Trouble Shooter's Third Strike

It’s a good time to be a fan of Trouble Shooter. Or Battle Mania. Or whatever you might call the two comedic Sega Genesis shooters that put heavily armed heroines named Madison and Crystal in a blend of Forgotten Worlds and Dirty Pair. I am a fan, because I know of no other game that drops you into a giant claw machine so you can fight a farting pig robot.

Hardcore Gaming 101 recently put up an entry on the series, and it covers the first game, which we knew here as Trouble Shooter, and the second game, which we never saw here and thus knew only by its Japanese title, Battle Mania Daiginjou. The article also mentions Madison and Crystal’s cameo in Segagaga. Of course, they would go by their Japanese names, Mania Ohtorii and Maria Haneda, respectively. I would be annoyed at having to explain that every time I talk about Trouble Shooter, but I like talking about Trouble Shooter too much.

The big attraction in the article is a set of design documents for the never-made third game in the series, Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou. The scans come from the fourth volume of Nazo no Game Makyou, which printed them small and in black-and-white. I bought this very issue about a month ago, but I dragged my feet on scanning it, restrained by that new-purchase aura that congeals when you spend twenty bucks on a little book about old video games. Fortunately, Hardcore Gaming 101 stepped up and scanned them as nicely as possible, considering that the original images were only slightly larger than Wheat Thins.

Those design documents show what could’ve been an amazing game. You can check out the entire set at Hardcore Gaming 101, but I picked out my favorite things from this game that never was.

The cover for the design docs introduces us to Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou. It shows Madison and Crystal in a variety of scenes, including an uncharacteristically dramatic shot of Madison cradling an injured child while “The Premium Ish!!” blares at the corner. The story itself, as far as I can grasp, sends our jetpack-sporting heroines from Japan to New York, spurred on by a distress call, a woman named Airin, and something called “N.Y. Haunted Square.” That’s possibly a Ghostbusters reference.

Speaking of references, the “Gankutsujou” part of the title refers to Gankutsuou, the Japanese name for the Count of Monte Cristo. It’s hard to say what it would be in English. Directly translation would make it “New York Queen of the Cavern,” but I prefer “New York Cave Countess” or “The Countess of New York.” Or maybe it'll just be Trouble Shooter Part 3: Madison Takes Manhattan.

You can see two slightly different versions of the flyer. The large black-and-white one pitches the game for the Dreamcast, but there’s a smaller, all-color flyer with a slightly different layout and PlayStation and Saturn logos. It comes from this website, where the game’s director, Takayan the Barbarian, gives a brief interview and explains just why the original Trouble Shooter’s Japanese version has a hidden scene of Madison trashing a Super Famicom.

Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou was to be a shooter like its two predecessors, though it would’ve presented three perspectives: a side view, an overhead view, and a 3D perspective reminiscent of Space Harrier and Panzer Dragoon. The prior Trouble Shooter / Battle Mania games switch between horizontal and vertical scrolling, but the developers clearly branched out in the third game. The mock-ups also suggest that Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou would’ve used 3-D rendered graphics, though I hope this wasn’t the case. I'll explain why later.

This page further outlines the three viewpoints in cruder sketches below, and I really like that they represent Madison, the main character, as a floating head with a gobsmacked stare. The manual for Battle Mania Daiginjou (above) does the same.

The stage descriptions for Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou are the best parts of the pitch, as each of them gets an illustration. A side-scrolling opening stage sees Madison and Crystal facing flying fish-men and a bicycle-riding robot on a city street. It's perfectly in step with the humor in previous Trouble Shooter games, an unapologetic mélange of modern Japan and a world of weird mutants and technology, explaining nothing and never suffering for it.

The second stage is something more novel: a roller-coaster battle between our heroines and a towering machine. It probably would’ve played out similar to a a 3-D gallery shooter like Wild Guns or Sin and Punishment, and that’s a great idea. I hope the developers would’ve made the most of the amusement park and thrown in every possible cliché from robot clowns to a missile-launching teacup ride.

Stage three is a jetski level, we’re told, and that’s all I really need to see. It’s a vertically scrolling ride through an Amazon-grade jungle full of hydrofoils and clawed humanoids, the latter of which apparently float along in life preservers once they’re shot out of the air. This might be my favorite of the levels, thanks to that merciful detail and the fact that I’ve always liked jetski-shooter stages. That comes from my buying Mission Impossible for the NES and trying to salvage the purchase by playing its only enjoyable level over and over. I’m sure Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou would’ve done better.

The fourth stage’s artwork is a little hard to make out, but you can see citizens running in terror from a floating battleship, presumably the titular “bimana,” while Madison and Crystal fly in to counterattack.  The word Vimana has several meanings, but I think the game intends to evoke the flying fortresses of Hindu legends. I’m sure you’ve heard about them if you’ve watched enough TV shows about how clay dogu figures are ancient spacesuits. This isn’t new to the Trouble Shooter sense of humor, either. Battle Mania Daiginjou named one of its four optional weapons after the Buddhist goddess Benten.

By the way, I love that corner drawing of a bedraggled Madison puttering through the air. Little touches like that are a big part of why I like the Trouble Shooter series so much, even if Madison sets a bad example by smoking.

Stage five turns into a one-on-one fighter and delivers something mandatory to just about any ‘90s action game made in Japan: a Gundam parody. Madison grins like a chipmunk and pilots a Guddem into combat against a similarly sized monstrosity that might be a transformed Vimana battleship.

The "New York" part of the game comes to the fore in stage six. Or maybe it doesn’t. The title says “Manhattan Freak,” but the sign on that skyscraper is in Japanese. No matter. It’s a 3-D shooting level, and the thought of tearing like Space Harrier through a bizarre New York full of demons and robots just makes me all the sadder that Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou never came to be.

The rest of the docs introduce two more stages: a fake finale called “Hornted One” and a true climax called “Lethal Weapon,” which apparently features Battle Mania Daiginjou’s villain, Kikokusai. Then I’m sure we’d see an amusing credits sequence.

On the whole, I'm amazed. The game pitched in these design docs has pretty much everything I ever wanted from a third Trouble Shooter. It keeps the colorful tone of the series intact while adding new forms of gameplay, and it has a familiar sense of homegrown comedy, beholden to no tiresome marketing trends of the day. That’s probably why it never got a greenlight. But hey, the design work is still more Trouble Shooter in a sense.

There's only one problem.

It’s hard to tell just how Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou might’ve looked. The design docs use hand-drawn artwork for the stages and mention 2-D graphics in the proposed development schedule, but you’ll see a few 3-D renders in there as well. And if you flip to the back of the book, you’ll see this:

I assume this travesty was a mock-up for the Dreamcast game, but it looks like something from that wretched dark age of the mid-1990s, when computer-rendered art was both en vogue and usually hideous. Considering its anime roots, Trouble Shooter looks best in traditional 2-D animation, and I doubt that even the best polygons or rendered graphics of the Dreamcast era would do it justice.

Even with that ugly surprise, I’m thankful for every piece of the design documents. With Vic Tokai’s game catalog lying dusty and dormant over nearly two decades, the odds of us getting another Trouble Shooter game are only slightly better than us getting a sequel to Asura Buster or Wurm: Journey to the Center of the Earth. It’s great to see that a third game would’ve stayed true to its predecessors in spirit, if perhaps not in appearances.

I hope we’ll find more of Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou, even if it's just a bigger version of that sketch of Madison exhausted and hovering. All that work didn't get her another Trouble Shooter, but it was worth it.

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