Konami may be retreating from the production of video games these days but not so long ago the company was seen as one of the leading lights in the industry, challenging the likes of Capcom, Sega and Nintendo when it came to creating compelling, must-have experiences. This reputation didn't come without effort; during the '80s the Japanese firm was one of the pioneers of arcade gaming, notably in the popular "shmup" genre. Konami's enviable legacy in this field has inspired Hardcore Gaming 101 to produce another of its excellent books, which takes previously published web content and wraps it up in a package you can physically treasure.
If you've read any of Hardcore Gaming 101's other books then you'll know the drill here. Much of the content comes from the site's archives, but it has been re-written and augmented to make it even more comprehensive. You'll also find loads of gorgeous screenshots and plenty of official artwork to compliment the exhaustive and knowledgeable text. The book does an excellent job of finding the right balance between being informative and entertaining; every possible piece of trivia related to each title is mentioned - including bugs, cheats and the changes made to the various home ports - yet it never becomes a slog through minor details and even manages to inject some welcome humour.
When you think about Konami's shooters a few fairly obvious names spring to mind. Gradius was a revolutionary release in arcades and has since found more fans with domestic conversions and original home releases, such as the sublime Gradius Gaiden and Gradius V, the latter of which was coded by Gunstar Heroes studio Treasure. The entire Gradius series is covered here, as well as spin-off Salamander (known as Life Force on the NES). Cute-em-up TwinBee is also spoken about in-depth, right down to the relatively obscure RPG spin-off and the lamentable 2013 smartphone title which is mercifully exclusive to the Japanese social network service LINE. Parodius - Konami's self-depreciating shooter series which gleefully pokes fun at its other titles - gets a large portion of the book thanks to the fact that it has seen so many installments. The coverage of this franchise concludes with the awesome Sexy Parodius, a rather cheeky shooter which boasts naked ladies and a tanooki with rather swollen genitals, amongst other things. Despite the odd visuals, it's one of Konami's finest shooters.
Amid these famous names it's heartening to see that some of Konami's lesser-known titles have been given some coverage as well. Ajax (also known as Typhoon in some parts of the world) is a rather generic vertical shooter and Trigon tries too hard to emulate the far more famous Raiden, but both are interesting in their own way. However, Crisis Force is arguably one of the most technically impressive Famicom games ever produced, and the Thunder Cross series - while shamefully short-lived - represents an interesting diversion from Gradius and reminds us of the classic Thunder Force franchise, which is no bad thing. And then there's Axelay of course, quite possibly the best shooter on the SNES and a game which really should have received numerous sequels, but sadly didn't.
At the end of the book you'll find sections devoted largely to Gradius, which, over the years, has received many merchandising tie-ins as well as notable fan-made clones. A section covering soundtracks is also included for the truly dedicated Konami fan. While it does feel as if Gradius dominates the book, it's not without good reason - the series influenced the likes of Salamander and Parodius, and it certainly feels like it sits at the center of Konami's shooter history, the keystone on which all its other ventures in the genre depended on.
With fetching front and rear cover artwork by renowned artist Rusty Shackles, this is a book which is appealing to the eye as well as packed with valuable information. It's a recommended read not only to fans of the company, but to shooter addicts as a whole - most of which will surely consider the likes of Gradius, Parodius and Axelay to be some of the finest examples of the genre.
You can order The Unofficial Guide To Konami Shooters directly from the Hardcore Gaming 101 website.