Jaleco might not be as well-known as the likes of Capcom and Konami with today's gamers, but it was big enough company back in the '90s to create its own parody shooter, taking inspiration from the likes of Parodius and Star Parodier. The result was Game Tengoku – or Game Paradise, as it's also known – which hit arcades back in 1995 and was duly ported to the Sega Saturn as a Japanese system exclusive in 1997, complete with a VHS tape containing a short animated movie based on the game.
While it's not quite on the same level as Konami's famous take on its own Gradius franchise, Game Tengoku is nonetheless enough of a cult classic that it has been resurrected for the modern era in the form of Game Tengoku CruisinMix Special. Released on the PS4 and PC a few years ago, this Switch port brings everything over to Nintendo's machine (including newcomers Clarice from City Connection and Homura Banto from Bases Loaded, who weren't in the original arcade or Saturn version) and also adds the ship from Toaplan's superb Tatsujin / Truxton.
Set inside an amusement arcade where all of the machines have been connected together to combat an evil genius intent on taking over the world, Game Tengoku CruisinMix Special is pretty basic as shooters go; you have a basic shot which can be powered-up by collecting icons as well as a 'Bomb' attack which not only dishes out massive damage to enemies but also clears incoming projectiles. Additionally, holding down your shot button charges up a special attack.
The selection of playable characters are taken from classic Jaleco games, such as Exerion, Field Combat and Momoko 120%, and stages are littered with references to the company's other releases, like Rod Land and Tuff E Nuff / Dead Dance. The Sega Saturn version is included here, which offers both standard and TATE screen modes as well as a special 'Arranged' mode, but the real meat is the Arcade Mode+, which spruces up the visuals and sound slightly to present a more alluring experience for modern players. You can also submit your scores to an online leaderboard.
Outside of these two main modes, there's a cool gallery feature which not only breaks down all of the Jaleco games which are references in Game Tengoku CruisinMix Special – showing off high-res artwork, posters and screenshots – but it also features an amusing audio commentary from the characters (for Tatsujin's entry, for example, they express their amazement that they were allowed to feature such a legendary game).
It's easy to see why Game Tengoku CruisinMix Special is so beloved by Japanese shmup fans, but it's equally easy to understand why it's not as well known in the west as Parodius, despite being very similar in tone. The levels are inventive and the action is reasonably compelling, but it's overshadowed by better examples of the genre – especially in 2020, when Switch owners have games like ESP Ra.De. Psi and Ikaruga to keep them busy. It's by no means essential then, but if you're a hardcore shooter nut, then this is still well worth a look.