Tyrian is a top-down shooter which was wildly popular back in the mid 90s. The game packs as much fun as is physically possible to fit on a single CD. The game was released as shareware first, with a purchase being required to unlock the full game. Shareware was a great concept. Nowadays a lot of games have demos, trailers and what-not, but there is something about getting your hands on a shareware CD that was really special. Tyrian is currently being offered for free as part of the Open Tyrian Project and is available across a number of platforms. I was quite surprised at the quality of the Playstation Portable port, so if you have a PSP be sure to check it out.
Probably the first thing that struck most people about this game is it’s graphics. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay is as solid as a granite wrecking ball, but the graphics were really quite something and in my own humble opinion stand up quite well today. The designers opted away from anything in the realms of 3D which resulted in an sleek, polished 2D shooter with fantastic atmosphere. The lighting and shading, as well as the simple yet fluid enemy animations are what make this game so easy on the eye.
The soundtrack is awesome. I have never really thought much of video game music; If it’s good I will turn it up, if it sucks I will simply turn it off and put something else on. Tyrian however has a truly listenable soundtrack. I think it was one of the first games that actually had a soundtrack released separately. While the soundtrack consists mostly of the kind of techno dance tracks that wouldn’t be out of place in a club, they are catchy as all hell and really get you into a good gaming headspace.
The game play itself is what makes this game awesome. While the graphics and music are top-notch, it’s the mechanics of the game that draws people in the most. Now, Tyrian is nothing revolutionary. Flying a space ship and blowing aliens out of the sky is nothing new, but Tyrian pulls it of flawlessly. I can’t seem to find a single fault. Tyrian has good pacing, a very forgiving learning curve but also a decent challenge in later levels. There are two main play options, ‘full’ and ‘arcade’. The ‘full’ option gives you Tyrian in it’s original form, complete with a monetary system used to upgrade your ship and it’s weapons as well as a coherent story which comes in the form of data cubes which can be collected though each level. The ‘arcade’ version plays more like an actual arcade machine as there is next to no story and upgrades are dropped by certain enemies when defeated. I personally prefer the ‘full’ mode, but the ‘arcade’ mode is certainly a hell of a lot of fun as well.
Regardless of which mode you choose, the mechanics of the game stay the same. The players ship is controlled by the mouse (although I believe that both a keyboard or a joystick can be used) and has three main attacks: a front weapon, a rear weapon and a sidekick. The first two are pretty self explanatory but a ‘sidekick’ is really just a special attack, which normally comes in the form a missile or bomb of which ammunition is limited, although some of the weaker sidekicks are unlimited. The players ship also has three aspects to it: a shield, a generator and armor. Armor is how much punishment the craft can physically take and the shield is regeneration field that protects the armor. I should note that armor is upgraded by upgrading the ship type itself. The generator is a vital piece of equipment as it determines how quickly your shield regenerates. Tyrian is the kind of game when you do take a lot of hits and having a a good shield is vital to survival. However the generator is also affected by weapon upgrades. The more you upgrade a weapon, the more strain it outs on your generator meaning that the shield will regenerate at a slower rate. Needless to say, putting together a decent flying machine is a bit of a balancing act.
The enemies on Tyrian are fantastic. Most are wildly imaginative and have distinct designs, although your run-of-the-mill fighter jets and tanks also make an appearance. Destroying enemy ships is rewarded with points which in turn translate to cash which can be then used to upgrade your ship and its weapons. There are also gems and coins to collect throughout the game which add to your bank balance. Most enemies go down with a few hits and the boss battles can often be a challenge, however the game never gets too difficult. The final stages at the end of the last episode are certainly challenging, but a little trial and error with weapon combinations will normally see you through to the end.
It’s a shame that Tyrian never saw a sequel. Tyrian 2000 was released a while ago, but it was more of an compatibility upgrade than anything else.