MEME-spawning Zero Wing horizontal scroller.

Toaplan Vol 1 Review - Out Zone Gameplay showing neon green projectiles from your character

Game information can be displayed, as shown here with the Out Zone. However, it’s a pretty bare-bones offering compared to how the dev M2 handles the same.

At a basic level, the ports are powerful, comparable to the speed and performance of the arcade originals. If I run Out Zone on my precious arcade PCB alongside the Bitwave digital version, you’d have to be extremely picky to notice a real difference. The best players out there for whom one second is enough time for any kind of strategic game? Maybe they would feel small changes more than the other 99 percent of players. But based on the material available, these are narrow, precise ports.

And the spread of games? Each brings much to love.

Truxton’s sci-fi vertical hairs are quality, with the original team clearly putting enormous care and skill into it. It plays briskly and dramatically, with every sense of credibility as its own distinct ride. The pixel art here is particularly glorious and comes to life with stunning vehicle and environment design, an abundance of tonal personality and a dazzling display of what was possible with visual techniques of the time such as parallax scrolling. In fact, so rich is the Truxton’s production quality, it’s hard to believe it’s been out since 1988. It’s not really hell, but to play Truxton is to realize how much of an influence it had on the presentation and playing style of his later works. genre of Cave and his contemporaries. He’s also quite a challenging entity, though so much fun to play that even when he repeatedly sends you through the game via screen, you’ll probably have a happy smile on your face.

Toaplan Vol 1 review - Zero Wing game on green and black background

Putting the ‘all your base’ meme to one side, Zero Wing is a meticulously delivered thrill ride of a game.

Zero Wing, meanwhile, was most likely informed by the success enjoyed by arcade icons that are R-Type and Gradius. With its horizontal scrolling and sometimes claustrophobic level design, it’s certainly informed by the convention set by previous ‘horis’, but there’s enough personality and pacing to make it feel much more than derivative. Zero Wing is probably closer to R-Type, and yet it moves and plays with the energy more typical of later 2D side-scrolling shooters. The game was started with the intention of remaining an internal project where new staff could cut their teeth and learn the Toaplan way. It’s a bit long – yes, eight stages can start to feel like a grind in this genre – but it’s so fun and dynamic to play, it’s easy to forgive these mediocre mistakes.

Then there’s Twin Cobra from 1987. It’s the oldest game in this volume, and certainly the most conventional. Twin Cobra follows the gritty military fetish made famous in the genre by Capcom’s wildly popular 1942, but ups the speed and bullet count a bit. To be honest, it hasn’t aged as well as its companions, and it remains infuriating. It’s not that Twin Cobra is a bad game or anything. In tone and design and spirit, it is more familiar. There were dozens of shooters that focused on tanks and fighter jets and heavy bombers in this era, and Twin Cobra brings at least a shade more energy if you want to miss the military shooters of the 80s.

Toaplan Arcade Review - Truxton in action, with a bright light surrounding your character on the center screen

Truxton is adored by the shmup community, with its pixel art and presentation deeply influential to the genre.

The highlight, though, has to be the Out Zone. Breaking the rules that make up the strict shmup design standard, this brilliant creation delivers something truly special. Putting you in the shoes of a cyborg soldier, Out Zone is as much a run ‘n’ gun as it is a 2D shooter. It scrolls vertically, but scrolling stops if you do. With some weapons there is multi-directional fire and there are many hazards on the ground such as pits to fall into. The strategy of the game is combined with the ideal weapon behavior with the immediate environment. You might want this multi-directional shooter when enemies come from behind in maze-like sections, or a steady forward shot when you need to weave round obstacles while keeping your arsenal pointed at the screen. There’s also an energy-saving mechanic that keeps you alert and pushing forward, for fear of running out of the required power to move forward.

The Out Zone brings an abundance of energy and personality, as well as presentation that matches most of what Truxton has to offer. And since it’s never been officially released outside of the arcade before, it really adds to the appeal of this bundle.

Review Toaplan Vol 1 - Truxton gameplay on a green road

The Twin Cobra may be influential and beloved, but it hasn’t aged as well as the rest in the collection.

Now, the arrival of more retro collections of this kind inevitably inspires a chorus of voices to highlight emulation and options like a Raspberry Pi. This brings us to the additional features of Toaplan Arcade Shoot ‘Em Up Collection Vol.1, on top of the games themselves. Each shooter gets online leaderboards, customizable game and screen settings, and a number of “helps” such as hitbox reduction or highlighting. There’s even a reset button for those not burdened by the self-imposed rules of overspending in arcades.

While the menus can be a little unwieldy – and switching buttons for sticks a bit confusing – Toaplan Arcade Shoot ‘Em Up Collection Vol.1 ultimately offers four great, distinct shooters with all the basic modernization and quality of life features now expected. Or three excellent shooters and one who falls behind a bit with age.

The thing is, the standard set by the M2 has now left shooters with pretty high standards. Beyond single-game difficulty settings, Bitwave’s effort includes “normal” and “hard” variants. But there aren’t any completely revamped “fixes” as seen in the M2’s line of ShotTriggers, and scanning, data display and related functions are a bit basic. In other words, it’s not quite up to par with the M2’s amazingly high-quality work in terms of modernization.

Every game in Bitwave’s collection has a number of “helps” as well as a reset function. This will help save each universe.

And yet, Bitwave has brought Western gamers four important, sometimes overlooked gems that play a pivotal role in arcade history. The capacity for fun and thrills within is huge, with only one of the games feeling a shade tired from the passage of time. A single release containing all the games and some of the setting and story that connects them would be much more exciting than a bundle, but the four titles work well together as a cohesive whole.

Do you own all these toys? Everyone should try Truxton and Out Zone. And if you’re interested in the history of arcade gaming or 2D shooters, this pack does a lot to chart the journey the 2D shooter genre took from its minimalist origins to the maximalist extravagance of veritable hell. a chapter of game design that is too often overlooked.

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