4 Difficulty levels
Ship speed fixed
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Developed by Taito
Published by Virgin Interactive Entertainment in 1995
If I'm not mistaken, Gekirindan was the last shooter Taito developed before going fully into 3D efforts (Raystorm, G Darius). As such, it serves as an amalgam of all that had been accomplished by the company so far, featuring graphical effects previously seen in earlier titles such as Metal Black and Rayforce while drawing inspiration both in house and from the competitors, in what many people see as a homage to Toaplan. You can see, for instance, that the variety in the selection of ships/characters clearly borrows from Batsugun, and some of the weapons are a throwback to lots of Toaplan classic stuff. With so many influences it was necessary to bypass the lack of originality with some sort of gimmick, and the one Taito chose is the good old concept of time travel. In fact, the subtitle to the game is Time Travel Shooting.
The story starts in the distant future. A time machine is stolen by a villain, and the player's mission is to race after him through several time periods. Each one of the five stages takes place in a specific year (1942 included!) and gets increasingly longer until you finally have the chance to blast the bad guy before he manages to activate a new time warp. The player ensemble includes pilots from several eras, and different pilots are assigned to each ship type (A, B or C) and controller side (player 1 or player 2). Blast off alone or with a friend, and be on your guard to weave your big hitbox between point-blank enemy fire.
Hokuto pursues his foe in year 1999
The Sega Saturn is home to many excellent Taito ports, but unfortunately Gekirindan isn't part of this batch. Taito didn't handle the port themselves, maybe that's the main reason, but it's disappointing to see the rotating effect of the background satellite tunnel from the 1st stage completely absent from the game, be it in YOKO or TATE. We're left with a static chunk of scenery that gets slowly zoomed in and then disappears. Besides other less noticeable graphic downgrades there's also some jerky scrolling during the final frames of the ship's takeoff. Gameplaywise the experience is marred by extensive vertical wobbling, and you constantly have to deal with bullets pouring out of enemies that haven't even come into sight yet. Normally screen wobble shouldn't be a problem (Psikyo and Atlus did it right in both Strikers 1945 games, for example), but here it's annoying to say the least. After all, not everybody is able to TATE their TVs to get rid of it.
Despite all of the above letdowns, Saturn's Gekirindan isn't broken in any way, so it's still possible to have fun with it. Playing is simple: fire with either A or C and bomb with B. Manage the items brought by carriers, collect medals and stock more bombs to increase the bonus when finishing a stage. Choose the pilot/ship that fits you best, with one glaring exception they're all pretty much equally effective. The exception is type C selected by player 2, which is twice as strong as the others and makes the game a lot easier to beat. Perhaps it's because type C+P2 is the only choice that has two pilots (Orsa and Mayoru) instead of one. Type C is an old style plane with two choices of main weapon: a spread gun and a wave pulsing cannon. Switching between both weapons is done by taking the C item, and it doesn't take long to realize that the wave cannon is useless, so avoid taking Cs if you decide to go with type C. How ironic is that?
Weapons for type A (a futuristic spaceship) are a soft blue pattern with mild spread and a group of locking lasers that resemble Truxton's. Type B (a helicopter) fires a straight shot, activating trailing options as its alternative main weapon. Main weapons are upgraded by collecting power-ups, and all ships can also use the same secondary weapons given by an icon that cycles between H (homing shots), N (napalm) and M (straight missiles). Napalm is the way to go since it's the strongest one and has a devastating effect at point blank distance. The skull inside both napalm's inner figure and the bomb animation for type A is another great nod at the mighty legacy of Truxton. The remainder of the items are extra bombs and, in some very rare occasions, a single score bonus token.
As straightforward and simple as it is, the scoring system has a few secrets beyond collecting surplus power-ups and regular medals. One of them is damaging the mid-boss in the first stage really fast to destroy a few more meteors and grab an extra bomb, maybe even a small bonus if you're fast enough. Another secret is to let the spider-tank crush all five houses in stage 2 in order to uncover five extra medals, killing it immediately afterwards to trigger a small train on the railroad. In the last level destroy the pink ship that fires lasers to get the only 1UP available in the game (there are no extends).
"Thou shall not pass", said the captain of the red ship in the 5th stage
(courtesy of YouTube user KollisionBR)
(courtesy of YouTube user KollisionBR)
Depending on the selected ship dying in Gekirindan is traumatic because you're left quite underpowered, even with the giveaway power-ups that emerge from the dead ship. Besides the wobbling, other minor annoyances appear in the form of a few dead sections where nothing happens or where the game deliberately stops so that an unskippable animation can take place. At least the music is nice and complements the laid back nature of the game, which has a very tame rank system. I can't say it's negligible, but it's a far cry from the agression levels seen in Layer Section. I did enjoy the great use of color and the decent enemy variety in Gekirindan, and its overall simplicity is very welcome if you're not looking for flashy, intricate shooting mechanics.
Since the PS2 versions found in the Taito Legends/Memories compilations don't have a TATE mode, the Saturn port is still regarded by some as the way to go for a console alternative, even though it's slightly butchered graphically. In all versions it's widely alleged that starting the game with any ship as player 2 makes the game easier (remember that type C-P2 is a special case of overpowering). My character of choice was Hokuto, pilot of the type A ship, player 1 side. The score below was achieved with him on Normal.
I died twice at the final boss and missed the bonus from an inflated bomb stock (each one is worth 8.000 points at the end of the stage). And I still don't understand how to consistently get approximately 30.000 extra points on the second boss, sometimes I score even less than my usual share...