Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Daisenpu (PC Engine)

Checkpoints ON
3 Difficulty levels
4 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Nec Avenue / Toaplan
Published by Nec Avenue
in 1990

Daisenpu, also spelled as Daisenpuu or DaisenpÅ« and known in the West as Twin Hawk, received its second home port in the end of 1990 for the PC Engine, just a little after the Mega Drive version came out in Japan. For what it's worth, I could say Nec Avenue did a good job at bringing one of the most run-of-the-mill Toaplan arcade shooters to the console format. Despite the shortcomings, the essence of the game - which wasn't that exciting to begin with - was kept intact. I guess that's ok for a title that shouldn’t get anyone’s shmup heart pumping with anticipation.

Compared to the Mega Drive port, Daisenpu for the PC Engine packs a lighter punch and loses on all technical fronts except maybe for color. Graphics aren't as sharp and, strangely enough, the sound job ranges from atrocious to decent: the theme of the first stage feels so scratchy amidst the sound effects that it seems to be coming from rotten speakers, yet the music in the second half of the game certainly lends the expected ambience for some methodical shooting action.

Wait, methodical in a vertical shmup? Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but the game is slow and adopts very strict design choices.

Good luck!

The most interesting thing about Daisenpu is the complete absence of aerial enemy warfare, which is even weirder when you consider the pseudo World War theme of the game. The whole enemy gallery consists of tanks of all sizes and firepower, and when tanks are not there they're replaced by boats/ships. Button II shoots and button I provides the gimmick: when pressed once, it brings up a squadron of six helper planes that hover in place and shoot alongside you. Each auxiliary plane goes down when shot, automatically plummeting against the closest enemy. There are also further actions you can take: a second press of the button sends all surviving planes forward in a kamikaze attack, and upon calling the squadron if you quickly tap the button twice the result will be a bomb blast that does lots of damage and blocks enemy bullets.

In order to enjoy the game players absolutely need to accept two things. The first one is the absence of autofire, a hindrance that can fortunately be bypassed with a simple turbo controller. The second one is the sluggish speed of the airplane, which definitely demands some getting used to. Combine that with an elusive hitbox and soon you’ll notice why most deaths seem to be unfair. Daisenpu on the PC Engine, however, doesn’t really get taxing enough to grate players, especially when you figure out all enemy shots are aimed and enemy reloading routines are somewhat gentle. In the end it might even be possible to travel a good portion of the game with some support planes doing your job for you merely by herding bullets in smart angles in order to keep them alive. Of course this is also possible in the other versions of the game, but here the resistance is a tad tamer.

Even though there is no explicit separation between levels, every time the music changes we’re supposed to consider a new stage is beginning. There are four in total, marked by a negligible progressive difficulty and little in the way of information to the player. You can only see the current stock for lives and support squadrons, and unless you die there’s no way to check your score. A distinctive sound indicates you have just earned an extend, a reward that’s supposed to come with 70.000 points and at every 200.000 points afterwards.

Title screen and attract mode
(courtesy of YouTube user King Arthur Pendragon)

Power-ups and items are randomly released by colored trucks and boats. This randomness is kinda puzzling since these trucks/boats will sometimes appear in green and give you no items at all, disappearing with a high-pitched whiff-like sound. There are times when you get straight P icons (orange) and quickly reach the maxed out 8-shot stream, other times you’ll reach the big tanks with only one upgrade. When you don’t get the green trucks Ps are naturally the most common pick-ups you’ll come across, but there are also 1UPs (blue) and extra support squadrons (white).

Most of the time I played Daisenpu I was on booze, so at least I can blame something for the feeling of numbness that the game certainly carries. Unfortunately chances are it wouldn’t be any different had I been sober all the time, that’s why I won’t urge anyone to go and play it with great expectations. For those who’re in the mood for slow-paced action, have a serious gripe against tanks, boats and turrets or don’t mind a humble shooter with limited offerings then Daisenpu might just cut it. Note: a hidden screen resolution that mimics the arcade experience can be activated by holding button I while turning on the console.

My final attempt ended in the score below, 4th stage of the second loop on Normal. I had to be quick to get the picture because you’ll never see that score display again once the continue countdown is over. As for differences in the loop, the only thing I could notice is a slight increase in bullet speed. An extra iteration of the game, called Daisenpu Custom, was released for the PC Engine CD in 1991. I expect to try it in the near future.