Genre: Shmup Developer: Vic Tokai Publisher: Vic Tokai Players: 1 Released: 1991
I wonder how many people never got the chance to experience Trouble Shooter, not because the game was scarce or expensive, but rather because they were scared off by that god-awful box art. Then again, if gamers of the ’80s and ’90s turned tail and ran every time they encountered poor cover art, the industry would have suffered a second crash a long time ago. Still, you have to wonder what Vic Tokai was thinking, considering all the great art that surrounds Battle Mania (its name in Japan) and its sequel.
The art is perhaps the earliest indication the player has of the quality of this release, and a quick googling of the name reveals but a taste of some of the neat work from its homeland, virtually all of which was left behind when Vic Tokai repackaged Battle Mania as Trouble Shooter for American audiences. Fortunately, everything else made the trip intact, and its great humor and solid gameplay has made this one a cult classic in both countries.
Fans of the horizontal shooter should pay attention here, as should those who like saving the world by using flying people with very large guns. Yes, Trouble Shooter is a member of that exclusive club populated by the Nameless Ones from Forgotten Worlds,Yanmer from Insector X, and a few others who brave aerial combat with nothing but a jet pack and steely determination. Not all the world’s saviors can afford expensive aircraft, you know!
As in those other titles, gameplay consists of horizontal shoot-’em-up action, and players control two heroines: Madison, a wealthy debutante, and her friend Crystal. Together, the girls are known as the “Trouble Shooters,” and they’re soon contracted to rescue a kidnapped from the evil Blackball. That’s it in a nutshell, and I doubt the developers have a Pulitzer in their office somewhere. I could spend a few more sentences poking holes in the tin foil plot, but as I’ve said many a time before, who plays shooters for the story?
The girls choose their special equipment at the start of each stage, and then it’s off to fight Blackball’s kooky minions. A cool dynamic used here is that you actually control both Madison and Crystal, with the latter assuming more of a supporting role. Initially, players will want her to face right, adding her firepower to Madison’s, but soon they’ll encounter enemies from the left side of the screen, and a quick tap of the same button turns her around to cover Madison’s back. As Trouble Shooter has stages that scroll vertically as well as horizontally, players never know from which side the next attack will come, and Crystal plays a vital role in making it through in one piece. Once the layout of the stages has been learned, however, flipping Crystal in the needed direction makes each of them simple fare, and even the highest difficulty level doesn’t offer much of a challenge.
The duo shares some great armament too, and there are four powerful special weapons that can be used repeatedly, like the tidal wave – a massive vertical laser beam that can be controlled, and the avalanche – a concentrated barrage of missiles. They take some time to recharge between uses, and Crystal will let button-happy players know when they need to be patient. Through the game’s five stages (trust me, they’re longer than one would think), all kinds of baddies try to take out the Super Heroines, using all kinds of weird attacks. I mentioned above that they were kooky, and that was no exaggeration. A mini boss in the first stage, for example, rises out of the street while blowing kisses at the girls! Another stage has a mini boss on an exercise bike! Weird stuff, but that’s part of the Trouble Shooter charm, and they only add to the humor found in all the cut scenes between levels.
I’m trying to find something wrong with Trouble Shooter, and it’s quite hard actually. The presentation is awesome, with excellent use of color and parallax (I love me some parallax!), as well as a great soundtrack. The levels are solid, and the game just oozes personality. Even the villainous Blackball is hilarious! I suppose my only complaints would be that the voices are very scratchy, something that we all know was avoidable on the Genesis, and the relative lack of challenge. Trouble Shooter is an easy game, one that can be completed in about forty-five minutes. This is partly due to the uneven distribution of some power ups. I once read someone complain of there being too many speed ups, and they’re right. When you find yourself passing up a weapon option or other goodie, it’s because you’re far too powerful for too long. These are only minor problems though, and overall I find Trouble Shooter’s length and difficulty acceptable. Furthermore, its gameplay is tight enough for me to forgive these shortcomings.
I can’t recommend Trouble Shooter enough. Shooter and action fans alike are sure to enjoy it, and it should be cheap enough to find with little trouble. Ignore the box and just enjoy the game for the great little shooter that it is. I’m well aware that its sequel is much better, but I’d have to hock a kidney to find a copy, and I kind of need the two I have. The original should be more than enough to get started with though, so get to eBay and find a copy!
SCORE: 8 out of 10