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.
And the developers, calling themselves Studio Space Iron Men, packed both games with precious details. A first-stage boss laughs for no reason. A giant ogre-faced assault train runs on hamsters in little wheels (and unleashes flying caped Marios). A beetle-like Batman attacks on a hoverscooter halfway through the second stage. Upon rescuing the prince, Madison and Crystal give him a blaster and turn him into yet another Gradius-like satellite. The menu of Battle Mania Daiginjoh even has a band of miniature Crystals, and they dance along with the sound test.
Trouble Shooter had a bright future for a month or two at the end of 1991. Vic Tokai promoted it with help from GamePro, and the magazine even gave the game a perfect score of red exploding faces. I freely admit that the first Trouble Shooter isn’t quite that great; the action’s slower than most shooters, and it’s challenging mostly because Madison's such a large target. But hey, it deserved a perfect score more than Pit Fighter. Or Valis III. Or Ghost Pilots, Magician Lord, or Quackshot. GamePro gave out a lot of perfect scores.
The most interesting thing about this review is the screenshot on the lower left. It doesn’t appear in the game, as Madison and Crystal are instead introduced by this opening shot.
Upon close examination, however, this mystery shot looks less like a rare early build of the game and more like a composite image pieced together by either Vic Tokai or GamePro. It’s odd that anyone would go through the fuss of making a mock-up from various screengrabs when they could just show the opening portraits of Madison and Crystal, but promotional shots take many strange and unnecessary forms.
There’s another reason I doubt this screenshot comes from a prototype. In one of my dumber moves as a game collector, I bought an alleged prototype of Trouble Shooter many years ago, dreaming that I’d uncover some fascinating pre-release version of the game that gave Madison an R-rated vocabulary or the villain a Hitler mustache. The cartridge used EPROMs and had a tattered Vic Tokai label, but the game within was exactly the same as the released Trouble Shooter, as far as I could tell. It certainly didn’t have the intro screen show in that GamePro review. So yes, this is a false alarm.
GamePro and Vic Tokai further hyped Trouble Shooter with a contest that gave away Game Gears and a chance to be on GamePro TV. Readers could win by finding special Madison or Crystal cards packed in with Trouble Shooter, but they could enter far more easily by sending Vic Tokai the answer to a question. It’s Colonel Patch, by the way.
I hope the contest winners enjoyed their Game Gears, because it’s not likely they appeared on GamePro TV. The show was canceled in late 1991, though it’s possible that two lucky kids ended up on its infomercial revival. It’d beat that Nintendo Power competition where the winner only met Arnold Schwarzenegger for five seconds.
The real question is this: what happened to those prize cards? Only seven of them apparently existed, making them ridiculously rare, and it’s possible that customers didn’t find them all. In fact, there’s a factory-sealed copy of Trouble Shooter on eBay RIGHT NOW for $340, and a Madison or Crystal card might be inside! Crowdfund me, and I promise I’ll scan the card for everyone to print out.
I have a better suggestion if you like Trouble Shooter and have money to spare. Shmuplations is a wonderful place that regularly translates obscure interviews with Japanese developers, and the site’s back catalog has not one but two discussions with the Trouble Shooter series director, who went by Takayan the Barbarian. If you donate to Shmuplations, which you should do anyway, you’ll get to vote on which ones get translated next, or even up your pledge to the point where you can pick interviews outright.
Naturally, I’m voting for Battle Mania/Trouble Shooter each month. I’d really like to know more about the series, even if it turns out that I’m completely wrong. Perhaps Takayan will reveal that Trouble Shooter wasn’t a pet project driven by earnest affection for comedic destruction and spunky anime heroines. Perhaps it just came about after some detached Vic Tokai executive flipped through both a Famitsu and a Newtype in the same afternoon. Perhaps the Trouble Shooter games exist just for mercenary profit. But they don't seem like they do. That’s why I like them.