You can all stop looking–the most 90’s game has been found: Choujin for the X68000

Choujin came into the world in a relatively unusual way – rather than a normal box-on-shelf release like most other X68000 games it was instead vending machine software! From what I can gather you’d go into a store, pop some yen into a machine and it’d spit out a few discs with your chosen game on it. Whether it wrote the data onto some blank floppies on demand or if the discs were shipped to stores pre-recorded I can’t confirm, but seeing as those Famicom Disc System store machines were around at the same sort of time and they wrote discs to order it is probably safe to assume these did too. Whatever the specifics were, the important thing to remember is that Choujin was released via what was considered the ultimate budget software method, not even worthy of a box and manual. In terms of anticipated quality we’re broadly in the same sort of territory as PD Amiga software, the sort where you’d mail away a blank disc and a bit of change to a random address you found in the back of a magazine and hope you’d get more than one level of a bad R-Type clone made in Shoot Em Up Construction Kit.

Thankfully Fix’s Choujin is a much better tribute to both nineties gaming and even then Amiga itself than those wastes of floppy discs, with this bright and brash one-off playing rather like Smash TV, only without the ability to strafe.

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Each of Choujin’s fifty levels all take place within a large rectangular arena, with the only layout changes coming from the initial enemy placement and the occasional object (they look like - but don’t act like - pinball bumpers to me) arranged to grant a bit of cover or form a short wall. Luckily the eponymous Choujin, AKA Most Nineties Action Man Ever, has a regenerating shield that will protect him from all enemy shots – although as it’s activated manually by the player and any enemy shot kills instantly it’s an essential tool to master rather than the beginner’s crutch it could have easily become. As you may expect from an older arcade-style game the Choujin’s only other defensive option is to kill enemies before they kill him, using his trusty infinite-fuel flamethrower. At first I thought they picked that weapon just because it looked cool (and it does), but the lack of range compared to just about any other weapon type they could have used means you have to keep getting in close and taking things on pretty much face-to face instead of hiding behind cover and taking a few shots from the other side of the arena. The good news here is that contact with any enemy body - including bosses - doesn’t hurt at all so as long as you’re either dodging bullets or using your shield at the right moment you can wade right in there and stay on the offensive. You’ll  need to in any case – each stage has a unique bonus points value that’s constantly counting down, and once it hits zero you have just thirty seconds left to finish the stage or die and start over.

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With the arena differences throughout the game being entirely cosmetic (and often bizarre) it would be easy for the game to start feeling repetitive very quickly – a trap it avoids thanks to a combination of unique enemy behaviour coupled with almost puzzle-like stage design.

Every enemy type has its own AI pattern and shot type, and learning exactly how they all behave and then correctly prioritising targets is an essential part of the Choujin experience. There are tough-but-slow grunts, turrets that fire homing rockets, spiders that dart across the floor before firing a spread of bullets and many more. New enemies are added to the mix throughout the entire game, keeping things fresh and adding another layer of strategy to what could have been a very simplistic game. New enemies don’t replace older ones either, instead they add another option to the developer’s fiendish toolbox and are used together to create memorable levels with their own individual challenges – it’s not just a case of “like last time, but harder and with more of them” – kill off the abundant faster enemies first and you might be leaving a dangerous cell-type to happily divide away in a corner, leaving you with an army of blobs to fight through when you finally get around to tackling it. Remember, you’re on a timer! You have to think and act fast!

Every tenth stage brings a one-on-one battle against a unique oversized boss as well as a change of arena scenery. Bosses range from vibrantly coloured cartoon snails and caterpillars to more sensible sci-fi ships, with not one of them matching the arena designs or each other. On a more professional game this might matter, but Choujin’s happy to revel in the freedom being an almost-doujin-arcade-like game provides, and you soon become accustomed to its enthusiastic charms.

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As with the standard enemies bosses aren’t mindless bullet sponges, and they often have multiple points that can be taken out or some unique quirk that needs to be considered. For example “mutant-stone-dog” boss has two “arms” that can be destroyed – however this will cause it to start firing randomly in all directions, meaning that more carefully placed shots are the better option here. The “caterpillar” boss will split into smaller bosses if you attack anywhere other than its head is another one. As with the rest of the game a good strategy is just as important as Ikari Warriors style offense, especially after a bit of practise when scoring starts to become more important than survival.

Surviving will definitely be first and foremost on your mind for a good while though so it’s nice to see that while Choujin’s a tough game it’s also a fair one, with a level select showing up when you continue that allows you to start from any stage or boss you’ve already reached, including the very last one. High score and 1CC fans will be pleased to learn that doing so completely resets your score, meaning it’s an excellent way of leaving it up to the player to decide if they want to start from the very beginning, practise a stage they just scraped through, or simply want to get through the game as fast as their skills will allow.

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I felt right at home here from the very first level – probably because the credits reveal the developer was a huge Amiga 500 fan. But unlike my beloved Amiga’s wonkily endearing games Choujin is a tightly designed affair that knows exactly what it wants to be and is only concerned with doing it well. It’s a pity this was Fix’s only game but that’s probably because Choujin’s a damned hard act to follow, and the X68000 should feel honoured to be graced by its presence.

If you’d like to try this game out for yourself it’s available to buy on Project EGG - link