oday’s article is all about a 1986 arcade game from Taito. No, not Bubble Bobble. Not Arkanoid, either. This game is called… well, it gets a bit complicated. In Japan it was released as Violent Shooting, which raises questions about whether there can be a game about shooting guns that isn’t intrinsically violent. Then it came west, where it was called Cycle Shooting. A slightly more descriptive title for the contents, because you definitely have to shoot at some (motor)cycles. Then there was a bootleg version called Bronx, which is technically the version I’ll be playing today because both Violent Shooting and Cycle Shooting seem to be unemulated a the moment. As far as I can tell, the only difference between Bronx and the official versions of Violent Shooting is the title screen, so I figured that’s close enough.
Here’s the brand-new title screen that the creators of this bootleg went with. One might argue that they shouldn’t have bothered. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help seeing it as “the square root of bron,” and I have no idea why you’d even call this game Bronx because it has nothing to do with that particular part of New York.
What is does have is a strangely-proportioned young lady running down the middle of a road while being harassed by a gang of hooligans on motorbikes. I know she’s all geared up like she’s on her way to her mid-week roller derby match, but she’s not wearing skates. Even if she was I doubt they’d give her enough to speed to outrun the thugs who, of course, kidnap her. Oh yes, Violent Shooting is ferreting through the bottom of the “rescue the abducted female” barrel for a storyline, and now it’s up to you – the nameless, gun-toting hero – to save this woman.
It turns out that the “shooting” part of this game’s many names is accurate, because hey look, it’s a lightgun game. A very basic lightgun game, at that. You point the attached gun (if you’re playing on an actual arcade cabinet, anyway) at the screen and shoot the bad guys. This makes Violent Shooting’s gameplay quick to describe, and in fact I’ve already covered all the salient points. There’s no reloading, no special weapons or screen-clearing grenades and no shrieking hostages that you’re supposed to not shoot despite their arm-waving, attention-grabbing antics. As I say, it’s about as basic as a lightgun game can get.
I should also mention that while this “Bronx” version of the game is emulated, it’s not emulated well and there are plenty of issues that popped up while I way playing. They were mostly graphical errors, especially with sprites appearing on the wrong layer of the playfield, and normally I wouldn’t write about a game when I can’t get a feel for what it’s really like but despite the rather bland gameplay Violent Shooting was interesting enough for me to play through it anyway.
So here we are, shooting at a motley crew of mohawk-wearing shoulderpad aficionados in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Some of them have motorcycles, some of them have cars and a couple of them even have small personal helicopters, because as always these post-apocalyptic survivors are forever bleating on about the lack of fuel but there’s always enough to keep roving gangs of motorbike psychos on the move. As always in these situations, we must decide whether the aesthetics are influenced more by Hokuto no Ken / Fist of the North Star or Mad Max. You might think that’s a moot point, because Fist of the North Star is hugely inspired by Mad Max in the first place, but there’s a subtle distinction – Mad Max drives a car and uses a gun, but Fist of the North Star’s Kenshiro punches people until they explode. Like I said, it’s a subtle distinction. I’m leaning towards Mad Max because of, you know, the shooting, but those ruined buildings back there look very much like a Fist of the North Star backdrop.
Halfway through the stage, the punks were replaced by a swarm of floating, grinning balloons that grant points when shot. While the bad guys in Violent Shooting are hardly the roughest, toughest looking bunch of hombres, it’s a bit jarring to suddenly be shooting at something that seems to have drifted in from Hugsy Smileington’s Adventures in Balloonland.
I do like these punks, mind you. Even though they’re trying to kill you (and succeeding) they’ve got the air of bumbling losers, especially when you shoot their motorcycles and they comically roll along the asphalt with goofily exaggerated expressions rather than having all their skin sheared off. It’s a fun look, and it's about as close as we’re ever likely to get to a Mad Max / Fist of the North Star lightgun game so I’m having a nice time even if the gameplay is very one-note.
Moving on to stage two, and rather than the scrolling roadway of the first stage it’s a static screen showing a petrol station overrun by, you guessed it, a biker gang who took full advantage of the local boutique’s “buy a pair of shoulder pads, get a free eyepatch” offer. The most notable new addition here is the cutesy cartoon cat that scampers around the screen. Aww, isn’t it adorable? All fuzzy and cute. Shame I had to shoot it to collect the points bonus it was carrying, really.
You spend your time on this stage shifting between shooting gang members and fuzzy critters, and it’s fairly important that you shoot both kinds of target. I was rather taken aback when I started playing Violent Shooting and realised I only started with two blocks of health in my life bar, a measly amount that is quickly shredded should you miss a shot on even a single enemy. In fact, it was a real challenge just to get past the first stage, so quickly was my health bar depleted whenever I didn’t take out a single punk in time (which was a lot, because I’m bad at videogames.) My two top tips for Violent Shooting success, then: shoot the balloons and animals because they give you extra health when you collect enough points, and don’t hammer the fire button because your gun fires in a “bang-bang, bang-bang” two-shot rhythm which can leave you vulnerable between those two shots. Of course, this is all theoretical, because most of the time I lost health it was due to an enemy I couldn’t even see. As in, there was no enemy sprite there at all. I’m going to put this down to emulation issues, because surely even a mid-eighties arcade game wouldn’t be cruel or greedy enough to have invisible enemies.
This stage has a boss at the end, but it’s not just any boss – it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger himself! Specifically, it’s John Matrix from Commando, if the body paint and rocket launcher are any indication. He operates as a pretty typical lightgun game boss. Keep shooting him so he can’t shoot you, only adjusting your aim to shoot down the rockets he occasionally fires at you. I’ve fought a thousand lightgun game bosses like him before, but happily this one has the advantage of being a super-deformed cutesy version of Arnold Schwarzenegger: something you don’t see very often, and probably for good reason. Taito definitely pulled off the look, though. Immediately recognisable as Arnie, an engagingly silly design and some bright red high-heeled boots just to spice things up a little.
Once I’d managed to shoot the boss enough times, he died. That’s to be expected. Less expected was the row of bullet wounds that appeared across his chest and the blood oozing from his mouth. It’s still presented in a cartoonish manner, but it’s a little gorier than I thought Violent Shooting was going to get. In fact, one of the most noticeable things about this Taito game is how un-Taito-y it feels. I know they’ve got a wide range of different genres and aesthetics under their belt, but whenever I think of Taito arcade games I think of Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands, not eighties action movie stars leaking blood like an oversaturated sponge.
Onward to stage three, which is a lot like stage one except it takes place in a tunnel of some kind. Violent Shooting’s biggest problem is that it becomes repetitive almost immediately. Most lightgun games are, by nature, rather basic in terms of gameplay design but they (the good ones, anyway) keep things interesting with new enemies, hazards and locations. Not so with Violent Shooting, because you’ll be blasting away at the same set of hairspray-hogging punks for the entire game, the action set against backdrops that you could hardly call exciting. The only new feature in this stage is that the punks will now throw bundles of dynamite at you, which must be shot out of the air.
I thought that the sound that exploding dynamite makes had long been settled on. Bang, boom, kaboom, all acceptable onomatopoeia. “Krash” is a new one on me, unless they’re chucking the dynamite through a plate glass window before it explodes.
Another day, another single-screen stage populated by the same villains. Sometimes they ride up and down in the elevator on the side of the building, so that’s new. Also new are the strange fuzzy chicks that wander around the screen, disconsolate that Taito didn’t choose them to star in New Zealand Story and desperate for the player to end their miserable existence. “Go on, do it.” their fluffy little faces seem to say, “You’ll need those points.”
Yes indeed, I will need those points and the precious life energy they bring, because this stage has a fight against two bosses at once. They’re punks, but bigger and with even more extravagant shoulder pads. If they had a running start and jumped off a cliff, they could glide for miles on those things, obviating the need to terrorise the innocent post-apocalyptic survivors during their relentless quest for petrol. Maybe that’s why they spend this fight leaping around like kangaroos with tasers stuffed into their pouches, they’re trying to figure out their own aerodynamics.
Anyway, the fight is simple in concept but difficult in practise, because Violent Shooting is hard enough without having two fast-moving targets gunning for you at once. I managed to triumph, however. I’m not sure whether it was through luck, design or poor emulation, but one of the bosses decided to wander away for a significant portion of the fight, leaving me with only one target. I don’t know how or why it happened, but I’ll take it.
Another scrolling stage now, this time a jaunt through the irradiated wasteland with a large tanker for company. I assumed I was supposed to be protecting it – and I’m pretty sure that is the case – but obviously I shot it a few times just to see what would happen. Nothing, is the answer. Nothing happened. I mean, I lost a life because I was too busy shooting at the truck to get rid of the punks, but nothing happened to the truck itself.
The action then moves on to this series of wooden bridges, which are naturally infested with gang members on motorcycle. A bloody ton of them, even. They just kept coming, wave after wave, with no end in sight no matter how many of them I reduced to red smears on the road. I began to worry that the game was broken somehow – more broken that it already was, I mean – and that I was trapped in an endless loop of logs and punks.
Then I accidentally shot one of those grey blocks, and it exploded. So those are bombs, then? Okay, so I have to shoot enough bombs to destroy the bridge. Well, that’s something a bit different, at least. It’s not fun, not when the bombs whizz by at a speed that makes them far harder to blow up than it feels like it should be, but having a concrete goal to aim for is nice.
Now we’re at the final stage. You can tell it’s the final stage, because the kidnapped lady from the intro is tied up at the top of the screen. Much like the tanker, I had to try shooting her too, just to see what would happen. She made a noise. I don’t think it was the noise she was supposed to make, because it sounded like R2-D2 stubbing his toe. Maybe there’s meant to be some digitised speech in there. “Cut it out, you berk,” something like that.
As for the stage itself, well, you shoot some punks. That’s it. Violent Shooting is a very short game even by the standards of the lightgun genre, and that’s definitely for the best. It doesn’t have the energy to sustain itself for the stages it does have.
The final boss appears, and I was not expecting it to be some kind of armoured cherub, an enemy I’m pretty sure I fought during Bayonetta. I was expecting it to be a punk, but bigger. RoboPutto is what we’ve got, though, so I got down to the shooting only to discover that the boss is carrying a large, bulletproof shield and the only way to land a hit is to fire during the very brief window when the boss lowers their shield to fire at you. This is easier said than done, because the boss runs around the screen pretty quickly, but it’s a decent-enough set-up for a boss fight in a lightgun game.
Eventually I landed enough shots to knock off the boss’ helmet and reveal that – gasp – I’m fighting against a lady! I think. No, hang on, she’s got armoured boobs, it’s definitely supposed to be a woman. This would be more interesting if the boss had any backstory or motivations to speak of, but I suppose it’s still better than fighting yet another gang member.
A few hits later, and the boss is defeated by the power of embarrassment as our hero shoots all her armour off. You even get a couple of frames of full-frontal, single-pixels-for-nipples nudity to keep all you perverts out there happy. What a way to end a strange little game.
As far as an ending goes, you get to see our hero in the flesh. He looks a lot more like Max Rockatansky than Kenshiro, so I guess that clears up the whole Mad Max / Fist of the North Star influence debate. Not that he looks that much like Mad Max, mind you. I don’t remember Max wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. Not-Max and his lady friend get their revenge by tying the villain up at the top of the screen – poetic justice, if the poet in question is someone scrawling a dirty limerick on a toilet wall – and Violent Shooting / Cycle Shooting / Bronx comes to an end. Except it doesn’t, it loops back to the first stage with increased difficulty, but as far as I’m concerned it’s done.
Normally I’d try to come to some kind of conclusion here, but because I can’t be certain about what Violent Shooting is really like when it’s all working correctly I think it’d be kinda unfair to do so. That said, from what I’ve played it seems like a technically competent but very limited game. There’s not much here to keep you coming back for more, you know? On the plus side, the setting is a weird enough take on a very familiar world to make it interesting to play through once or twice, and it’s hard to argue with that tiny Arnie boss. Maybe one day it’ll be fully emulated and I’ll go back to check up on it, but for now I’ll go back to trying to figure out a way to cryogenically preserve myself until the Yakuza Fist of the North Star game is released and I can get my post-apocalyptic thug-fighting thrills that way.
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