Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Retro Review - Psychic Killer Taromaru (Saturn)

Too rich for my blood

Psychic Killer Taromaru - a rough approximation of its original Japanese title of Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru - is a bit of an oddity, being both an extremely obscure title, yet also well known in Sega Saturn fan circles thanks to its status as one of the rarest and most expensive games for the system. Of course, rarity is no measure of quality - many of the rarest games are ones that did not sell very well upon their original release. So, is it worth paying over £200 for an original copy? Well no, of course it isn't. No game is. But is it worth checking out for those of you with a 'special' Sega Saturn, or a decent Saturn emulator?

Essentially a strange combination of Shinobi - thanks to the ninja enemies and Feudal Japan style backdrops - and Alisia Dragoon on the Mega Drive, due to the bizarre beam weapon used by the main character - Psychic Killer is a 2.5 platform game with heaps of gory action. Upon starting, you choose between two characters and set off on a destructive path to the right that will have you facing off against some truly bizarre monsters. The graphics still manage to impress, with some great 3D backgrounds that scroll on a 2D plane, often rotating around your character, and some really atmospheric environments. The sprites are less impressive, but still have a certain degree of character, with some imaginative enemies types to murder along the way, including ninja assassins, zombies, flaming skulls and winged abominations. The music also fits the game perfectly, with traditional style Japanese music lending the game an authentic Eastern flavour.

While appearances would lead you to believe Psychic Killer is a fairly standard Shinobi clone, it soon becomes apparent this is not quite the case. Rather than hurling shurikens or using a sword, the protagonist here is armed with a strange electric beam that automatically locks on to the nearest enemy. You then must hammer the fire button to attack that foe, until he is vanquished and the aiming symbol moves on to another enemy. You cannot fire while moving, meaning you must continually stop firing and move to avoid the many projectiles thrown at you. While this control method is a fairly novel concept, it has the adverse effect of breaking the flow of the game, making controlling your character a clunky and frustrating experience. A lot of the time, the aiming icon will select a foe you are trying to ignore, or lock on to an indestructible part of a boss - while you are trying to attack its weak spot - making life unnecessarily difficult and pretty aggravating. 

There are plenty of smaller adversaries to obliterate, but Psychic Killer likes to throw in a lot of boss encounters, and these are the most interesting part of the game, with some epic battles involving creatures many times your size, on moving or destructible backgrounds. There are no separate levels, either, with the entire game continuing in one smooth flow from beginning to end. Psychic Killer is a difficult game, mainly due to the aforementioned attacking issues, but also due to the amount of enemies and hazards thrown at you, and I soon became worn down by the fiddly attacking mechanic (and not just my sore fingers from the constant tapping required). While I applaud the developers for trying something a bit different, I feel that, if they had used the standard run & gun style gameplay elements seen in titles like Shinobi, Ninja Gaiden, Shadow of the Ninja etc. Psychic Killer would have been a far more enjoyable experience. 

As it stands, however, Psychic Killer is a very average game, and it doesn't really surprise me that it was never released outside of Japan. It is certainly worth a download for curiosity's sake, but don't expect to be amazed by what you find - it just made me want to play the infinitely superior Revenge of Shinobi / Shinobi III on Sega's 16-bit machine instead. It is another example of a game gaining more notoriety that it deserves due to its rarity and ridiculous prices that collectors seem willing to pay. Save yourself a fortune and simply play one of the many better, and far cheaper, alternatives out there.

Title : Psychic Killer Taromaru (Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru)
Developer : Time Warner Interactive
Year : 1997
System : Sega Saturn (Japan)

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