A couple of years ago, there were rumours of a Shienryu 2 for the Dreamcast. It never appeared. Cut to the release of the Shienryu double pack for the PS2 - what's this? Shienryu Explosion? Where did that come from?
I think this is an orphaned game. I believe it was probably a Naomi title intented for arcades when it was first developed, and that for whatever reason it was cancelled. I think they then decided to release it as a DC title, but again cancelled the plans (perhaps due to it not feeling polished enough to stand on its own). Finally, it's seen the light of day as an added extra bundled with a fairly ageing (but good) Raiden style game.
And continued from above, perhaps that's why the gameplay in this game bears no resemblance at all to Shienryu. For starters, it's a horizontal aspect vertical game, and it feels like it was designed to be one too. The classic weapon systems are gone, in fact there are no weapon powerups in the entire game, and weapon selection is done at the ship select screen.
Ship select? There are three to choose from - the BD-21VM is fast, and carries dispersed lower power weaponry, the BD-23ML carries heavy lasers, and the BD-22LV is somewhere inbetween. You can change the colour of the ship here, and then you get to pick from one of six pilots - which only determine weapon colours.
The game doesn't play like anything I can put my finger on. It doesn't feel like a Cave game (I wouldn't call this one manic), it doesn't feel like Raizing, and it certainly doesn't feel like Seibu. In fact, I'd call it generic, but not in any negative way - because what this game does have is a really big trick up its sleeve.
Analogue fire. Before turning away in disgust, I should mention the control of this is optional, there are buttons assigned to light/medium/heavy fire in addition to the real fire button. Each ship actally has two weapon types which fire all the time - however, each behaves differently at high and low power. A good example is the BD-22LV (ship two), which has a moderate spread shot and a single beam laser. With light pressure on the fire button, the spread shot gives a good amount of screen coverage, and the beam laser is thin and very weak. As you put more pressure on the button, the spread shot shrinks both in width and number of bullets, but the laser intensifies and really starts to cut through the enemies. You'll also find the ship slow down the more heavily you fire, which means with careful use, you can learn to vary your speed and dance around some of the bullets, or slow down to thread carefully through slower clusters of bullets. Of course not unexpectedly, keeping the ship at low speed with strong weapons is an advantage, and the spread fire only needed in sections where a lot of basic enemies attack from all directions - so the programmers have added another small twist - the scoring.
Every time you destroy an enemy, you get a multiplier from x1 to x256. This translates to how heavy your fire was at the time - you're rewarded for really pummeling the enemies into oblivion. However, some enemies drop stars when killed with high power shots, some even have their bullets turn to stars too, and these stars are worth points (and lives). The stars also have a bonus from x1 to x256, but the scale is reversed. Collect them while you've got the fire button jammed down, and star scores are low, collect with the weakest fire (or none at all) and you'll get the maximum x256 for each one. This encourages diving in at top speed to grab them, then switching back to heavy fire to take on the enemy you almost crashed into doing it. It's a lot of fun, and very very unique. It's well worth timing boss deaths too, as during heavy attacks from them, laying the killing blow will leave a LOT of stars to grab (and safety to grab them at maximum value).
There are 8 levels to play through (I think, having seen level 7 and checked the available and hidden levels for practise mode), plus potentially two last extra bosses. Sorry I can't tell you more about those, I didn't want to spoil it with creditfeeding. Each level has the usual mixture of smallfry and bigger enemies, and it's quite fond of mixing them up to make generating and picking up decent amounts of bonus stars quite tricky in places. The bosses are nicely designed, although I'm sure they've borrowed inspiration from a few games (example - moving vulcan cannon mesh from Battle Garegga is spat out by one of them), but I've also seen a few things which seem to have inspired other games - one of the later bosses sucks in asteroids from earlier in the level, then spits them back out at you in tiny chunks. I wonder if the guys at Konami and Treasure played this before they had the idea for the Gradius V boss which has a similar (but much harsher) attack.
As for the graphics, it's polygon time again folks. The gameplay is strictly 2D, with only small amounts of camera panning in some sections. It looks very much like a Dreamcast game, the models are fairly detailed but not overly so, and the backgrounds are similar. Fairly standard, but it has some nice use of lighting effects, and some enemies (and all bosses) start to burn nicely when you've started to really hurt them. Sometimes the lighting effects on the laser weapons can get a little over the top, and you do have to concentrate to see some of the light coloured bullets. What is nice to see, is the game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, all the time.
Sound effects are unspectacular, the normal bullet sounds, charging sounds, and explosions - I think we've all heard a million of these now, but they're clear which matters. The music is very nice - give it a little volume and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Overall, the whole analogue fire concept is very original. I know the Cave games (and probably others before) have had varied fire affecting weapon/ship for a long time - but these are basic 'tap or hold' affairs, and don't tie into the game in such a large way except perhaps in Espgaluda. It's hard to say if this game has influenced anything else, or been influenced by it in that respect, as I believe it's much older in reality than the actual release date. It's a fun game, it looks great, sounds good, and zipping in front of a big enemy then taking it down with a sustained hit is very satisfying.
though, while this is an undoubtedly good game, it just misses out
on being truly great. It feels unfinished - the difficulty level
hasn't been tuned (I'm not great at shmups anymore, and I upped
it to hard to give myself a tough time). Just a few more bullets
here and there, less extra lives (as you earn them far too frequently),
and some tidying done to the front end, and this would be an amazing
game, all the ingredients are there - they just needed more time
in the oven. I don't know why Warashi decided to throw it out as
an extra on a double pack, without finishing it so it could stand
alone, but it's a real shame. I'd like to give this 2 ratings, this
game could have been an easy 9/10, but as it stands I can't give
it that. Since it's out at a budget price (with another good game)
I would recommend people buy this, but avoid the PAL and US version
(called Steel Dragon Evo). They were made MUCH easier, and the PAL
one runs too slowly, with huge borders.