Saint Dragon adds a new twist to a familiar Shoot ‘Em Up clip
Welcome to The Shmuptake, an occasional column on the history of shoot ’em up, aka the “shmup”. Here is a presentation.
If you’ve ever played a shoot ’em up, you’re probably familiar with pods. They are a standard feature of the genre. You know, when you pick up a power-up and instead of getting a new weapon or a speed boost, you get a little capsule that floats next to your ship? Sometimes it serves as an additional weapon, sometimes it is a defensive barrier, sometimes it is both. Shmups are absolutely full of them, these pods, and they almost always work in a routine and predictable way. And when they don’t, it’s worth writing about.
Saint-Dragon, a 1989 shooter designed by NMK and published by Jaleco, does something truly unique with the pod concept. Instead of forcing you to collect them as a bonus and withdrawing them every time you die, Saint-Dragon just straight away gives you all the pods you need right from the start. You see, your character is not a traditional shoot’em up spaceship. It’s a kind of cyborg dragon skeleton that hovers in the air, spitting out bullets, flames and bombs in equal measure. It’s not even a whole dragon, at the Dragon Spirit; it is as if someone has grabbed a dragon’s skull and then ripped it off the body, with only the spine hanging down below. That skull then had to protect its world from an attack from alien invaders, with that chain of five disembodied vertebrae trailing behind.
These are the pods. The vertebrates. The backbone of your flying space dragon is the key to victory in this one.
These five makeshift pods are pulling nothing. You cannot rearrange them for defensive purposes with the press of a button, as in Type R. You can rearrange them for defensive purposes just by moving your ship, however, and effectively positioning these vertebrae to protect your ship is crucial for success in Saint-Dragon. They do form a tail, and while you can’t move the tail directly, you can wrap it around your ship to block shots or use it to deal damage to enemies it hits. This tail isn’t long enough to completely surround your ship – it can essentially protect the top or bottom of your ship, leaving you vulnerable on the other side and the front. It takes some getting used to, and there’s a pretty big gap between knowing how to use your robot spine for defense, and how to use your robot spine for defense. Good.
At first, the defensive properties of your vertebrae seem like a weird but optional quirk, a gimmick meant to make the game stand out amid the glut of arcade shooters, and not an integral game design element. At the third level, however, you will realize how carefully NMK has researched the applications of its dragon spine. Memory and pattern recognition are an important part of most shmups, and in Saint-Dragon you will need to remember the optimal position to tilt and move this spine to survive increasingly complicated enemy patterns.
Beyond the spine, Saint-Dragon has relatively simple weapon and power-up systems. You start with a combo of a single-shot primary weapon and a slightly slower but considerably more powerful flame attack. Both are triggered simultaneously by pressing a single button. As you collect power-ups, you can keep adding additional hits to your primary weapon until you fire a stream of five bullets that spread across the screen. The Flame is one of a handful of secondary weapons, along with other options including a disc that shoots in a straight line and bombs that shoot from the top and bottom of your ship at 45-degree angles and bounce off them. edges of the screen. There isn’t a whole lot of variety in weapons, which places even more emphasis on clever use of the tail of the bony cyber-pods trailing behind your flying dragon skull.
Saint-Dragon would be a pretty generic and forgettable shmup if it weren’t for this weird central mechanism. He approaches the already stereotypical concept of pods from a unique angle, transforming a played clichÃ© of the genre into something unusual and malleable. You probably don’t need to spend time on this game if you aren’t deeply invested in shmups and familiar with the major games that defined the genre in the 80s. If you have a working knowledge of the form, however, and have never experienced Saint-DragonThis is a weird pod approach, be prepared to call yourself a dragon chiropractor because you should be manipulating this cyber dragon’s spine whenever you have the time.
Original platform: Arcades
Platform we played on: Switch, as part of the Hamster’s Arcade archives
Also available on: PlayStation 4, as part of the Hamster’s Arcade Archives
Editor-in-chief Garrett Martin writes about video games, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and whatever gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.