4 Difficulty levels
7 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
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Developed by KID / Taxan
Published by Taxan in 1990
An arena shooter disguised as a horizontal with a great fantasy theme, anyone? Burai Fighter is the answer, and a rather good one too. Often compared to the likes of S.C.A.T. and Abadox, this game might in fact be the best of this bunch for a series of reasons. We can start by mentioning the solid action and the creative design, two characteristics that shine and help make this a highlight of the NES library, even a hidden gem of sorts. The multidirectional aspect of the gameplay is another feature that's tightly implemented and should please those who don't feel comfortable with rotating control mechanics such as those seen in Forgotten Worlds, for example.
Quick curiosity: the game was later ported to the Game Boy as Burai Fighter Deluxe, and to the Game Boy Color as Burai Fighter Color in Japan and Space Marauder in the West.
A powerful race of aliens called Burai is bent on conquering the universe, deploying all sorts of robotic mutants throughout the galaxy. The player is the only hope of mankind as a lone fighter piloting a proton pack, so off you go bring justice to the strangest confines of the universe armed with a main gun activated by button B and an assortment of bombs triggered with button A. By aiming and keeping button B pressed you lock your shot in any of the eight available directions, a resource that gives players a lot of freedom in how they want to tackle the different environments across seven increasingly harder stages. If you wish, a simple password feature allows you to start the game in any stage, just take note of them as the stage is about to begin.
Fight the evil Burai!
(courtesy of YouTube user NesShortGameplays)
(courtesy of YouTube user NesShortGameplays)
Special items can appear simply floating in the air or from carrier pods that must be hit in their center orb to be destroyed. These pods keep changing their position at regular intervals while closing in on the player, so beware not to die by failing to destroy them in time. The most important items are weapon power-ups, which give you special powers depending on their letters: laser (L), missile (M) and ring (R). Each one has three power levels related to the amount of items you collect (1, 5 and 10/A). Weapons are upgraded separately just by taking items, and at maximum power they all acquire very efficient spread patterns (X-shaped for laser/missile and 3-way + one rear shot for ring). The missile is the only one that mandatorily fires forward (to the right) in its initial form, the other ones follow your firing direction. The ring shot is the only one that can go through walls.
Other important items are the speed-up (S) and the rotation pod, which looks like a spiky object (watch out, at first I thought it was harmful and avoided it for a few credits). The pod rotates around the player and destroys enemies on contact, but is incapable of shielding you from bullets. Additional pod items will make it rotate faster. As for speed-ups, from my experience two of them are fine to play the whole game. If you take more than that controlling the character might become a problem when there are too many enemies or dead corners around, after all you can also die by screen-crushing. Deaths reset the power of the weapon you're currently using and send you back to a previous checkpoint.
"Cobalt" bombs are acquired by collecting the red orbs left behind by destroyed enemies. For each white mark in the bomb meter you get one cobalt bomb that can be detonated with button A, wiping bullets and killing all regular enemies in the screen (there is no effect on bosses though). If you keep accumulating bombs and reach the EXTRA mark you earn a new life and the bomb meter is reset. Even though it's tempting to avoid bombing to get extra lives, it's always best to use them if the going gets tough. That's especially true when you realize there's a better way to gain more lives, which is simply related to scoring. A new one is obtained at every 100.000 points, and there's also the possibility of finding free extra lives in the form of 1UP items.
With practically no slowdown and tolerable bouts of flicker, Burai Fighter is a joy to play once you get the hang of the basic gameplay. The screen scrolls in all directions, and there isn't a single instance that makes you feel that you died cheaply. Of course it's better to stay in the center of the screen until you get used to the stage layouts. There seems to be an obvious inspiration from Irem, given the vague similarities with titles such as X-Multiply (level 2) and Image Fight (level 5). You do get two completely different levels in stages 3 and 6, which unfold in a top-view perspective. The objective there is to find and destroy a turret base as you move around non-stop, just like in the overhead levels of Thunder Force II.
At the beginning of the overhead stages a radar appears showing the location of the base relative to yours. In the words of the instruction manual: be careful to remember your location and the location of the base, because if you don't you might wander the barren cosmos for all eternity. The map rolls over itself, so if the base is up there and you're down below just move down to find it easily instead of going all the way up.
Ascending the platforms of stage 5
Ten hidden rooms can be found throughout the game, but getting access to all of them is actually a mystery. The one that appears in the first stage is clearly visible, but as much as I tried I couldn't make the screen go up to enter it, not even once in all my time playing the game. I did get to access the small detour to the left with a 1UP in the descent phase of stage 2 a few times, but I have no idea how I triggered it. In any case these hidden rooms aren't really important in the long run since all you need to succeed is provided in the regular paths of the game anyway.
Although it's not exceedingly hard Burai Fighter does have a few tense checkpoints such as the one that leads to last boss Slimedragon. Dodging his molten rock fireballs can be a pain, but note that by using ring the fight doesn't drag for too long. In fact, the instruction manual mentions that each boss has one weapon as weakness. Besides that, it's also very useful to abuse point blanking for faster kills. The fourth boss won't even get to the middle of the screen if you hammer his weak spot at close range with laser. End-of-stage bonuses multiply your weapon levels by a certain amount of points depending on the difficulty, doubling these numbers if the weapon is maxed out. In the Normal difficulty (Albatross) the maximum bonus is 120.000 points, for example, whereas on Hard (Ace) it's 300.000 points, which is also equivalent to three extra lives. Unfortunately the scoring system is broken because you can just wander around forever in the overhead stages killing hordes of enemies, in what's the only true reprimand that can be given to Burai Fighter. The music might be another undignified feature, but while not memorable it's at least decent.
By beating Burai Fighter on Normal (Albatross) the game teases you with a graphic ending before starting again on Hard (Ace). A panel with the character looking at the colorful horizon is finally shown upon beating the game on Hard, but then it loops again in another final difficulty called Ultimate. The high score below was achieved starting on Hard and ending in stage 6 of the second loop (Ultimate). Sadly I wasn't able to recover once I died there.