Western release date: July 26th, 2018
Platforms: PC, PS4 (Reviewed)
Anyone who played video games in the 1990s knows that there were no shortage of scrolling shmup (shoot-em-up) games on the market to enjoy, but some of the ones that always stood out to me the most were those which chose to poke fun at and have fun with references to the very genre and industry of games that it belongs to (think games like Parodius, Twinbee, Otomedius, etc.) These games were often referred to as parody shmups or often associated with the name “cute-em-ups,” and Game Tengoku was one such title that released in arcades in 1995 and hit the Japanese Sega Saturn in 1997, made by industry veterans, Jaleco.
Game Tengoku has parodies and references from just about every popular 1980s and 1990s video game or pop culture phenomenon you could think of, from every genre you can think of, including things like Jaleco’s own City Connection or Exerion, all the way to other company’s properties like Street Fighter 2, Dragon Quest, Tokimeki Memorial, Space Invaders, Star Soldier, Rally X, and many more. Besides the game references, you’ll see tons of references to other phenomenon like crane games, Showa-era pop idols, giant robo anime, video game arcades, and pachinko machines, among many others.
Having played the game back on Saturn in the 90s, I was already a fan of this obscure little game, so when I heard it was getting a remastered and expanded version a few years ago, I was pretty happy to see it again. Having said that, I was also skeptical of the quality of the release, as many of these remaster/re-releases are often shoddy port jobs with very little extras or care put into the process. So, does CruisinMix do a good job a bringing the game back to relevance in today’s market?
I’m happy to say that the answer is a fairly resounding “yes” on almost all accounts. CruisinMix brings together both the arcade and Saturn versions of the game, with enhanced visuals and tweaks, as well as a new Arcade+ mode that has extra customization and gameplay options and also some new characters.
Besides the quality of the package itself, the game holds up quite well with time, feeling very fresh when revisiting today, and still has fantastic colorful, detailed visuals and animation with some great music to go with it, featuring very fun and fitting background music as well as a number of very well-made anime style character image vocal songs and OP/ED style songs.
The gameplay is closer to the classic 80s and 90s style of shooting games, such as Psikyo games (Strikers 1945, etc) or Raiden, which is a different style to more modern shmups with the danmaku or bullet-hell styles of patterns/gameplay. It also features some settings to turn the difficulty down considerably for anyone who is scared away from shmups by their reputation to be punishingly difficult.
The game’s somewhat short running time (as generally all shmups have) is offset a bit by how many characters and modes there are to play. Each of the 6 characters have different endings, and as you play the arrange modes, you also unlock about an hour worth of funny and cute OVA-style omake episodes that you can watch when you’re done.
I played the Japanese import version of CruisinMix a little while ago, but the game was just released on the Western PSN and Steam this month, featuring fully translated menus and translation of the omake/story segments as well, so now even those who are afraid of not enjoying it because of not understanding the language can take the plunge.
The asking price of $29.99 may seem steep to a lot of people in today’s market where independently published games are often sold for next to nothing, but this game has the charm and the content to justify that price, in my mind, though if it were even $5 or $10 more, I’d say it’s creeping up to that line of being somewhat overpriced, but thankfully they settled on $30, which seems just right. On top of that, you can also put into perspective that many of these older, more obscure games originally cost (and sometimes still do cost) $70-90 or more on their original console releases, so getting it for $30 is worth the investment for those who can enjoy.
I’d say that anyone who’s a fan of vertical shmups, parody shmups, or 80s-90s Japanese anime aesthetic would have a blast with Game Tengoku and I’d definitely suggest picking it up. They’ve also stated there may also be a physical release in the West along with a Nintendo Switch version in the works, but for now, PSN and Steam have the game available to play right now.
Final Score: 4.25 out of 5