By Psikyo/Atlus Sega Saturn/Sony Playstation 1998


Conversely the now defunct (sob!) but once great Toaplan were responsible for some seminal vertical shooters in their time (Flying Shark, Truxton 1
and 2, and later Batsugun and Dogyuun) but their horizontal shmups were no classics (see Zero Wing
& Hellfire).

Anyway, the point is this - Psikyo, like Toaplan,
have never really been experts of the horizontal-scrolling shooter genre.. while a few of their vertical shmups have been modern arcade classics (and
highly popular ones at that) Sol Divide (even more
so than
Sengoku Blade - which is actually an enjoyable enough romp and equipped with some superlative artwork and graphical design) is dissapointing to say the least. Perhaps a little unsurprisingly Psikyo went back to producing 'vert' shooters following this rather lacklustre release.

Heck I wasn't actually going to review
this one myself as I had a review from Sega Saturn Magazine (RIP) to stick in here (they are a little kinder to this game than me) Here its is..

Psikyo are most famous for their vertical arcade shooters such as Strikers 1945, Strikers 1945 Part 2 and the Dreamcast's new (and best) 2D shooter Gunbird 2..

However a few years back they also released a couple of horizontal shooting efforts in the shape of Sengoku Blade (1996 - released in arcade and Sega Saturn formats) and Sol Divide (1997 - released in arcade, Saturn and Playstation guises).

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of designing decent horizontal as opposed to vertical shooters (or vice-versa) though many notable producers are just better at one format than another. Let's face it Technosoft (Thunderforce series) designed some classic horizontal blasters (Thunderforce III is still ranked by many as one of the best, if not the best, horizontal shmups of all time) but their only vertical format shooter that I know of, Blast Wind (also released on the Saturn) was really rather average... Same can probably be said for Irem whose side-scrolling R-Type series was truly great, but whose few vertical shooters were pretty forgettable (save perhaps the frustratingly hard Image Fight).

I once heard this game compared to Red Company's classic Lords of Thunder (PC Engine Turbo Duo) but
to be honest a closer comparison would be an aeriel 'Golden Axe' complete with pseudo-RPG motifs & admittedly impressive fantasy graphics (winged warriors, skeletons, hydra, dragons and suchlike) except the twist is that your character gets to shoot stuff (although wacking baddies with a sword is also an option). In a nutshell however the game control just 'feels' dodgy, progression is occasionally highly frustrating though often more than a little unexciting, and is by popular opinion Psikyo's worst ever game. Having said that, the rest of Psikyo's shooter
back-catalogue is essential stuff. I have both Saturn and Playstation versions (don't ask) and the Saturn one is unsurprisingly the better of the two (boy does the PSX game seem bad in comparison) as the graphics are sharper and there is less slowdown. But then you
knew I'd say that eh?

If the name Psikyo rings a bell, it should. This dedicated Japanese developer has been producing solid console titles for a number of years now, although none have ever been picked up for (Western) release. Regular readers will have encountered Psikyo's work with the 2D beat 'em up 'Groove on Fight' as well as the forthcoming coin-op, Fallen Angels. Sol Divide sees the company on familiar ground, with an impressive mix of fast-paced shoot 'em up action and screen-hogging end-of-level bosses.The game immerses players on yer typical fantasy environments, complete with monsters, magic and er.. musclebound men with ridiculous hero names like Kashon..

Doesn't look too bad eh? Actually this game is OK.. if someone else is actually playing it..

Selecting either Arcade or Saturn (Original) Modes launches your chosen hero into an epic, side-scrolling battle against the forces of darkness. Gameplay is fast and fluid with multiple on-screen enemies unleashing all manner of energy-leeching attacks, before players tackle massive stage guardians. Typical shooter elements are in full effect as players have basic shots and weapon strikes at their disposal, with more visually impressive magical assaults collected along the way. By blasting creatures, picking up treasure chests they leave behind and then unlocking these with the correct keys, players soon gain access to graphically staggering powers. And you'll need 'em.

Other items may also be collected, such as potions and health-icons, yet some of these often have a negative effect on the player's health. Knowing which icons to pick up and avoid proves almost as troublesome as some of the creatures encountered in the game's latter stages. Speaking of which, setting the game's difficulty to the easiest (the bizarrely labelled 'Monkey'!) and opting for a spot of two-player-team-up action enables even the most talentless of gamers to blast through to the final end-of-level boss in no time at all. Ho hum..

Still, Sol Divide's most impressive feature has to be its amazing animated bosses. Seemingly inspred by Ray Harryhausen's legendary stop-motion monster models, these creations are often so huge that they dwarf players and are sometimes actually larger than the screen. We've seen towering end-of-level guardians before but the fact that these gory giants are subtly animated and move with a speed that belies their bulk is testament to Psikyo's programming skills.

(Left) In the words of the immortal Abba song.. 'I am the Hydra' (Right) 'Er..Hallo.. Tooth Fairy?'

Recent 2D scrolling shoot 'em ups have either been retro blasters or space-based battlers, but Sol Divide's fantasy spin actually gives this title a personality of its own. At first glance we were convinced this was just another indecipherable Japanese offering. However, time spent with Sol Divide actually leaves you wanting more of the same. From challenging levels and creatures to a for the most-part lack of slow-down and cool spells, Sol divide proves its mettle. Of course additional levels, playable characters and fully rendered endings would not have gone amiss but maybe Psikyo could squeeze these features into a Dreamcast sequel? Fingers crossed.. (Mine aren't.. Mike)

(Left) the 'Freeze' spell (Middle) the 'Death' spell (Right) Some gryphons - lovely..

If you are interested in learning more about Psikyo's shoot 'em up games old and new, check out their entire catalogue here on their Japanese website. If I can manage to navigate it so should you.. ;)

Top Home