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Growing up I never really played a lot of shoot-em-up games, or “shmups” as we call them. Of course I played some but they never held my attention long enough to keep me coming back. Especially because many of them are hard as hell and require serious memorization. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I really got into the genre and now I’m always on the lookout for a great shmup. A little while ago Tyrian 2000 was released on GOG as a free game and naturally I added it to my collection. I didn’t really get the chance to play it until now but I’m sure as hell glad that I did because it’s a perfect example of a great shmup with high replay value that doesn’t just rely on memorization.
Developed by World Tree Games, the original Tyrian was a DOS game released in 1995 as shareware containing only the first episode. Eventually Tyrian 1.1 was released with three episodes, a ship editor and was basically a full game. Tyrian 2.0 added an additional fourth episode, a two-player mode, new ships and weapons and even a new game mode, Super Tyrian. It also added a Christmas Mode which activates if you play the game in December. Finally, Tyrian 3.0, or Tyrian 2000, was released in 1999 and contained an additional fifth episode along with new ships and bug fixes.
There is actually a story going on here which is unusual for a shmup. And I’m guessing this is because it was never developed as an arcade game with a focus on eating your money. You play as a terraforming pilot named Trent Hawkins in the year 20,031. His friend is attacked and killed by the evil corporation MicroSol which controls terraformation on the planet Tyrian. MicroSol has evil plans and it becomes Trent’s job to stop them.
There’s five episodes total and each episode consists of about a dozen or so levels, including secret levels, and alternate paths. In between episodes and certain levels you’ll be greeted with some text that explains what’s happening. This is a shmup after all so the story isn’t what kept me playing but it’s there if you want it. There’s even data cubes you can find throughout the levels that flesh out the story and characters further. In between levels is a menu where you can upgrade your ship, read data cubes, save or load your game and change other options.
Tyrian 2000 is packed with content and there’s multiple modes to play through. Full Game is the story mode and you there’s even an arcade and timed battle mode. Arcade just has you going from level to level and in timed battle mode you’re given a set time to beat each level. You have your typical easy, normal, and hard difficulty modes and two hidden difficulties, impossible and suicide. You can enter a code at the title screen that unlocks the hidden “Lord of the Game” difficulty. I have yet to punish myself on anything higher than normal and hard. Higher difficulties means enemies will have more health, faster bullets, and you’ll need to dodge enemy fire like a maniac. During the game you can adjust the speed of the gameplay which ranges from slug to turbo. Slug feels as if you’re playing in slow-motion and I would definitely recommend playing at Normal or Turbo speed.
At first glance this plays like every other vertical shmup. You fly around the screen trying to blow up all the enemies while avoiding enemy fire. But what makes Tyrian unique is it’s awesome shop and upgrade system. You start out with ten grand and a very basic ship. The money is used to upgrade your ship, including new ship types, shields, generators, weapons, and sidekicks. You have a front gun, a rear gun, and the two sidekicks act as additional attack drones of sorts that accompany your ship. The front and rear guns can be upgraded eleven times and weapons do consume energy. This is where the generator comes in. The generator replenishes shields and weapons. Better generators cost more but replenish your weapons and shields faster. So there is this sort of balance between weapon power, generators, and shields but by the end of the game you should be able to afford the best shit available making your ship almost unstoppable. There’s all sorts of weapons to buy. You’ve got cannons, bombs, missiles, fireballs, lightning guns, wave shots, and more I haven’t even tried or found yet. Many of the sidekicks act as automatic weapons like the Vulcan and Dual-shot Options and then there’s others that fire bombs and there’s even a flamethrower sidekick. One of my favorites is the BattleShip-Class Firebomb. This thing can be launched in front of your ship and fire at enemies and then re-attach back to the front of your ship, similar to the R-Type games. Buying a new ship types is essentially just buying a new ship and the only difference between them is their appearance and armor. When I started equipping my ship with some of the best weapons available my shots were so powerful that I was destroying some bosses before they were even fully on the screen. But this isn’t to say the game is a cakewalk. I played on normal and still died quite a few times. But I also suck when it comes to this genre. It’s obvious Tyrian doesn’t take itself seriously. I mean at one point I acquired a hot dog weapon and was firing hot dogs. You can even pilot a carrot ship.
Tyrian 2000 has a ridiculously wide array of enemies. You got your typical space ships and jets as well as ground turrets and cannons coming out of the walls, towers, buildings, and structures, all firing at you. But then you’ll be up against lips and eyeballs, fish-looking enemies and sea horses, spinning blades, balls or orbs or whatever those things are, dragons, and many more. Yeah, it’s awesome. The enemy variety is really impressive. The enemies will shoot at you or try and fly into you and figuring out their patterns isn’t difficult. Some of the balls mentioned earlier are magnetic and suck you in and touching them, of course, will drain your shield eventually leading to your death. These things are the devil. When your armor is low a certain ship will appear, that when destroyed, will drop armor. But for some reason I always missed collecting them. I think I was too busy flying around like a madman avoiding everything that I didn’t realize what it was at first and could never get to it in time. There is no penalty for death other than starting the level over again. Killing enemies rewards you with money and sometimes they’ll even drop weapons and upgrades. Once you have money you don’t really lose it. Buying another upgrade just means your selling your current upgrade at the same price you bought it. So trying new upgrades and combinations isn’t really risky. Killing specific enemies will drop data cubes that you can collect and these just give you some background on the story and what’s going on. You can even collect these orb-like things that unlock secret levels and these levels will give you access to unique weapons and upgrades. Then you have the bonus levels. I found most of these to be tedious. You’re given a ship and specific weapons and are required to complete the level by killing all of the enemies. You’ll need to dodge bouncing enemies and energy fields, collect ale, and one bonus level even resembles Galaxian or Galaga with ships flying down at you and breaking away requiring you to destroy each fleet. It sucks because you’re given a ship that’s less equipped than your current one making killing the enemies and dodging attacks harder and to top it all off, you’re given only two lives in these bonus levels. Luckily you have the option to skip them. There’s even a hidden minigame called “Destruct” which I didn’t try, and apparently it’s a clone of the game Scorched Earth.
Most levels have an end-boss and depending on how well equipped your ship is can determine how hard the boss may be. It also helps if you have quick reaction times for dodging, unlike me. Bosses have only a few attack patterns but sometimes avoiding their attacks can be tricky, resulting in trial and error but none of them felt cheap.
Graphically the game looks pretty great. Objects and backgrounds have a decent amount of detail and everything is colorful and vibrant. There’s also some great parallax scrolling going on. Variety really makes this game shine and this definitely applies to the environments. You’ll be flying through space, asteroid fields, and various planets. Areas will be on fire or covered in ice, you’ll fly over grass lands, jungles, and deserts. You’ll have to avoid swinging maces, and fleets of giant ships. You’ll frequently be travelling back to the same areas but there’s always something different going on. Tyrian never gets stale and just when you think you’ve seen it all it throws something new at you. Even the music is awesome.
As much as I love it, Tyrian 2000 isn’t perfect. I used Xpadder to map my Xbox One controller and whenever I release any of the directional buttons the ship will keep moving in that direction for a brief moment. I even noticed this with the keyboard controls. It can become annoying when trying to dodge and avoid obstacles. It’s not that big of a deal as it never caused any cheap deaths but I get the feeling I don’t have complete control over the ship’s movement or at least stopping. Another issue I ran into is that when I had my shipped equipped with weapons that fire attacks that fill the screen, I found it hard to see some enemy bullets coming at me, especially during boss fights. By the time I realized I was getting shot at, it was too late. It’s also worth mentioning that Episode 5 feels like a joke. It seems short compared to the previous episodes and none of the levels really felt challenging. Sure my ship was maxed out by this point but even with a powerful ship I still had to overcome challenges in previous episodes. I just felt like Episode 5 was too easy and I breezed through it.
Tyrian 2000 is great for several reasons and I could go on and on about how awesome it is but the most important thing is that it’s fun. The replay value here is extremely high but not because you’ll die over and over again until you memorize everything like most other shmups but because the game is loaded with content and diversity. It’s always throwing something new at you and remains interesting throughout all five episodes. There’s hundreds of ways to customize your ship, tons of secrets to find, multiple difficulty modes, and even a two-player arcade mode. I would say this is a great shmup for anyone new to the genre because if I can beat it, anyone can. That’s not to say this game isn’t up there with the best of them because it is. So if you want that extreme shmup challenge that matches your sadistic lust for death you can always ramp up the difficulty or use codes to unlock the hidden difficulty modes or you can just play Gaiares on the Sega Genesis. Tyrian 2000 is all about fun and is one of the greatest shmups I’ve ever played.