Despite creating some of the finest shoot-em-ups of all time, Japanese video game developer Toaplan is arguably more famous for an internet meme rather than its gaming output. However, thanks to the help of a thriving shoot-em-up scene, Toaplan is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves. Not only have its games started to appear on modern platforms, but a feature-length Toaplan documentary was recently the subject of a successful Kickstarter campaign. The next stage in the great Toaplan comeback trail is the release of a brand new Shoot-em-up collection on Steam.
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The Toaplan Shoot ‘Em Up Bundle Vol. 1 contains four games that can be purchased together or individually.
This includes vertical shoot-em-ups Twin Cobra and Truxton, vertical run-and-gun action game Out Zone, and horizontal shooter Zero Wing.
Newcomer Bitwave Games has done a fantastic job bringing each title to Steam, with practically zero input lag and super smooth performance.
In fact, purists may argue that some of the games run a little too well. The Steam version of Twin Cobra is noticeably faster than the M2 developed Switch port, which makes an already tricky game even harder. Fortunately, Bitwave has included a wealth of additional options to help players master each title.
In addition to the now standard rewind feature, you can create dozens and dozens of save states, including ten quick saves that can be assigned to the function keys for instant loading. This is perfect for when you want to practice and perfect specific sections, including different phases of boss fights.
Speaking of practicing, there’s also a dedicated practice mode that players can customise with different settings, such as starting weapons, number of cycles and upgrades.
Another really useful feature is the ability to display your ship’s hitbox, and that of enemies and incoming bullets. You can also make your hitbox smaller if you want to make the games slightly easier, without altering enemy waves and bullet patterns.
Even the borders surrounding the game screen can be tweaked to provide information on how to play and what all of the power-ups do.
With multiple difficulty options, different regional variations, plus a whole host of visual and assist features, it’s clear that Bitwave Games has put a lot of love and care into making each title as appealing and accessible as possible.
As for the actual games, stylish action shooter Out Zone is my personal favourite, largely thanks to a gradually depleting energy bar that requires constant topping up lest you power down and die. It creates a fantastic sense of pace and urgency, forcing you to throw caution to the wind and tear through each level at breakneck speeds. With enemy bullets also capable of killing you in just one hit, players will need to be at their very best in order to succeed.
Twin Cobra is even more unforgiving, despite a comparatively slower and more deliberate pace. The oldest game in the collection (it originally launched in 1987), Twin Cobra is a military shooter in which your attack helicopter must take down enemy targets on land, in the air and at sea. It may look basic by today’s standards, but the meaty explosions, brutal difficulty and excellent music makes for an incredibly addictive experience that still holds up today.
Truxton is another superb effort, ranking a close second behind Out Zone in this collection. It’s the perfect blend of style and substance, featuring gorgeous visuals, spectacular bosses, fantastic stage design, and just the right level of difficulty. It doesn’t appear particularly unique or innovative at first glance, but the way you’ll inch forward after every restart gives it a real addictive quality.
Despite generally liking horizontal shooters more than their vertical counterparts (Gradius and R-Type were my introduction to the genre), Zero Wing is actually my least favourite game in the collection. It’s not a bad game, and I really like the tractor beam ability, which lets players grab and fling enemy ships and bombs. It might be the slightly weedy sound effects that make it feel less satisfying than the other games in the collection, or the fact that I played it last, after already getting hooked on the other games.
I’d still recommend buying Zero Wing as part of the bundle instead of skipping it and purchasing the games individually, especially if you like great music, solid action and a plentiful supply of levels.
The Toaplan Shoot ‘Em Up Bundle Vol. 1 is an excellent collection of historically significant shooters that stand the test of time.
While M2 Shottriggers rightly gets praised for its work on the classics of the genre, Bitwave has done an excellent job bringing these Toaplan gems to PC. Fingers crossed we get a follow-up collection featuring the likes of Flying Shark, Batsugun and Dogyuun.
VERDICT – 4/5
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