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.