The Dreamcast is known for providing players with arcade ports and classic action games. Most of its titles are short games that require some skill to beat. This tradition has continued long after Sega stopped supporting it’s final console. The Dreamcast still has a strong homebrew community and new titles are being produced each year. Many of these new games are scrolling shooters but they all have their different take on the classic genre. Retro Faith takes a look at why indie shmups are still so popular on the Dreamcast.
Before we dive in, it makes sense to look back at the shmups that built the Dreamcast’s legacy. During the Dreamcast’s lifecycle there were an abundance of scrolling shooters. These vary in quality but some of the best examples of the genre can be found on the platform. Many of these games originated in the arcades on the NAOMI hardware. Because Sega had designed the Dreamcast to mimic its powerful NAOMI hardware, porting games over from the arcade to the Dreamcast was relatively easy. It was a no-brainer for Sega and other developers to bring their popular arcade games to a home audience.
Capcom, one of the few bigger developers who supported the console, released four shooters. Examples, such as Giga Wing and Gunbird 2, show the system was capable of taking arcade perfect ports in its stride. Treasure ported the critically acclaimed Ikaruga and it is thought of as one of the greatest shooters of all time. Sega themselves brought over many shooters, especially in the mid 2000’s. You can find many of the consoles greatest shooters released after the system was officially discontinued in 2001. Triggerheart Exelica, Under Defeat and Karous were published by Sega between 2005 and 2007. Although all these titles were Japan exclusives, their success showed there was still an appetite from Dreamcast players to own new shmups.
The last official release of any game on the Dreamcast was Karous in March 2007. So any game released after this date we have to class as a homebrew or indie title. You may be forgiven for thinking that some of these homebrew indie shmups lack quality. However, you only need to delve in for a few moments to see that is not the case. Shmups tend to have a very dedicated fan base of hardcore gamers who love reaching for 1cc plays and high scores. And considering how perfect the architecture of the Dreamcast is, there is no surprise that indie developers continue to make indie shmups for it. I have looked at all the scrolling shmups released on the Dreamcast up to 2020. Our story of indie shmups starts in January 2007 just a couple of months before the Dreamcast’s final official release.
Timm and René Hellwig, two brothers from Germany, started up NG:Dev.Team in the early 2000’s. They worked on producing a new Neo Geo game, Last Hope, for several years and it finally saw release in 2006. With only 60 AES carts produced it seemed as though this tough shooter would fall into gaming obscurity. However, the two man team struck a deal with RedSpotGames to bring 2500 copies of Last Hope to Sega’s final console. The news broke in late 2006 that the port would be released in December but it was delayed until 30 January 2007.
Last Hope is a traditional tactical scrolling shooter that takes its queues from Irems’ 1987 classic R-Type. The earth has been invaded by aliens and you have six days to repel their attack in your warp capable star fighter. The developers describe Last Hope as a tactical fighter due to its blocking mechanic and slow paced gameplay. You must remember the enemy and obstacle patterns to succeed as this game is tough right from the get go. Each death will put you back to the last checkpoint and power ups are few and far between. Once you acquire the rotary unit it is used to block incoming fire as you slide it around your ship.
Reviewers at the time were torn between their excitement for a new Dreamcast game and the extreme difficulty. Many criticised the bullet colours that were hard to distinguish from the explosions and enemy ships. This added to the tight corridors and pixel precise twitch gameplay meant that many players were faced with an immense challenge to finish the game. NG:Dev.Team never intended the game to be easy but the outcry from their customers led them to take action. They started working on a new directors cut of Last Hope that would be released in 2009. The 1000 print run for the Dreamcast was again handled by RedSpotGames.
Last Hope: Pink Bullets has multiple difficulty options and players now respawn on screen rather than go back to checkpoint. You also start with the rotary unit and your ship is faster. The biggest change came with the introduction of pink bullets to help distinguish them from other sprites. The changes were welcome and most players were happy the gameplay improvements. Last Hope may not be a critical classic but as it is the first Dreamcast indie shmup it is certainly important. The Dreamcast would go on to have a vibrant history of indie shooters and Last Hope is the grand daddy to all of them.
In February 2008 a port of the 1995 MS-DOS title Tyrian made its way to Dreamcast fans. This vertical shooter was developed by Indieket after the original programmers, Eclipse Software, released the source code as shareware in 2007. This port was does a great job of recreating its source material adding VMU support for games. There was never any intention of Tyrian being released commercially and you can download this for free. The story is set in the year 20,031. You play Trent Hawkins, a skilled fighter-pilot trying to escape an evil corporation.
Tyrian appears to be a traditional vertical shmup when you first start playing. There are no set lives however. instead your ship gradually takes damage until it explodes. The action is split into levels with your game always saving after each one is complete. There are no continues, you simply replay the next level until you finish it. The most interesting aspect of Tyrian is its upgrade system. After each level you purchase permanent upgrades to your ship. Everything from damage increase to more powerful weapons as well extra drones and missiles. Your ship grows as you progress and this classic shmup plays well on the Dreamcast.
Tyrian may feel like a Mega Drive game than a Dreamcast shooter with its basic pixel art and 16-bit chip tunes. But we should not look past its importance. You could consider this a tech demo for the Dreamcast’s hardware and how quickly working games can be produced. The fact that homebrew developers were looking to the system to port new projects to was laying the ground work for original titles. Indie shmups would had evolved long before Tyrian made its way to the Dreamcast but this delightful entry deserves its place in our story.
After his work on Last Hope, René Helwig set up his own studio, Hucast. Continuing to take his inspirations from horizontal shooters of old, René and his team set to work. By mid 2009 their efforts came to light and Dreamcast fans had a whole new shooter to play. Dux was released in July 17 2009 and on the face of it looks like another R-Type clone. There is no re-spawning, you simply reemerge back at the last checkpoint after each death. You head through dangerous tunnels with air and ground troops to contend with. But if we scratch under the surface Dux has some interesting gameplay elements to help it stand alone.
You have a bullet soaking mechanic that enables you to clear your path and a shield that you can launched like a missile at far away enemies. Drones add to your arsenal you can hold down the fire button to charge your cannon. This enables combo shots that those high score junkies will want to aim for. Most reviewers commented on the difficulty that seemed to be a hang over from Last Hope, but they also noted that you get used to the difficulty and the game was fair. The graphics were praised for being bright and some of the sprites appear gigantic. The biggest criticism was that Dux had a few bugs that spoilt the gameplay. A score glitch made it impossible to rank higher scores and another glitch with the life system caused issues.
After the initial launch Hucast decided to go back to the drawing board and remade Dux with some additional features. Dux 1.5 was released in 2013 and anyone who bought the original could order a free disc of this new patched version from Hucast. If you had missed the original altogether there was a new packaged version available to purchase. This updated version was more than just a bug fix, the developers also reworked the gameplay and controls. The fire and charge buttons were separated and you can now switch out drones to suit different situations.
Listening to the fans and critiques, the new gameplay elements made the game easier and more accessible. The graphics remained the same but the music was remixed and you now respawn where you died. The checkpoints were now used as a continue point and some enemies had less health. You can also now hold the fire button down instead of having to mash it over and over. But most importantly, the bugs and glitches from the original were fixed making for a much better play through overall. The changes were welcomed by the DC community and critics but some questioned the motives of the developers.
There were a few rumbles that it seemed like a cash grab by Hucast who were trying to rebuild their reputation. Whatever the reasons, Dux 1.5 certainly improves over the original and is a pretty shmup that plays well. That may have been the end of the story for Dux but there was one more twist to come. Shooter fans were presented with a Kickstarter in 2012 to remake Dux with new graphics and an overhaul of the gameplay. The plan was to bring the difficulty and style of Dux to modern systems but also make sure a Dreamcast port could be purchased. The Kickstarter smashed its goal and work on the modern update began.
To say some consumers were confused is an understatement. By this point the developers were working on the updated Dux 1.5 as well as a remake of the whole game. With three different products for what is essentially the same game, Hucast.NET were starting to receive complaints. Looking back it may just seem that an indie developer was trying to make the most of its new game by improving it and attempting to bring it to a new audience. But the criticism from early backers of the work was that if felt as though Hucast.NET were casting their net too wide. And some felt their previous purchases were being diminished in value.
Redux: Dark Matters was released in early 2014. Looking to the game itself it is hard to see much improvement over Dux 1.5. Redux introduces a new ship that lacks the bullet soak to add to the challenge. It also has a target lock that guides your armoury to enemies that get close to you. The other major difference is a reworking of some of the later levels. The graphical overhaul had been delivered but the game now ran in a lower resolution. Many reviewers at the time commented on the downgrade to the overall presentation stating it felt like a backwards step. Hucast explained that due to memory limitations, the new graphics had to be in a lower resolution.
This was not the only problem with this new release release. A game crashing bug on the first level boss had also been overlooked during development. Another issue backers felt needed addressing was how the trailer showed high resolution sprites while the actual game looked different. Hucast explained that they had mixed up the HD version with the Dreamcast version for their video. Some members of the press criticised the mix up with the videos and asked the question if Hucast could come back from this. Dreamcast indie shmup fans were happy to have new releases but felt let down with the customer service. They took to Facebook and email to get their concerns heard.
It would be unfair to simply throw accusations at a company that clearly have a passion for bringing new games to retro consoles. Hucast was a small team that took on some extra coders in an attempt to improve their game. Not everything went to plan but we still have to give credit for taking the risk and admitting when things did not work out. Putting all the customer service issues and bugs aside, Hucast had managed to get a working game out with a decent print run. Indie developers put it all on the line to bring new games to old consoles, it just doesn’t always go smoothly.
We should also recognise that Dux 1.5 is a great game that delivers fun and fast action to indie shmup fans. It has the novel bullet soak mechanic and the graphics are excellent. It is a shame that this games achievements have been overshadowed by its controversy. Before we finish this part of our story it is important to mention the music in Dux 1.5 and Redux. Industry veteran Chris Huelsbeck was brought on board alongside Andre Neuman to compose the score. Between them they have created a wonderful soundtrack that should not be overshadowed by the issues that plagued Dux from the get go.
Primitive Nightmare was announced by its developer, Fuseki, in January 2010 and was released a few days later. It is free to play and sits somewhere between a traditional single screen and scrolling shooter. The gameplay is simple as you fight your way through a nightmare. You have limited rockets to shoot at the falling enemies with your objective being to collect a set amount of pods in each wave. You replenish your rockets by collecting the pickups and there are score bonuses spread throughout. There is a bonus stage after you complete a few waves in a row and different enemies start to appear as you progress.
It is hard to critique Primitive Nightmare as it is the work of one developer producing free games. The simple mechanics leave little to come back to but the game itself plays smoothly and the controls are decent. The music does start to grind on the ears after a while but it keeps the tempo going. The graphics are just as simple as the gameplay with simple shapes used to represent the different elements on screen. It is a shame that Fuseki has closed their website as they also released other Dreamcast indie titles around the same time.
Following the success of Last Hope, NG:Dev.Team set to work on another Neo Geo indie title that would once again find its way to the Dreamcast. Fast Stiker was released 21 December 2010 but there were a few delays with shipping. Many indie shmup fans got their copies a month or so later. It is a classic vertical shooter that has four different difficulty modes. Depending on which you choose determines which craft you stat with. You fire forwards, backwards and have shield that makes you invincible for a short burst. You can tap fire to spread your shot or hold for a straight on concentration shot.
There is no story for you to follow but Fast Striker has the usual alien blasting setting. The graphics are decent if a little underwhelimg in places. You will notice that the all six levels look very similar but the dark atmosphere works well with the style of game. Your craft controls well with an excellent hit box to help weave through the bullet onslaught. This is certainly a proper bullet hell in the style of early 2000 shooters and anyone from novices to veterans will enjoy working through the difficulty modes. It is a far cray from the teams earlier game with much more simple controls and gameplay.
The majority of reviewers gave Fast Striker a positive review citing the easy pick up and play nature and the amount of modes. The action is frantic and the bosses large with several phases to them. The scoring is fun with a multiplier that requires you to pick up orbs that appear from downed foes. You can simply blast your way through or stop firing to soak up more orbs to get a high score. You also have secrets to uncover in each level. These usually take the shape of taking down a certain enemy. They are sometimes harder to spot or reach and take many hits. The game appears simple on your first play but there is depth here.
The music in the game has a real trance and euro pop feel that fits the gameplay well. It pumps along and adds to the anxious feeling the game is trying to create. Many will finish Fast Striker quickly but the added score system adds lots of replay value to the old formula. It may not be the prettiest of indie shmups but the playabilty is spot on and it is a lot of fun to play. This was the second indie shmup NG:Dev.Team had successfully brought to the Dreamcast. They used all their experiences from their last game and improved in nearly every way. Fast Striker is one of the best indie titles on the system that has all the ingredients Dreamcast shmup fans crave.
After Fast Striker it was only the remakes of Dux that would satisfy shooter fans until April 2013. Sturmwind was a turning point for indie shooters on the Dreamcast. Most of the shmups before were either ports of games from other systems or free to play homebrew titles. The graphics, music and gameplay of Sturmwind give off the vibe that this fantastic game was developed by a major studio. Duranik, the German development team, raised the bar and set a new standard for Dreamcast indie titles. And because it was developed specifically for the system it oozes the same class of many of the Dreamcast’s licensed releases.
However, Sturmwind had a very protracted development. It was originally revealed in 1997 as a Jaguar CD game titled Native. The game never made it to a final release but the development moved over to the newly released Dreamcast console. It once again did not see a release and it seemed as though the game would be lost to history. Fast forward to 2010 and publisher RedSpotGames’ Max Scharl was interviewed on German game show Neuse. He showcased the game but it would be some time before it was heard of again.
In 2011 Sturmwind was featured on a Destructoid live stream by Sega themselves. You would be forgiven for thinking that Sega had granted an official license but this was not the case. Sega were actually playing some classic Dreamcast games on the stream and just happened to have a playable build of Sturmwind. This is probably the closest an indie Dreamcast title will ever get to having the official nod from Sega. Later in the same year disaster struck the project when the disc pressing company that was due to print the game filed for bankruptcy. It left RedSpot and Duranik in the position of scrambling to find another pressing deal. Eventually the issue was resolved and a RedSpot press release confirmed Sturmwind would land in April 2013.
Once gamers finally got their hands on Sturmwind it was clear from the outset that Duranik had developed a very special game. Right from the first moments of the opening level you are greeted with jaw dropping backgrounds and pumping music. The ride just gets better from there as huge bosses swamp the screen across 16 levels. The added FMV sequences and three difficulty levels add polish to the overall package and there are achievements to unlock as you progress. There is even internet scoreboards to track your skills against other players through the use of webcodes.
The classic horizontal pace is balanced well, you never feel overwhelmed and this is certainly not a bullet hell shmup. Sturmwind sets its own rules, a mix of classic R-Type or Gradius type build up that can suddenly change into a timed boss that you must rush to take down. Each set piece looks amazing and each level has its own colours and tone. Your viewpoint also changes from time to time with some levels having a top down view that mixes up the gameplay. The detailed enemies and 3D backgrounds add depth that is rarely seen in scrolling shmups.
The last feature is the power up system. As you take damage your weapons weaken but power ups help replenish the power. You can shoot the power ups to cycle through the one you need and this adds strategy to the frantic battles. The flexibility of the weapon system means you will constantly need to switch guns and make sure they are facing in the right direction. The level save system means you do not have to play through in one go, but if you do want to you can simply play the arcade mode to try that 1cc challenge.
Sturmwind oozes quality that you would not normally see with an indie title for an old system and the critics lapped it up. Almost every review of Sturmwind explained that if it had been released in 2000 and was licensed, we would be putting it in the Dreamcast’s top ten lists or at least hailing it as one of its best titles. The critics are not wrong, Sturmwind showed us that just because a game is developed by a small team without the backing of the console manufacturer it can still be polished and hold its own.
NG:Dev.Team got straight back to work after the release of Fast Striker. In November 2012 they teased Neo Geo fans with a short video of their new effort. Neo XYX was shown being played on an arcade cabinet in some rough footage. A later announcement confirmed that the title would be released on MVS and AES cartridges. In January 2014 NG:Dev.Team released another trailer confirming that Neo XYX would be ported to Dreamcast. Fans were excited, Fast Striker had been well received and it looked as though this latest shmup would be even better.
The release was swift with finished copies being ready by February 2014. The gaming press were generally positive in their reviews with most praising the gameplay and scoring system. Some felt that this was NG:Dev.Team’s best shmup to date and that they had come a long way since Last Hope seven years prior. Some critics felt that Neo XYX was close to being a bullet hell shooter, but did not quite reach that level of bullet saturation. This title strips back the complexity and replaces it with fun gameplay that is easy to get into. NG:Dev.Team brought together all their experience to deliver their best game yet.
Neo XYX starts with some colourful pixel artwork that introduces the characters in full screen pieces. It is a nice touch and sets up the retro action the team were aiming for. It is clear from the outset that this game is attempting to relive the glory days of shmups. Neo XYX it feels like an early Toaplan game such as Tatsujin or Grind Stormer. The bold colours and chip tune music are paying homage to the titles the developers have clearly taken inspiration from. There is more detail in the backgrounds compared to Fast Striker and there is an overall polish that helps this stand out.
The game is played in vertical or horizontal modes and has simple mechanics that make it very accessible. You score points by combining hits and collecting the medals that fallen enemies leave behind. There is a simple power up system and one ship to play as. Each of the six stages has a boss with a few mini bosses scattered throughout. Neo XYX does not take full advantage of the Dreamcast’s power. The graphics are straightforward without much flare and the music does enough to capture the action without being outstanding.
Much like the other indie titles from the developer, this is mostly a direct port of the Neo Geo game. After the heights of Sturmwind this may be seen as a step back in quality for Dreamcast indie shmups. But it is still a great game in its own right and offers classic shooting action to those that still think fondly on the classic era of shmups. It also shows that there was an appetite for variety amongst the Dreamcast shooter fan-base. They were blown away by the quality of Sturmwind but was just as happy to play a simpler offering in Neo XYX.
Neo XYX was the last shmup NG:Dev.Team would release for the Dreamcast. It brings their part in our story to an end. They successfully produced three different titles across seven years, all of them being ports of their earlier Neo Geo games. The team are still releasing Neo Geo games today as well as porting games to modern systems. NG:Dev.Team were approached for comment but did not respond.
During the development of Redux, Hucast announced a brand new game that was early in development. Pre-orders for Ghost Blade began in January 2013 with a release date set for the end of the year. It promised multiple modes of play and bullet hell action. The initial pre-orders for the collectors edition would include a super-play DVD and a CD soundtrack. 2013 and 14 came and went but the initial 300 copy of the collectors edition was bumped up to 500. It was not until 2015 that a release date was scheduled and in September the first copies were sent out. Collector backers were left disappointed as they would not receive their copies until November. Hucast explained that there was a delay with the super-play DVD that held up the shipments.
Ghost Blade itself is Hucast’s best Dreamcast effort. It is a vertical shooter with five levels and a distinctive style that leans towards sci-fi anime. You can choose one of three different ships each featuring their own weapons. The ships handle slightly differently and you need to perfect a strategy for each one. There are two difficulty modes with the novice mode serving as an entry point for gamers not familiar with shmups. The game controls well with the promised bullet hell action seen throughout. The bosses are huge with some nice effects and phases to them. You certainly have fun with Ghost Blade and despite its development issues it delivers a shooter experience that made it worth the wait.
The five levels all have there own vibe and there is variety in the backgrounds. You can use a spread shot to cover the screen or focus your shot on tougher enemies. Destroying foes with the spread shot creates point stars while using the focus shot awards tech orbs. Collecting the orbs adds to your bomb counter and these screen clearing explosions are very useful when the pressure is on. Ghost Blade is a basic shmup, it lacks the tactical elements seen in modern shmups that gives an incentive to improve. The real challenge is aiming for the high score and the biggest combo possible.
The graphics are well defined with plenty of sprites and effects. But the noticeable slowdown, especially when launching a bomb, does spoil Ghost Blade. Despite this, the rest of the game is well developed and the artwork is accomplished. There is attention to detail in every enemy and bullet patterns well thought out if a little generic in places. This may not be a hardcore shmup but it certainly has a graphical quality that helps it stand out. There are some criticisms about the bullets blending in with the backgrounds but this feels more of a minor issue.
Ghost Blade received mixed reviews as most critics praised the gameplay and graphics but were not as impressed with the music or how easy it is to complete. They were confused about who the game was aimed at. They commented on the fact that most backers would be hardcore shmup players and this title would not take them long to master. The music proved divisive with some praising the work of composer Rafael Dyll while others felt it lacked the excitement of other indie efforts. The game was also lacking the promised caravan or time attack mode and customers once again took to Hucast’s social media pages to ask where it was.
There was also some comments on the lack of animated water on a stage that was first shown in the trailer. It felt as though Hucast had not delivered on what they had asked backers to pay for. During this time Hucast also announced the crowdfunding for Redux 2, a title that would eventually be abandoned. But for some the year and half delay, lack of caravan mode and poor customer service from Hucast was the last straw. With the complaints mounting Hucast temporarily closed its online store and there was a lack of updates on their Facebook page. The collectors edition shipped in November 2015 as promised with the super-play DVD included.
Ghost Blade was Hucast’s last Dreamcast game and they would set their sights on modern hardware. Looking back at Hucast’s history with the Dreamcast, great games were overshadowed by poor customer service. They produced some quality games but did not deliver all the promises of the crowdfunding campaigns. They clearly wanted to create wonderful worlds with classic shmup gameplay but could not escape bugs or delays. If we just take the games, Ghost Blade and Dux 1.5 showed the great skill René Hellwig and his team had in putting together a shooter. Then the issues with the original Dux and Redux showed that when things went bad they were not able to rectify the errors and put fans minds at ease.
Hanky Alien blasted onto the Dreamcast homebrew scene in October 2016. It was Developed by Simian Zombie and released for free. Hanky Alien started out life as a Space Invader clone for the Nintendo DS before being ported to the Dreamcast. The excellent port does what it sets out to do very well. Just as with the arcade smash hit you move from side to side shooting towards the invaders. They descend on you in waves and you use the destructible scenery to avoid shots. The controls are excellent and everything you would expect to experience is present in Hanky Alien. There was an update shortly after launch adding sound and fixing a few bugs.
In early 2017 Fuseki Games released Matterrun, their second homebrew for the Dreamcast. Their previous effort, Primitive Nightmare, had been released a few years before. In Matterrun you collect orbs that you must destroy by bringing them a rubbish dump of sorts. If the enemy collect the orbs instead, they will build a mothership that will hunt you down. Those who have ever played Sinister will understand the concept. It has decent visuals and good sound and the controls are spot on for the most part. It does feel like a tech demo, much like Primitive Nightmare. But the mechanics are interesting and this is a solid homebrew title.
These two games mark the end of our story homebrew shooters on the Dreamcast. Tyrian, Primitive Nightmare, Hanky Alien and Matterrun help keep our dreams alive. Their hard work has made a lovely gift to the community and it is important to recognise the achievements. Seeing the Dreamcast add to its library with free homebrew games showed there was still life in the console and the shooter genre was still an integral part of the Dreamcast indie scene.
Programmers clearly felt it worthwhile moving their homebrew titles over and there was decent press surrounding these releases. Including news articles from the popular Dreamcast Junkyard website and mentions on various forums. You may need to burn your own disc to get an authentic experience from homebrew games but it is certainly worth it from a playing perspective.
Josh Prod, an indie publisher from France, began producing ports of games to the Dreamcast in 2016. It was not long before their first shooter for the console was announced and customers received Battle Crust in late August 2018. Ported from the Steam version released in 2016, Battle Crust keeps true to its source material. The game was developed by Picorinne Soft and is a homage to classic arcade shooters, with low key graphics, small sprites and limited gameplay mechanics.
The story will be very familiar to anybody that has even a passing interest in shooters. You are the lone spacecraft that must save mankind. There is a new mineral that has been created and aliens are attacking in an attempt to steal it. You fly the new Meteor Strike to ward off these pesky foes and save the world from destruction. Not exactly the most original of stories for a video game, but we do not play shooters for their thought provoking premises. The generic story aside it is clear that Battle Crust is not trying to do anything new from the outset. It is purposefully trying to recreate the golden era of arcade shooters.
You only have a choice of one ship once you start the game but this ship does have three different weapon systems. As well as the usual 80’s style pea shooter to use as your standard weapon a charge move gives you additional firepower. Depending on your initial selection you have a powerful single shot, a three way shot and a beam that covers a larger area. The three weapon choices does allow for some versatility in the gameplay and adds to the replay factor. The charge mechanic also creates a decent timing mechanic. As the levels get harder you need know when to charge your shot and when to let it blast out.
The six levels are challenging and you will not find this title as to clear as other modern shooters. There has been care taken to make sure you work hard to memorise the enemy waves as with many classic shooters. Your blind skills will not be enough here and Battle Crust certainly ramps up in difficulty on the last couple of stages. The controls also feel very old school and it will take a moment to adjust to the slow speed of the ship. There is some odd collision detection in places but nothing that spoils the overall game. It is just as well that several powerups pop up albeit sparingly. This one is definitely for the hardcore shooter fans and the return to hard gameplay is a welcome one.
Graphically Battle Crust is very clean but also simple. Although the developers intended the game to look like a late 80’s shooter the levels are bland in places. The enemies are well animated but uninspired in places. The Dreamcast indie scene had seem some spectacular looking shooters in Sturmwind and Ghost Blade, and this title feels like a step back. Much like the Neo Geo ports from NG:Dev.Team this title feels more like a powered 16-bit title than a Dreamcast game. But Battle Crust has its own style and is not trying to replicate anything that has gone before.
The sound is one of the stand out features and includes a soundtrack from industry veteran Hyakutaro Tsukumo. The slow chip tunes bring back that early arcade feel and compliment the design. The sound effects are crisp and blend in with the soundtrack superbly. While it may not reach the same heights of some of the other titles on our list Battle Crust succeeds in bringing us back to the 80’s in true retro style. Everything from the score system to the graphics oozes nostalgia and Battle Crust is the first in a wave of shooters from Josh Prod.
Captain Tomaday rushed onto Dreamcast in June 2019. It was the second shooter release from Josh Prod and had been announced alongside five other Dreamcast indie titles from the company. This cute ’em-up style game was originally released on the Neo Geo arcade MVS in 1999 by Visco. This direct port keeps all the gameplay elements and stages. It certainly is a departure from the usual spaceship and alien tropes that are the norm in shooters. The characters are bright and cartoonish which would have been novel for the Neo Geo at the time.
The story in Captain Tomaday centres around its titular character. You have fallen into some weird chemical mixture inside a laboratory. After your fall you obtain super powers and grow some limbs. You then go out on your mission to destroy the Eggplant Aliens. It is all very fitting with the comical style of the overall presentation and helps this title stand out in the Dreamcast shooter library. However, the quirky aesthetics and colour onslaught may not be to everyone’s taste
The game itself plays like a traditional shooter with waves of enemies falling through the screen. You use your fists to punch them with each fist having its own button push. You can charge a more powerful fist by using the same one a few times causing the other to charge. The mechanic is odd at first but with a little practice it starts to make sense. It is clear that Visco were going for something different with Captain Tomaday and have created an alternative to the usual spaceship blasting action. Purists may find this departure too much but anyone looking for unique experiences will certainly get a kick out of it.
The Dreamcast port received average reviews with most noting a lack of fire power to clear the screens and severe slowdown in places. Many also found the power up system confusing. Collecting different items morph Captain Tomaday into strange objects like shooting babies or a monkey that fires bananas. Overall most reviewers liked the game but felt its departure from mainstream shooter mechanics and the slowdown held the port back. The graphics and animations were praised especially the artwork between stages. Captain Tomaday feels more like a curio than an actual Dreamcast release but it showed that Josh Prod were willing to go the extra mile to bring new experiences to Dreamcast shooter fans.
Also released by Josh Prod in June 2019, Armed 7 was originally released on PC and then Steam and was developed by Astro Port. The game takes the form of a traditional scrolling shooter set in a dystopian future where alien technology has caused a worldwide war. A new threat to world peace has risen and the Earth Federation must save the day. You take command of a Surveyor, a ship with three weapons consisting of a basic gun, rockets and a powerful super blast. Not the most original story but it obviously plays second fiddle to the blasting action.
Split across seven stages Armed 7 is a port of the PC original with different colours, music and user interface. You can still choose to play the original game as both versions are available on the disc. There are four different difficulty modes and emblems to collect that act as achievements within the game. Your mech handles well with responsive controls and a decent hitbox. Any deaths are your own but the difficulty curve will please novices and veterans alike. The game skips along with a few small cut scenes spread throughout. You will encounter a giant boss at the end of each stage that takes the form of a ship or a giant mech.
One of the more interesting features of Armed 7 is its weapon loadout system. Before beginning a game you can choose the three weapons that you will use. There is a good mix of shotgun type to concentrated fire and there are real differences between each selection. You can go for all out power but this will leave you a long charge time or go for more nimble attacks that charge quicker. Finding the perfect mix will depend on how you wish to play but this feature does add genuine replay value.
Your shots feel solid and you will quickly start to learn when to use your basic attacks or launch your charged super move. Getting this balance right is crucial for beating the harder difficulty levels. Spread throughout the levels are power ups that add shields and extra lives. There is an incentive to not get hit as your end of level score is affected by your remaining lives. You can rack up big scores by defeating larger enemies quickly as a combo count builds the quicker you destroy. This scoring system creates a great risk reward mechanic that will please shmup score chasers.
Visually Armed 7 is decent if a little rough around the edges. There is colour bleed on some of the sprites but nothing that will spoil your game. The animations are great and the screen never feels crowded even when there is lots happening. You may encounter the odd bit of slowdown but this is only noticeable once in a while. The explosions and weapon effects are vibrant and backgrounds have lots of parallax that help bring some depth to proceedings. While it may not be the prettiest of shooters on the Dreamcast, Armed 7 creates a great dystopian world even if some of the levels lack variety.
The soundtrack has a heavy bass that pumps along with the action and this helps build on the intensity of the gameplay. The whole soundtrack was remixed for this port and sounds very different to the PC original. The sound effects are decent if a little repetitive in places. Much of the explosions do feel drowned out by the music but this is only a minor annoyance. Overall Armed 7 looks great and is a lot of fun to play. It was brave of Josh Prod to create a new colour palette and soundtrack but it works.
This is the end of our story. The Dreamcast has a rich history of indie titles and scrolling shooters make up a large part of the library. From homebrews and tech demos to full on AAA productions the indie shooter scene on the Dreamcast just goes from strength to strength.