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Gekioh: Shooting King (PlayStation) artwork

Gekioh: Shooting King (PlayStation) review

"If the rather generic (though generally appropriate) game music was getting on your nerves, switch to the new mode to hear a laugh track and silly music as the on-screen jet fights the good fight against alien scum. Itís definitely humorous, and itís only one of the options. Another mode finds you limited in view so that it feels like youíre playing a game on a small calculator (quite fun, actually, and challenging), while yet another slows down the action to a near-crawl."

When I saw Gekioh: Shooting King sitting on the shelf at the local store, I didnít know that it was in fact a port of the vertically-scrolling shooter on the Saturn, Shienryu. For whatever reason, Natsume decided it would be a good move to get rid of the original Japanese-sounding name for the North American release and replace it with somethingÖ equally odd. You donít really need to know any of that unless youíre one of the few people who actually played through the original version. Otherwise, all that matters is that this is one really cool game! Considering the fact that youíll likely find it only in bargain bins, I must say the title is worth every penny you might spend (and then some).

Just donít expect anything epic, not from the plot or graphics or sound or anything. Thatís clear right from the start, thanks to Gekiohís oh-so-simple concept: you are a jet pilot and youíre out to save the world from an invading alien race. Theyíve reduced the militaryís tanks and such to smoldering rubble, so only an airborne assault can possibly work. Youíll start in the countryside and, if you survive long enough, take the fight to the aliensí home turf in the sky. This is of course just a guess on my part. The cinema that serves as the gameís opening is quite primitive.

Equally disappointing is the number of different plane models in your hangar: one. Your only options are the mode of play (more on modes later in the review) and the number of people playing. Then itís off to the first stage, where a short animation shows your jet launching from the airborne base and into action. It soars along a plateau, then drops over the edge and over a forested canyon. Rock outcroppings tower ahead, and then the first of the alien ships glide into site.

An enemy aircraft means itís time to react, and so you will press the Ďdí-pad in the desired direction of movement. There are no analog controls here, which works out just fine 95 percent of the time; controls are responsive but not overly touchy, even when youíve picked up plenty of speed upgrades.

Speaking of upgrades in general, there arenít many to choose from. Your plane starts out with a normal shot, and you can from there outfit it with one of three different weapons: a Vulcan cannon shot, missiles or lightning. Each of the weapons has different advantages. The missiles serve as peripheral weapons that will home in on your opponents, while the lightning sends electrical charges that wrap around anyone they touch for a string of continuous damage. Finally, the cannon shot doesnít track opponents or hit them repeatedly, but even brief contact is enough to get the aliens squirming. Ultimately, this three-weapon system works because each attack differs from the next and can be adapted to fit your playing style. The game spreads the weapon pick-up icons throughout the stage like letter blocks in a nursery, so you can also switch between the color-coded icons nearly at will. Generally, itís also easy to avoid snagging a Ďbonusí that you donít actually want.

In addition to the cannon modifiers, youíll also find bombs. If enemies or their projectiles are getting too close for comfort, use one of these special attacks and you can give yourself a split-second of breathing room. The problem is that the game doesnít limit you on the number of continues, and you get a replenished supply of bombs each time you crash your jet. It doesnít sound so bad, but it makes it far too easy to abuse the gameís system. No limit to the number of times you can continue and a generous checkpoint system mean that if you are having trouble with a boss, you can just perch your jet at the bottom of the screen and use the special weapons repeatedly until the alien vessel drops from the sky in an inferno.

Yes, there are checkpoints. A typical stage is divided into around eight segments, each not particularly long. If you lose a jet, itís just back to the last checkpoint to try again. And if you were in the middle of a boss fight (excluding the gameís extremely challenging final boss), you just continue where you left off even if your game ends and you are forced to continue. Itís easy to blaze through the first two or three levels without even realizing a checkpoint system is in place. Later in the game, even the toughest of stages are overcome with relative ease because you can just keep trying until finally you succeed. Only personal honor will prevent you from continuing all you like. Score certainly isnít a factor; the game doesnít even allow you to save your best records to memory card!

At this point, I can almost see you raising a skeptical eyebrow. A lot of what Iíve discussed doesnít sound good at all. Didnít I say at the start of this review that the game is worth buying? Why yes, yes I did. And so it is. Despite its simplicity (and in some cases because of it), Gekioh is actually quite the enjoyable game.

One reason for this is the level layout. The first stage Iíve already described, and there are more to follow. Race closer to the ground and watch the trees whip to either side, or cross mountains and oceans. The first few stages are really cool. Then come stage five and six with swirling clouds for the generic background before you get to go through an asteroid belt and to the final showdown. Though for the most part youíll be looking at static backdrops, the developers occasionally employed neat tricks like multiple scrolling layers. Itís a simple but effective device that makes the game look quite good. Even better, none of the visual effects tax the hardware so much that it slows down significantly. Only when the screen is filled with hundreds of bullets will you notice slowdown. That typically happens during boss battles.

Speaking of confrontations with the head aliens, youíll likely come to recognize them as highlights in the game. Even the first boss has a pattern, and subsequent monsters grow increasingly devious. Youíll find yourself memorizing attack routines or else watching your reserves dwindle. Though a lot of the later bosses pepper the screen with so many shots that itís almost impossible to avoid them all (at times Gekioh feels very similar to Mars Matrix for the Dreamcast), the developers also created some interesting routines. Plus they look cool. Itís good fun to dart between swaths of bullets as robotic appendages try to slice you from the sky.

Even when youíre not involved in a showdown at the end of a stage, prepare to keep your fingers busy. Thereís really no reprieve from the on-screen action unless the game is tallying your score between levels. Otherwise, youíre forced to dodge all over the place just to survive. Enemies swarm you relentlessly and thereís always another waiting to take the place of one you may have recently dispatched. Because the developers are fond of sending various types simultaneously, youíll almost always catch yourself finishing off one swarm just in time to face another. Thereís no time to stop and admire the view, no series of empty stretches between alien drones.

Still, such quality is crammed into a rather short game. You only get eight stages, and thatís including the final one that is really no more than an extended boss battle. Get very good at the game at all and youíll find yourself blowing right through its three selectable difficulty modes. What does that leave for subsequent plays? Extra modes.

Though Iíve not played as many shooters as some of you, I feel Iíve played a fair number of them. And for the life of me, I canít recall ever playing another one where the developers included a ĎComicí mode. If the rather generic (though generally appropriate) game music was getting on your nerves, switch to the new mode to hear a laugh track and silly music as the on-screen jet fights the good fight against alien scum. Itís definitely humorous, and itís only one of the options. Another mode finds you limited in view so that it feels like youíre playing a game on a small calculator (quite fun, actually, and challenging), while yet another slows down the action to a near-crawl. There are five alterations to the gameís main design, and each is worth a look. It makes me wish more developers spent time adding such treats.

Of course, they donít. Many companies are quite content to throw together a few stages and rush the product out the door. Thatís why Gekioh came to me as such a surprise. Not only is its foundation decent, but the number of ways it uses that to create a fun gaming experience is unprecedented. If youíve been looking around for an inexpensive, hidden gem on the original Playstation, Gekioh: Shooting King is just the ticket. Even when youíre not trying the ĎComicí mode, itíll have you smiling.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 11, 2004)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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