With the announcement of the Irem and Toaplan arcade collections alongside the new Evercade handheld, the Evercade EXP, the retro gaming platform from Blaze is going from strength to strength — and offering a number of titles that will be of particular interest to Japanese gaming enthusiasts.
The Irem and Toaplan collections aren’t out until later this year alongside the new Evercade handheld, but to get you in the mood we thought we might take a look at what these two carts offer and give you a quick preview of what to expect! Like most Evercade carts, the Irem and Toaplan collections contain a fun mix of well-known games and deeper cuts, providing plenty of fun experiences to explore whether or not you grew up with these games.
So let’s dive in!
This is the biggie on the Irem cart. R-Type is probably Irem’s most well-known game, and certainly one of its most beloved. Originally released in 1987, it’s a defining influence on a specific type of horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up that places a strong emphasis on technical gameplay and avoiding obstacles as much as blasting enemies.
Its iconic “Force” system, which provides a detachable weapon that can be used in a variety of ways, has been paid homage to in a variety of other games both old and new, and its Giger-esque biomechanical bosses are among some of the most memorable enemies we’ve ever encountered in gaming.
R-Type is a classic — but be prepared for a stiff challenge, because it’s bastard hard, particularly here in its original arcade incarnation!
Moon Patrol (Irem)
One of Irem’s earliest games, Moon Patrol is noteworthy for a few reasons. It was one of the company’s first big hits, it was a pioneer in the use of parallax scrolling to simulate depth in 2D scenes, and it was one of the first games from Takashi Nishiyama, a developer who would go on to create a variety of beloved fighting game franchises such as Street Fighter and Fatal Fury, and later form his own company, Dimps.
Although hailing from 1982, Moon Patrol is one of the most truly timeless games on the Irem cartridge, as its combination of shoot ’em up action and side scrolling obstacle course is easy to pick up but hard to master — and monstrously addictive. Plus you’ll only need to play it once to get its distinctive twelve-bar blues backing music — an early example of a continuous soundtrack in a video game — well and truly stuck in your head!
In the Hunt (Irem)
Coming to us fresh from 1993, In the Hunt is the most recently developed title on the Irem cartridge, and also one of the most visually striking. If the art style looks familiar, that’s because the game was the work of Kazuma Kujo and several other Irem staffers who would go on to form Metal Slug developer Nazca after growing frustrated at Irem’s long periods of inactivity. Kujo would subsequently go on to form Granzella — which, in a pleasing bit of closure, would end up releasing a new R-Type game in 2021.
In the Hunt is a submarine-based shoot ’em up in which you (and, optionally, a friend) blast your way through a variety of visually stunning locations. The game is noteworthy for not featuring forced scrolling, unlike most other shoot ’em ups; instead, you and your partner can proceed through the stages at your own pace. This — along with the underwater theme — was a deliberate attempt by Kujo to subvert the established conventions of the genre and do something a bit different.
Battle Chopper (Irem)
Also known as Mr. Heli, this unusual shoot ’em up casts you in the role of what appears to be a sentient helicopter on a quest to defeat “The Muddy”. The game combines player-controlled scrolling sequences and forced scrolling sections, and has a distinctly “exploratory” feel to it as you blast away elements of terrain to reveal precious crystals and power-ups to spend them on.
This perhaps isn’t one of Irem’s better-known games on the whole, but it did get a number of solid ports to home computers and consoles back in the day, including PC Engine/Turbografx-16, Atari ST and Amiga.
Lightning Swords (Irem)
Probably the most obscure title on the Irem collection for Evercade, Lightning Swords is an arcade game that has not previously had a home release in any form, making the Evercade cart most players’ first opportunity to actually own a copy.
In Lightning Swords, you set out on a quest to avenge the death of Princess Orchid in a setting inspired by feudal Japan. Unusually, there’s a strong emphasis on playing defensively rather than aggressively, which gives this a very distinct feel compared to other side-scrolling hack-and-slash titles from the period.
10-Yard Fight (Irem)
The Irem Arcade 1 collection for Evercade closes out with 10-Yard Fight, which is an American football game. Don’t run away just yet, though, because in stark contrast to many other American football games both from the period and in more recent years, 10-Yard Fight pretty much ditches all of the complicated (and, to an outsider, completely indecipherable) strategic aspect in favour of something with much more immediacy.
While this may not be your most-played title on the Irem cart for Evercade, I encourage you to at least give 10-Yard Fight a go; speaking as someone who is generally not into either sports or sports games, I actually rather like this game!
One of the earliest titles from Toaplan, a company that would go on to become one of the most beloved and respected names in shoot ’em ups, Tiger-Heli is a simple, no-nonsense vertical scroller about blasting everything in your path and trying not to get shot down. Despite its age, it holds up very well, with satisfying gameplay, a catchy soundtrack and some interesting mechanics.
It’s also one of those games that, if you’re a gamer of a certain age like me, you’ll suddenly notice got ripped off by absolutely everyone for a particular period of gaming history. I guess they all thought Toaplan was doing something right!
Also rather inexplicably known as Slap Fight, which sounds like a very different sort of game, Alcon is a vertically scrolling shoot ’em up with a progressive power-up system similar to that seen in Konami’s classic Gradius. Like Tiger-Heli, a stirring soundtrack accompanies your assault mission, but this time the game has a much stronger sci-fi feel than the modern-day military action of Tiger-Heli.
Alcon was a popular title back in the day with lots of home ports of varying quality — but the Toaplan Arcade 1 features the original arcade version to enjoy at home.
Also known as Get Star, Guardian is one of the obligatory obscurities in the Toaplan Evercade collection. Somewhat reminiscent of Irem’s Kung-Fu Master with a sci-fi skin, you control a robot walking along and punching various monstrosities in the face. It’s a fun game, but rather tricky to begin with — particularly if you’re more accustomed to later takes on the beat ’em up.
Guardian was a huge flop for Toaplan on its original release, but it remains fondly regarded by its original creators — and thus just as worthy an inclusion on the Toaplan Evercade cart as its more successful, popular brethren.
Flying Shark (Toaplan)
One of Toaplan’s most famous games, this vertically scrolling shoot ’em up is noteworthy in that it demands quite a bit more on-the-fly strategic thinking than many other shoot ’em ups out there. Encounters are often made up of numerous elements, and making it through them safely will demand that you pick and choose your targets carefully rather than simply spraying bullets everywhere and hoping for the best.
Historically speaking, Flying Shark is a noteworthy title for being a game where the tech on which Toaplan’s games were built took a noticeable step forward. It remains a widely beloved shoot ’em up to this day even among modern fans, and is sure to be a popular part of this Evercade cart.
If you used to watch Mark Bussler’s Classic Game Room show on YouTube — may it rest in peace — then you’ll doubtless be well familiar with Truxton and its spaceships of red, blue and green, as Bussler was absolutely obsessed with the excellent Mega Drive port of this cracking shoot ’em up.
Playing the arcade version will doubtless make you realise just how good the Mega Drive version actually is — but again, it’s great to finally be able to own an official copy of the arcade version for the home on this Evercade cart.
Zero Wing (Toaplan)
Another game probably more famous for its Mega Drive port — at least partly due to its legendarily terrible, meme-spawning translation — Zero Wing is an excellent shoot ’em up, eschewing Toaplan’s usual vertical scrolling for some horizontal action.
Interestingly, the arcade version actually lacks the memeworthy intro completely, but it’s still a great game for one or two players, featuring some interesting mechanics such as the ability to suck up enemies and then blast them back at other incoming threats.
Snow Bros. (Toaplan)
A rare example of Toaplan doing something that isn’t a shoot ’em up, Snow Bros. is a single-screen “kill ’em all” platformer in the Bubble Bobble mould for one or two players. Cover enemies with snow, then roll them around in a ball to take out other enemies! It’s a ton of fun — and, interestingly, got resurrected recently on modern platforms. This is the arcade original, though.
Snow Bros. is a game probably best described as a bit of a cult classic — while it might not be the first title many people think of when you say “Toaplan”, it definitely has its passionate advocates and longstanding fans, so being able to enjoy it at home any time on Evercade will be great.
Teki Paki (Toaplan)
Finally, by far the most obscure title on the collection is Toaplan’s attempt at a falling block puzzle game, known as Teki Paki. In this game, rather than making the usual lines or sets or three, you’re tasked with making clusters consisting of five or more of the same coloured gems. Unusually, these don’t have any predefined arrangement, so you can “attach” them to one another any combination of horizontally, vertically and/or diagonally.
Teki Paki is another title that didn’t do all that well for Toaplan when it was originally released — but that’s why it getting a second chance on Evercade is so important. This is a really fun puzzler that people deserve to enjoy!
And that’s everything! We don’t yet have a release date for the Irem and Toaplan collections for Evercade, but we can expect them later in the year alongside the Evercade EXP handheld, since they’re bundled with the Limited Edition release — now sold out, sadly! Preorders for these carts aren’t yet open — but if you haven’t already, you can preorder the upcoming Jaleco and Gaelco arcade collections for the system right here!
Which games are you looking forward to the most?
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