Review: Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru a.k.a Psychic Killer Taromaru


1996, the western world prepared to drive the final nail into the cross, whilst the land of the rising sun remained faithful to Sega’s Saturn.

The proceeding year in Japan, Sega spent millions creating an advertising campaign featuring the fictional Segata Sanshiro, who quite aptly, would hunt you down if you didn’t buy the machine. Meanwhile, over in Los Angeles USA, a very real Bernie Stolar, CEO of Sega America, famously commented during E3: “The Saturn is not our Future”

This era of mixed loyalties is when Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru was born.

Designed exclusively for Sega’s ST-V arcade format in 1996, an honour not often bestowed when developers focused on hardware inspired by Sony’s Playstation.


Simply put, Sony had Namco’s System 11, Sega didn’t – The package they offered to aspiring developers like Treasure, Raizing and Time Warner was affordable licensing in exchange for home conversion exclusivity.

Time Warner Interactive signed up and began programming Taromaru.

It celebrated a humble launch in the pachinko parlours and arcade centers of Tokyo, paying homage to Japanese mythology to gain its popularity.


Inevitably a home conversion was announced for late 1996, games publications across the world began reporting on the forthcoming release, seeking out information regarding its elusive team of programmers. The project director rumoured to have been from the Treasure stables.

Although never officially announced, it is speculated that publisher Time Warner Interactive planned a localised version for international territories, but to no avail.


Production delays in Japan pushed the launch of the title back from late 1996 to January 1997. Abroad, poor sales of the Saturn during the 1996 holiday period forced third party developers to re-evaluate what games should be published outside of Japan.

Midway Games took over Time Warner in 1996 and worked towards completing titles currently in development. In Japan, the sword of damocles hung over a company with only Virtua Racing heading a mediocre portfolio of games.


The decision was taken in February 1997 to disband the Japanese division, consequently production for Taromaru halted at around 7,500 – Accounting for why import supplies in 1997 were scarce, more so, why owners could be forgiven for being snobbish.

The fact Taromaru is 3D playing 2D captures enough interest amongst nostalgic fans of 16 bit side-scrolling action games like Shinobi, Altered Beast and Strider.


Even today, this is enough reason for some to track down a copy and pay the entry fee of around $400 on most auction sites.

In terms of presentation, the colour manual features a few pages covering the plot, proceeding to battle strategies, concluding with a few wise words from your sensei. Complete copies should come with a full size sticker and registration card, although the obi strip is not produced with same grade of card that Treasure commissioned for Radiant Silvergun.

The game follows a classic tale of a kidnapped girl, a hired gun, and plentiful enemies. Although the narrative is equal to Double Dragon and its countless clones, this is far from a side scrolling beat’em up.

A short graphics intro eases you into the main screen where you choose between one player, two players and options. Start the game and you are presented with the choice of two assassins. What really sets this game apart is replacing punches, kicks and shurikens with a marker system; while far from perfect; it hovers around your character until it locks onto enemies for you to attack.

During the first level it becomes apparent the production team looked to Konami’s Castlevania for enemy design - flying vampires, skeletons, arachnid and amphibious bosses are proof of this.

But where Taromaru excels is around half way through the first level. The polygon backdrop scales and rotates, giving the illusion of a 90 degree turn into an intersecting street. Impressively, the third dimension in this mono world appears almost seamless, owing to the VDP 1 and VDP 2 (video display) processors.


These silicon wonders independently handle Taromaru’s 2D sprites against a 3D plane, further leaps delivered by way of the Saturn’s quadrilateral polygon processing.

The result is less distortion and better depth in level design compared to the Playstation.

What really captivates you about Taromaru is its red-book soundtrack. The mystical mood is set perfectly through the composition of flutes and drums, at times, chilling.

Treasure’s rumoured directional input is evident throughout various design aspects. There are Strategic elements as you cling onto the rafters of a building, attempting to make it to the top. Rotating spikes and flames hinder your journey, time your moves and act fast before the screen scrolls up.


Frequent boss fights keep the action coming every other minute, mastering attack patterns being the key to proceeding further.


While this all builds a cogent argument for how this game is up there with the best, there are faults.


One could argue this side scrolling shooter hybrid has never been tried before, and for good reason - it simply fails to work. Contra and Metal Slug have pretty much conquered the market when it comes to run and gun games, but does Taromaru’s marker system introduce the right kind of innovation?


The answer is both yes and no.


Sin and Punishment on the Nintendo64 surely took inspiration from Taromaru.


Even though it’s a fully 3D, on the rails shooter, the lock-on system is accurate enough to demonstrate what can be achieved through extensive play testing.


At times, the marker system in Taromaru refuses to lock onto enemies, deciphering whether enough energy can be conserved to complete the game.


Thankfully the controller input is responsive enough to counteract this nuisance, although your finger can become sore hammering the ‘A’ button to unleash attack.


Rapid fire controllers totally defeat the purpose of this game, albeit strangely improving the accuracy rate of the marker, possibly due to the increased fire rate forcing it to move quicker.


Although, is any game without its faults?


You could sit there with a clipboard, keen eyed, picking every tiny fault in Taromaru.


But when the bulk of the game leaves you smiling, you know this is one for the collection. Extras are a bit scarce with only a ranking mode unlocked upon completing the game, although extras are often just gloss to add an artificial sheen.


The game is easy to pick up, but near impossible to master. One wonders what could have been achieved from the Saturn if titles of this quality were released outside of Japan, taking on the Playstation until the bitter end.


What does the future hold for this game? – Certainly there is no sequel planned.


When asked by a fan if a re-release on XBOX Live or Playstation Network was possible, Midway responded: “The original source code has been lost” - All these factors influence the value of Taromaru in the current market.


The only way to play one of the Saturn’s rarest games is by digging deep into your pocket, unless you resort to a shady emulator.


Evolution, what a beautiful thing – Sure, games have come a long way since the days of Taromaru, but this is a Hanzo sword – sharp, rare and priceless.

Review: RESIDENT EVIL 5 (PS3 - X360 - PC)

Since our first encounter with a cerberus from Resident Evil 1 to the stunning recreation of such foes years later in the GameCube remake, Resident Evil has been home to claustrophobic set pieces that reach their climax at the tune of a chilling orchestra, under the watchful eye of Capcom. As the series made it's transition to Resident Evil 4 much had to be changed to adapt with the times, this rebirth of the franchise was most welcome as it moved away from a chess board style system to a more hands on 'above the shoulder' style of play..

So as the franchise hits a fifth round on the seventh generation of consoles, why does one feel this premise has strayed the path to become more a Metal Gears of Evil than a Resident of all that is unholy?

Major gripes with Resident Evil 5 are that it's not scary in the least.. What we have here is a war'esque action game that could have happily replaced Majini hordes with rebel soldiers in your path to that final showdown. Compared to other Ressie games the plot has been simplified and is notably shorter and weak in comparison too, although newcomers progressing through the story can unlock character files to shed some light on the series history. Resident Evil 5 outputs around 8-10 hours of gameplay for an intermediate player, although the 'flick a switch~take on enemies' formula becomes tedious for completionist during those 'unlock it all' play throughs.

There are some memorable moments in the game with Chris working through an aztec ruin, solving puzzles and dodging solar powered lazers working alongside his partner Sheva Alomar. The addition of Sheva as a compulsary CPU co-op character has both it's nices and vices. On the plus side is the reward of team work, the negative point being the impact on survival horror knowing a helping hand is always there. Having Sheva tag along does encourage the player to wake up and stratergise on harder difficulties where sharing supplies and planning your approach is imperative towards survival and unlocking all the extras.

This latest instalment begins with much potential that later becomes medocre level hopping. Definately give Resident Evil 5 a spin, just don't expect the cult quality of Resident Evil 4 where rituals such as enemies dumping bodies at sea and sacrificial burnings were nothing short of the survival horror we all knew and feared.

Feature: DREAMCAST.. THE LEGEND

Dreamcast, truly a cult system crawling up that hallowed path only traversed before it by the equally superb Neo Geo AES.

Developers really untapped the system's true potential through an elite range of games, some of which even surfaced after the industry had driven the final nail into the cross. There really are just too many great titles on this system to list them all, whether it be playing a bus driver in 'Tokyo Bus Guide' or playing arcade perfect ports from the Capcom and SNK universe.

It's highly advised that you invest in the official Dreamcast Arcade Stick for fighting games, not surprisingly becoming difficult to acquire.

The Dreamcast can only truly be appreciated in it's native Japanese guise as some great fighting classics, unique genres like Lack of Love and the final 4 shooters Border Down, Ikaruga, Under Defeat and Trigger Heart Exelica were Japan only.

Even though mainstream software support was officially dropped in 2002 the entry of the above four AAA shmups reinforced the faith that DC games will live on longer than even Under Defeat's back cover suggested. Trigger Heart Exelica came along later and was officially commisioned by Sega as yet again the final Dreamcast game.

The trend being followed by Sega seems to mimick SNK with their Neo Geo AES that was one of the longest supported formats in history. Games would appear after a long hiatus and fans would get hyped up right until the final AES cart 'Samurai Shodown 5 Special' rolled off the production line. Sega seem to be following this unorthodox approach and Dreamcast is fast gaining a hardcore reputation.

The homebrew scene has really become active too with shmups 'Last Hope' and 'Dux' making their way onto the system in 2008 and 2009 respectively. These were not officially endorsed titles, as such the view shared among collectors is that they hold no real long-term value and the final officially commisioned game remaining Trigger Heart Exelica.

As the years click by expect to see Zero Gunner 2, Jet Set Radio, the Matching Service range, Radilgy, Sega-Gaga, Rez etc rising in value as collectors become increasingly reluctant in parting with their copies for the simple fact these are some of the greatest games ever made!

Feature: AVOIDING THE BLACK MARKET

Take a look at Fu'un Super Tag Battle, better known as Kizuna Encounter as the perfect example of how a mediocre game can create synthetic demand to raise prices sky high on the weight of a limited production run. So are we to understand that buying a lame game that will naturally have low production naturally be a sound investment? - in a word.. No!

I have been studying the market for many years and have to agree with other collectors that the internet has definately ruined the hobby for the rest of us. Problem is that you get gamers who decide to become collectors over night read up on an apparently sought after game, jump on eBay and stop at nothing to secure a copy. Final Fight Revenge for the Saturn is on record one of the worst 3D fighters you could possibly play, yet the self proclaimed gaming cognoscenti identified it as a collectable gem as it was the last game for the system, incidentally produced by Capcom. Behold, prices soared to triple what was being initially asked on the weight of a few unscrupulous types screaming "fire" and the rest of us getting burnt. An example of rare, collectable and sound investments come in the shape of programming marvels like Metal Slug AES, Radiant Silvergun on Saturn and Border Down on Dreamcast... Rendering Ranger R2 for the Super Famicom is worth a mention too.

The major greviance among collectors seems to be with AES carts that are essentially all rare if you consider the home system was a niche market product. Take a look at Fatal Fury Special and compare it to the aforementioned Kizuna Encounter and the price difference is substancial. KE's alleged super limited european release last sold for somewhere around $12.000, this has ensured that the price of the Japanese version has shot up in line although most would agree that Fatal Fury Special is a better game.

Once again the internet and some secret wiseman commitee seem to decide these prices by creating panic among collectors, hording stock and bumping up the asking price!

Best advice is to hold on paying out like a broken fruit machine for a particular game unless it's one of those gaming grails that is openly hailed by the elite.

Feature: ROAD TO STREET FIGHTER 4

With Street Fighter 4 just around the corner, we take a look at how the franchise has punched it's way through to a fourth round on the home consoles.

Gamers from the early 90's will fondly recall the day Street Fighter 2 made it's debut on the Super Nintendo/Famicom. This technologically advanced 16 bit fighter had it all from great graphics, superb sound and possibly the finest gameplay, comparable to an intense game of chess.
Endless playground fables of Sheng Long appearing out of the bell on the final stage and Guile's hidden pistol attack kept us all hanging in there until Street Fighter 2 Turbo was announced.

The runaway success of SF2 ensured that even Sega wanted a piece of the action with plans to release a Special Championship Edition announced for the Mega Drive/Genesis to the gaming press.

Both versions were met with praise, even though gamers argued for months after launch as to which version was better. In Japan this dispute was alittle more complex as the Championship Edition also saw a release on the PC Engine - HU Card format.

Super Street Fighter 2, the third incarnation of the series was met with a luke warm response by all but the hardest fans. The game was only stocked at selected retailers in the west and generally slated for flogging a dead horse even though a further four character were added to the mix.

There have been many spin offs as console hardware made the transition to the 32 bit era and beyond. The Street Fighter Zero/Alpha line up of games were a nice one step back and two steps forward for the franchise, although the EX series of games proved Street Fighter was not suited to the 3D world.

The lowest point in thw series has to be Street Fighter 3 that went largely unnoticed by the gaming world. The introduction of a parry system with cheesy rap music did little for a game that was stuck somewhere between SNK's King of Fighters series and some kind of Guilty Gear clone.

The highlights have to be the great cross over games such as Capcom Vs SNK, XMEN and Marvel which have rekindled the flame to make gamers stand up and take notice again. Most recently the Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix released on XBOX Live and the Playstation Store has done a great job of gearing us up for Street Fighter 4.

Feature: DOSHIN THE GIANT 2 (N64 64 DD)

Now, if I said to you "Name me a few gaming grails?" - Somewhere in your answer Taromaru, Burning Rangers R2, Final Fight Tough, Border Down, Kizuna Encounter (euro) or one of the Nintendo Competition Carts would surely be mentioned..

Yet, how many of you would say 'Doshin the Giant 2' for Nintendo's ill-fated 64DD add-on?

PK Taromaru for it's ability to demand silly sums of money should prepare to stand aside! - The 7500 print run of Taromaru is no match for the meagre 3000 of Doshin the Giant 2 which launched shortly after Nintendo suspended the 64DD RandNet service in Japan.

The 64DD hardware is hard enough to acquire at any rate, being that it was long overdue and more of an online guinea-pig project of Nintendo's to assist future R&D. Reportedly 85.000 unsold 64DD units were scrapped even after the hardware was made available for retail outside of the initial online subscription configuration. Approximately 15.000 64DD exist, although there were reports that Nintendo bought back alot of the hardware when the Randnet service was disbanded, so this figure may be considerably less!

Now that little history lesson is over, this obscure god style game is known to fetch in the region of $300~$600, with most sales settled privately. Doshin the Giant 2 - More than a Giant (translated from Japanese) requires the first 64DD Doshin the Giant game to work, also largely unplayable without a keen grasp of Japanese, or zen like patience.

Rest assured that Games Grail has this majesty under lock and key, well that is unless someone comes up with the king's ransom?!

Review: BATTLE GAREGGA (Saturn)

Background
This is a wonderful little shooter developed by Raizing for the ST-V arcade system and was ported a year later to the Japanese Saturn, distributed by Electronic Arts.

The Wayne Brothers set out to destroy weapons and vehicles they create during WW2 for a federation who approached them some months before. With skies left shattered, this evil federation plots to increase their stronghold by invading neighbouring cities, leaving the duo no choice but to honour the skills passed down to them from their late father to save their small town, who is next on the agenda!

We're putting the Saturn version through it's paces to see if it manages to retain all the manic tank blasting action of the vertically scrolling arcade hit.

You get the choice of four planes each with their own style to attribute battle. As you select an aircraft you're plunged straight into the action which can take place in hangar areas, open landscapes and even urban environments through a top-down perspective.

Graphics

On par with the likes of Radiant Silvergun these are some of the best graphics on the SS that make good use of the system's colour palette. Explosions are nice and bright while the rest of the proceedings are satisfyingly moody and grey which gives it that 1940's war feel.

One criticism of BG is that the bullets should have been rendered using lighter colours to make it evident where the arsenal is coming and going. You can forgive this little nuisance as brighter bulllets would have taken away that satisfyingly moody feel I mentioned earlier, although it may remain a nuisance for the Treasure crowd.

Gameplay

Taut, tense and terrific best describes this gameplay which is more accomplished than Radiant Silvergun. This brave remark above comes from the fact people have often expressed to me that Treasure try too hard to be a cult designer, with which I agree! - Treasure's excessively linear elements and stop~start formula can annoy the player through leaps of one extreme to another. BG excels with a far more grounded experience, concentrating on non-stop action that relies heavily on tactical formations to dodge random bullets, rather than having to negotiate set mazes mid-level (ala: Radiant Silvergun & Ikaruga) when adrenaline is running high from previous battle.
With a good assortment of power-ups and weapons to pick up along the way, you can tailor the gameplay to suit your style as you gun to victory.
Controls are the usual shmup three button combination of shoot, special attack and formation change, with eight way control provided through the d-pad, although better achieved using an arcade stick.
Sound

With excellent music and mind blowing sound-fx this really showcases the Saturn's capabilities.

Music is full of drama and sound-fx are nicely digitised to capture the feel of a manic~crowd pulling arcade shooter like BG. The fx of bullets making contact is very pleasing with those giant aircrafts flying ahead, hangar areas opening to expose enemies and an assortment of fx that never fail to dazzle.. Bravo!

Conclusion

An excellent shmup and faithful translation of an ST-V classic, losing nothing in this Saturn conversion.

Battle Garegga is a title fast becoming rare as it's quality is realised, rarely surfacing on auction sites compared to Radiant Silvergun. I have to say that you see this as much as Hyper Duel on the web, although the latter seems to fetch more when it does surface and is equally a fine game.

Hyper Duel possibly demands more as it had a lower production run as developer Techno Soft took a chance and produced it between the Thunderforce series, although it shot to underground stardom resulting in the hefty asking price that rivals the infamous RS..

Although the reason you have to sharpen your hunting skills to track down a copy of BG is because gamers tend not to part with the game, being that it is one of the finest shooters around!

No collectors cabinet is complete without this.. Truly Superb!

Collector's Spot: FINAL FIGHT REVENGE

Revenge is a dish best served cold, which is exactly what Final Fight Revenge on the Saturn is.. Cold!

As the game features no storyline to follow, a loose translation from the game manual leads us to believe that Mad Gear has assembled once again to form an uprising with Cody framed by the corrupt cop Edi-E - meaning all this revenge business falls somewhere between the events of Final Fight and Street Fighter Zero 3, upon which Cody escaped prison.

FFR is a Street Fighter EX rip-off that lacks Capcom's usual nitro and charm. I'm convinced they produced this one rainy afternoon after finishing up on Street Fighter EX3 for Playstation 2.
As you've probably guessed? - this game doesn't deserve a formal review, so I'll press on with why it still deserves to make your Saturn collection..

FFR has an approximate production run of 15.000, with speculation that only 5000 pcs were produced of the compulsory 4M RAM cart version, naturally making the latter far more collectable.

This was also the last game produced for the system in 2000 and quite affordably available up until 2005 when importers realised the limited numbers and began to horde the available inventory.

A reputable importer in the UK also had sealed copies of the game stocked for around £50.00/$100~120.00 up until 2005 but it went largely unnoticed for years, both on their website and instore, until the hysteria mentioned above started.

FFR isn't an awful game by any stretch of the imagination. There are moments when you see Capcom's signature style shine through with interesting backgrounds and moves.

It's a shame they didn't touch it up from the ST-V version that made it's debut a year earlier.
A perfect example of an area that could have been improved are the 3D rendered character models - Damnd from FF1 just looks a polygon mess!

Backing sound is okay and speech is fairly cheesy as one expects from Capcom. It would have been nice to have seen Q-Sound used in this game. Overall this is a mediocre 32bit sound-stage.

Back to why you should be buying this?!..

Simply put, this is fast becoming a games grail on the Saturn as copies rarely surface on the web, indicating the actual production run may have been considerably less than initially thought.
Definately one for a collector's cabinet, right up there with Taromaru, although hold out for the RAM cart box-set (if one surfaces) before taking the leap.

Article: THE DEMISE OF SEGA

Luxuriuous hardware developer Sega without whom the games industry today would cease to exist.

With the Sega Mark 3/Master System and late starting Mega Drive/Genesis successes, Sega demonstrated their ability of developing cartridge based systems and affordably bringing home the arcade experience. Although it was the release of the CD format that delivered a curve ball into Sega's court..

Pressure from Japanese rivals forced Sega to create the Mega CD/Sega CD add-on for the MD/G which marked the beginning of the end for this giant. The over priced, over hyped, under powered, under console device used the CD format as it's main selling point to lure in consumers who were already invested in Sega.

With just a small box full of games released for the system during it's life-cycle, this delivered a crucial blow which left Sega staggering for their corner and looking towards the heavens for guidance..

Sega failed to find solace in the skies above, rather they embarked on voyage to develop hopeware. The first attempt was project Mars, later known as 32x, the cartridge based add-on for the MD/G.

The second piece of kit that needs no introduction was the Saturn, and it's this voyage they never returned from!

Sega looked towards the original Playstation way too much for inspiration when developing their 32 bit Saturn. The ill-fated format started life in Sega's labs as a 2D only system. Maybe alot could have been achieved if it would have remained just that, a system expanding on previously established 2D franchises such as Street Fighter and King of Fighters, which it ended up being renowned for anyway.

Most of the memorable Saturn titles are 2D arcade fighters which out-perform their Playstation counterparts, not surprisingly turning to the cartridge input of the machine to deliver the goods.

After the Saturn's failure, Sega last attempt at console dominance was in the shape of Dreamcast. The DC was a superb machine that did away with the curse of CD by opting for GD ROM (GB sized discs) and the unique VMU (Visual Memory) LCD flash cards.
This DC launched Sega to stardom, gearing them up for a final showdown with Sony.

When the old adversary revealed details of the Playstation 2 (notably it's dvd playback) the following year, Sega were left flustered and unable to cope as the industry firmly placed all eyes on them.

The seconds were out for the final round, and we all know how the story ends..

Sega threw in the towel and pulled out of hardware by 2002, solely becoming a games developer.

Ask yourselves anytime you squeeze the L and R triggers on an XBOX joypad, would this have even been possible if Sega hadn't come along and invented the analog controllers for Saturn and Dreamcast?

Sega might not have got it right at times, but the industry owes them a debt as their hardcore gaming visions were ahead of their time!

Feature: VICTOR WONDERMEGA RG-M2

Not many of you will remember this sharp piece of kit that came along during the humble days of gaming..

The 'WonderMega RG-M2' was the second incarnation of the Sega/Victor WonderMega, the latter came with a motor operated CD lid that opened and closed to the symphony of neon LEDs positioned around the CD tray.

This model that Games Grail acquired recently is slightly less desirable than the first model for the fact it's missing the above gimmick, although does excel is in the controller department.


A perfect example of the RG-M2 should come complete with an infra-red joypad (pictured above) that also serves as a 2 player hub to daisy-chain an additional wired controller (ala: 3DO)

The M2 systems were only produced by Victor as opposed to the M1 which both Sega and Victor released. Sega's version of the M1 was far rarer as it entered the market later with lower production numbers (estimated 5000) - discontinued within a year due to poor commercial support for the Mega CD format.

A version of the WonderMega RG-M2 was also released in USA by Victor's western outfit JVC..

The 'X-EYE' looked exactly the same as the M2 but lacked infra-red support. As a result it came with a JVC branded 3 button pad reminiscent of the standard Genesis/Mega Drive pack-in. X-EYE inevitably failed due to a high price-point and once again poor support for the Sega CD (Mega CD) format.

The M2 comes with a built in S-Video port for superior picture quality, sadly there's no support for RGB through the incorporated Sega 'Din Type' connector without a modification.

There are also composite connections at the rear that do justice compared to the Mega CD bolt-on units that suffered from noise interference, evident even when using the grounding plate of the Mega CD/Sega CD 1 front loader model.

Build quality of this WonderMega is good and we applaud the ability to turn the console on and off by holding the function button and hitting the corresponding key on the wireless joypad.

Overall the WonderMega RG-M2 is a nice piece of kit, providing you can acquire one at a reasonable price.