Go ahead … give it a spin!
To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Complete 2 Loops (maybe 3?)
My Goal: Beat 2 loops
What I Did: Reached about halfway through Loop 2
Played: 10/16/16 – 10/17/16
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Gyruss Longplay
One way I have seen people try and describe a game is by forming it in terms of one or more other games that have shared elements. For instance, the term Metroidvania is widely used to describe a game that contains elements of both Metroid and Castlevania. Even though these comparisons may not always be the best, I think I can sum up Gyruss in this way. A cross between Galaga and Tempest, Gyruss is a fun shoot-em-up that is unlike anything else on the NES.
Gyruss originally is a 1983 arcade game developed by Konami. It was designed by Yoshiki Okamoto. He worked on only two games for Konami, Gyruss and Time Pilot. The arcade version was also published by Konami in Japan and Centuri in the US. Gyruss was later ported to five other home platforms by Parker Brothers. The NES version is not an arcade port, but a complete remake of the game by Konami. It was first released in Japan on the Famicom Disk System in November 1988 and in North America on the NES in February 1989, published by Ultra Games.
This is probably a good time to explain the relationship between Konami and Ultra Games. Nintendo decided to implement strict licensing agreements with companies that wanted to release games on the NES, and one of their policies was that companies were allowed to produce no more than five titles on the system per year. These policies were not in effect on the Famicom and some companies such as Konami were releasing many more titles. To get around the restriction, Konami created a separate publishing label named Ultra Games that received its own allotment of five games per year. So when you see Ultra Games on a cart you know the game is really developed and published by Konami. Nintendo certainly did a lot of hand waving here to let Konami release extra games, but I won’t complain since for the most part it works to our benefit!
As I mentioned earlier, Gyruss borrows elements from both Galaga and Tempest. The game play is similar to Galaga in that each level has a few waves of enemies that enter in and all of them must be eliminated to proceed to the next stage. However the style is a tunnel shooter very reminiscent of the arcade hit Tempest. Your spaceship can orbit in a fixed circular path around the screen and enemies sit in the center of the screen moving outward toward your ship.
To beat the game, you must clear all 39 levels. You do this by planet hopping every four levels starting from Neptune going all the way to Mercury, and finally finishing off at the Sun. You can logically break down the level structure in groups of four. The game begins as you approach Neptune with the text “3 Warps to Neptune.” This level is the basic level type where four waves of enemies fly into the stage and you must defeat all of the enemies to warp to the next level. The second level “2 Warps to Neptune” has the same four enemy waves but with four enemy bases stationed in the middle of the screen. These take a lot of firepower to destroy so this type of level takes a little longer. The third level is “1 Warp to Neptune” which mirrors the first stage and includes a boss battle at the end. After reaching Neptune, the fourth level is a Chance Stage which plays out just like the Challenging Stages in Galaga. Here you get different enemy formations than the previous levels but the enemies cannot hurt you and your only goal is to defeat as many of them as you can for a point bonus at the end of the stage. This set of four stages repeats with the approach to each planet. There is no Chance Stage after the final boss so that sets the level count at 39.
When you begin the game you have the option of selecting either Control A or Control B. These determine how your control the movement of your ship. Control A boils down to pushing the D-pad in the direction you want to move regardless of where you are on the screen. So if you want to move to the left, you press left and you will travel the shortest path to the left side of the screen. If you keeping holding left you eventually will lock your ship in the farthest left position which can be handy at times. You can use up, down, left, and right to move to whichever side of the screen you want. Control B only utilizes left and right on the D-pad. Press left to move clockwise and press right to move counter-clockwise. Up and down do not do anything in this control mode. I have always used Control A and in my opinion I find it way more intuitive and useful than Control B. I think the only benefit to Control B is that you get continuous movement all around the screen by only having to hold down one direction on the D-pad.
You have two different types of attacks in Gyruss. The standard unlimited bullets are fired with the B button. You have a limited-use phaser attack by pressing A button. The phaser is a concentrated blast of fire at one position on the screen that plows through just about anything in its path. When you fire a phaser the screen pauses briefly for you to charge up and fire off the shot which is a nice touch to demonstrate the power of this attack.
There are a few powerups to help along the way. During the standard levels, a formation of three enemies in a row will appear on screen. The two outer enemies are cross shaped and the middle one is generally a powerup. The blue cross item upgrades your standard shot to a double shot. The orange cross item adds an extra phaser shot to your reserves. There is a round item with an orange center that gives you points. The round item with a blue center automatically destroys all enemies on screen aside from the enemy bases in the “2 Warps” levels. There is also a 1-up item that gives you an extra life. You also earn an extra life at 50,000 points and for every 100,000 points after that. You can have a maximum of seven lives and seven phaser shots in reserve.
The Chance Stages all have five formations of eight enemies for forty enemies in total. A few of the enemies in these formations will be a different color than the rest. These enemies bestow a powerup when destroyed so these bonus levels are good for upgrading if you get lucky enough with the item drops. You also get 100 points at the end of the level for each enemy you destroy. If you get all 40 enemies you get a 20,000 point bonus instead. Performing well at these stages goes a long way toward earning lives at a fast enough pace to keep going in the game.
The approach to each planet typically contains a unique enemy type or two in addition to the standard set of enemies across all levels. As an example, the approach to Neptune has indestructible asteroids that fly in a straight path at you. These special enemies can complicate clearing levels because they also must be dealt with before you can finish the stage. Several of them are shielded or have complicated movements, and that means they tend to linger around for awhile until you can defeat them. Others you simply have to wait out until they go away. You will have to learn what to do for each enemy to make progress in the game.
As mentioned previously Gyruss has a boss battle before warping to each planet. About half of these bosses are the same type consisting of a core surrounded by pods. These pods open up to shoot at you and that’s the only time they are vulnerable. The boss is defeated when all of the pods are destroyed. The remaining bosses are unique from one another and they are the ones I enjoy fighting the most.
Gyruss is a pretty difficult game on its own merits, but it is made more challenging due to the lack of continues. If you run out of lives you have to start over at Level 1. It is also frustrating that the stock of lives has a hard cap at seven. Granted, if you are maxed out on lives you are likely playing well enough to make a deep run, but it would be nice to have a larger buffer. I have had runs come crashing to a halt even with a full complement of lives. Gyruss has a lot of stages but they typically go fast so it isn’t that costly timewise to put in several attempts in a row to try and get the hang of it. I thought about going higher with the difficulty assessment, but perhaps fittingly I decided to give it a 7/10.
Gyruss is one of the games I had in my childhood collection and I had played it enough to beat it many years ago. I had also beaten the game a few months earlier as part of the NintendoAge contest. Combining both of those experiences left Gyruss relatively fresh in my mind.
My first run of the game was one of those where I lost all of my lives in one spot. The boss at Jupiter I find to be very troublesome. Sometimes I can defeat him pretty quickly, and other times I simply can’t do anything to him and burn through all my lives. This time he wiped me out completely. Starting over, I managed to beat that boss and the entire rest of the game without much trouble.
Gyruss starts over after the final boss with increased difficulty. The enemies shoot more often and some of them move more quickly. The real problem for me is that one of the recurring boss attacks becomes significantly more deadly. I wanted to clear the second loop but I was not successful. I understand that some of the Konami games that loop like this actually have three distinct difficulties, and considering that Gyruss is basically a Konami game it figures that it could follow that pattern. Unfortunately I have not found any evidence of how many difficulty loops are in Gyruss, and I was not able to clear the second loop to find out for myself. I believe that completing all the levels once and getting the ending is sufficient for completion.
I had recorded my winning run on video, but when I went back to watch it later I found out that the recording had a glitch in it near the beginning. It bothered me enough that I played through the whole game again to get a better capture. This time it worked and I managed to set a personal best in progression on that second loop. I was doing great until I had a complete meltdown on one of the bosses. It’s so bad that it almost looks like I was trying to fail out on purpose! I might end up going back to beat both loops one day just for my own personal benefit, but for now I’m satisfied.
Gyruss has a secret bonus! During the Chance Stage, if you manage to defeat the same number of enemies as the current level, you are awarded with 30,000 points. For instance, the first Change Stage is Level 4, so if you destroy 4/40 enemies then you get the bonus. This is more lucrative than the point bonus for shooting all of the enemies, and in some cases it is easier to pull off too. In my run I tried for the bonus every time as well as trying to hit as many of the powerup-giving enemies as I could. I only missed the bonus one time during the first loop. I abandoned that strategy during the second loop because I was more interested in the powerups.
I think Gyruss is a really fun game to play. I have always enjoyed Galaga so I already like the play style, but with the gameplay perspective, additional enemy types, powerups, and bosses, it makes it a more complete experience with significantly more depth. The graphics are very nice and the music is catchy as well. The game performs well with only the occasional slowdown, and when it does go slow it’s actually welcome. Finally, Gyruss is still a cheap cart to buy if you’re into cart collecting. If anything about the game sounds the least bit appealing to you, I think that Gyruss would be worth your time.