Jaleco’s arcade history might not be as well known as its reputation on consoles like the NES where it introduced the famous Bases Loaded series. But they were prolific developers with a long list of original games and distributed titles as a publisher for decades, transitioning from the arcades to consoles.
In 1988, Konami brought the world Parodius — a send up of Konami’s properties parodied in video game form. As the series went on, players would find themselves doing battle with bizarro bosses ranging from cat-headed flying ships to a Las Vegas dancer while flying ships that ranged from the ol’ Gradius favorite, Vic Viper, to a flying octopus, all borrowing bits and pieces from Konami’s shooters. It was inspired craziness that was literally nothing like many of the “serious” shooters and sports games of the time.
Jaleco was a bit late to that party when they brought out Game Tengoku (aka The Game Paradise: The Master of Shooting) in 1995 to Japanese arcades, but the sheer goofiness of the game easily puts it up there with the likes of Konami’s Parodius and Taito’s Pu Li Ru La.
Like Parodius, Game Tengoku is a shooter albeit a vertically scrolling one. Players can pick from five different heroes ranging from a super robot to a flying pig as they head off to save their game center (what the Japanese call arcades) from an evil baddie. Six stages will take the player into the “skies” over the game center, through different shooter genres ranging from sci-fi to jets, into a UFO catcher machine, a programmer’s desktop, and ultimately, into the guts of an arcade machine itself to face off against the bad guy’s final attack.
Up to two players could co-op through the game and there were two modes of play — Normal mode and a Time Attack mode. Time Attack gave the player 180 seconds to rack up as many points as possible before it was over with unlimited lives. Normal mode was the “campaign” taking the player on through to the end of six stages of mayhem to save the game center.
Jaleco’s staff took their creative juices into the stratosphere in adapting game elements and arcade scenery into each crazy enemy, attack style, boss, and backdrop turning the game center the fight took place in into a blistering battlefield. Arcade cabinets would fly and shoot at the player or transform into a giant robot. Pinball bumpers would rise up and attack. Partially rendered foes would fight for their pixels. It was awesome.
Each hero also had their own personality which shone through voice samples crying out with each special attack, power pick up (which could get annoying with one or two of the characters), or explosive death. Aside from looking and sounding different, each also had different attacks. Our flying “pig” hero “threw” bombs as projectiles, for example, while the robot also had a tracking laser that fired at enemies to the sides and behind. Small “options” that flew with our hero (up to two) could also be dropped by enemies and varied from planes to robots, each also with their own shooting style.
Limited (up to three) special screen clearing “bomb” attacks were also customized for each hero with extras dropped by some enemies along with power-ups for the main gun. “Eggplant” like icons awarded extra points along with additional power-ups (if you had reached their limit) for even more scoring opportunities.
The player could continue right from where they died, sans their points, but unlike a few of its neighbors in the arcade, couldn’t pick a different character to fight as. Once you picked your character at the start, that was it.
The bad news is that this much insanity never really made it out of Japanese arcades and into the West. As far as I could tell, this was a Japan-only release although a port came out for the Sega Saturn (again, only in Japan). The unusual thing about the port is that, according to Sega fan site, Segagaga Domain, it also came with a VHS tape with an anime based on the game along with voice actor interviews. The Saturn version also came with new levels and more cuts to explain the story, though players could apparently choose between that or the normal arcade version.
Game Tengoku is one of those wild and crazy titles where developers took a dare and it turned into something that was both fun and exciting. Like Parodius, it’s an amazing sample of the kind of creative and dare-to-be-different attitudes that designers can revel in when given the opportunity. After all, it isn’t every day that players get the chance to battle for the soul of the arcade as a flying pig.