Parody shoot 'em ups have been a popular sub-genre in Japan for decades. Now that this underrated gem from 1995 is available in the west, get ready to shoot at all sorts of goofy oddities within a collection of off-the-wall stages.
When you think of classic shmup developers, Jaleco simply doesn't stand out as much as titans such as Konami, Capcom, Taito, and Cave. However, they definitely made some unique entries in the genre that are often overlooked. Game Tengoku originally released in arcades back in 1995 and it's a parody of past Jaleco games and even features a cast of familiar characters. A couple of years later in 1997, a Sega Saturn version released that featured full screen graphics, a co-op mode, a redone soundtrack, and new levels, bosses, and cutscenes as well as a new character. Thankfully, this release contains both the arcade and Sega Saturn versions plus the ability to download a couple of extra characters in the form of Clarice from City Connection and Homura Banto from Bases Loaded.
List of games parodied in Game Tengoku CruisinMix
- Exerion (1983)
- Formation Z (1984)
- Field Combat (1985)
- City Connection (1985)
- Momoko 120% (1986)
- Butasan (1987)
- Bases Loaded (1987)
- Plus Alpha (1989)
With all of that out of the way, allow me to describe how awesome Game Tengoku CruisinMix is to actually play. For starters, the core vertical shoot 'em up gameplay is what you'd expect from the genre but it's exceptionally tight, challenging, and satisfying. The basic controls involve shooting either rapidly or by tapping the shot button. Meanwhile, holding it down allows you to charge a powerful blast. You also have a stock of bombs that you can deploy at any time. Where the gameplay starts to shine is in its varied selection of characters with each having their own array of distinct shots and bombs. My favourite ended up being the very weird Miki & Misato with Genesis-3. Their short-range shot and attack drones are so out of the ordinary that I found myself having a blast playing as them.
As you play Game Tengoku CruisinMix, you'll fly through plenty of goofy stages and fight a handful of crazy bosses, too. I find that the overall sense of fun and humour makes the experience much more memorable than the average shmup and it made me want to keep playing even after completing the somewhat brief campaign. On top of the wacky visuals, the audio is absolutely phenomenal with expressive Japanese voice actors, silly music, and gratifying sound effects as heard through the subtle gunfire and burst-like explosions. It may be over 20 years old but the sights and sounds of Game Tengoku hold up beautifully.
Update: Version 1.02
Just today, an update released that fixed some bugs and translated the Sega Saturn port to English so please disregard my point where I mention that Classic Mode is entirely in Japanese. This update also includes a sound test, an English voice for Yuki Ito, arranged music for Time Attack mode, and other improvements. I must say, this is one awesome update!
Thankfully, Game Tengoku CruisinMix includes some awesome museum-style content. Within the Data Mode HD menu, you can browse through each of the parodied games by viewing various scans and screenshots of the games as well as listen to characters chat to each other about the games which is hilarious and informative. It would have been awesome to be able to play these games because let's face it; Game Tengoku CruisinMix doesn't have much longevity as it's merely a port of 2 versions of a shoot 'em up. Speaking of which, I find it extremely odd that the Sega Saturn port in Classic Mode isn't translated at all. I have no idea what the menu options mean so navigating through them is very difficult. On the plus side, the leaderboards and Time Attack mode add some welcome replay value.
As a compilation of the arcade and Sega Saturn versions of a shoot 'em up from the mid-'90s, Game Tengoku CruisinMix holds up impressively well. Here's hoping we get to see a port of GunBare! Game Tengoku 2 soon.
- + Tight and challenging shmup gameplay with a variety of fun-filled characters
- + Enjoyable stages and goofy bosses
- + Cool museum-style content
- - Fairly short-lived and could use additional modes to increase replay value
- - It would have been cool if the parodied games were playable