Toaplan are well known in shmup circles for their classic games that dropped into arcades starting in the late 80’s. Some collections of their games have mad their way to other systems before, as well as a previous on Steam, with his latest focusing on 4 classic shmups – Hellfire, Flying Shark, Fire Shark & Slap Fight. Worth jumping back into a retro cockpit? Lets take a look.
Hellfire: This is the nostalgia piece of the collection for me, a game I played back in the day on Mega Drive with that sweet soundtrack blasting out of the CRT’s speakers. Unfortunately there’s no Mega Drive version here, instead we have the original Arcade release, but it does have improvements – outside of the soundtrack for me. Graphics are nicer and the difficulty is cranked up, enemies move quicker and fire more compared to how I remember. As Toaplans like to have a unique aspect, other than this being their first side-scroller, Hellfire has switchable directional fire. With this you can switch between 4 different modes (forward, backward, up/down and diagonal) that can change up how you tackle some situations. Sounds amazing and is for the most part, but there are times when it falls apart. The modes have to be switched through progressively and in the heat of battle those couple of seconds could be the difference, and going into a situation with the wrong mode is painful. Other than that its a great little shmup, there’s an original mode to choose that tweaks things too, and the 2 player coop rounds out the package.
Flying Shark: While not nostalgia fuelled like the previous game, it is one I have played before courtesy of the collections available on the Evercade. This game from the late 80’s is the vertical scrolling kind that Toaplan were known for, kinda reminds me of Bomber Raid that I used to play on Master System as a kid – only way more difficult. You’ll be grabbing power ups and bombs to deal with the multitude of enemies that come your way while avoiding copious amounts of fire. The unique aspect for this one is that the field of play is larger than your field of view, so moving left to right can expand out to reveal some hidden enemies. Sure it can be a little cheesy I guess being blasted by an unseen enemy, but if you’re prepared for it then its a factor to deal with, plus there’s always coop. This seems designed for 2 player if you are using the standard worldwide release mode, but if playing on your own then switching to the Japanese single-player version can help ease some of the difficulty while mixing things up a bit.
Fire Shark: Another I’ve sampled previously, but even if I hadn’t there would still be the feeling that I had. That’s because the game is a sequel to Flying Shark, so while it does look a bit better graphically and have some idea of its own, its lineage is noticeable as soon as you fire it up. When you take off things will feel familiar, but once the hits land and your enemies are sent to oblivion, tweaks are noticed. The most obvious would be how weapon power work, before it would mainly upgrade your weapon, now it can change it too. there’s various firing modes which can be changed by picking up drops of a certain colour, some will focus fire while others spread the shots for less damage but over a bigger area. As noted it plays similar enough otherwise, including the extended field of play, so is more of the same – whether that’s good or bad would depend on your view of Flying Shark.
Slap Fight: The only one of the collection that I haven’t tried before, so at least there was something fresh for me to try, is Slap Fight. Kinda fresh I guess as we have another vertical shmup, only this time the game leans towards science fiction instead. There’s a couple other things that help set it aside from the shark duo here, namely the limited fire range and destructible scenery objects, as well as the unique aspect to it. Here upgrades can be applied to your ship in modular way to expand your firepower, downside is that the increase in size also increases your hitbox which leaves you much more susceptible to fire – dealing with enemies before they can fire becomes paramount. This doesn’t always work in truth given some enemies that can fire in 360 degrees will fire when off screen if passed by, you can literally take a bullet in the arse if not careful. You’ll likely be more towards the centre of the screen due to the firing range so there’s a buffer, but it will still catch you out in the heat of the moment. While it does have some interesting ideas I generally find Slap Fight to be the weakest of the bunch, its not as good visually as the others and can end up more frustrating to play as well.
Each game packs in plenty of QOL options, as well as the likes of online leaderboards etc, so you can tweak things to be as original or updated as you like. Probably one of the most important aspects to some, especially those that have played these before, would be how well the emulation works. That’s not really something to worry about with regards to performance & latency as almost anything should be able to breeze through what the programme needs. My system (R7 5800X/32GB/RTX 3090) was way too overkill for something like this, even the one at work (i5 2500s/16GB/R7 260X) breezed through it to hit the frame limit (60 or original), so almost anything really should be able to run the emulator used without issue.
There’s some options for you to tweak, but outside of resolution, its really boils down to how you want the games to look. There’s the usual scanline filters etc but you can also ap[ply upscaling filters to the games themselves and smooth over some of the pixels or leave them running raw. It doesn’t end there as the borders can be customised too. A simple image can be displayed or you can have them showing tutorial information & tips, or even visual cues that oscillate to the various sound channels you want to keep an eye on. Full rotation is also offered so if you have a monitor connected that you can physically rotate, then you can get some full screen action.
As a collection this second volume from Toaplan sports the nostalgic Hellfire, almost legendary Shark duo, and the middling Slap Fight, for an overall great dose of classic shmup gameplay. The emulation quality, various versions and extras alongside the QOL upgrades for each game, are well done and will find an audience even amongst the more hardcore veterans of the genre. As an added bonus the games in the collection can be purchased individually too, so can cost as little as £7 to nab a favourite, or try something for the first time, if the whole package doesn’t interest.
Outside of one occasionally sputtering engine, manages to fly straight and true