Back in 2013, video game designer Mike Mika’s daughter asked him how to “play as the girl” in Nintendo’s Donkey Kong. She wanted Pauline (who’s always been the damsel in distress) to save Mario from the famous video game gorilla. Being a father myself, it’s natural to do whatever it takes to get your daughter what she wants, but Mike took it up a notch and plunked himself down in front of his computer, put his game designing skills to task, and rebuilt Donkey Kong to make Pauline the heroine. I consider that Dadding leveled up.
For quite some time video games and movies in general have almost always been about the guy rescuing the girl. It hasn’t been until recently where Disney has started introducing strong female leads who often end up rescuing the males and can tackle any situation they find themselves in. Gaming has been a bit ahead of the curve in regards to introducing gamers to female leads, but even that took years of mashing buttons before Nintendo decided to “surprise” players who finished Metroid by showing them that they’ve been controlling a female all along. A good percentage of current generation games now give us the choice of either choosing a male or a female protagonist, so non-video game designers such as myself can introduce our daughters to games where they can feel empowered and assured that they can do anything boys can. I like to introduce my daughter to several retro games as well as modern, but often find it difficult to find many with a female lead other than the aforementioned Metroid. So as you can imagine, when my daughter saw the introduction scene to the game Trouble Shooter, her eyes lit up like two Christmas trees as she saw two female leads given the task of rescuing a prince.
In Trouble Shooter (known as Battle Mania in Japan), the heroines Madison & Crystal are asked by their boss Col. Patch to rescue King Fredrick’s son Prince Eldon who’s been kidnapped by the evil Blackball for unknown reasons. The game doesn’t take itself very seriously, and even goes out of its way by breaking the 4th wall at ingenious times. For instance, in one scene Blackball has Prince Eldon tied to a spinning wheel while she throws knives at him. Our heroines make sure to let the Prince know that they are doing everything in their power to rescue him and his response is simply, “Awesome!”. Each cutscene is overflowing with quick humor, and it blends in really nicely with the rest of the game.
Trouble Shooter is a shoot-em-up which consists of 6 action packed horizontal and vertical stages that will have your thumbs hurting and your face smiling. Gameplay is made simple by utilizing the Sega Genesis’ expertly designed 3-button controller. The player directly controls Madison, who is always shooting to the right of the screen along with her partner Crystal, who closely mimics Madison’s movements and gun fire. Since Crystal is not directly controlled by the player she is able to withstand gunfire and touching enemies without any type of penalty. The B button is used to shoot, which you can thankfully hold down since rapid fire is always on, and the C button can be pressed to make Crystal shoot behind Madison for enemies that are sneaking up from the back. At the start of each stage the player is given a choice of several special weapons that all have different advantages, for instance, one will fill the screen with vertical lightning bolts but may miss a few smaller enemies, and another that will unleash a handful of damaging rounds that circle outward from the player toward all edges of the screen but could miss some enemies in close proximity. The special weapon must charge after each use and if you try to use it halfway through its charge you’re out of luck because the charge meter resets and must start all over again. It takes a few playthroughs of each stage to figure out which special weapon will work best for that stage.
The stages themselves can get a bit difficult and will test your pattern memorization as most shoot-em-up’s do, but they are a bit on the short side so it never got to the point where I wanted to throw my controller. There are 3 difficulty settings in the options menu so if you’re feeling courageous and looking for a bit more of a challenge, the choice is always there. Unlike most shooters, Trouble Shooter utilizes a health bar system that can be increased and stacked with each heart icon collected which adds to the game’s approachability. Boss battles, again, are all about pattern recognition and will test your abilities during the first few attempts, but they are made easier if you collect the numerous amounts of gun power-ups littered throughout each stage. Each boss battle is pretty memorable considering the humor that’s expertly crafted into the cut scenes has made its way to the end stage battles. You will be testing your button pressing skills against a gigantic laughing robot with a big ego, another cyborg that introduces a snake like mini-game in the middle of the fight, and a gigantic mothership called Colossus that is being powered by a female terminator-like robot on an exercise bike. These creative enemies seem outrageous but fit into the game’s aesthetic flawlessly.
In the graphics and audio department Trouble Shooter handles the Genesis’ blast processing to the fullest extent. Each stage’s music ups the tempo with the drums seeming like they were ripped straight from a Pennywise track, and the cyborg-like vibrant graphics make every second of gameplay memorable. Since the stages are quite short, I found it hard to get bored with any of the games tracks and sometimes I felt I completed stages too quickly to even hear the full track. You can listen to all the game’s sounds in the options menu at the start screen, which is always a welcome feature. It’s here you can also give a listen to all the voice samples for each hero and villain. Enemies come in many shapes and sizes with a new sprite being introduced throughout the experience. A nice touch is seeing Madison’s hair flowing in the wind while flying through the air. A whole lot of charm was crammed into this Genesis title.
There was a sequel made titled Battle Mania Baiginjo, but sadly it only was released in Japan back in 1993 and didn’t have an English option. The game goes for well over $200 and is highly sought after by Japanese and American gamers alike. It includes better graphics, longer stages, and an improved weapon system. Hacked translation patches are readily available on several sites and can easily be played on your favorite emulator or Everdrive.
I fell in love with Trouble Shooter as soon as I looked at its extremely cheesy box art. It’s one of those titles that somehow slipped by me as a kid, but I’m happy to say that it’s found a heavy rotation in my Genesis console. As an added bonus my daughter turned into a big fan considering Madison and Crystal show that the best man for the job is a woman.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Released on: Sega Genesis (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Vic Tokai ; Developer: Vic Tokai ; Year released: 1991