First of all, as with the first two collections, the Toaplan Arcade Shoot’em Ups collections are Steam bundles. This means the games can be bought individually or as a bundle with a discount. The Toaplan Arcade Shoot’em ups Collection vol 3 costs €/$19.99, while the individual games cost €/$7.79.
Bitwave Games is back again with another shoot’em up bundle containing selection of shooters from Toaplan’s illustrious game legacy. Most celebrated by the shmup community are Batsugun and Tiger-Heli. Both are available in other forms already (The Tiger Heli collection on consoles and Batsugun Saturn Tributed Boosted), but the individual arcade games haven’t been released on Steam before.
To accompany these two, Bitwave added Vimana and Fixeight. Both shooters of course, with Fixeight being the odd one out as it’s a top-down run-and-gun, instead of a vertical shooter. Both have never been released outside its original arcade releases.
Just like the previous collections, the emulation runs through BitWave Games’ own and highly praised (by us and others) emulation platform, filled with accessibility features, emulation settings, and online leaderboards. I’ve gone over these features in detail in the review of Toaplan Arcade Shoot’em Ups Vol.2, and nothing has changed in the meantime. You still have the ability to change your hitbox, add lives, and set the needed score needed for an extra life.
The scoreboards are nicely divided for gamers who use assists and those who stick to the original arcade mode (assists disabled). This is the purest way of keeping score and enabling assists I’ve seen used in these kinds of shmup re-releases.
Video settings are very useful as well. Apart from basic stuff like setting the game to fullscreen mode or windowed and adding or removing filters, Bitwave’s emulator lets you set the game in “Tate” mode as well. For those who can swivel their monitor.
Undeniably, Batsugun is the grandfather of the bullet hell genre. After Toaplan went belly up after the release of the game, and its developers spread out and started their own shmup-producing studios, Batsugun was the standard all strived for. From Donpachi and its even better follow-up DoDonpachi to Giga Wing, all these games had Batsugun in the back of their minds.
Playing it again really sparked the flame right up again. It is extremely well-balanced, with a learning curve and gameplay positioned somewhere between reaction and automation-based. Yes, you do need to have some quick reflexes, but getting familiar with the enemy waves and routes will help you get good quite fast.
For me, the biggest outsider and biggest surprise is Fixeight. This is the first time the game appears on anything other than the original arcade game. Instead of a vertical shooter like the rest of the collection, Fixeight is a top-down run-and-gunner from 1992 and is the spiritual successor to “Out Zone”, which was part of the first Toaplan collection.
I like Out Zone, but I love FixEight! Surprisingly, FixEight is my favorite game in this set. It’s hard to pinpoint why this game clicks with me so much, but it must have something to do with the great level design. It demands of you to utilize the different weapons each character can switch between on strategically located ‘pads.’ The base weapon can be used in eight directions and the sub-weapon is fixed to the front. Figuring out which character and which weapons suit specific circumstances the best is great fun.
The levels are diversely set up with sections that need you to charge your enemies, while others need you to carefully navigate the safest route, tactically eliminating threats from a distance so you can to avoid getting nose to nose with them later on. Getting hold of the ‘Special weapon’ and holding on to it as long as possible is your best bet to stay alive and score high. It can shoot through walls too!
Tiger Heli (1985)
Kept in high regard and known by many, Tiger Heli must is one of the two big attraction points of this collection. To be honest, I’m not clicking with it. And it is sacrilege to say on Retrolike.net, but I think it didn’t age well. While this vertical shooter is very tactical, the chopper is slow and unresponsive, while fast-shooting and turret-turning tanks have perfect aim. It feels tiresome to outmaneuver a tank brigade so you can safely set them in flames. If you try to hone in on them too directly, you will be shot out of the sky immediately. Yes, it makes the game tactically interesting, but it feels tedious to do for every wave of tanks coming from behind.
The limited range of your guns feels realistic, but again demands more movement from your chugging little chopper. It is a product of its time and introduced a lot of neat ideas, but it isn’t as much fun to play as Batsugun and FixEight.
The last entry in the collection is a more traditional space shooter. Vimana (an Indian word that refers to a vehicle that can fly in the sky) sticks to the basics the late-eighties Toaplan shooters like Fire Shark and Truxton. It even looks and plays a bit like a spiritual successor to Truxton. But much harder.
Vimana is relentless. To the point that it chews on your gamer-confidence. Although the game is a stunner to look at, with graphics and sets that remind me a lot of Truxton. In many ways, it seems like the developers tried to make a Truxton on steroids. Enemies are extremely fast, with different speeds and patterns, while your ship is relatively slow. The bomb option isn’t a screen wiper and not as useful as you might expect. It does protect you against enemies on a crash course.
Judging by the online leaderboards, numerous gamers were able to set extremely high scores on the game. It shows the game is doable with enough dedication and talent. It’s just more hardcore than most of the Toaplan offerings released so far. Harder than Truxton, Batsugun and so on.
Doing it Bitwave-style
Especially looking at this set, I really applaud the way Bitwave releases these games. Are you interested in all? Bitwave offers you a nice discount. If you’re only in it for one or two games, buy them individually and it saves you a bit of money. It feels like a customer-friendly approach. Lately, in this particular niche of re-releases, publishers sometimes act like pariahs who are just a bit too willing to feed on FOMO, instead of focusing on delivering a good product.
With one Toaplan collection to go, I do hope Bitwave will and is able to utilize this emulator framework for other arcade releases from other classic publishers. I guess we have to wait and see.
With this third volume Bitwave Games dropped another batch of Toaplan classics in the Steam shop. In the case of FixEight and Vimana they actually preserved the games for vanishing in obscurity. Both Batsugun is great as it ever was and FixEight is hidden gem of the highest order. Tiger Heli hasn't aged well, while Vimana is hard but just. The great emulation platform does these games absolute justice and with the consumer-friendly way it is sold, every shmup fan should check this bundle out.
- Great emulation
- filled with features
- in-depth online leaderboards
- bundle price scheme gives consumers options