Game: Toaplan Arcade Shoot’Em Up Collection Volume 2
Genre: Action, Arcade
System: Steam (Windows & macOS)
Developer|Publisher: Toaplan | Bitwave Games
Controller Support: Yes
Price: UK £ sold individually | US $ sold individually | EU € sold individually
Release Date: August 24th, 2023
Review code provided with many thanks to Embracer Free Mode.
Toaplan Arcade Shoot’em Up Collection Volume 2 sees another four classic shooters released onto Steam in all their retro glory. Adding some appreciated modern features to appeal to fans, new and old. It’s a pretty easy one to review. This is a worthwhile purchase if you like scrolling shooters or liked the previous volume. For this review, I’ll briefly summarize my thoughts on each game and the added features. Thank you for reading.
I’m starting off with the oldest game Slap Fight. It may be the oddest titled game since you don’t actually slap things. Well, maybe your partner might slap you around the head if you spend too long playing it, but this is actually a vertical-scrolling space shooter. Set in the future on the planet Theron. Some nasty aliens known as the Guandy are attacking the human colonies, and it’s up to you to pilot ALCON (Allied League of Cosmic Nations) to jump in a spaceship and save the day.
The gameplay is the usual formula of shooting the baddies and racking up a high score as the level scrolls vertically. At the end of each section is a boss fight, usually something large and mechanical. The interesting hook to this is its weapon and upgrade system. You start with a small ship and a simple shot. As you defeat enemies, you collect stars; you can use these to exchange for upgrades via upgrade menus at the bottom of the screen. If you wait patiently and get enough stars, you can exchange them for a bigger ship with larger firepower, like large-radius bombs or deadly lasers. Some of these weapons work better with certain enemies, encouraging experimentation and making the game highly replayable.
The downside of the upgrades is they make your ship bigger and more vulnerable. Since it’s only one hit and you’re dead, you need to be pretty skilled to manage these. Alternatively, you can stay small and upgrade your speed and invest in a handy shield which is the highest upgrade. Despite being the oldest game, I really liked this one. It’s easy to pick but certainly provides a meaty challenge. I liked the old-school beeps and boops of the lasers as you fire your weapons and destroy the machines, giving the game a very charming retro feel.
Next up is Flying Shark, released in 1987, another vertical scrolling shooter. You control a biplane flying around in a fictitious war setting, destroying various military vehicles on land and in the air. Fly through the levels firing your standard weapon, or if you get in a pinch, unleash a devastating bomb with massive radial damage. You can upgrade your gun and increase your bomb count by collecting power-ups. The level ends with a conclusion boss fight.
What I really liked at the end of a level was how your plane temporarily lands to catch your breath while you admire your score. It’s a simple gameplay formula, but it works. For me, it ended up being an entertaining flight. It may not be the most interesting in design on this collection but it delivers in the gameplay department.
Next up is Fire Shark, released in 1989, which is the sequel to Flying Shark, very much following the formula of that game. You’re flying in the biplane again, taking out military vehicles. This time, you can collect three types of weapons: a wide shot, a flame thrower and a laser beam.
You still have your bombs and power-ups to upgrade your weapons over time. Basically, it’s more of the same with some extra polish. I liked it, but I have to say I kind of preferred the first game over this one. I’m not entirely sure why; maybe its simpler gameplay just clicked more.
Lastly, we have Hellfire, released in 1989. It is the only horizontal shooter in the collection. Set in the very far future of 2998, the humans are in trouble again from a Black Nebula created by an evil space robot called Super Mech.
As Captain Lancer, it’s up to you to pilot space fighter CNCS1 to fight back against the baddies in shooty-bang-bang-bang space battles. Considering all four of the games in this collection are similar-themed, I have to credit the effort put into some of the plots, which feel more thought out than many modern games. Yep, the formula is similar: shoot the flying bad guys and defeat the boss at the end. Of course, try not to die in the process.
What stands out in Hellfire is the ability to switch your main weapon on the fly. You can shoot straight ahead and also switch to a behind shot, a vertical shot and a diagonal shot. These can also be upgraded. This helps immensely to get to those stubborn enemies in those hard-to-reach spots. It also keeps you on your toes and keeps the gameplay interesting. Thanks to this mechanic, this was probably my favourite game in the collection. Plus, I’m always a sucker for a futuristic setting.
If you played Volume One, you’ll know what to expect with the ports. Each game perfectly emulates the arcade originals with multiple additional bells and whistles. You have the usual save states and various screen settings to create the authentic or smooth retro look.
Controls can be customized for a controller or keyboard. Rewind and fast-forward features can be used at the push of a button to correct mistakes or skip past boring bits. A multitude of accessibility options are added. In all of these games, you die in a single hit. But if you need a hand, you can add hit points and auto-fire options to make things more manageable. You can even add hitboxes for those who really want to master their space shooter art.
Of course, all these tweaks are optional, so if you want the authentic arcade experience, each game can be enjoyed just as it was from the arcade. My only main niggle is the same as the previous collection. The game doesn’t use this opportunity to celebrate each game and provide some of the history. It’s just the games ported very well to PC.
Conclusion: Flying High
This is another great collection from Toaplans’ back catalogue that will undoubtedly please retro gaming fans or anyone looking for some quick-fire gameplay. Solid ports with satisfying quality-of-life improvements. An example of retro gaming ported to modern systems is done very well.
The only niggle is that the history of each game is not celebrated with its artwork, documents or videos from the developers. But, much like how Blu-rays or DVDs rarely celebrate, making of this seems to be the norm these days. If you’re here to game, here are four games where you can jump into a flying machine and feel like a gaming rockstar for a few minutes before getting on with the rest of your day.
Final Verdict: I Like it a Lot