4 Difficulty levels
Ship speed fixed
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Developed by Taito
Published by Taito in 2005
Surely controlling dragons isn't unheard of in the history of shmups, but here's a game that's definitely deserving of the unique qualifier. After all, the dragon in Syvalion is a golden metallic creature whose segments expand and contract as you move around gracefully breathing fire inside mazes. The idea in itself is quite interesting, but the enormous size and hitbox of the dragon, the procedural generation of level layouts and the trackball controls were quite a novelty when the game hit the arcades back in 1988. As I said, unique, and certainly ahead of its time. Just like many of the endeavors put forward by Taito such as Darius and its triple-screen cabinets.
(courtesy of YouTube user Arcade 60fps Attract Mode)
There's no automatic scrolling. The screen only moves when you move, and as you make your way across the level a large arrow points to the direction you're supposed to go within the maze. A single input is used to breath fire, but its reach is dimished after a while according to the red gauge at the bottom of the screen. It's refilled when you're not firing, but it recovers even faster if you're moving. While initially painted in gold, for each hit the dragon takes the segment closest to its tail loses its shiny golden hue and turns red. After six hits the dragon is completely red and totally vulnerable, dying horribly in a big explosion on the next blow. Hit detection is remarkably cruel in Syvalion, the whole dragon is a huge target and no grace period exists after it gets hit, that's why a string of tough hazards can quickly kill you. It takes some time to confidently move the dragon around, but what's important to have in mind is that all dragon segments go through the exact same path taken by the head.