Truxton [Tatsujin] (12/9/89)

Here is another guest post from friend of The Pre-Sonic Genesis Institute of Semi-Academic Chronological Gaming (PSGISACG), Joe of the gaming podcast OnTheStick and, judging by his internet presence, everything else in the world.  He’s graciously donated his time and shmup expertise to tackle Truxton, a game once famous for being one of the hardest arcade games in existence that is now more or less rightfully forgotten. I went ahead and posted the (very excellent) entirety of what he sent me, but felt the need to chime in from time to time. I went ahead and marked my comments in flowery purple as to not confuse the words of two very different men that united to mildly disprove of one game. Enjoy!

Hi there, denizens of Pre-Sonic Genesis.  My name is Joe and I’m from a nifty site called  CJ asked me to swing over and tell you guys about TruxtonTruxton is the first game on the Genesis from developer Toaplan.  That is, it’s the first game Sega licensed from Toaplan to reprogram themselves and release on the Genesis, as was their schtick at the time.  Still, by most accounts, it hews closely enough to the arcade version from Toaplan.

Toaplan merits some talk before getting to Truxton.  Toaplan was a prolific arcade developer in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but they’re not a developer that’s remembered very well by Westerners.  The biggest reason for that is that they did not have a US branch.  Their games were all published in the US by others.  Acclaim, for example, published the NES port of Tiger-Heli, while DreamWorks published the later Fire Shark for the Genesis.  Still, they did a good number of games, mostly shooters, and don’t get much recognition for it.  They went out of business in the mid-‘90s, but two better known companies rose from their ashes.  The first was initially known as Raizing, but is now known as Eighting and they are the company behind Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Marvel vs. Capcom 3.  The second is famed shoot-‘em-up developer Cave.

But enough about Toaplan.  Let’s talk about TruxtonTruxton is not a title that many people have nostalgia for, and with good reason.  Honestly… it’s mediocre.  It’s not bad per se, it’s just very middle of the road.  It’s standard, really.  And it’s very hard, but the difficulty comes from the wrong places.  Overall, it’s just not a memorable package. (The difficulty of the game is actually kind of put into perspective by the game’s Japanese title. Tatsujin roughly translates to “expert” or “master”; Toaplan wore the challenge of the game literally on the sleeve. Not that it makes it any less punishing or dull)

It’s a shoot-‘em-up that takes place in space, like so many others.  It scrolls vertically, though five stages that all have the same structure.  Each starts with a trip through space, then the second half of each stage is an asteroid base.  The story explains that some evil something or other sent these five asteroid bases to destroy earth.  It’s, uh, really original for a shooter.  On the other hand, no one cares about the story in a shooter.  Still, the story is indicative of just about everything else here.  None of it is original.  There are three different power ups, speed boosts, bombs (that are awesome looking skulls), it’s all bog-standard.  And it was already bog-standard in 1989.

The shoot-‘em-up is arguably the first videogame genre.  As such, its tropes are some of the most tired, but now it’s easier to get away with, since the genre is near-dead and it’s fans (like me) will grab just about anything that comes around just because it’s a new game in the genre.  In 1989, however, the genre was just about as strong as it had ever been.  The Genesis and the PC Engine (Turbografx-16, that is) were releasing these titles left and right, nevermind what you would see in an arcade at the time.  If you wanted to play a shooter in 1989, it was hard to take two steps without tripping over one, so there was no reason to spend time with one this average.

It even lacks the weirdness that CJ (and myself, and assuredly all other readers of this site) enjoy so much about the pre-1991 Genesis library.  It doesn’t have the sewer babies of Mystic Defender, it doesn’t have the Road Warrior-cum-Kafka aesthetic of Last Battle, it doesn’t have the dude running around in his drawers killing grim reapers of Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts.  It doesn’t have any of that.  It has your space ship.  Then some enemy space ships.  Aaaaaand that’s about all.  Space ships.  Mmmyep. (It does have what may be one of the first examples of your ship’s bomb attack cancelling out enemy bullets, which is kind of neat. But that’s about it)

As I said, the uninspired design is complemented by the brutal difficulty.  Just in case you weren’t bored into playing something else, Toaplan and Sega wanted to see to it you’d damn sure get frustrated enough to play something else.  When you die, you lose all of your speed power-ups.  And they aren’t very plentiful, which means that when you restart (at checkpoints, not where you died) you will be slow as molasses in a Wisconsin January (and I would know).  The enemies will all move faster than you, but more importantly, their bullets will move much, much faster than you.  And to top it off, your ship’s hitbox is massive. (Your entire ship, in fact, or at least enough of it to round up. Which was something of a Toaplan signature.)

As if that weren’t enough, there’s plenty of quarter-muncher design on display here.  My personal favorite being the myriad enemies that come from behind.  The problem with that is that with vertical shooters, the best place to be, especially if you’re still at the slowest speed you can be, is the bottom of the screen.  The enemies that come up do not telegraph at all, and, again, your hitbox is massive and so is theirs.  Basically, at that point memorization is your only path forward.  And that’s where I put the controller down.  The shoot-‘em-up is a genre that, when designed well, you can get good at.  That is to say, if you play a lot of these games, you can get good at the genre.  When a shooter falls on cheap tactics that can only be overcome with memorization, you lose what’s great about the genre.  It’s no longer about genre practice, it’s about specific game practice, and, as I’ve lamented, this game isn’t interesting enough to make me want to practice it.

So, yeah, the game is best described as “hard and boring,” which is probably the worst two words I could use to describe a videogame.  And perhaps at the time, the fact that it was the only shooter of its kind on the Genesis may have made it worth playing, but twenty two long years later, there are at least ten other shooters for the Genesis I could name off the top of my head that you would have more fun playing.  Fire Shark would be a good start, and it proves that Toaplan knew how to make this type of game.  Try that instead.

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4 Responses to Truxton [Tatsujin] (12/9/89)

  1. Alexandra says:

    Truxton is not Toaplan’s finest hour, but I always thought that it had a certain level of arcade razzle dazzle that gave it a bit of memorability. The skull bombs were a nice visual flourish, and both the fully powered-up vulcan spread and multi-tentacled homing laser were candy to my early teenage eyes.

    Pity, then, that the game suffers so badly from Gradius syndrome, in that if you die and lose your power-ups you may well be screwed. Still, I found it enjoyable for a 5-minute jaunt, just to see if that time I’d get just that little bit further.

    For what it’s worth I think the Japan-only PC Engine release, Tatsujin, is a more faithful port. Which, given that I haven’t played it for a few years, may well mean that it just murders you faster.

    • Joe D. says:

      I’ve never played the PC Engine version, but it’s honestly a ways down on my list of PC Engine games to pick up. I will get around to it eventually, I’m sure.

  2. Sean697 says:

    The hard part about this is that you have to beat the game twice to get the best ending. I think the highlight of this game was that at the time there was not a single better looking shooter on the market for home consoles. And it had a great skull bomb effect. The key for this game was knowing what weapons to use when and of course keeping them powered up. But mainly always using that extremely useful lightning homing weapon. You could breeze though with all 5 beams most of the game and only switch to the green gun for like the bosses sometimes.

  3. FanOfToaplanShmups says:

    Truxton is a good enough game despite its high difficulty–including that the stages keep going continuously without any interruptions until a ship is lost.

    I actually found that homing blue lightning is only useful for the 3rd stage boss (only lock on 3 out of the 5 beams so the other two can take out the side turrets) and the 5th stage boss (Dogurava that is even shown on the game box and the cartridge label). Otherwise, it is often way too slow to damage any of the midbosses enough, often locks too many beams onto one of the midbosses (requiring stopping firing and firing again to relock the beams), and also provides no protection against enemies arriving from the bottom of the screen (very bad for stage 3 with so many green ships entering from the bottom). Actually, the stage 1 boss was best defeated with the green expert beam, Stage 2 boss was best taken out with red, and stage 4 boss was also best taken out with red. (Also, the 1up on stage 1 requires green, and the 1 up on stage 2 requires red.) Another mean trick is that when using blue at the start of stage 2, the first attack of 5 midbosses would go on full chase directly to the ship, instead of going into formation.

    It is interesting that when Sega reprogrammed the game, they also made the red 3rd level power a rainbow circle. Unlike the arcade and PC Engine versions that use a wider spread only in front of the ship, the pods fire rainbows that circle the ship. Holding down C button fires them rapidly enough to act like a shield. This almost completely eliminates the problem of enemies arriving from the bottom of the screen ramming into the ship (but the ship can obviously still be shot down).

    Also of interest is that round 1 stages 1 through 5 are slower and simplified shot patterns, even if the enemies are the same speed. In round 2, even just the first midboss attack is the actual arcade pattern of firing three way shots after each laser was fired.

    Finally, it is absolutely true that poor gameplay is greatly punished! Not only does the ship lose all of its firepower (unless enough “P’ powerups were stocked up to immediately power up the next ship and it takes 5 “P'” icons for per firepower level) and all of its speed–but losing another ship too soon gets set back to yet another checkpoint instead of the same one.

    I still like the game, but one other annoyance is that the music messes up the overall pacing of the game since it is way too fast when compared to the arcade or PC Engine version. The otherwise plain space background isn’t even something worth paying any attention to with so much continuous action during the game.

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