Thanks to Bitwave Games for the review code
System: Steam (PC)
Release Date: 02/14/2023
Recently, the Toaplan IP holder has been acquired by Embracer Group, which has also acquired and started work with other developers, including that of Bitwave Games, who decided to port four Toaplan Arcade titles to Steam and GOG, all releasing on the same day. Thus, I’m reviewing these four titles over the course of the next week, with this being the game I decided to choose as the first entry due to being the game that most people know Toaplan for, along with how this game in particular has been milked over the past few years, leading to easy comparison between versions. iOS, Astro City Mini V, Egret II, Evercade, Genesis Mini 2, and now Steam all have had recent versions of this game I’ve dabbled with, so just how does this Steam entry hold out among some very steep competition?
When it comes to the plot of game itself, well, like most games of this nature, it stems from other, supplementary materials, tasking the player with taking out the evil Gidans to free the galaxy! The game itself doesn’t even have a proper intro/ending, as the game is meant to loop as a scorechaser, so just take off and enjoy shooting for points.
One of the aspects of these Bitwave reissues that were noted from the onset, are how these developers really aim to try and make their Toaplan releases like+ the M2 Shotriggers series, which are also focusing on Toaplan reissues- I even put one of those compilations on a recent roundup list, as a sign of just how high quality M2’s work is.
Thus, it’s quite a challenge to port a game like this in such a refined way, especially when another company is already in the works of doing such, even if they haven’t gotten to this particular game yet. Well, in terms of menu options and emulation, I can at least say Bitwave did a decent job of bringing the Arcade Truxton to PC. You have a few screen filters to choose from, including a decent CRT filter that does an adequate job, and there’s even vertical TATE options if you have a monitor or device that rotates. Still, I found the pixel scaling to be fine enough on both the Steam Deck and my DELL Laptop, and there’s even a very basic wallpaper you can toggle off.
However, the most M2-like of these display options comes from the ability to have stats for the game session on the left side of the screen. Shots fired, enemies defeated, credits used, they’re all here, and while not nearly in-depth as M2’s own gadgets, I do find what is here helpful enough at tracking my stats, and doing a full run of some of the other Bitwave games, they are very useful for seeing how you did at the end of a playthrough, and it’s definitely a feature I’ll gladly enable in each Toaplan reissue going forward.
One other aspect of these reissues comes from the extra customizability options, allowing you to tweak more settings than the usual DIP switches allow, including the ability to turn on visible hitboxes, which is immensely useful for seeing just how and which objects and projectiles come at you, and is very useful for practice purposes. You can even shrink your hitbox to be a lot smaller, if you so wish, and these features worked decently enough from my experiments with them.
For the core game, Truxton is a very typical looking shooter, not being nearly as eye-catching as some of Toaplan’s earlier work, but still sports a variety of cool looking enemies, bosses, and weapons to play around with, including the iconic Rainbow Circle Shot bomb attack, shaped like a skull.
Oddly enough, the in-game copyright has been altered to represent the current brand holders, and Bitwave even added their logo in a pixel style to the ROM itself. Since this game has no main menu or anything of the sort (just the options menus that pop up when you hit Tab or select), I guess it makes sense as to why the copyright would be changed here, but it definitely caught me off guard, especially with how the added logo doesn’t clash with the leaderboard or title screen elements, unlike some other retro reissues that had to alter stuff.
As for the audio emulation? I was honestly extremely worried at first, since when I started up the game for the review process, it did suffer from extremely inaccurate and horrible audio emulation; I’m talking like, late 90s/early 2000 MAME levels of off-key sound effects and music, which alarmed me so much I reached out to the developer for inquiry, and thankfully they swiftly fixed. Thus, you now have that outstanding OST faithfully recreated, with all the music tracks sounding just as they should, and the sound effects appearing to have the same care. (At least when comparing to the Egret II version I had on the ready for a side by side) There’s even a sound test available in the pause menu, which is a very neat addition for music fanatics.
Like a lot of games this developer made, Truxton is a vertical shooter, with the main objective being to fly through each of the many stages, taking out enemies and bosses with your weapons. You have three main weapons to use, dropped by enemies now and then, ranging from a default red Vulcan weapon, a blue Laser weapon, and a Green Shot weapon, and these can be powered up over the course of the game by collecting P icons dropped by certain enemies. Of course, when you die, you revert back to the default weapon and shot level, so survival is key, per the norm. Also available to aid you in a pinch are the bombs, which can be dropped to damage anything in the way while also erasing all bullets currently on the screen, and while you start out with a small amount of them, they do restock upon death and you can very rarely find a spare from certain enemies.
Thus, the main game is your typical shooting affair, making it as far as possible without losing all of your lives, inching from checkpoint to checkpoint to get the highest score and see how far you can get. Thankfully, Bitwave added a good amount of DIP Switch options, allowing you to toggle the amount of lives, the ability to continue, bonus point thresholds, and even the regional version of the game itself, offering between two US versions, a PAL one, and the original Japanese Tatsujin version. Outside of the length of the score table, I couldn’t notice any major differences with these versions, and if there are any besides the score table, I do wish the menu would describe these a bit more in detail. Still, the option is very nice and this will be more helpful for other games that actually did have a bigger regional difference.
Control and input wise, this game feels outstanding. It’s tough to describe exactly how good this game feels, but on my Steam Deck at least button response time felt pretty much near-instant, even more than recent shmup ports I enjoyed such as Metal Black, or Tatsujin ports on systems such as the Egret II and Evercade. Obviously, this bitwave port is way better than the input lag ridden Astro Mini V, too, but if you wanted silky smooth movement, well, I think you got a good showing here.
Even more helpful for making this game fun to play, are the aforementioned accessibility options. I already noted some cool ones like the hitbox display, but also available is the ability to toggle rapid-fire shots to its own separate button. (which is a bit tricky to figure out and remap at first, since all of the remapping is done in the Steam Input menu, not the game itself, and when I tried mapping the normal shot to my deck’s B button with the rapid shot on X, the normal shot ceased to function) This alone is a very essential feature for these games, and that is very welcome. There’s also a Very Easy mode preset, which toggles the aforementioned smaller hitbox on, along with other options such as rewind/slowdown buttons, and the ability for your ship to automatically move out of the way of hazardous fire, sorta like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s assisted steering option. It definitely feels strange feeling your ship forcefully tug itself away from enemy fire, and it doesn’t make you invinicible by any means, but this feature is a great way to practice, though I’m stunned nothing akin to an “auto bomb drop when hit” was implemented.
Speaking of practice, that’s the last major mode in this Bitwave port, A super helpful practice mode that allows you to start at any stage’s checkpoint, with any assortment of bombs, weaponry, and game loop, allowing you to go nuts at practicing tough parts of seeing parts of the game you don’t have the patience to see. Want to see how nightmarish Loop 9 of the game’s final stage is? You can go right on ahead, and it’s incredibly fun to toy around with, whether to get a sneak peek or just to do a sadistic one-life challenge. (since dying once opens the main menu and kicks you out)
Of course, the biggest draw to these ports for some, and certainly why I plan to stick around with these, comes from the online leaderboards, and boy, there are plenty of them. You have leaderboards for single credit attempts, multi-credit attempts, attempts that use assist features like rewind or slowdown, (the speedup feature, which speeds the scrolling up, doesn’t impact this at all, presumably because it makes the game tougher in some ways) and combinations of the three. There’s typical sort options such as by friends or nearby players, and I found these to work decently enough, though it remains to be seen how they hold up after the port’s launch, and part of me would appreciate a leaderboard for a “default settings” mode, since oddly enough, there doesn’t seem to be one, nor an option to return the DIP switch options to default if you manage to forget what they were. Some sort of Caravan mode would be appreciated as well.
In conclusion, Truxton is part of the first pack of a very promising lineup of Toaplan reissues. While this particular game may have been a bit on the milked-to-death side of things in recent years, that isn’t a bad thing when the core game is pretty darn fun, even if it isn’t as addicting score-wise as other Toaplan shooters. The online leaderboards are a lot of fun and definitely a feature I see myself using more as the months go on, and the extremely low input lag is just staggering in how silky smooth it feels, to the point I’m hoping all retro shooter releases aim to reach this level of instant reaction.
Still, there are a few bumps in the road, from a rocky, confusing menu system, lack of a default DIP switch leaderboard, to some bugs with button mappings not working properly, this port definitely could be a bit better, but from how insanely swift the developers were at fixing the biggest pre-launch issue in mere hours, I am incredibly confident in Bitwave to fix anything I didn’t notice over the next few months, since it’s clear these guys really, really care for the Toaplan catalog, especially with how many of these accessibility options are fun to play around with as a practice mode.
Definitely a solid port all around, and I desperately hope the sequel comes along solely for the sake of the great accessibility options making Truxton II close to a more playable, fair experience. Not bad for a starting effort!
I give a Truxton a 7 out of 10.