Reviewed by Malc


Call me a an anti-retro-heretic if you will, but sometimes I get a mite bored with Very Very Old Games. VVOGs, to coin a term, don't justify the term 'classic' just because they happen to be ancient. Sometimes I can't see how anyone would get a minute's worth of gleeful enjoyment from them, never mind a couple of hours. Were we so easily pleased back in those days, or did we just not know any better?

Many readers may be familiar with a certain emulator called MAME. While I love the borg-like beastie, many of the games contained therein will forever be relegated to the '5 second quick-check' department. As a result, the typically 50+ odd games supported each beta release will only serve to hide the small amount of truly playable classics worthwhile of your time.

One of these games is Taito's Tokio Scramble Formation. Tokio is an old friend to me, whom I first met in my local smoke-filled arcade emporium. It had a painfully low cabinet, with a cracked screen, fuzzy monitor and was positively smeared with some unidentified greasy foodstuffs. (Hah! emulate that!) But it was only 10p a go, and being a poor student, I scoured my duffle coat for a few coins to play it with.

Fun it was then, and astoundingly, it's still as much fun now. Playability is an oft-used term, but I can truly apply it to Tokio. The graphics are downright lousy in places, and the backgrounds repeat far too often. The music is catchy as hell, but with only one real music track to listen to the whole way through, it does get a bit wearing. Ignore all that. The game itself is one of those finely tuned little vertical scrollers that does everything right within the limitations of the hardware.

The weapon system has a lot to do with this. You only really get one pickup, and that's a small red drone plane. Catching these will allow you to change formations, with each formation type altering the weapons style. . The drones also act as a sort of shield, but the more drones you get, the bigger you get, and the easier it is to get hit. (Pretty similar to the way Terra Cresta worked if you've ever played that.)

Ok, grabbed a few red drones, and switched to Aerial Attack mode. The firepower can only hit flying planes, no ground stuff. And now into Ground Attack mode. As the name suggests, only ground objects can be hit. Not very useful for clouds levels! Good for bunches of tanks though... And the safety mode: Combined. This mode allows both aerial and ground attacks, but you only get a narrow shot area. The trailing drones are susceptible to getting hit too, so watch your flying.

What helps the gameplay is the level design too. Effectively just one huge long level, which loops back to the start, the game is broken up by flying through clouds. One minute you're above the clouds attacking swarms of enemy planes, then you swoop down a few feet above the city, between tower blocks dropping bombs on tanks, then you're up again a thousand feet, with the cityscape far below.

Tokio never was really much a boss-fest, with only one large baddie popping up again and again, like the mothership in Nemesis. The gameplay revolves around about 8 different enemy types, each of which had unpredictable and nasty attack patterns. (I'll take you through a few in the shots below). In essence, a supremely playable 12 year old vintage, and although the emulation is not yet complete as I write this, it's not far away from perfection at all, and much gratitude goes towards the clever blokes responsible for writing the MAME driver. (The sound is especially good). Play it and find out for yourself.

SCORE: 8/10
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Great eh? 'How to get back to where you started' Japanese roadmap. There's no end to the game afaics, it just loops right round and steps up the difficulty. Didn't like that. Wahey, we're off! A bit of a squeaky fanfare, and it's over some famous Tokyo building to scramble some formations...

This is the 1,000 feet up view. It's good because you know you don't need to bother about ground craft or anything, so you can spread out your air attack formation with impunity (If you had any drones of course) This is the bit I usually die first at. An ominous Whooooeeeep! noise starts, and these blobs rush in on your craft, inevitably knocking off some drones as you try to slip between them. Horrible.

Underground bunkers are a pain in the botty, mostly because you keep forgetting they shoot missiles. Been caught out by them many times. The little icon at the top right shows you you many drones you have in stock, so if I lose one here, one will come from stock to take it's place. I must confess to a little graphic cheating here, as the boss craft is a bit garbaged in the emulation for now. It pops up through the clouds regularly, and assaults you immediately with rockets. Got to be quick, otherwise you'll be splatted.

One of the ground sections, which I think are the hardest. You need different weapons for killing ground craft, and need to switch quickly between them for best effect. The combined weapon is good for novices, but the drones are vulnerable in this mode. The sense of vertigo can be quite unsettling at times, the washed out colours when you're high up is pretty advanced for such an old game. The best enemy attacks as the Swirly-Arounders as I call them, with enemy planes whizzing around your plane lobbing out bullets as they go.

Must have got blown off course, Algy! Eurodisney by the looks of it. This is where I thought I was going to meet some super end-boss, but instead I didn't. Tokio confounds you at times by having a few rare seconds of peace and quiet, then blasting you with a row of missile spitting ground emplacements accompanied by swirling ships all at once. Those green blobs are actually the death of one of your drones, which does nothing useful apart from look nice.


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie