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Sinistron (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Sinistron (TurboGrafx-16) review

"A perfectly decent R-Type disciple out there preaching the word."

If one thing has been consistent throughout the history of video games, it's the fact that if someone comes up with a good idea, tons of copycats will follow... hopefully with their own little touches so at least they offer you more than a blatant rip-off. For one of the countless examples I could provide, look no further than all the games featuring some poor guy scrambling through mazes while trying to keep one step ahead of lethal foes that hit the market after Pac-Man became a huge success.

Or, look at the TG-16's Sinistron (released under the vastly superior name of Violent Soldier in Japan). A person could write all sorts of things about it, but it all can be summed up as: "It's a re-worked R-Type". No, it's not exactly the same. And there is one particularly awesome addition to the formula. But if you've any familiarity with Irem's flagship series, you'll feel right at home with this game. It's difficult, its six stages have no shortage of intricate areas where your ability to memorize the layout and where enemies appear is more important than having a quick trigger finger and so on. If you've played games of this ilk, you know the drill.

You control a spaceship advancing through a number of horizontally-scrolling stages. You'll build up its artillery from a humble pea shooter to any number of fancy weapons ranging from guided missiles to lasers to spread shots. When you die, you're taken back to a checkpoint bereft of those fancy weapons, having to hope the game is generous enough to hand out a few quick power-ups so your new ship has some hope of survival.

Two things keep Sinistron from being completely generic. Among the power-ups you get are a pair of pods that flank your ship, giving you some sort of shielding system. This is good, as this game is a bit more bullet-heavy than the typical R-Type affair. While it does have its fair share of tight corridors with enemies lurking in hard-to-shoot places, it's also comfortable placing you in wide-open spaces and forcing you to white-knuckle those action buttons in order to clear enough real estate to hopefully slip through unscathed. Your ship also has a beak-like front end. I have to admit it looks kind of funny. It's also maybe the neatest aspect of the entire game. If powered up, you're able to open and close your ships nose between three settings. If it's closed, your shots will be condensed, only hitting a tiny portion of the screen, but they'll be powerful. Open it partially or all the way and you'll cover larger swathes of real estate with your bullets, lasers or whatever, but it'll take more work to take down durable foes.

Sinistron screenshot Sinistron screenshot

And just like that, Sinistron becomes a neat experiment into strategic shooting, to the extent that I had more fun figuring out how my ship would be most effective in various situations than I would have expected while playing through the simplistic opening stage. When lots of enemies were cluttering the screen, I wanted the beak to be fully open, allowing me to dispatch as many targets as possible with each salvo. If some of those enemies were durable, the beak would at least get closed partway. It just didn't pay to let certain foes, such as the large ships strewn throughout the fifth level, get past me, as they tended to subtly let me know I failed to blast them by firing deadly missiles while scrolling off the screen.

Besides, after that first stage, things get intense quickly. The second level is one of those open areas completely saturated by various enemy ships and stuff. Not only are their sheer numbers daunting, but the larger vessels don't simply blow up when they've absorbed enough damage. No, they instead descend slowly off the screen, becoming distracting clutter easily capable of diverting your attention from all the non-destroyed ships that are still trying to kill you. The third stage features a number of foes protected by armor, forcing you to either find a way to attack them from the sides or simply hope you have enough firepower to overwhelm them before they collide with you.

The fourth level allows players to relive the glory days of Asteroids, as the primary obstacles are flying rocks that often break into smaller ones as you shoot them. Some of them fire bullets at you, while other speed up in an attempt to force a collision the instant they're shot. Regardless, they're all rock-like in appearance and often appear in large enough numbers to make this stage quite the chaotic affair. Visit the fifth level and you may feel you've been teleported into R-Type itself. Walls divide the level into a series of claustrophobic corridors populated by large ships that aggressively defend their turf. Spend too much time concentrating on that danger, though, and you'll risk defeat at the hands of a never-ending series of small robots coming onto the screen from behind to shoot down or collide with invading spaceships. Finally, as you might suspect, Sinistron ends with an intestinal-looking level where the final enemy forces throw everything but the kitchen sink at you.

Does "everything" include a boss rush? Of course it does, silly! At least this one is less annoying than most that I've endured in shooters. Leading into the final boss, you only have rematches with the first two bosses and, this time, they're really ready for you. Their attacks are altered and occur more frequently, plus they are far tougher opponents than they were originally. This makes them worthy lead-ins to a final boss that seems near-impossible until you find a safe spot where all its projectiles barely miss you while your guns tear it a new one. At least if you're properly powered up, which might not be an easy feat to accomplish in this stage.

Sinistron screenshot Sinistron screenshot

Overall, this is a fun R-Type-inspired game, but it does possess a few failings. At first, you might be excited to see that you can also hold down the shooting button to supposedly power up your shots, but things don't remotely work out as I'd expected. Instead of firing a super-powerful burst of energy, you instead emit a shield-like device around your ship for a short duration. So, to recap: In a game littered with stuff that you're trying to blast before it blasts you, you'll need to forego shooting for a couple seconds in order to charge up a shield that only lasts for a bit and is only really useful against stuff coming up on your rear, where your other attacks tend to not reach. It's as pointless as the beak-nose is awesome…

However, in the end, the amount of pleasure one gets from Sinistron will be determined by how tolerant one is for generally generic shooters that do little to differentiate themselves from their inspirations. Sure, the beak is a cool addition to the formula, but everything else in the game is cobbled together from the stuff you've seen in countless other games. Hell, even ignore how the fifth level feels blatantly lifted from R-Type and just look at the stages as a whole. You'll see the same outer space, base and organic graphics you've experienced in game after game. One boss starts out as twin dragons, but when the heads are dispatched, reveals a big, segmented snake... because it was near-obligatory for shooters made in the 1980s and 90s to have a big snake boss. I could go on.

There is no doubt in my mind that Sinistron is a quality game. I had fun playing it, found its challenge rigorous enough to ward off any potential complaints about its brevity. The question is whether it brings enough to the table to deflect criticism of it being more willing to ride on others' coattails instead of blazing its own path. And that is a far more difficult question to answer. I can see how a person would really love this game. It's tough and the adjustable beak provides a certain diversity to how its challenges can be faced. But then I think about those classic shooters like R-Type or Life Force and how I find myself coming back to them from time to time because I never get tired of re-experiencing them. And I don't see that happening with this one. I played through it and that was that. It was a good time, but didn't really stand out from all the other good times I've had with games, relegating it to "disposable entertainment", instead of "unheralded classic".


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (September 23, 2018)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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Masters posted September 23, 2018:

Great review, and, I agree. Also, Violent Soldier is a hilarious name.
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overdrive posted September 23, 2018:

Thanks, Marc. And I see with one of your two reviews just posted, for a brief period, we'll have 5 reviews at the very top of the front page, with three of them being for R-Type-inspired shooters with this one and EmP's X Multiply there. Nice to see that still happening in 2018!

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