Cyvern
by sunburstbasser





Cyvern is a vertically scrolling shmup which may have a story involving blowing stuff up. There is no narrative to indicate this.

Kaneko released Cyvern in 1998. Kaneko was never a big developer and it appears that most of their work was done for other companies, notably Taito and Hudson. In the late 90s, it appears that Kaneko wanted to compete against SNK's Neo Geo and Capcom's CPS systems with their own cartridge- based arcade cabinet, the Super NOVA. While the hardware was moderately successful, Kaneko eventually disappeared. They did manage to release some pretty good games before dissolving, thankfully.

Unlike most shmups that feature an advanced fighter or spaceship, Cyvern's big draw is that you are given a choice of three cybernetic dragons to destroy the enemy with. Tapping the A button fires the main weapon, holding it uses the Banish attack. Pressing B drops the bomb, during which your dragon is invincible. All of the dragons have the same bomb and Cyvern is fairly generous with bombs so use them!

Let's take a look at our dragons! The dragons are palette swapped for P2 and get new names but play the same.

ALTAIR/VEGA


Altair is a red dragon with a fire theme to match. The standard shot is a moderate spread, which can cover a good chunk of the screen at full power. Altair also gets homing fireballs. The Banish attack is a flamethrower that pierces enemies but doesn't seem to do much damage. In fact, Altair seems to be the weakest of the dragons in terms of damage. The flamethrower is capable of damaging enemies in a line, which helps make up for the paltry damage.

SCHWARZ/VAIS


Schwarz has an electricity theme. The main shot covers a very wide portion of the screen, at full power it will cover as much as half of it. While it still doesn't do huge damage, the ability to destroy enemies quickly from all parts of the screen is a fair tradeoff. The Banish attack is made up of several arcs of electricity which seem to lock on to enemies. I never could get the hang of them and they don't seem to deal consistent damage. Schwarz seems better suited to survival than scoring.

FERIOUS/SERENE


Ferious is a green dragon that doesn't appear to have an elemental affinity. The standard shot is a straight shot that gets moderately wide at full power but never spreads, along with some unguided missiles. The Banish is a laser that looks like it came out of DoDonPachi. Ferious moves faster and seems to do more damage than the other dragons, and the controlled attacks make it easier to target specific enemies to get medals and high scores. Ferious is the most popular dragon when playing for score, in fact.

The Banish attack is the core of the scoring system. Holding the A button focuses your dragon's attack to deal more damage. Banish ground enemies, and they will drop medals behind. Collect all the medals from a whole group, and the value will go up. Medals start at 50 points and go up to 10,000 points. Missing a medal will reset the value to 50. Unlike Raizing games, it is not possible to catch the last medal and save the chain. No matter how many medals are on screen, miss one and you'll need to start over. Banish has a meter in the corner that runs out as Banish is used and fills up as enemies are shot with the regular gun. It can also be filled by grabbing powerups, which look like brass tubes (ammunition, perhaps?).

The actual gameplay is not entirely original, as Cyvern seems to be a combination of Raizing and Cave style shmups. The scoring is like Raizing, and so are all the thin little bullets, but the game is pattern-based and doesn't seem to have a heavy rank system which makes it more like Cave's shooters. The Banish also seems to be slightly based on the Laser from DoDonPachi, particularly for Ferious. The hit boxes for the dragons is quite small, effectively taking up the thin torso. Bullets can scrape wings with no ill effects.

Cyvern's graphics all seem to be sprite-based. I don't know if the Super NOVA was capable of polygon graphics, but a few enemies seem to be animated in such a way that Kaneko may have done some 3D rendering. All of the graphics are very smooth looking, with enough colors to make the backgrounds look like paintings like the mountains in the start of stage one. Bullets tend to be a yellow color and blend in with the backgrounds a little bit, but later levels change up the colors and it isn't so hard to see them. That doesn't mean it'll be easier to get out of the way.

The music and sound are absolutely phenomenal. Explosions have a growl to them and each dragon has distinct sounds their banish, shot, and a death roar. Those screams are a bit chilling, enough that this is one of the few shmups which makes me feel sorry for my character because they actually sound like they are in pain. Bravo, Kaneko. The music is extremely atmospheric, and rather than creating a melody serves to create a mood. It reminds me a little of Hitoshi Sakimoto's compositions for Radiant Silvergun, although as they were released the same year I don't know if that was intentional. Percussion is very deep, and synth instruments play flourishes like in Silvergun. Later levels feature more percussion and sometimes sound like music from the N64 game Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. I recommend checking out the music even if you don't like shmups.



After selecting a dragon, the beginning of the game has a cool launch sequence as a scaled-up view of the dragon is launched from an airplane in a rotating tube before taking off. The first stage immediately follows and should be a good introductory level. The tanks in the beginning won't even shoot, making for easy Banish fodder. Popcorn enemies come in small groups and generally fire an aimed bullet or two, though they should be shot before they get that chance. A large, orange enemy that fires a 3-way arc appears early on. Kill it with the shot to get small powerups or Banish it for a full powerup. It is always better to get full powerups, as they will refill your Banish meter. Continue to Banish tanks as they roll on screen and it is easy to max out the medal counter half-way through the stage. A large blue enemy appears later on that, when killed, drops a bomb.

The first boss is a giant train. Cyvern bosses all have major Compile elements, as they tend to be based around having numerous gun turrets rather than being a single large enemy. They are also nearly a level to themselves, as they nearly all have numerous sections and forms and any one of them could be a Giant Battleship fight. To beat the train, take it down car by car. At the front, the true boss will have twin missile launchers, four aimed cannons, a splash turret, and when the splash turret is destroyed the actual weak point appears which fires an aimed, but very wide, pattern. Normally, the train will be brown. Beat the level without dying and get all large powerups, and it'll be green with more turrets and a lot more bullets. The front will fire destructible blue bullets in this form, which can be milked for in excess of half a million points. Milking these bullets on several bosses is needed to get the highest point value possible. Kill the weak spot with Banish and it'll be worth more points as well. All of the bosses have little secrets like this.



Stage 2 starts on a desert highway, leading to an airport of some kind. The kid gloves come off and the game starts to get a little more difficult here. What primarily makes Cyvern hard is that some enemies will fire bullets in pre-determined patterns while others shoot aimed bullets. Neither is particularly deadly on their own, but I find that a lot of deaths are the result of patterns pushing me into aimed bullets. Stage 2 starts this, as the large tank in the beginning will fling bullets in a circular pattern while popcorn enemies fire right at you. This little air base has a bomber of some kind stuck on a huge rail. Once it is reached, it takes off and in one of the coolest moments in Cyvern, your own dragon's boosters kick in and push the dragon forward while you chase down this vessel. The boosters kick off and normal control resumes before any enemies appear; good thinking Kaneko. The rail must be several miles long, as you actually catch up and destroy a section of the bomber before it takes off. After it has escaped, the chase continues this time into the clouds. Watch for a trio of enemies that make killer lines, they give me the most trouble. Eventually you'll reach the bomber again and blow more chunks off of it. Shoot the wings off and it still keeps going and gets a new body, signaling the arrival of the second boss.

This guy looks like some kind of huge stingray. Each side has blue bullet vents, a couple small turrets, and large turrets with multiple forms. The wings can open up to reveal missile launchers. When this happens, I suggest getting out of the way unless you have a full Banish meter with Ferious. The missiles can be destroyed but take more than one shot and move very fast. If the Banish runs out, they will get you. Even after each side appears destroyed, the middle will begin firing a bullet pattern that can be avoided by staying not quite in the middle bottom of the screen. When that is destroyed, the weak spot appears and fires aimed patterns all over. If the two large turrets are still alive, they will fire aimed bullets as well.



Stage 3 starts off over some very nicely animated water, before flying over a jungle. Dragons have been a staple in video games since nearly the beginning, and this stage gives dragons a chance to face another video game staple head on: The giant insect. Shortly after entering the jungle, huge swarms of insects swoop in. They die easily, but they do pile up if you let them. At the end of the jungle is a military complex of some kind, with a nice big pile of tanks and other ground based enemies to Banish. At the end of the jungle is another body of water and the boss.

The Stage 3 boss is a huge ship. It looks like an aircraft carrier a little, but rather than airplanes the deck actually flips over to reveal enormous gun emplacements. The actual boss is a wall full of turrets that retreats to the front of the ship while all these turrets are flipping over. At one point, the boss does start throwing popcorn enemies at you but they don't constitute the main threat. The threat comes from the combination of aimed and patterned bullets, all being flung at once. Take down one side first, and use bombs if you need them. If the patterns are crossing each other it'll be much harder, so just concentrate on one side then the other before smashing the middle.



Stage 4 is an urban stage. By this point the game is getting very aggressive. Along with the big jets and assorted popcorn enemies that have been in all the stages, this stage introduces long, skinny gunships with helicopter rotors keeping them up. It looks like an artist's concept of a flying machine, from 1870. Pretty cool looking, it just sticks out a little. This stage also has hundreds of hover tanks. Rather, because the Super NOVA is not 100% emulated in MAME, ground enemies in this level appear to be floating high above the city. This isn't the first stage with this problem, but it is extremely noticeable. Notable is that this stage also has a mini-boss, a giant orb with rotating gun spheres. Again, the patterns aren't too hard to dodge but it mixes in some aimed bullets to be a good ol' bastard.

The actual boss comes a bit later, and is the only one in the game that isn't a mechanical device with two dozen turrets. Rather, it starts looking a bit like a coconut, and gets a pair of shell-like options when it turns into a harpy-like beast. The bullet spreads are very thick and are aimed at your position. It also has some glowing red bullets that are easy to dodge but very hard to see. Don't sit right in front of him.



Stage 5 starts off as a flight down a corridor, with enemies pouring in and gun turrets peppered throughout. It doesn't take long to figure out what this level is, as a red version of the Stage 1 train still under construction must be taken down. The red train is meaner than even the green train. The level does not stop scrolling, so be quick or the bullets will get very thick coming from multiple sources. Not long after that, the boss rush continues as the Stage 2 boss appears. This fight is exactly the same as before, and all the same tricks apply. Stage 5 also features graphical glitches, as hordes of enemies that are supposed to be underneath a platform can be clearly seen but not shot until they move off that platform. Just before the boss this game gets really pornographic, as you are assaulted by flying sperms that chase you down and fire three aimed bullets when destroyed. I couldn't find a good way to dodge these things and ended up getting sperm-fucked.



The final boss is potentially the ultimate Compile tribute. The final boss consists of a central weak point with a wall on each side filled with turrets of all kinds firing bullets in all sorts of patterns. There are bullet sprites used here that never show up anywhere else in the game. Following the Cyvern rule, destroy one side before taking on the other. When the weak point is destroyed, a dragon-like head bursts out of it and two more turrets pop out above it. The head fires a bullet pattern. Sit in front of it and maneuver so that a bullet clips your wing, and it can't hit you. Unfortunately, the turrets can so deal with them quickly. Drop any remaining bombs, and Banish them to take them down. Once the boss dies he falls over dead.

Yep, just five stages. The main game is relatively short, though it does loop at a considerably higher difficulty. For starters, the popcorn enemies in Stage 1 now fire about 4-5 bullets each instead of one or zero. It is also possible in the second loop to trigger the red train boss, and later bosses can also be triggered with a palette swap and new attacks. The bullet numbers really start encroaching on Cave territory at this point.

The only bad thing about Cyvern is that it isn't emulated quite right. Luckily, a few of the programmers behind MAME are planning to look into fixing the backgrounds and making Cyvern 100% accurate. As it stands, the only other way to play it is to get a Super NOVA board and the game cartridge, since Cyvern was never ported to a home console and with Kaneko gone it is unlikely that we will ever see a port to a home console.

To end this write-up, I'd like to let you know that pretty much everything else Kaneko did for the Super NOVA consisted of semi-nude anime chicks. I don't know how they pulled Cyvern out of their ass but they did a damn good job.

Overall:







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