Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Gekioh - Shooting King (Playstation)

Checkpoints ON/OFF
3 Difficulty levels
8 Stages
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Warashi
Published by Natsume in 2002

The best and most desired shmups come from Japan. It’s been a historical fact ever since the genre gained worldwide recognition back in the 80s. That’s why Western ports of these games are always so celebrated by the shmup Community. However, regardless of their actual quality every once in a while the companies responsible for the porting jobs make weird decisions that can be detrimental to the game’s visibility. Gekioh - Shooting King is one such example, since a lot of people aren’t aware that this is actually a port of Warashi’s Shienryu. Of course one could argue that not many people know Shienryu, but I’m quite sure you get my drift.

On the always controversial subject of ports, the Playstation wasn’t graced with a good conversion of this game, unlike the Sega Saturn. Both Japanese and North American releases have no save functionality and lack an option for TATE orientation, on top of suffering uneven slowdown and making minor cutbacks in graphics/music. It’s not an unplayable game, in fact it’s just as fun as you’d expect a tough and decent mix of Raiden and Truxton to be, however it falls short of exhibiting the level of performance of a true arcade title being played at home.

Once you get tired of watching the animated intro of Gekioh - Shooting King, press start and you’ll access a menu with several game modes. The default arcade experience is in Geki mode, in between Easy and Hard modes (more on the contents of the Bonus menu later). Once the credit is started, just pause if you want to turn off that annoying vibration function.

Ahoy, a giant Polypus boss is approaching fast!

The basic gameplay of Gekioh/Shienryu consists of a shot button (□ or ×) and bomb button (△ or ○). There are three shot types defined by colored items: spread vulcan (red), forward + missiles (yellow) and homing lightning (blue). The weapon is upgraded by taking power-ups (P), faster movement is achieved with speed-ups (S) and extra bombs are stocked by taking the appropriate icon (B). Bombs behave according to the current shot type, so for the vulcan you get an energy blast that closes in and fades at the ship’s centerline, for the forward yellow shot you get a localized blast and for the lightning you get a series of vertical laser beams that materialize over the ship’s current position.

Half the game takes place on Earth and half in outer space. There’s lots of diversity in the game design, both in terrains and enemy variety, with the ocasional flair for intense destruction amidst waves of vessels of all sizes and firepower capability. It feels quite satisfying to go on an all-out spectacle of devastation, collecting all those red/blue LEDs, icons/power-ups in excess for extra 5.000 points each and the slew of extra bombs such as the ones available throughout most of the fight against the first boss. There is a catch though.

Just like its spiritual predecessor Daioh, Shienryu/Gekioh gets increasingly angry the more extra bonuses you get within the game. If you keep on taking those shiny 5.000 point badges and racking up extra bombs there comes a point where enemy bullet speed becomes unmanageable, quickly sending your survival chances down the drain. Rank progression is extremely cruel, so do your best to avoid collecting more than what you need to be at full power, which means 9 power-ups, 3 speed-ups and no more than 3 bombs in stock at any time. The only bonuses that don’t affect rank are the ground LEDs (they look like candles), which result in varying extra points at the end of each level.

Score-based extends come with 1,5 million and for every 2 million points afterwards. A single 1UP is sure to get released by the crab midboss in stage 6, but you can also randomly come across other 1UPs (or a very rare 2UP). A very special pink power-up maxes out your firepower and adds a 1-hit shield to the ship’s beak, but note that the game instantly becomes harder if you take it. For a safe rank management you’d better avoid it at all times. Picking it up was only an alternative for me after dying in the final levels or prior to the fight against the last boss. An interesting detail from my experience with Gekioh - Shooting King is that I never came across the alternate version of the pink power-up, which explodes in a multitude or items when collected. I assume I wasn't able to meet the requirements for it or it's just absent from this particular port.

Animated intro and two runs in Geki and Comical modes
(courtesy of YouTube user ShiryuGL)

One important detail about Gekioh is that the game implements checkpoints during the levels and does away with them during boss confrontations (the only exception is the final boss since it’s the whole stage itself). While an interesting approach for people who dread checkpoint-based shmups, special attention must be given for deaths when fighting bosses. Even though you start the game with the vulcan shot, the ship is always respawned with the weapon you were using before dying. The worst thing that can happen, at least for me, is dying against the 6th or the 7th bosses when using lightning. Lightning is great for scoring during stages but downright awful on bosses. Another tip for survival in the long run is to point blank whenever possible. All ground enemies will also not shoot if you stay above or very close to them.

In an effort to provide more content than the bare bones TATE-less port, the Playstation disc includes a bonus menu that has six alternate versions to the base game. Some of them are quite amusing, such as Pocket mode (a heavily downgraded version modeled after Pocketstation/VMU specs) and Ancient mode (the game is presented with an antiquated graphic filter). No Mercy mode is just stupid, but Comical, Stingy, and Slow mode should be tried at least once each, especially the latter since it's got a weird pseudo-danmaku vibe. Unfortunately not much thought was put into these extra modes, which inexplicably share the same high score table of the main game. Another minor complaint about the interface is that to start a new credit from scratch you need to let the continue countdown finish to return to the main menu.

My best 1CC result in Geki mode (normal) is the one below. Beating the game with lives in stock is the best way to score higher in the end, given that spare lives are worth a lot upon game completion (bombs seem to add some points as well). An odd note about the high score table is that even though Gekioh - Shooting King has 8 levels and doesn't loop the stage indication for the 1CC is 10-1 (the second number refers to the area within the stage).

Next in the series is Shienryu Explosion, sequel to Shienryu/Gekioh released exclusively for the Japanese Playstation 2 along with yet another port of Shienryu in a disc titled The Shooting - Double Shienryu.

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