If you haven’t had quite enough veins popping out of your forehead due to Gamer Rage of late, then boy, do I have the game for you. It’s called Typhoon (or sometimes A-Jax), it’s by Konami, it came out in 1987 and it’s readily available today as part of the excellent Konami Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection. And, if my description hadn’t already tipped you off, it’s really, really fucking hard.
For some, that might be a bit of a turnoff, but Typhoon wisely opens with a pretty spectacular opening level that is sure to draw in more than a few people and make them curious about what comes later. At least it does in its European incarnation; the original Japanese “A-Jax” release has its stages in a completely different order.
The reason the “Typhoon” version of the game is more spectacular is because it opens with one of a couple of quasi-3D stages, rather than the top-down shooting action seen in the rest of the game. It actually makes more sense, too; in both versions of the game, the introductory sequence shows a fighter jet taking off, but in the Japanese version, you’re promptly deposited in an attack helicopter — it’s only in the European Typhoon release that you begin the game in the jet.
For the remainder of this piece, assume we’re talking about the European version, since this is the one that appears by default in the Konami Anniversary Collection.
The 3D stages in Typhoon are pretty simple. Some compare them to Sega’s After Burner, but this is primarily due to the way it looks — you’re flying a twin-engine aircraft that looks a bit like the F-14 Tomcat seen in After Burner. It doesn’t take long for it to distinguish itself, though — with Typhoon’s vertical tate orientation compared to After Burner’s conventional horizontal view being the most obvious difference.
In practice, the gameplay is more akin to older arcade shoot ’em ups like Gyruss, in which you’re shooting down targets that are gradually emerging from the background, firing when they get near you. Typhoon also doesn’t attempt to simulate the horizon; the 3D stages are simply depicted as if you’re descending vertically down from a great height onto a target which acts as the stage’s boss. For example, in the first stage, it’s as if you’re dive-bombing a large naval vessel and its escorts.
You have two main fire buttons in Typhoon: an “air” attack and a “ground” attack. In the 3D stages, the “air” attack fires shots towards a gunsight that floats ahead of your aircraft, and leaves head-up display style markers on-screen for a moment allowing you to track where you’ve been shooting. The “ground” attack, meanwhile, drops bombs — and these are a bit tricky to aim, since they don’t really go anywhere near your aiming reticle.
Consequently, on your first few attempts at the opening stage, you’ll doubtless wonder if you’re doing any damage to the ship you’re supposed to be bombing — and likely get shot to shit in the process, since the second you begin that final attack run, Typhoon begins bombarding you with some intense attack patterns that are very tricky to dodge if you’re unprepared.
Assuming you clear that initial challenge, you’re then into the helicopter-based top-down stages, which make up the majority of Typhoon’s levels. Here, the action is closer in execution to games like Namco’s Xevious, with your “air” attack being a simple shot straight ahead, and your “ground” attack being bombs dropped on a targeting reticle.
Very occasionally, you’ll come across ships in the top-down stages that drop power-ups when you destroy them. These can either be an “O” power-up, which adds an “option” to your chopper and supplements your firepower, or a cycling power-up that allows you access to a selection of different weapon upgrades including a rapid-firing Vulcan cannon whose shots can be “bent” somewhat, a three-way shot, a laser and the replacement of your basic bombs with a powerful ground-targeting laser cannon.
You shouldn’t rely on these, though, because the power-ups show up very infrequently, and, this being an ’80s Konami shoot ’em up, you lose everything when you die. Not only that, you’ll get reset back to a checkpoint, too, so there’s absolutely no brute-forcing your way through this one — you are going to have to get good if you want to make any progress whatsoever.
Herein lies the aspect of Typhoon that will likely frustrate many players: it’s very unforgiving. Clipping a single shot will blow you to smithereens, and there’s often a lot of shots on screen at once — some of which move quite quickly or home in on you. And it doesn’t take long to stumble across enemies with some seriously unpleasant attack patterns — with a prominent early example coming towards the end of the second stage, just before the boss. And to make matters worse, if you die on the boss, you have to run this gauntlet again before you can take another crack at it!
Up until this point, you’ve mostly been dealing with enemies that shoot straightforward bullets at you. Sometimes tricky to dodge if there are a lot of them, sure, but very manageable. What this sequence introduces is an enemy type that fires a large missile at you — and when you destroy that missile, it splits into eight smaller ones that cover a large area and take aim right for you: absolutely panic-inducing. You can destroy these smaller missiles, but if there are too many of them, chances are at least one will get through and take you out.
The solution is to take out these missile carriers before they’re able to shoot their shot. Since they often come in pairs, taking just one of the two out makes the situation a lot more manageable — and thus positioning yourself in a way that means you can blast them as soon as they arrive on screen means that you can put yourself at a bit more of an advantage.
It’s essentially a fairly extreme example of how success in most shoot ’em ups is dependent on learning enemy attack patterns and being prepared for them on future run-throughs. Typhoon is an example of what I like to think of as a “strategic shooter” — not in the sense of free-roaming titles like EA’s classic Strike series, but rather in the sense that the game is very much dependent on lightning-fast decision making based on the situation you see in front of you.
Many encounters in Typhoon are based around the idea of a lot of different things happening at once, and the natural response to this is simply to get overwhelmed, stressed out and blow up. Instead, what you need to do is quickly and calmly survey the situation, prioritise the order in which you need to destroy the available targets in order to keep yourself safe, and then execute that plan — all in the space of a couple of seconds. Once you’ve successfully achieved this, you can then store that successful strategy for subsequent run-throughs — or for if you encounter a similar situation later in the game.
There are a number of other shoot ’em ups over the years that have taken this distinct approach — Toaplan’s Flying Shark is a particularly good example — but it’s particularly pronounced in Typhoon. If you don’t strategise effectively in Typhoon you’ll simply find yourself banging your head repeatedly against a seemingly insurmountable challenge, and with the checkpoint system in place, you won’t be getting past it until you develop a solid understanding of this!
If you’re not accustomed to this type of shoot ’em up action, Typhoon can easily become absolutely infuriating. Hell, even if you know exactly what it’s doing, it can be rage-inducing. But it’s a game that is worth investing some time and effort into, because the feeling of satisfaction you get from successfully overcoming a particularly challenging encounter is absolutely wonderful — and you’ll quickly get hooked on that feeling.
Typhoon is available as part of the Konami Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection, which is available for Windows PC via Steam, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox. Limited Run Games is planning a physical release of the collection for Switch and PS4, but a release date for this hasn’t been announced at the time of writing.
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