Hyper Dyne Side Arms and the art of the difficulty curve

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Hyper Dyne Side Arms is not a Capcom game I was personally familiar with up until quite recently, but it is a well-regarded one — and a title that Capcom frequently uses as the basis for Easter eggs that appear in other games.

To date, the “Mobichan” power-up icon, which, in Hyper Dyne Side Arms, awards the player an extra life, has put in cameo appearances in Street Fighter II, Warriors of Fate, Super Buster Bros., U.N. Squadron, Black Tiger, Namco x Capcom, Asura’s Wrath, Project X Zone, Mighty Final Fight, Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Red Earth.

Hyper Dyne Side Arms

Hyper Dyne Side Arms itself first appeared in 1986, making it a contemporary of Legendary Wings, The Speed Rumbler and Trojan, aka Tatakai no Banka. It’s a horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up in which one or two players take on the might of the Bozon empire, who are presumably attempting to take over the world via the medium of belly-dancing half-genies.

Those familiar with Capcom’s shoot ’em up output will find a lot of familiar ground in Hyper Dyne Side Arms. The ability to shoot both left and right in a horizontally scrolling scenario was previously seen a year earlier in 1985’s Section Z, while the various weapon-powerups available would go on to be used in a very similar format in 1987’s 1943: The Battle of Midway.

In Hyper Dyne Side Arms, you begin the game with a fairly conventional shot which goes straight ahead and which can be fired rapidly. Upon defeating certain enemies or formations, icons appear, and like in 1943, these cycle through various choices when you shoot them, tending to alternate between speed-ups and various different weapons.

Hyper Dyne Side Arms

Rather than adopting an approach where you pick a weapon and stick with it, however, in Hyper Dyne Side Arms, you can collect, upgrade and switch between weapons at will. Pick up an icon and it will either add the weapon to your arsenal or upgrade it; you can then either use it immediately or store it for later — though if you lose a life, you’ll also drop the weapon you were currently using.

There are also rotating options to collect, which rotate around your mech suit, and these will also provide supporting fire when using your basic shot. Finally, collecting “alpha” or “beta” symbols during gameplay will either provide you with a super-powerful mech suit that can take an extra hit in single-player, or cause the two players’ suits to combine in two-player mode. In both cases, the suit has considerably more firepower and, most significantly, won’t be immediately destroyed if hit — it’ll simply return to its regular power level.

Initially, Hyper Dyne Side Arms feels quite easy. Most players will likely be able to get through the first couple of stages without much difficulty, and the laser-like “Mega Bazooka Launcher” weapon makes extremely quick work of bosses if you can hold on to it. But the third stage brings with it one of the most extreme difficulty spikes I think I’ve ever seen — and when coupled with the “lose your powerups” mechanic, makes the game suddenly obscenely difficult.

Hyper Dyne Side Arms

This is, of course, not at all unusual for arcade games, which, after all, were always primarily designed to extract pocket change from people. But there’s no curve here; it just suddenly hits you with a brick wall of difficulty, and what initially began as a fairly easygoing shoot ’em up with a nice breezy feel to it becomes a bit of a frustrating mess — particularly as the short period of invincibility you get after respawning isn’t really long enough to get yourself out of danger during more intense enemy waves.

I don’t mind a bit of challenge factor — I play shoot ’em ups, after all — but Hyper Dyne Side Arms just feels like it takes things a bit too far in this regard. When, after a certain point in the game, it’s entirely possible to chew through an entire credit in less than ten seconds, something’s not quite right with the difficulty balance. And that’s a bit of a shame, particularly when the opening stages feel so welcoming.

I don’t doubt that a bit of practice and memorisation will doubtless pay dividends with Hyper Dyne Side Arms — but new players should be prepared to suddenly get their butt well and truly kicked by this game in their first few playthroughs! Alternatively, I suspect that playing cooperatively with a friend might also be helpful; there were numerous situations during my own solo playthroughs where respawning in a safe spot on screen would have been much easier if a pal was clearing a space for me!

Hyper Dyne Side Arms

Difficulty spike aside, Hyper Dyne Side Arms is a solid shoot ’em up of the quality you’d expect from veteran designers Yoshiki Okamoto and Noritaka “Poo” Funamizu. The weapon system is fun and interesting, providing a variety of ways to tackle the various encounters, and the bi-directional shooting adds an interesting layer of depth. Presentation is good by 1986 standards, with colourful, well-defined visuals and a stirring soundtrack (again somewhat reminiscent of 1943) by Ayako Mori, one of the first dedicated composers Capcom ever hired.

While it’s not my favourite Capcom game to date, Hyper Dyne Side Arms is a historically significant one for the sheer number of times it’s been referenced in other titles from the company. And with that in mind, it’s worth giving a go at least once or twice — even if the difficulty spike ends up driving you away in frustration!

Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium is available now for Nintendo SwitchPlayStation 4/5Xbox hoojimaflips and PC via Steam.

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Pete Davison
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