Trouble Shooter Trivia

I admit that I’m lazy when it comes to investigating games. I'm willing to poke through old magazines in search of screenshots that differ from the actual released titles, but I rarely notice any changes unless it’s a game I really like. For example, I found something irrelevant about Trouble Shooter, which I enjoy and write about more than it probably merits.

Trouble Shooter, known as Battle Mania in Japan, is a charming Sega Genesis side-scrolling shooter, stitched together from two obvious sources. One is Capcom’s macho arcade fantasy-blaster Forgotten Worlds, and the other is Haruka Takachiho’s Dirty Pair line of novels and anime about bikini-clad interplanetary operatives Kei and Yuri blowing up a good chunk of space-faring civilization. Many people imitated both of these things to drab effect, but Trouble Shooter found its own identity. It’s colorful and competently made even if the gameplay is simple, and its sequel, Battle Mania Daiginjoh, is downright amazing. At the risk of perturbing Capcom diehards and the fansub kingpins of Reagan-era college anime clubs, I like Trouble Shooter more than Forgotten Worlds or any Dirty Pair adventure.

Most importantly, Trouble Shooter and Battle Mania Daiginjoh have genuine affection at their cores. It’s common for fans to declare their favorite games earnest labors of love regardless of how bland they may be, but the Trouble Shooter series truly seems to exist just because some staffers at Vic Tokai and Seibu Lease really, really wanted to make them. Rather than Xerox Kei and Yuri, they established heroine Madison (Mania in Japan) as a cranky, genre-wise mercenary and, in the American version, a slumming debutante with feminist quips. Along with her more placid and fun-loving roommate Crystal (a.k.a. Maria), she rescues a kidnapped prince who says things like “Coolness,” defeats a supervillain who turns into a giant buglike demon, and goes to even stranger places in the sequel.

California Crisis: Do a Lot of Coke and Vote for Ronald Reagan

We’ll remember the 1980s as a time of fanciful excess in North America and Japan, no matter how meretricious that may be. Never mind the Cold War or the AIDS crisis or the rampant sleaziness peddled as noble success. Textbooks will document an era of Thompson Twins singles, Schwarzenegger films, feathered hair, mecha anime, suspiciously avuncular presidents, and video games where you had to rescue suspiciously avuncular presidents from ninjas. Not ninja. Ninjas. It was the 1980s, and we didn’t care about faithfully pluralizing loanwords.

The indulgences of the 1980s fed Japan’s direct-to-video anime market in the decade’s latter half, ensuring that the acronym OVA would remain part of the nerd lexicon. Companies turned just about any idea into at least 45 minutes of animation, even if that idea consisted of nothing more than a giant mecha, a big-eyed heroine, or some combination of the two. Ideally, the OVA boom would’ve spurred a wealth of creative animation from rising talents, but it also brought a deluge of vapid trinkets with occasionally nice animation and all the enduring quality of a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie. The typical 1980s OVA is not Angel’s Egg. It is Ladius, Good Morning Althea, Roots Search, Explorer Woman Ray, Relic Armor Legaciam, or anything else so generic that it’s hard to remember the title. I think one of them was called Steel Guarder Lyzerial.

California Crisis: Gun Salvo, a 1986 radar blip from Studio Unicorn, is smack-dab in the middle of this nonsense. It lasts under an hour, and its story pitch could be summed up in restroom graffiti. It’s a ridiculous joyride that imitates the shallowest parts of shallow action films.

Yet California Crisis stands above the dross. 

For one thing, it looks different. It’s animated with linework and shadows much heavier than the typical ‘80s cartoon from Japan or anywhere else. And instead of servicing a story about toy-ready mecha, Tokyo teenagers, or robot-demon warfare in the dead of space, California Crisis is all about the glorious sun-baked fa├žade of America.

Major Miclus Moments

I just don't think that kids today know enough about Miclus. I'm sure they're familiar with video-game mascots like Mario, Sonic, Pac-Man, Jack Frost, Wonder Boy, Randar, G-Mantle, Disk-Kun, and the internationally famous duo of Rei Misazaki and Chris [LAST NAME NOT TRANSLATED YET], but Miclus remains obscure. That's understandable, though there was a time when you could find Miclus in just about every arcade worth visiting.

Miclus is a mostly blue dragon devised by Seibu Kaihatsu. Apparently without an official gender, the creature first appeared as the final boss in Wiz, a 1985 side-scrolling arcade game with a pointy-hatted protagonist and an unbearably repetitive soundtrack.

Miclus had more exposure in Raiden, Seibu Kaihatsu's landmark vertical shooter. By the early 1990s, Raiden was everywhere: full-blown arcades, mini-golf centers, bowling alleys, Chuck E. Cheeses, knock-off Chuck E. Cheeses, laundromats, 7-Elevens, and anyplace else that needed a decent coin-eating attraction wherein a lone jet dodged and blasted several hi-tech armies. Miclus appears briefly as a bonus icon; the player usually grabs medals (which always looked like stubby bombs to me) for points, but Miclus shows up for an extra score boost at times. You'll usually see it by the second level, but it'll appear on the first if you explode too often.

Later Raiden games give Miclus bigger roles. Raiden Fighters 2 and Raiden Fighters Jet make it a playable character that sweeps the screen with fiery breath. There are other ships to choose, but Miclus is clearly the best.

That aside, my favorite Miclus appearance comes in the Japanese manual for The Raiden Project.

While it's not a highlight of the PlayStation's first year, The Raiden Project was comforting at the time. Many early PlayStation games showed us fancy 3-D effects that would age rapidly, but The Raiden Project revealed a more enduring advantage of Sony's new system: letting us play nearly perfect renditions of older arcade games. The Raiden Project offers the original game and Raiden II in arcade-faithful style, aside from some loading times. Its default presentation puts big borders on the screen to show all of the vertical playfield, but you can turn your TV on its side to get a more accurate full-set look. That's where Miclus comes in.

The manual's last pages find the fat little dragon delivering a warning about flipping your TV for  arcade mode. On the left, Miclus turns away in disgust from an anthropomorphized and improperly rotated television. On the right, Miclus looks on in approval. Or maybe it's inspecting that humanoid TV for genitalia and other Videodrome-like abnormalities.

This Miclus comic wasn't necessary for the North American version of The Raiden Project. Sony technically left in the full-screen mode, but with only side-scrolling controls. They didn't want customers damaging their TVs. And yet I think Miclus could've given Sony airtight legal exoneration. If a tiny dragon cautions you about rotating your set, it's your own fault if you don't listen.