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Skull Fang (Saturn) artwork

Skull Fang (Saturn) review

"Skull Fang (Vapor Trail Gaiden) is one of those games that's really hard to recommend because it has an equal balance of good and bad game design and presentation value. It's got everything a shooter needs and everything a shooter doesn't need, but the overall experience is difficult to describe. "

Skull Fang (Vapor Trail Gaiden) is one of those games that's really hard to recommend because it has an equal balance of good and bad game design and presentation value. It's got everything a shooter needs and everything a shooter doesn't need, but the overall experience is difficult to describe.

The story to Skull Fang actually requires a little reading into because the game is actually the third and final installment in the secretly announced Vapor Trail series.

Remember that game? Vapor Trail? Well, Data East decided to make two other games that took place in the same universe as Vapor Trail, all attached by a similar premise and each sequel doing something new with itself. The second game was actually a horizontal scrolling mech shooter called Wolf Fang which could be one of the best mech shooters I've ever played even next to Imperium.

Basically what's going on in Skull Fang is that the bad guys from Vapor Trail and Wolf Fang, a united terrorist organization known as Dagger, procured a few secret weapons from both of the previous games after both defeats and combined the weapons for one last assault against all the organized nations of the world with a huge, laser-powered battle ship known as Ragnarok as their mobile HQ. You get to select one of four talented pilots to kick Dagger into their grave as well as four different jets to further hammer out their epitaphs.

Skull Fang plays a lot like Vapor Trail in that it's a vertical scrolling jet shooter where you get a variety of different weapons that vary in firing pattern and direction depending on what jet you use, a special weapon unit attachment that again varies depending on the jet you use as well as a kamikaze roll attack.

The game introduces a lot of interesting features to control and game play. For one, your pilots know certain maneuvers that allow them to point their jet in a different direction depending on their rank as either a fighter pilot or bomber pilot which is pretty helpful in boss fights and tricky bullet patterns.

You also have the option of manually shifting gears so as to adjust the speed of your jet which also affects your special weapon strength every time you reach a certain speed which increases the intensity of game play especially in boss battles.

Sadly, the boss battles tend to be where the biggest flaws in game play lie seeing how the bosses are all allowed more rules and cheapness than the common survival horror game ghost.

For one, you'll notice that every time a boss appears from off-screen, a directional clock appears around your ship to show you which direction they're coming from (12 O'Clock, 6 O'Clock, etc). You'll get used to seeing this clock because the bosses always find some opportunity to fly or drive off-screen... even when they're attacking. Many bosses have very distinct attacks that they use against you from off the screen and while this all sounds like a unique challenge, it's worth noting that some of these attacks take a long time to actually appear on screen due both to the delay in distance and in the fact that the bosses are down right LAZY!

Sometimes the bosses will just fly off screen and just dick around for no good reason probably because they know you can't hurt them every time they are off screen which sounds like smart AI, but it inspires nothing but boredom and frustration when a boss decides to stay on screen for two seconds before he decides to fly ahead of you so he can finish playing with himself for fifteen seconds.

All of this sounds like a pointless nit pick, but the boss encounters in Skull Fang, save for one very distinct mech boss, all suffer from that age-old requirement in shmups and some games in general that the boss fights have an invisible timer.

Of course, every time the boss timer is running low, a cute communications girl - who I call 'The Boss Girl' seeing how she introduces all the bosses to you and lacks an official name - will tell you the boss will be escaping soon and the last five seconds of the timer will show up on screen before the boss escapes or before you kill him, but all of this is for naught when, once again, the boss is off screen flogging the dolphin!! What's so wrong with fighting to the death?!

Also, I have to ask who the name of the jerk was who decided to put the boss distance screen, score counter and life bar over the screen because whoever he is needs a good kick in sphincter because the score counter, life bar and any other additional screen was NOT meant to be placed where it can obscure where the enemies/attacks are coming from!

While I praise the developer's choice to add a sort of Twinbee/Steam Hearts conversational screen for the pilots, communication girls and the captain, I have to say that the extreme latter were delivered to the point of inspiring nothing but irritation because having to constantly watch the captain scold or congratulate you at the end of every level while you return to base does nothing but draw the experience out longer than it needs to be.

The graphics are probably the poorest aspect of the game. The player's jets look okay and the backgrounds aren't too bad, but the enemies all look like piss poor stop-motion clay objects or something you'd fight in the Rampage games. Plus, the colors of the enemies are so washed out and bland that it literally put a taste of bitterness in my mouth.

Just about the only aspect the graphics undoubtedly do right would have to be the explosions as bosses parts fly off in flaming steel chunks and certain bosses actually split in half upon exploding, but the sense of satisfaction is short lived especially in how we never see the final remains of said boss reach an explosive climax; instead we watch them tumble or descend as we continue flying past them.

Funny enough, the absolute best part about this whole game is the sound department... in fact anything audible in the game is executed wonderfully!

The voice acting is excellent, even though it's all in Japanese as every character, nameless or not, sound distinct and actually convey character in each of the pilot's voice (Sparrow rocks).

The sound department isn't half bad as many explosions are distinct, many of the shots, player or enemy, have loads of variety to them and the sound of large jets losing altitude, while over-used, sound well thought out.

The music is nothing short of excellent. The soundtrack consists of synths and fast rock that almost literally pulls you into the action of every boss encounter or fast-paced level. It's the kind of music that screams 'intense dog fight' with every tone. Of course, the soundtrack is a little weak in variety in that there's only really nine songs total, but it's so good it's hard to complain about it repeating.

When coming right down to it, Skull Fang is really a decent game. It may or may not make you come back for more action and compared to some obscure shooters (cough, Strike Gunner) is distinct and intense enough to warrant a gander and for any shooter buffs reading this the difficult is nice and tough, though not as tough as though it were developed in the bowels of Hell itself (cough, DoDonPachi), but it fouls up on some of the aspects that really matter in a shmup.

I guess if you can get this baby cheap, then do so if you must, but you really won't be missing much unless you have a jet, shmup or anime girl fetish (cough, me).

newalone4's avatar
Community review by newalone4 (July 01, 2008)

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