Toaplan - 1993 - Arcade / Saturn


Toaplan - 1993 - Arcade / Saturn

Reviewed by Randorama


Batsugun (whose meaning is roughly "excellent brigade") is Toaplan's last and probably finest shmup.This game is a fundamental part of shmups history, and the herald of what was a new phase of shmups.After 11 years, it still has the silliest amount of firepower at player's disposal, excellent graphics and design, and incredibly funny gameplay.As i said in the ST the game drew inspiration from many earlier titles and inspired other titles to come too (more of all the Cave games,since its chief programmer,Tsuneki Ikeda,worked on this game and on all Cave games).It's one of the first shmups with characters (the first being probably aero fighters), who appeared again on the Joker Jun's (the main designer) comic "Skull hornets".

It comes in two "flavours": Normal and special edition, which are both present on the Saturn port.It usually costs a bit (right now, in late 2004, about 60 $), but less than the PCBs (dunno about their cost, special edition has a very limited number of copies going around).You can be sure that it's well spent money, as you will find out in this review...

One final note: the review is centered on normal edition,with specific paragraphs to point out differences between normal and special edition,or the Saturn port. Let's start then!

GFX: 9.5

Batsugun can't probably compare to other 1993 titles like Rayforce, but it would be unfair to do so,since its hardware is less "powerful" than many others of that period.Even with these limitations, it's still a joy for the eye: the 2d graphics are excellent and have an amazing amount of detail.You will notice this since the very beginning,when you will see your ship being launched from the underwater base:turtles and dolphins will swim around you, and every enemy that you will destroy will release bubbles.The second stage has a nice light-reflection effect on its aquatic background (you fly over the sea), and stage three has near its end some nice animated falls.Stages 4 and 5 also exploit the hardware ability to have two scrolling levels:stage 4 is a "battle-in-the-clouds" level, which gives a nice sensation of speed.All enemies are drawn with a lot of attention to particulars and are nicely animated (like the gem-shaped ships you shoot in the first stage). Bosses are all huge ships with a lot of moving parts, and you will surely be amazed by "Deep Purple" (first boss, i bet the programmers like Richie Blackmore and co.!) appearing from the shadows and occupying most of the screen.The fourth boss, Jupiter, is one huge orbital ship, occupying many screens with its incredible length!Another good element about enemy design is variety: Batsugun has a lot of different enemies, and its carriers (or larger enemies)are also very intriguing and very well animated, like the mid-bosses appearing a bit before the third boss.And if all these excellent features weren't enough, there are the pilots of the ships and their ships.All ships have a nice futuristic style,like all enemies in the game, and they will change when you level up (more in the gameplay section).

    All three ship types have their own pilot, which are different if you play on 1p or 2p's side: you have then 6 different pilots, and everyone of them as a unique look and style, masterfully crafted by Joker Jun.

Once you know their background and story, you will surely appreciate them as all-round characters, probably developing a "passion" for one of them (well, i can't avoid to adore Iceman, player 1 type-C,since he's a self-parody of Joker Jun).

The only gripe is that in some points (mainly fifth and final stage) quality is a bit lower: the second half of the stage features an "industrial" background (i suppose you have all an industrial complex below you) but design is a tad generic, and it's not very clear what really is scrolling on screen. The final boss is also a bit generic, a giant ammass of turrets shooting at you, while you have to destroy its inner core...almost anti-climatic, after the long battle with Jupiter.The other graphical flaw is a consequence of gameplay: the game is very colourful and nice, and so are all of your attacks.The problem is,once you're fully powered up at the maximum level, it may be difficult to understand what's going on screen, especially if you're used to more sedated games.Worst ones are type-A planes (pilots are: Jeeno and Schneider):they have the typical wide shot (with frontal missile) that can be very confusing,at full power,since they can cover all screen.Aside that, the game is really well designed and has excellent graphics.

"Special edition"
No real differences, only background colours change a bit, everything else is indentical,the Saturn port is also arcade-perfect.


Graphics are excellent and design is characterized by the cure on details, only gripes are that last stage is a bit blander than the others and the firepower produced by your ships may be a bit confusing at first.

BGM: 8++

Easily the weakest part of the game.The original BGM was a bit cheesy, and was easily inferior to other BGMs: it is not a case that neither Tatsuya Uemura nor Masahiro Yuge (Flying Shark and Tatsujin respectively) composed it.It's still pretty good, mind you: it suits fine the anime-ish style of the game, but it just sounds like "cheesy videogame music",if compared to other games of the same year.Still, it has a very happy and solar mood in it, which contributes in creating an atmosphere of joyness (especially when you delivery mass destruction with your insane firepower!). Stage 1's song, "Heart beat",is a nice slow tune with the strongest "old skool" flavour, and quickly gives space to first boss theme, "Dark Echo", your usual big baddie theme."Skim on the surface of the sea",stage's 2 tune, is faster and more cheerful, and gives a better idea of the game's joyous style: the boss theme "King Bird" follows the pseudo-rock style to give an idea of the heated battle you're going to fight.Stage 3's song is "Bomber Dance", hectic rythm to match the increase in action and number of bullets on screen: the boss theme " Psycho Paranoia" is a short jingle that follows other bosses themes in style. The best song is stage 4's one, "Complimentary ticket": it's basically a perfect example of '80s VGMs (VGM:VideoGameMusic), with its fast rythm and cute melody, and its vaguely pop style: it like stage 2's song, it really gives the idea of a solar atmosphere and fast gameplay, without being too elaborate.The boss theme for Jupiter, "Premonition", is more atmospheric and darker in mood, like all boss themes.Last stage has "Geo Frontier", a slow theme with a slightly nostalgic feeling, whereas the final battle has "final attack" (original title, isn't it? -__-;), a fast rock-like tune with a slightly epic tinge. Another excellent theme is "Blue Illumination", a slow-paced song that plays during the ending credits and really gives a sense of melancholy (after all, they're the ending credits of the last Toaplan shmup...damn,a sec, i need to wipe off the tears!).Now, the special version has the same BGM,but the Saturn port...

"Saturn port"

...Features a rearranged soundtrack.The songs are more elaborated, you have synthetic guitars and drums instead of 16-bit samples, but the quality isn't top-notch: it sounds like they recorded it with a slight "echo/cave" (no puns please!) effect, so it often sounds a bit muffled.Still, the style is more modern and closer to "standard" music.One final note:i have no chance of checking the original game, but the few voice acting in the game (you only hear it when selecting a pilot or when you level up) also sounds a bit muffled, notice really to be worried about at al..


The Arcade versions have a decent, "old skool" BGM with a vaguely pop/rock style,which suits fine the game without being too memorable.The Saturn port has a rearranged version which is musically better and closer to "normal" music, but it sounds a bit muffled.


If you want an in-depth analysis, please read my ST. A brief version of it is this: you basically choose one out of three ships:Type-A( Jeeno on 1p side, Schneider on 2p side), Type-B (Beltiana on 1p side, Alteeno on 2p side) and Type-C (Iceman on 1p side,Olisis on 2p side).Type-A has wide shot and forward missiles, very similar to Raiden (only "tapping attack" type); Type-B has a frontal laser with another homing-like fluxus of energy (only "automatic attack" type);Type-C has a forward laser stream if you use the "automatic attack",or a wide attack with a few homing-like bullets if you use the "tapping attack".You have an experience system, and every enemy you destroy will give you exp points: every 288 points, you will level up.Once you reach the third level, any successive levels will give you an extra bomb.By levelling up,you also have access to more powerful weapons:At any case,if you get 5 power-ups in a level,you will max out your current power.You also have a smart bomb,which consists in a circle of energy,expanding and destroying or damaging enemies and cancelling bullets:you max out at 7 bombs.The hitbox is smaller than the sprite, about the main fuselage of ships: you will have to be careful during all 5 stages because you will have to dodge a lot of fast bullets (not fast as raiden DX, but all bullets are pretty quick).In some key points, you can discover the vibrating pigs, who will give you points by hovering over them:you can also score the V (for "victory","batsu" in japanese) bonuses which will be worth 3k for smaller ones and 5k for bigger ones at the end of the last stage (starting from the last time you died during the stage). The game has just one round, and will give you an extra life at 1M. Last but not least,you can milk the fourth boss for points (as described in the ST).

"Special Edition".

The special edition has many innovations,compared to the normal edition.It features a microscopic (your cockpit,mainly) hitbox, an shield protecting you form one hit (it is renewed every time you level up,and of course you get an extra bomb), bombs are much powerful, since consist in a huge explosion covering the screen (while your pilot raises his/her thumb up!) and affecting everything, there are pink pigs that give you points and lavander pigs in key spots that give you experience points, you can score more points on stage 5 by using the moving platform trick and during the round tanks section and,last but not least, the game features four rounds (you will restart from the second stage the second time,third stage the third time,fourth stage the fourth time).You will get suicide bullets on all three loops (unless you point blank an enemy during its explosion), and the game will switch to normal (yes, you actually start from easy on first round) on second round,then hard and very hard.

"Saturn port".

The Saturn port runs at full speed.Yes, it means that both versions,due to hardware limitations, slow down during third and fourth rounds because of the large number of suicide bullets on screen!This means, basically, that the Saturn ports are more difficult (not too much, however).


I'll now concentrate all versions in one comment, since the elements that prompted me to give the maximum vote are present in all of them. Normal edition is funny and relatively short:gameplay is pretty fast and you can fire it up at any moment, trying to play for score whenever you want to (feeling confident with tricks and all).Special version offers more opportunities of survival and its first round is a tad easier, but completing all four rounds is a very demanding challenge (in time too:you will need about 70 minutes or so).All scoring tricks,regardless of versions,surely require some consistent skills, especially on last two rounds for special:still,it doesn't require too much training to learn them,and they can be completely ignored if you don't want to get extra points.The strength of this game is its absolute balanced gameplay: easy to pick up at any moment,difficult to master, but very rewarding.Also, its joyous atmosphere is an excellent motivation to play it every once in a while, since it features one of Joker Jun's best works so far.You can also choose between three very well balanced ships, something that doesn't happen too often (as i usually end up just using one ship in shmups like this), and you will surely like covering the screen with a rain of bullets :)

The game represented a turning point in shmups:it's "manic" (i.e. the "bullet maze" shmups like Cave games) but gives you enough tools to survive with relative easyness, and is immediate and charming enough for the casual play.The only gripe is that it's not cheap, and its emulated version sucks (i think only final burn hasn't any graphical glitches,mame still has them up to version 0.86:both emus haven't any sound):but frankly, you should really get a Saturn for this game (and a few other exclusive titles, at any case i'm against console wars,if you wonder)... or the original PCBs :)

I honestly hope you will have as much fun as i still have, with this title: it's really a shmup for everyone,and Toaplan's finest moment.

Level 2's boss - and we're going bomb crazy here. Not very tactical but who cares.


We're only in level one - and look at the size of that weaponry already!

Toaplan and Cave have something else in common - a passion with bees.


Just as the boss looks as if its going to rollover and die, the top bit pops off and becomes nasty.

Two difficult little midbosses, yesterday.


Collect all the V icons! Blowing up the central building reveals them all.

Not much else I can say but "WOW". Phenomenal, ain't it?


Level 3 regurgutates this boss several times, but he isn't hard to beat - just background graphics almost!

Splatted just as we reach Jupiter's head, with these giant lasers!


This boss is called Jupiter and he's almost as big. A long mothership with lots of sections to lop off.

Thanks Rando for another extremely in-depth review - and don't forget to visit Rando's ST info for this title!

It's one pcb I don't have - I have been looking for an original for some time now, after being stung with a dodgy bootleg once - but haven't managed to turn one up yet. Suppose the Saturn needs another dust off then eh? - malc


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie