That menacing dragon and his friends pose quite a stiff but fun challenge.
To Beat: Finish all 7 stages
To Complete: Beat the game on the highest difficulty
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 3/31/16 – 4/14/16
My Difficulty: 9/10
I’ve taken on a number of shooter games already for the blog but there has yet to be a more typical style space shooter until Burai Fighter. The game stands out a bit with its bright yellow label, but behind the scenes there is a fun and challenging action game that is worth a play.
Burai Fighter was originally developed for the NES and released in March 1990. It was developed by KID and published by Taxan. It was released on the NES in Europe and Australia later in 1990 and was also released on the Famicom in July 1990, published by Taito. Burai Fighter was also developed for the Game Boy and was released first in Japan just prior to the Famicom version, debuting in June 1990. It would come out in North America and Europe in 1991. The Game Boy game is called Burai Fighter Deluxe even though some elements of the game were lost in moving to the handheld. There was also a Game Boy Color version released in Japan in 1999 as Burai Fighter Color and in North America in 2000 as Space Marauder.
Burai Fighter is one of the first games designed and produced by Ken Lobb. He is perhaps best known as a designer for the original Killer Instinct. After Taxan closed, he briefly worked for Namco contributing on Splatterhouse 2 and 3 for Sega Genesis. Next he would work for Nintendo where he worked on Killer Instinct and other games such as Super Punch-Out!!, Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and many others. He left Nintendo to work at Microsoft Game Studios where he is still employed today. It’s always nice to see where a well known personality in gaming starts out!
Burai Fighter is a shoot-em-up where you control an unnamed protagonist in his efforts to defeat the evil Burai and their armies from taking over the universe. You are equipped with a jet pack that lets you fly in any direction as the game scrolls forward. One of the unique features of this game is that the scrolling isn’t just in one direction. The scrolling direction changes in whichever direction the level was designed though it does follow a linear path. It’s important to pay attention to your surroundings so that you can avoid getting trapped if the level veers in an unexpected direction. Because of this scrolling, you can fire your gun in eight directions. Holding down the fire button locks the direction you are shooting so you can maneuver at will while firing in whatever direction you want.
There are three types of weapon enhancements to your standard gun. The Laser changes your standard shot into a high powered beam similar to the Laser powerup in Gradius. The Ring power fires a round projectile in addition to your standard gun and this shot can go through walls. The Missile powerup also augments your standard gun but always fires to the right no matter what direction you are aiming the basic shot. These weapons can be powered up by collecting powerup icons. The letter on this icon cycles between L, R, and M for their respective weapons. You can switch your weapon by grabbing this icon whenever the letter on it changes to which weapon you want. Certain enemies drop these but they are also scattered throughout the levels. There are a couple of other powerups to collect. The S icon increases your movement speed, and there is a spiked ball you can grab that rotates around you killing most enemies when they touch it.
Each weapon type can be powered up between three different strengths. Collecting 5 icons of the same type gives you the Level 2 weapon, and collecting 10 icons gives you the Level 3 weapon. The Level 2 Laser fires a second laser in the opposite direction of your shot, and the Level 3 Laser shoots in all four diagonal directions plus it restores your basic gun for even more firepower. The Level 2 Ring similarly adds another Ring shot behind you, and Level 3 adds a spread effect in the direction you are aiming. The Level 2 Missile adds missiles that shoot to the left, and the Level 3 Missile adds missiles that fire both up and down giving you four missiles at once. The game keeps track of how many icons of each type you have so you know when you are about to add some firepower. When you die, the weapon currently in use goes all the way back down to zero. However, the other two weapons maintain their current level so this is less of a setback than in many other shooters. Of course if you have to continue then everything resets back to square one.
Lesser enemies will occasionally drop these shards that you can collect in order to fill a meter at the bottom of the screen. This meter has notches in it breaking the meter down into eight segments. Each segment of this bar represents a cobalt bomb that you can fire off by pressing A. This is a very powerful bomb that destroys all bullets and most enemies on screen. However it deals no damage to the bosses. I found it especially useful as a defense move to get out of situations where I was trapped by oncoming enemy fire. If you are able to fill the meter up completely it will award you an extra life but you lose all your bombs in the process.
Burai Fighter has seven levels in two distinct styles. The majority of the levels play out with the multi-directional linear scrolling as described previously. Each level has a boss encounter at the end. They are huge screen-sized bosses with lots of moving parts and they put up quite a fight. These levels also contain hidden rooms that can be found in the gaps on the edge of the screen. When you find a hidden room the level scrolls briefly to reveal the room and all the nice powerups and prizes hidden inside. There are ten hidden rooms in the game and they are difficult to find. I only found two or three of these rooms when I played and I had problems getting in to the room even when I knew where it was. Maybe there’s a trick to it that I didn’t figure out but after awhile I didn’t even bother looking for them.
Levels 3 and 6 deviate by playing from a top-down perspective. These stages were removed from the Game Boy versions. Before you start the level you are presented with a map indicating your starting position and the location of the base that you must destroy. The map shuffles these placements every time you restart the level so some attempts will have a more favorable setup than others. The idea is to head in the direction of the base and destroy all the targets on the base once you find it. If you get lost trying to find the base it is almost always a lost cause since you only see the map one time before the level. The other important element is that you cannot lock the firing direction in these stages. You can only shoot in the direction you are moving. This can be pretty challenging whenever you are being tailed by an ever-growing group of enemies. The level ends whenever the base is completely destroyed. It’s a short stage and it’s a decent diversion from the normal levels.
Graphically the game has very nice visual effects and the coloring is pretty bright and varied for this type of game. The level graphics themselves are kind of non-descript and don’t really stand out much aside from the organic look in Stage 2. I like the music in this game, particularly the track from the first level. This game really shines in visual flair. The game makes heavy use of rotating individual sprites, such as in the swinging arms of bosses and the star splash effect when using a cobalt bomb. It’s even evident from powering on the game and watching the letters in Burai Fighter form a circle and rotate around. This makes the game look really interesting.
There are three difficulty levels in Burai Fighter: Eagle (easy), Albatross (normal), and Ace (hard). Each difficulty level increases the number of enemies and the rate of enemy fire. There are multiple endings based on the difficulty level, so in order to get the best ending you have to take on the challenge of the hardest difficulty. Fortunately to help out there are not only unlimited continues but also stage passwords. The passwords are only four characters long and they are actual English words so they are really easy to memorize and input. The downside with simple passwords is that the game will start you off with no powerups every time.
This was my first attempt at beating Burai Fighter, but I had completed the first level on Albatross difficulty when testing out my cart. From that short experience I knew this game was good and I was very excited to take on the challenge. Since I want the best ending I started right off on Ace difficulty. The first level took a bit of time though I learned it fairly quickly, but Stage 2 slowed me down almost from the start. That level goes on for awhile and it winds around with different challenges at every turn. Each continue is a setback as it bumps you back to the start of the stage. About halfway through I got my groove and that led me to finishing the stage. Level 3 is the first top-down level and I died and lost my weapons while trying to get my bearings. After that small setback it didn’t take too long to finish, and Level 4 also went by quickly.
Level 5 was my biggest stumbling block in the whole game. The initial scrolling segment is really erratic with tight quarters and it took a lot of trial and error to figure out the best way through the mess of enemies. This was where I realized I should probably start using cobalt bombs! Even with the bombs I needed lots of practice on this stage. The boss was hard too as there are several moving parts to account for and avoid. Level 6 is the other top-down stage and this time I cleared it on my first try! The final level is the hardest of all but I spent less time here than on Stage 5. The final boss is the Slimedragon that you see on the cover of the game. The best way I can describe this creature is he is an elusive bullet sponge. It’s okay once you figure out the rhythm of the fight but the battle goes on and on for quite some time because he is so hard to hit. Beating that boss was a real feel good moment and a weight off my shoulders.
Now, it’s spoiler time! Skip ahead if you don’t want to know what happens next. After sitting through the ending, the developers felt that it was a great time to reveal that the game actually has a hidden fourth difficulty level labeled Ultimate that contains the true best ending. So it was back to the drawing board for another playthrough. From what I could tell there were no significant differences between Ace and Ultimate. The enemies move a little bit faster and fire more bullets. The bosses have higher health as well. I thought for awhile that the scrolling was a tiny bit faster than before but now I’m not so sure that’s true. This mode was no cakewalk for certain but I got through it quicker the second time around since I already knew what to expect in the levels.
This game was quite a challenge even with continues and a password save. Having to beat the game on the hardest difficulty may have made it seem harder to me than it really was. I don’t think Burai Fighter is in true top tier difficulty but it’s up there. I am guessing clearing the game on Eagle difficulty is still a stiff challenge but much more manageable than the higher levels. My difficulty assessment here is really a gut feeling and may be completely off base. Either way, I am sticking with my choices.
I get the impression that Burai Fighter is an unheralded good game on NES since I hardly ever see it discussed. It’s a great original title that I think would be a lot of fun for shooter fans. I particularly like the bosses and how they are technical showpieces while they also pose a nice challenge. The game has this visual pizzazz to it that doesn’t show up in many other NES games. Plus the game is still very affordable for a loose cart. It’s a mystery to me why this game is not more popular. It’s a fun game and I recommend it!