Check out our video review:
I will never forget Tyrian 2000 because it was the first game we made a video review for. We made a mistake during editing and didn’t catch it until it was too late and I remember the audio for several captured clips was out of sync so we didn’t use them. I’ve wanted to redo this review for a while and I figured now is as good a time as any. Even though this is an updated review, we’re going to keep the original up for historic value. Developed by Eclipse Software and published by Epic MegaGames, Tyrian was released for PC in June, 1995. It was originally released as shareware consisting of only one episode. Version 1.1 was the first published version consisting of three episodes and a ship editor. Version 2.0 added episode 4 and new game modes and Version 2.1 added in a Christmas mode. In 1999, Tyrian was re-released as Tyrian 2000 which includes an additional fifth episode and some new ships. World Tree Games developed versions for the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance but they were cancelled. However, you can find and download the ROMs of these versions. Then there’s OpenTyrian which is basically a re-write of the game based on the original source code. OpenTyrian can only be played using the files from version 2.1. You cannot use the files from Tyrian 2000. There are console builds of OpenTyrian for multiple systems which does make it very attractive. For this review, I played the GoG version of Tyrian 2000.
There is an actual story in Tyrian and it’s told through text and data cubes found in the levels. The story is set in the year 20,031 and you play as a terraforming pilot named Trent Hawkins. During an assignment on the planet Tyrian, his best friend is shot and before he dies he is able to tell Trent that the attack was carried out by MicroSol, a giant corporation that controls the terraformation of the planet. Unique to Tyrian is Gravitium, a special mineral which is able to control the force of gravity and MicroSol wants to use it to power their warships. And they will eliminate anybody who knows of the Gravitium’s existence. Trent leaves Tyrian to avoid being hunted down by MicroSol and heads to the planet Savara, the only planet free of the Interstellar Government’s policies. He vows to avenge his friend’s death and prepares to fight. Honestly, I do like the plot. You’re going to have to read otherwise you won’t know what’s going on but even if you don’t care for the story, it never gets in the way of the gameplay. I’m surprised the story is as fleshed out as it is. There’s actually a lot of background information and lore on different characters and the many planets you’ll visit which is pretty cool.
The visuals, basic audio options, and controls can be adjusted in-game and only thing I don’t like is that you can’t configure these options from the main menu. You have to start a game and adjust them from the game menu. There is a “setup” executable that launches a menu where you can configure the visuals and audio and you can also access the Jukebox where you can listen to all of the game’s songs. Tyrian does support joysticks and you can play it with an Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller which may require you to make some changes to the game’s configuration file. However, mapping the buttons will require trial and error testing. You can change what buttons do what in-game but there’s no way to see what the buttons map to on the controller. You have to play and start pressing buttons to see what they do and then adjust them again from the menu if necessary. I did play through a good chunk of the game with an Xbox One controller and after getting the buttons mapped how I wanted, I didn’t have any issues.
Tyrian is a vertical scrolling shmup. You fly around in a ship, shooting at enemies, and dodging projectiles. Each ship has special weapons referred to as Twiddles. They are activated by entering a specific combination of buttons, similar to how special moves are executed in fighting games. Your ship can be equipped with a front gun, rear gun, and two sidekicks. You start with a basic ship but will acquire credits as you play. The credits can be spent on new ships, weapons, sidekicks, shields, and generators. You can also spend credits to increase the power of your weapons. You can view the specs of your ships from the game menu which does provide you some detailed information. Generators are responsible for powering your ship. They determine how fast you can fire and how fast your shields recharge. When you take damage, your shield power depletes and when it’s fully depleted, you start to lose armor. Your shield will regenerate if you don’t take any hits. When all your armor is gone, your ship blows up and you’ll have to restart the level. You can buy more powerful shields as you progress but you will want to make sure you have the Generators to support them efficiently.
When enemies are defeated they can drop items like coins and gems that reward you with credits as well as data cubes, weapon powerups, special weapons, and orbs that will grant you access to secret levels upon pickup. When you’re armor is a low, a specific ship usually appears that you can destroy and it will drop armor. You need to complete one level before you can advance to the next and sometimes you’re given multiple levels to choose from so there are different routes you can take which does add some replay value. You’ll get to fly through some Bonus Levels where you have to do something specific like in Zinglon’s Ale, you have to gather as much ale as possible. Zinglon’s Squadrons is similar to Galaxian or Galaga. And then there’s the hidden Zinglon’s Revenge which is only accessible by beating the last level of Episode 4 with a specific ship. There are multiple difficulty modes to choose from. You can choose from Easy, Normal, and Hard and then there’s the three hidden difficulties Impossible, Suicide, and Lord of the Game which are accessed by entering passwords and specific button combinations. Lord of the Game can also be referred to as Super Tyrian mode. In this mode, you get to fly a specific ship that’s equipped with a shield and one weapon. However, the ship has a lot of Twiddles you can execute. You won’t be able to see things clearly outside of a specific field of view in front of your ship and cheat codes and command line parameters will be disabled. It’s really fucking hard. You should memorize the Twiddle combinations.
The game menu is where you can access the data from data cubes which means you can read messages, files, transmissions, ads, and news from different characters which flesh out the story. Some of the data will provide you hints for levels and enemies and instructions on how to play minigames. You can also can view your ships specs, save and load a game, configure options and controls, and Upgrade your ship. There’s all kinds of weapons you can purchase and some have a limited amount of ammo. There’s different types of cannons, wave weapons, pulse weapons, laser weapons, missile launchers, bombs, and other various types. Sidekicks and rear guns are optional but I’d highly recommended you equip something in those slots because experimenting with different weapon combinations is all part of the fun. As you progress new weapons become available and older ones disappear so you do need to be mindful of your preferences and what you’re up against.
You’ll engage a wide variety of enemies throughout all five episodes including enemy ships, ground cannons, and towers among other types and you’ll have to dodge projectiles coming from multiple directions. Enemies will attempt to fly into you, certain ones can suck you into their line of fire, some come from the sides of the screen, and sometimes enemies can come from behind you, from the bottom of the screen, so you always need to be alert. Most levels end with a boss battle. On the Normal difficulty mode, most bosses aren’t that difficult to take down. You may die once or twice trying to memorize a boss’ attack pattern but once you have it down, you should be okay. The enemy and boss variety is rather impressive. Every level will feel different. It’s like something new is always being thrown at you. You do need to watch out for some hazards like spikes, massive ships that need to be avoided, large chunks of fire, structures, unexplained speed boosts that may result in you crashing into something, and you may have to play a level multiple times until you know what to avoid and when.
Tyrian contains a lot of content for a shmup. There’s more to the game than just the story mode. For one thing, there’s the ship editor where you can create your own ships. You will want to look up a tutorial or find some instructions on how to use it. If you enter the correct password at the main menu, you can play the Destruct minigame which resembles the gameplay from Scorched Earth. There’s also multiple game modes including Timed Battle, Arcade mode, and Super Arcade mode. Timed Battle is a mode available only in Tyrian 2000. You select one of three levels and are given a set time and amount of lives to complete it. You choose your difficulty, you can collect power-ups, armor, lives, and the whole idea is to beat it within the time limit and set a high score. When you beat the level your score is determined by the time, destruction, and lives bonus.
Arcade mode is just another way to play through the episodes. Except there’s no data cubes to collect, you can’t purchase anything, and you can’t save. It’s basically your traditional shmup experience. You choose the episode, you’re provided a ship, a set amount of lives, and you acquire weapons as you play instead of purchasing them. You can upgrade weapons by picking up the purple orbs dropped by defeated enemies and the number you need to upgrade your weapon will increase as it gets more powerful. There is a two-player arcade mode where the players control different ships that can be combined into one. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to try it. Finally, there’s the Super Arcade mode. Well there’s actually multiple super arcade modes and they can be accessed by entering specific codewords provided to you in the game. You’re provided a codeword after beating the story, then another for beating super arcade one, and another for beating super arcade two, three, four, etc. In this mode, you’re provided a special ship and can acquire weapons by picking up the colored pods. The different colors represent different weapons and picking up multiple pods of the same color will increase that weapon’s power.
Tyrian may be an old game but it still looks great. Everything kind of looks chunky and the visual presentation is filled with plenty of vibrant colors. The sprites look fantastic and explosions look satisfying. Each level feels unique thanks to the detailed and varied level backgrounds. You’ll battle enemies in space and different planets. You’ll fly over deserts, grass lands, lava, and bodies of water. You can see different structures, enemy defenses, trees, and rock formations. Unfortunately, your projectiles will often blend in with enemy projectiles and items can blend in with the backgrounds. The action is accompanied by an awesome soundtrack and it is free to download so by all means go and get it if you’re a fan. The music was composed by Alexander Brandon and he did an absolutely phenomenal job. “Rock Garden” is easily my favorite song. The sound effects are what you would expect and on the technical side, I encountered no issues.
Tyrian is one of my all-time favorite shmups. I had a great time with this. Thanks to the multiple difficulty modes, the game can be as easy or as hard you want so it can be accessible to newcomers and even satisfy veterans of the genre. The upgrade system makes the game extremely replayable as do the numerous game modes. There’s quite a bit of content on offer in Tyrian and to top it all off, there’s actually a decent story here but it can be ignored completely if you’re not interested. This is the kind of shmup I can play forever and always have fun. I would love to see it ported to modern systems with some quality of life improvements. Like a remastered edition. Although, I want the original visuals intact and proper widescreen support. That would really be the ultimate thing.
I would absolutely recommend Tyrian to everyone. It’s got everything you would want or expect from a shmup. It offers a challenge, there’s different weapons to play around with, plenty of diverse levels, plenty of enemies to blow away, it looks great, the soundtrack is excellent, it’s got an interesting plot, you can create your own ships, and there’s numerous game modes to enjoy. And the best part is it’s free. So definitely check out Tyrian if you haven’t already.