Name - Company


1994, Psikyo

Reviewed by O. Hakubi.

Why is it that fighting game fans criticize Capcom and SNK for releasing numerous games and sequels that are (in their minds) all too similar to each other and RPG fans criticize Squaresoft for releasing Final Fantasy games that are (in their minds) all too similar to each other, whereas Psikyo has been using the same vertically-scrolling shooter engine for at least seven years to produce games that are just as similar to each other - if not more so - than the Final Fantasy, King of Fighters and Capcom Versus games, and yet the shmup fans have no problems with this whatsoever? Not that I'm complaining, of course.

I am, however, complaining about the fact that I just wrote myself into a corner and now need to execute a very clumsy segue into the introduction to the review of Gunbird. So, uh... here's a review of Gunbird.

The plot of Gunbird is, by and large, pretty campy: The characters of Gunbird are after something creatively known as the Magic Mirror, which is capable showing them the location of the Genie who as you may have guessed is capable of granting wishes. Sadly, it's been broken into four pieces, so they need to fly around and reassemble the mirror in the pursuit of whatever noble (or not-so-noble) aim they have in mind. Standing in their way is a trio of pirates called the Trump, who persistently and repeatedly throw a variety of bullet-spewing robots in your path in an attempt to steal what you're trying to rightfully steal. This is in stark contrast to the gritty war-torn landscapes of the Strikers 1945 series, as Gunbird revels in its bright colors, odd dialogue, unusual cast and references to anime that very few people have ever seen, much less recognize in this game. It's a nice change.

Now being a Psikyo shooter, can you guess how many buttons it uses? Two? Why, indeed it does! Now guess what the first button does. Fire the main weapons? Two for two, my friend, two for two. It does indeed fire your character's main weapon. Grabbing the floating bullets with green "P"s rotating around them increases your weapon's power and, after obtaining two such items, your character gains a secondary weapon which is unique to each ship and serves to supplement your own shooting abilities.

In addition to this painfully normal usage, each character also has a charge attack: By holding down the button for a few seconds he or she (or it) will enter a "charging" animation. Release it, and he/she/it will use their special attack. Now keep in mind that when I say "a few seconds" I mean a few seconds. These things take a while to warm up, which makes them somewhat impractical in most instances. To compensate, the damage on them is very, very high: The secondary forms of most bosses can be taken out with five or six of these shots.

The second button launches your character's bomb. Like the secondary weapons and charge attacks the effects of the bombs are unique to each character, though as a general rule they cancel out all on-screen enemy bullets and hurt quite a bit. You start each life with two and can carry up to a maximum of six by picking up the bomb-shaped items with "B"s on them.

When talking about the characters responsible for all this bullet-firing and bomb-dropping, the word "eclectic" comes to mind. I mean really, would you trust these people with your wish-granting mirror?:


Ash is a jolly old Englishman with a rocket pack that speaks jolly old Engrish ("Ret's go!") and wields a laser gun that fires off shots that very closely resemble the Ripple Laser from Gradius but aren't (no, really!). If that doesn't cut it he can launch large energy balls that erupt into a spray of smaller shots as well as drop very large explosives with very long-lasting blast areas. The latter's powerful, but so slow as to be useless as a panic bomber.


The young witch on the broom here is Marion, the generally-accepted mascot of Gunbird. She likes homing shots and animal cruelty, the latter of which is evident when she hurls her rabbit sidekick towards jets, mecha and gun emplacements. Nice, huh? Bomb-wise she tosses out large eight-way crescent energy boomerang... things.


Vanlus is a giant flying Russian robot. I'll pause for a moment so you can get the Yakov Smirnoff references out of your system.


All set? Okay. Despite coming from a country whose industry was stunted by years of genocide and failed socioeconomic models he's got some high-tech weaponry: Laser beams, short-ranged electrified punches and a four-way multi-beam laser. In what may be the most tasteless statement to grace this site, I'm sorry to say that a "starve enemies to death through planned economics" weapon is nowhere to be seen.


Yuan Nang is yet another "tribute" on Japan's part to Son Gokuu of the "Journey to the East" Chinese folk tale. In addition to the anachronistic energy bullets she fires off sets of flying swords, pokes giant robots out of the air with her staff and summons up over half a dozen purple "ghosts" of her that slowly fly upward, dealing damage to enemies as they pass through them. No giant energy beams or gold hair here, though this may not be a bad thing.


Finally, Tetsu is an ordinary-looking old man in a feudal Japanese pedal-powered helicopter that makes up for his innocuous appearance by having the STRANGEST TWO-PLAYER ENDINGS EVER. Despite this lack of technology he packs a punch with a couple loads of fireworks underneath the 'choppers wings that he launches liberally during his charge shot. Likewise, his bomb - four vertical rows of flames - hurts Real Damn Bad too but, like with Ash's, is too slow to be used as a panic bomber.

When it comes to scoring, Gunbird is pretty bare-bones. Shooting enemies is always an option, as is collecting the coins left in the rubble of some structures and stationary enemies. There's a distinct lack of medaling... and points, now that I think about it: They give you a paltry 200 per pickup. Picking up the weapon power-ups when you're at the maximum level gives you 2000. Like I said, pretty straightforward. Hey, this was made in 1994; scores in the tens of millions and crazy chains weren't invented yet.

Something else that wasn't invented yet was pre-rendered graphics. Being a product of the tender era before the appearance of Donkey Kong Country and the subsequent proliferation of the belief that said graphics style was the greatest thing since sliced bread, most of the like graphics are drawn instead of rendered, giving it a cartoony feel that fits quite well with the game's setting. Whether this is a plus or a minus for you the graphics are pretty good regardless, with tons of detail (the factory stage is a good example), smooth shading and fluid animation. The backgrounds are a touch dark at times though this is by no means a bad thing, as you're going to need to be able to see what's being shot at you.

The audio on the other hand... oh, how shall I put this? Well, it's not really memorable. At all. The music is mostly... well, generic light-hearted video game music from the mid-90's. There really aren't any tunes that stick in your mind for better or for worse. But look on the bright side: At least the music isn't trying to actively destroy you like in, say, Final Star Force.

Likewise, sound effects are pretty average, being the standard laser-like blasts and explosions we've come to know and love from shmup games. There's a couple voice clips in Japanese and Engrish ("Powaah uppu!") too, which gives the characters a little... uh, character.

If you're familiar with any of Psikyo's other shooters you'll know what to expect with Gunbird: A vertically-scrolling manic shooter where the first few stages - four, in this case - are set in a random order, with the last three stages leading up to the final boss being predetermined. Red enemies that drop power-ups, bosses that transform into robots when you damage them enough... that sort of thing. Things start to get weird when you realize that this is only Psikyo's second shooter (the first being Samurai Aces) so what we see as a given of today is actually the innovation of yesterday. It's like a time machine, only without all those nasty temporal hiccups and the chance of accidentally having sex with one of your ancestors.

To be perfectly honest it's all sort of generic: Dodge shots, collect power-ups, shoot enemies, kill boss, repeat. There's not a lot in this game aside from the setting to make it stand out from the crowd. Now I'm not saying that that it's bad, just that it's... well, not good. It was only with their next game - Strikers 1945 - that Psikyo hit their stride with their shooter engine.

However, despite these shortcomings I feel it could be used as a trainer of sorts for someone just starting out with manic shooters: There's no complex scoring system to worry about, no weird shot mechanics and the amount of bullets on-screen is much less than, say, DoDonPachi or any of the later Psikyo games. Aspiring shmup gods can start out with this and work their way up to complete shooter omnipotence and/or a Zen-like mastery of bullet-dodging.

Despite a couple minor shortcomings (and the march of progress being what it is) this is actually a decent shump. Experts may not get much of a challenge from it, but for the more casual gamer it's more than adequate. 7 out of 10.

Phrr teh Rabbit >>

Marion's charge shot in action. Also, take a look at the water: It's not every game from 1994 that has detail like this.


<< Castle

As stated before, the first four stages are chosen randomly out of five. One of them is a pretty basic castle area, populated by turrets that look like they were made out of oil drums and the giant, gun-covered robots that Psikyo loves to populate its games with.

Turret >>

Practically all boss battles takes place in two parts. This one, for instance, starts off with a giant turret that alternates between firing large shots from those turrets (ridiculously easy to avoid) and spraying aimed bullets from those tiny ports on the ring surrounding it (not as easy).


<< Nemesis

Since shmups without bosses can be sort of boring, a foil to your character's altrustic (?) goals is provided in the form of the Trump, three pirate-types who like attacking you with giant robots. Well, giant-er, at least.

Obsession >>

The second possible stage begins with a small town, then segues into an extended fight where you systematically destroy a train, car by car. Yes, just like every other shoot-em-up ever created. I'm thinking that trains and jets have this weird "pirate versus ninja" thing going on.


<< Sir Boss

After making the turret a splode a giant knight pops out and starts shooting fixed sprays from its lance and shield. At this point the safe spots are really easy to find, so even on harder difficulty levels he shouldn't pose too much of a threat.

Bullet Fist >>

Once you lay waste to the engine this guy pops out and starts punching you with those bullet-spewing ball-and-chain arms of his. Fortunately, they fire easily-dodged fixed spreads and can be shot off for power-ups, along with everything else on this guy. He's probably the most frangible boss in the game.


<< Bomuberu

Marion's bomb in action. Now that I think about it, I would imagine that characters like Tetsu and Ash with delayed-action bombs would qualify as the "expert" ships, for the people who are so good at dodging shots that they don't need to panic bomb, and can instead afford to blast the crap out of bosses. Hm.

Compensation >>

The boss makes up for it though, being an enormous red bullet-spewing monstrosity...


<< Uneventful

Compared to everything else, the jungle stage is sort of boring. Mostly it's just waves of ships, though on occasion the jungle floor slides to the side to reveal a giant robot... or running workers, in this case.

XX42 >>

The third of the four stages takes you over a waterway, with a couple islands, a lot of boats and a metric crapload of turrets. Pretty much everything that could have a gun stuck in it has a gun stuck in it.


<< Compensation Pt. 2

...that takes to the air after you shoot off the claws on the front of the tank.

Miracle of Flight >>

...everything X-plodes and this guy pops out. Unlike the other bosses, it's in your best interest not to destroy both wings before taking him out. Unless of course you LIKE dodging manic bullet spreads and fast aimed shots.


<< Psikyo Ocean Stage SOP

One of these days Psikyo is going to make a game where you fly over a body of water and come across a boss that isn't a boat that's covered to the gills with turrets. Anyway, as you destroy them you move further up the boat until...

Wallcrawler >>

The first form of the stage's boss is pretty damn impressive, if I do say so myself. Looks sort of like that one boss from Strikers 1945 III too, doesn't it? Ah, maybe I have a soft spot for improbably gigantic tanks... those front two panels slide forward to reveal two more bullet-spewing turrets for even more bullet-dodging fun.


<< Future Repeats Today

The fourth possible stage is a factory that's either situated over a canyon or is very, very tall. Either way, it's full of those bullet-spewing railway cars that you see all the time. Now normally it's not this congested with shots; I just snapped the pics on my second playthrough, is all.

Spread Shot >>

That's basically the boss' MO: Fire a couple of aimed spreads, drop a couple pods and dive into the background while they shoot at you. Return, repeat. No special tricks here, unless of course you consider "move slowly from one side of the stage to the other to dodge the pod's shots" a special trick.


<< Predictable Second Form

Bust up the tank and a flying bot pops out. You can't see him too easily here (he's to the right of Marion - you can see his jet flames below the bar there) but you can make out the flying pods and all the shots they barf out at you.

Big Ugly Head >>

Said final stand proves to be pretty anti-climactic when the stone head below you takes to the air, bumps Trump out of the way and starts firing at you...


<< Those Marvelous Villains in Their Flying Machines

The fifth stage takes you into the ruins which, after flying over a very Aztec-y/Olmec-y sort of area with tons of bullet-shooting pillars, you encounter the Trump for the last time. They start out by taking turns attacking you before all three come on-screen for a final stand.

Big Ugly Head With Bullet-Firing Cubes >>

...then turns into another stone head that gives you delicious candy. No, not really. It still shoots at you. It's pretty upset over the whole "getting killed twice" thing, too. Luckily the bullets are almost entirely fired in fixed spreads, so thank heaven for small favors.


<< Big Ugly Heads

...then turns into *two* stone heads after you destroy the first, which continue to fire at you...

More of the Same >>

This screenie (as well as the last and the next) is of the first boss you'll face in this stage: Three larger stone pillars in a triangular formation that switch between one with five blue orbs (rapid spreads) and two with single orbs (very rapid single shots). If this sounds like it could be a handful, that's because it is.


<< Pillar Guns

The sixth and penultimate stage is more or less a series of boss fights, with the short non-boss part in the beginning consisting of several square stone pillars that rise from the ground and open fire on you (the holes in which they resided can be seen at the bottom of the screen).

Dead Things on Parade >>

From here it goes to a fairly easy-to-beat floating spirit, which quickly departs. Naturally, you follow it through a field of floating red balls (not shown) that explode into clusters of bullets. Naturally.


<< Even More of the Same

It gets even worse if you beat one of them.

Der Golem >>

After destroying the dragon head it re-forms into this flying golem that tosses out support pods in its quest to kill you. At this point you're better off focusing on the boss because the flying pods will come back if you destroy them.


<< Quarter Eater

This guy isn't the final boss, but he could very well be considering how many forms he goes through and just how gosh-darn nasty he is. When you first find him he's an Aztec dragon head surrounded by rotating bullet-spewing pods. The pods can be zapped for bonus points, natch.

Oh, Just Die Already >>

After the skull, the green stone re-forms into a dragon. I don't think I can accurately express just how fast those bullets move. They're fast. Really, really fast.


<< Radiskull?!

After destroying the golem it turns into a giant flying skull with machine gun eyes and shotgun breath. Did I mention that these guys shoot at you a lot? Interestingly enough, in terms of bullet output these bosses are only on par with the stage 3 or 4 bosses of the later Psikyo shooters. It may not be as organized, but it's still the same.

After this is the final stage and, by extension, the final boss. Beating said final boss gets you your choise of endings. Yes, "endings." Plural. Each character only has two, but you can choose which one you want. As a general rule, both are bizarre.

This bizarritude can be increased with the addition of a second player, resulting in pairing-specific endings with levels of crazy funster-ness not seen since the days of Aero Fighters which, unless I'm mistaken, took place in same era as this game. Hm.

Maybe it was something in the water.

Thanks again Mr O. for a lovely in-depth review, just the way I likes em! - Malc

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