by Polly

Arcade ports were never anything new for consoles. While most either did straight-up ports or put out really gimpy ports that omitted most of what might make up a certain arcade, Konami had a much different take on it. With every arcade slimming down they did for the NES, they always seemed to handle the project as if it were a completely original game being specfically designed for the NES from the ground up. This meant usually adding loads of new content, changing various gameplay elements to conform to a more home console feel, and in most cases actually tightening up gameplay that may have felt a little substandard even in its original arcade game. When a Konami arcade game came home, other than a few oddball cases, there was always something new and exciting that went beyond the arcade experience, even if it was tinier and had to be toned down a bit.

Gyruss was originally unleashed on arcades in 1983. The NES port was released a good five years later and in that small window of time, gaming technology had come quite a long way. Even for its time in 1983, Gyruss was considered a fairly technologically advanced game. It contained what could be considered pretty decent 3D effects at the time and stereo sound, which wasn't all that common yet, even in the arcades. So, no, Gyruss didn't need all that much help on its journey to the home consoles, it was just given a few sprikles of that special Konami home console dust and sent on its way to do its spacey shooty thing.

Gyruss is one of a small hand full of games that can be considered a "tube shooter". The player controls the ship only flying around inside an abstract tube and shooting into the screen at enemies. Perhaps the most famous of these kinds of games would be Atari's Tempest. Gyruss could be considered a bit of an upgrade of Tempest's formula with a bit of shmuppy chaos thrown in to make a bit more of an exciting package.

You maneuver your little ship around the tube obviously shooting down the swarms of enemy ships that fly in and out at you. Much like Tempest there are also enemies that, if not dispatched quickly enough, can make their way to the outer ring of the tube that your ship flies around and inhibit your movement greatly. There's also the usual assortment of asteroids and indestructible space debris to avoid and keep the action intense. It may take a bit of getting used to the perspective to learn the exact angles your shots are firing in and where your enemies are coming from, but once you've got it there's really not much else to learn. You can collect a power-up for your normal blaster that widens its range a bit and charges for a super laser that can cut through enemy ranks in no time and destroy the more diligent enemies in one blow.

From the title screen the game offers you two different control modes for movin' 'round the ol' tube. This is actually something that could have easily been glossed over, but thankfully Konami put in the effort to offer a couple of options trying to satisfy everybody's tastes as best they could. Type A is more of a literal type of movement that'll fly your ship toward any of the 8 directions you press. So if you hold up+left, your ship will fly from its current position to the upper left portion of the tube and stop should you continue holding that direction. Type B uses only the left and right directions for moving around the tube and is probably the easiest mode to play in. There's really no right or wrong here, so just play with each and find out which one works for you.

There are a total of 40 stages to play through covering nine planets and ending on the sun. The number may seem daunting at first, but each stage of the game, minus boss encounters, rarely ever lasts longer than a minute, so the overall pace of the game is quite fast with some bonus stages sprinkled in to help calm the action down a bit. As you progress through each planet's gauntlet of stages, the difficulty of the game picks up at a fair pace with only a few minor kinks that throw things off at times.

Under normal circumstances, dealing with the typical enemies of the Gyruss universe, though challenging, is never anything close to frustrating. The few kinks that I mentioned in the difficulty come from the new bosses created for the game. A couple of them are downright bullshit and don't really work well with the system's tube environment at all. For instance, the Stage 5 boss flies around the tube swinging gigantic tentacle arms and it feels nearly impossible to get in and get a few shots off without losing a life. I know Konami loves to have brain and tentacle bosses in their shooters, but this one either needed to be nixed or programmed to function in a different manner. I've only ever been able to beat it by just sacrificing lives and using the invincibility window of a new life to pump it full of shots. The brain boss in a later stage sprays fast moving lightning bolts all over the screen at random and you just never know what angle they're going to end up taking. Lives lost to this guy also feel kinda cheap and bullshitty.

Those are really the only roadbumps in the game though. Konami's shooters are typically known to be almost unreasonably hard at times with one death pretty much meaning you might as well restart the system, because you just can't recover. Gyruss, however, is fairly generous, providing you with lots of replacement laser power-ups should you lose a life and I daresay you'll never be running short of super laser charges. Some may take issue with the fact that the game offers no continues whatsoever, but it never felt all that bad to me. The game is in no way easy, and by the later stages you won't want to stop moving around the tube for even a second, but it's nice to not have to go from that feeling of being on an awesome streak to completely fucked over with one death.

If you're able to complete the game it simply loops back to the first stage, only the second time around enemies are much more fierce and bosses even gain some new, sometimes incredibly difficult to dodge, augments to their normal attack patterns making your second time through almost as surprising as the first. I mean it, the 2nd loop of the game is serious fucking business. It can be fun as fuck if you love the challenge, but it may also cost you a gamepad or two from frustration.

As to be expected from any space adventuring game from the era, there's not really a whole lot going on presentation-wise. You got your space with pretty little stars flying toward the screen, you got some planets, and you got some fairly generic-looking enemy ships flying back and forth from all directions. Bosses are only slightly larger than normal fodder enemy ships can get and only come in a few different variations of recurring themes, but again are nothing too spectacular. With its simple presentation, Gyruss can pack quite a good number of enemies on screen at once and there's hardly ever any slowdown, but there can be a troubling amount of flicker that can make seeing some enemy fire coming your way almost impossible at times.

Sound effects are the typical bleeps, bloops, and explosion effects you've come to expect from this kinda game. There are only a few tunes to compliment the action with the most notable bit being the game's main theme, a techno NES'ized version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue. You'd know the theme right off if you heard it, trust me. Not a whole lot to complain about or even talk about here for the most part.

Gyruss is just another one of those fun and easy to pick up games I love to bust out every now and then and just play until I've had my fill. Any fan of Tempest (HEY KJILLY!) has either already played this one or should. There's not much else like it on the NES anyway.

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