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Shienryu (Saturn) artwork

Shienryu (Saturn) review

"Even thinking about the genre-defining Thunder Force IV was more exciting than playing this, the most forgettably average vertical shooter ever created."

Bringing myself to write this review was surprisingly tough, and I can only partially blame my troubles on the disgusting amount of sloth that people have come to expect from me. My real issue with writing about the game was far greater: despite having played through it mere weeks prior, it was impossible for me to remember even a few of Shienryu's eight stages. All that came to mind was a hazy mish-mash of bland bullet-dodging; nothing in the game left any sort of lasting impression on me, which meant not only that it wasn't a particularly good release but also that I *gulp* might even have to trudge through it again in order to review it!

I seem to have a lot of time on my hands, though, so trudge I did; unfortunately, the game lying beyond a demonstration of my world class swap-trick skills didn't kick off in a particularly striking fashion. Remember how your ship was on this flying aircraft carrier at the beginning of Raiden II (humor me), and how it flew off above a stream-laden forest packed with gun turrets and bomber-shaped attack planes? Well, the exact same thing happens in Shienryu. Remember the battle against those walking tanks with feet akin to those of The Empire Strikes Back's AT-AT walkers? Shienryu's opening chapter ends in much the same way, except you only fight one and it's faster; the nostalgic among you will even be able to use a homing blast of electricity that's the exact same shade of purple as--you guessed it--Raiden II's.

But don't kid yourself--Raiden II isn't Shienryu's lone inspiration. Among its roster of levels, you'll see other genre mainstays such as the "bay with battleships" that's been featured in every shooter from the SNES' U.N. Squadron to the arcade's Raiden Fighters Jet (I like the series, so sue me). You'll blow through an enemy factory packed with stereotypical scaffolding, and you'll even get to go on an outer-space journey and take down some flying foes that dart across the screen in patterns vaguely reminiscent of Galaga's bonus stages. The game's certainly got enough variety, in one way, yet in another it also doesn't have nearly enough; it's got myriad locales, yet you don't have to be a genre aficionado to have seen almost every single one of them before.

With a couple of exceptions such as the robotic crimson octopus that caps off your seaside travels, Shienryu's bosses are also pretty rote. Witness not one but two tremendous jet fighters; they spew bullets well enough that you'll have to be quick with your fingers, yeah, and the latter one turns into a mech for a few seconds after its defeat in order to advance the game's shooter-quality story, but both of the battles themselves are devoid of any imagination. Nothing happens that'll make you say "wow" or "neato"; you simply use one of three generiweapons to trade shots with your oversized opponent in a particularly unmemorable fashion until one of you bites the dust. Rinse, lather, repeat for entire game. Captivating!

In my book, though, shameless unoriginality in and of itself isn't grounds for writing a game off. It just makes me less inclined to like it--Gradius V's relatively simple stages, for example, were hardly its crippling fault. And while Shienryu is a competent game in that there's more than enough enemy artillery onscreen for you to dodge, it's got a couple of minor shortcomings that ultimately end up being its undoing. It pointlessly adopts the silly Gradius tradition of checkpoints--you're mercifully given unlimited cracks at most boss battles, but should you die within one of the stages, you'll be thrown back about a half-minute. A small aggravation, yet I have to wonder why it's there at all; it accomplishes little outside of damaging the game's flow. It could be argued that being placed in a safe spot after a death gives you a chance to reorient yourself, but the respawn points are so haphazardly placed that the whole idea has an opposite effect. More than once was I put less than a second before some massive enemy offensive, with reduced weaponry to boot.

That shouldn't be a game-crippling flaw. It should be a mere annoyance, and an ignorable one at that... but it's not. When a game doesn't do much of anything different, it should at least pull everything off right; this game, however, doesn't. Were it "perfect"--in the most bastardized possible sense of the word--it could have at least been a decent hodgepodge of some other titles' less bombastic moments; nothing to go wild over, but suitable for a quick bout of shoot-em-up fun. It's not, though, and every time I play the game I end up wondering why I don't just fire up something else instead; Raiden II is archaic by anyone's standards, yet it's both more interesting and less aggravating than this puppy. And it was in wondering about other games that I had the most memorable moment of my entire Shienryu experience--even thinking about the genre-defining Thunder Force IV was more exciting than playing this, the most forgettably average vertical shooter ever created.

bluberry's avatar
Staff review by John L (September 03, 2005)

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