HAMSTER may not release titles in its Arcade Archives series as frequently as with its ACA Neo Geo one, but it does similarly seem determined to release whatever it can. R-Type is on the way, but before then there’s this lesser-known Irem title. Originally released in Japan as Yōjūden, Arcade Archives Heroic Episode puts you in control of the hero of the people of Mule, tasked with rescuing the guardian Minerva and saving everyone from destruction at the hands of the Gasp Empire. Basically, you shoot a load of monsters.
The game begins as a top-down shooter but at the end of the first stage your character grows wings, flies off a cliff and it becomes a vertical shmup. The stages that follow (which flow uninterrupted into one another) are a mix of these two styles. It was designed for a vertically orientated monitor and should you be playing the regular arcade mode, the options allow the screen to be rotated to play in TATE mode, although you’ll have to go into another menu screen to stretch the image to fit.
The game is reasonably detailed for its age, but the stages have the same look: stone ruins when on foot with flights over the ocean. There are a few different enemy types on offer, with regular warriors battled alongside fish and lizard-like creatures, statues and cyclops. Bosses include a dragon, a minotaur and Medusa although these last two only vaguely resemble their inspiration.
When on the ground you can shoot in eight directions with your main weapon, although the movement of some enemies often takes them between the angles requiring some shifting about to line them up. You also have a more powerful Maser, which can take out multiple enemies at once, but it is restricted to firing vertically, so that’ll only work if they are in a line directly above you. The main reason for using the Maser is that it is the only way to take out certain enemies as well as deal damage to the bosses. Both weapons have a limited range and although a power-up will increase the reach, you can’t keep a large distance when picking enemies off.
In addition to the bad guys, the scenery can also threaten the success of your mission. Ruined stone blocks are found along your path, getting in the way of your bullets but curiously not offering you any cover from enemy fire. When flying, things seem fairer as you don’t have objects blocking your way. On the other hand, you need to react quicker as these sections auto-scroll and a mistimed movement can quickly lead to death. The fact that both weapons offer unlimited ammo and are restricted to vertical fire, makes them quite similar and these stages quite basic shooting affairs, changing weapons being an enforced part of play rather than a strategic decision.
By letting you tackle them at your own pace the ground sections are a bit easier than the airborne ones as you can circle back on yourself should a barrage of bullets be heading your way. This can slow things down, and you may find yourself stuck snaking around a screen for a while, avoiding bullets but not quite getting close enough to take out your attackers. This is not a frequent occurrence, and once you get to know the levels you can often speed through quickly to the boss character.
The game is tough as, should you fail to quickly shoot the Gas Empire assassins, you may find the screen over run with little space to manoeuvre. Both types of stages suffer from slowdown whenever a lot of activity is on screen and although it's not at Metal Slug 2 levels, it can be off-putting. Bosses are difficult due to their awkward patterns of fire and the limited range of your own weapon, requiring you to arc through bullets to survive while also hoping to get close enough to get in a shot of your own.
A power-up that increases your speed is useful, as is the occasionally seen one that clears the screen of your enemies. By visiting the options menu your stock of lives can be increased from three to five, but that is all you can do to ease the difficulty of the adventure. There are also no continues in the game so you’ll have to try and beat the seven stages on a single credit. Two-player mode is available, but as this offers alternating rather than co-operative play, it doesn’t make things any easier.
As always with HAMSTER’s retro releases, online leaderboards add some replay value as you look to survive a bit longer and shoot more enemies to improve your score and move up the ranks. Due to a lack of continues the one-credit Hi-Score mode is much the same as the regular arcade experience but without the ability to give yourself a couple of extra lives or play in TATE mode. Those restrictions are also in place for the Caravan mode, but this can offer a different way of playing as you take more risks to rack up the points in the five minutes of play time you are limited too.
The mix of gameplay styles works fine, but the game is quite simple with neither style standing out among examples of each genre. It's a tough game with the limited range of your weapon and the lack of continues being the biggest hurdles to completion, although successfully speeding through a section is very satisfying. It can entertain and the usual online leaderboards add some replay value as you take on the world, but Arcade Archives: Heroic Episode is unlikely to be a game often played on your Switch with so many retro goodies already available on the eShop.