How many of you remember Taxan? This little known publisher during the NES era released a number of gems for the system, like Low G Man (my first review!) and the first G.I. Joe game. Although they never achieved the level of notoriety of a Capcom or Konami their games were just as good in many respects. One such hidden gem was Burai Fighter.
A race of beings known as the Burai have their eyes set on world conquest and unleash a slew of cyber demons across the galaxy. As a lone fighter the odds seem impossible but if you can destroy their 7 manufacturing plants the tables will turn. Structurally similar to Thunder Force 2 with its mix of side scrolling levels and overhead segments I doubt many have even heard of this game. Which is a shame as it is one of the better shmups for the platform and has enough challenge and incentive to replay the game to satisfy any fan of the genre.
A robust selection of weapons is on hand to at least even the odds. The Missile, Laser, and Ripple might sound familiar but have a few distinctions that make them separate from other games. Missiles are powerful but detonate on impact. Lasers are a middle ground, strong and can pass through multiple enemies in one pass but not walls. The ripple is weak but can shoot through walls. An option can be found in some levels for added protection and smart bombs can be stocked up to 7. In addition each weapon can be upgraded multiple times but never to the point where you feel as though you are a walking death machine. And that is owed to the wonderful level design.
Each level is scrolls in every direction possible and features a relentless assault of enemies from all corners. You can fire in 8 directions and lock your fire when necessary however depending on the direction the screen is scrolling you may not have an optimal angle of attack. It is in these situations where weapon selection makes a difference. Weapon pods are dropped or placed frequently enough that switching is never a problem. Also you do not lose weapon levels as the game keeps track. Not that it’s mandatory; I used the laser the majority of the time and was fine for the most part. But being equipped with the Ripple and destroying enemies long before they can return fire is immensely satisfying. And you’ll need every edge you can get since this is not an easy game.
Your cyber suit might make you look like a bad ass however it does make you a large target. The forced scrolling is used to great effect by placing power-ups in areas where you won’t see the immediate danger until it’s too late. The enemies are laid out in such a way that can screw you by trapping you in a short tunnel with no room to maneuver and bullets flying. The other blemish on the game would be the two overhead levels that show you a brief map once with the boss’s position and that’s it. If you weren’t paying attention you can literally wander around the level for close to an hour trying to find your objective.
Speaking of challenge, there are 3 initial difficulty settings with marked differences. Aside from faster and stronger attacks new enemies will also appear. Working in your favor is the increase in the score multiplier at the end of each level, enabling you to score more extra lives. There are different endings for each although I should preface this by saying the changes are slight; this is an 8-bit game after all. And for the masochists out there Ultimate difficulty is unlocked after completing the prior 3.
Burai Fighter is definitely one of the better shmups for the NES and just an overall good game. We’ll never know why it isn’t more popular but that’s why I’m here to sing its praises.