UFO Robo Dangar - Nichibutsu (1986)

UFO Robo Dangar

Reviewed by Malc

Lots of people ask me what my favourite shmup is, and although they probably expect the glib "R-Type" reply, instead they'll be slightly bemused while I wax moistly on about Nichibutsu's UFO Robo Dangar.

Hyperbolically billed as the "Ultimate Formation Powerup Game!" Dangar (pronounced "dang-gar" - The connoisseur's preferred shortened version) is a pseudo sequel to Terra Cresta , but no-one would actually tell you this. Looking at it for a few seconds would prompt you to cry "Ah! Terra Cresta 2". It's not though. Although there's many ideas and elements from the classic TC, a lot of it is brand new.

You've probably worked out that Dangar is a vertically scrolling shootemup by now, and have a small bronze medal for that. It's also from 1986, a pretty damn pleasant year for shmuppers and fans of classically styled games. (Jackal, Salamander, Tokio , Slapfight and Side-Arms all came out that year too.)

If Dangar has one irritatingly addictive trait, then it's the weapons system. Like Terra Cresta, getting tooled up to the max can be difficult: you accrue bolt-on extra ship parts by shooting certain well-spaced out icons, but an enemy shot can strip you down to the naked unenhanced ship. Like sensible restart points, this makes you want to REALLY stay alive and unmaimed, rather than the lackadaisical attitude you get in player-resurrect method shooters.

Extra parts will morph your ship transformer style into bigger ships and Mechas, culminating in one of three ultimate final configurations. Different formations give reverse lasers, sideways spreads, and the Robo Dangar has a sort of "bum-force-field" which will kill smaller enemy ships.

In addition to this are limited "expand" options, which will temporarily change your ship configuration - usually wider, stronger but more vulnerable to being hit. A handy little feature here is the fact that you get a couple of second's invincibility when you morph - so you can keep them for extra-sticky situations!

Level structure is Dangar's other main selling point. Normal levels are above-ground affairs, the normal volcano, shrubland, trees, cities straight from Terra Cresta. But, if you spot a warphole, you can dive into the Big Bosses' Lairs - which are spacey, organic, alien environments in another dimension or something. Normal enemies have predictable enough patterns, but tend to catch you out with a quick change of direction (straight at you) when you least expect it.

There's a good variety of air and ground life to splat, and the dinosaurs from TC make a welcome return as mecha godzilla beasties, complete with roary death sfx! Some mid-bosses appear about halfway to a warp point, a couple have been nicked direct from TC - lazy, but offer some cuddly familiary. Da Big Bosses though, they're a different matter. Sometimes easy to catch their pattern, sometimes just a matter of reflexes, they can be vicious and tenacious in the way only certain shmups' bosses are.

Lots of bosses ins some games are docile sluggish creatures, helpfully opening their chest cavities to expose their feeble hearts, or kindly flashing a weak spot with a 2000 watt bulb when you tickle it. Mostly though, Dangar bosses just don't let up - they constantly bombard you with small missiles and ships, without a break... it's keeping the rhythm going that's the hard bit. After a minute of "dodge dodge, shoot, dodge, nip, scoot, shoot", you fumble the rhythm and run straight into a bullet.

Dangar's not really about bosses though - the actual levels feel solid and complete without them, not just merely quick and uninteresting roads to travel to Boss country - the "hurry and get to the boss" feel that the AeroFighters and Strikers games have.

Soundwise, Dangar is a strange one. Featuring a europoppy arcadey melody over a heavy techno drum beat - it simultaneously annoys and pleases. There's no way you can think of playing the game with music off, but you wish there was. You probably don't know what I mean but that's ok.

Well, playing it again brings back memories of those rare "dead-serious competition with a total stranger" sessions we used to have in classic arcades - where games were played for score, and skills not credits were required. Me and this bloke (we never spoke, we silently took turns knowing were were exactly as good as each other) would rack up huge scores on it, and every time I'd get an impossible score it he'd just nick past it... games of ten at a time were not uncommon back in '86! In fact, I nearly got started on a rant about some of today's no-fun skill-free score-free games there, but I caught myself in time fortunately.

Dangar? At risk of being accused of being overly rose-tinted and mindful of the good-old-days.... I'll have to slap a 10 on it. That's for sheer playability mind you, graphics and sound are really quite average and functional these days- although they do suit the game and I like them anyway. However, on the "how much I spent on it in the arcades" rating, there's just no question about it.... a definite unquestionable 10.

   Right at the start you begin with the mecha suit, but not very powered up. Experiment with it's capabilities - try bum-bashing enemies.

   Bolt-ons have to be got in order - completely compulsive and scary when you just need one more and a horde of nasties come beetling along.


The octagonal object contains one of the ultimate 3 final configurations - you never know what one it is until it pops out though.

Keeping these big ships are entirely necessary to survive after clocking the game once (pretty easy)

   This is one of them, expanded too - with this powerful shot most enemies can be killed as soon as they wander onscreen.


And here's the short "expandable formation" time has run out, and it's back to a compact fire laser.

   Even though you're "dangared" these ball things are pretty deadly - because there's so many of them and you're so big, you'd actually be better off having the tiny initial ship to slip by them.

   One of the mid-bosses, recognise it from TC? DON'T do what I just did - tried to get round this boss by looping over the top - your ship just isn't fast enough.

   Some shots'll be coming up soon from the attract mode - sorry, but I run out of time:) This is another final config - with the widest weapon.

   A black hole, literally. Sucks you in and spits you out...

   ... here. A quick grab of the icons available, and avoid the snaky twirly things and up comes...


   ...Level 1's proper boss, just knock off the ends and blast him away. Later bosses are harder, honestly!


   Into level 2, and you pass through a robot monster protected city.



Level 2's boss - the difficult bit here is avoiding the Galaxian'like flies which have a tendency to creep up behind you.

I havent shown any of level 3, because I didn't want to spoil it if you'd like to play - and anyway, it only has 3 levels. Kind of long dual world levels at that, but even more variety would have been nice.

Since I first reviewed this, I've managed to pick up a pcb of it and life is just lovely again. Still can't get very far in it though. Ooh I fancy a game of Terra Cresta now.... bye!! - Malc


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie