Retro Game Review: “Truxton” (SEGA Genesis, 80s August Special)

Welcome back to 80s August, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things octogenarian… from a 20th century point of view. 

The SEGA Genesis is largely remembered as a 90s gaming powerhouse, but it was actually released in 1989. That makes a handful of the console’s early games babies of the 80s. 

Truxton (aka 達人 or Tatsujin in Japan… which means something like “expert”) is one such game. Starting its life as an arcade game developed by Taoplan in 1988, SEGA published the game for the Genesis/Mega Drive in 1989. Quite simply, it’s a vertically scrolling 2D shooter set… in spaaaace!

Truxton title screen logo

Okay, so most of these type of games take place in space, so no points for creativity there. Truxton puts the player in control of a lone space ship that blasts off to confront some kind of alien menace called the Gidans, that is presumably threatening the planet. There is zero story mentioned in the game, and that’s the most I can surmise from the back of the box. 

In any case, you will pilot your advanced fighter through five stages which include alien planets, deep space, etc. You will be met with all manner of enemies and their bullets, and of course, each stage ends with a massive boss fight. 

Truxton stage one
It gets better…

The odds are certainly stacked against you, but you aren’t completely at the mercy of the relentless Gidans. Your ship can collect multiple power-ups to upgrade its defenses, including speed boosts, a blue lighting weapon, a green power shot, and the iconic screen-clearing bombs that are visually the best explosion in all of retro shooters (there’s a massive flashing skull in the center of it). If you power up enough, you will also obtain a pair of “option” ships that will fly alongside your ship and provide extra offensive punch depending on which weapon you’re using. 

To mimic the verticality of the Truxton arcade game, there is a black bar on the right side of the screen that shows your score, power level, ships remaining, and your current stage. I didn’t particularly care for these large side blocks when I was younger, but now that I’m older, I realize how it benefits the player’s ability to navigate the screen by giving you more “looking space.” Of course, I also have a much larger television now, so that may have something to do with it. The game plays very smoothly, and there are minimal performance problems as there is bit of flicker, but it’s not frequent. 

Truxton lightning weapon
When there’s lightning- you know it always brings me down!

They come from behind!

Like many other 80s shooters, Truxton is fairly difficult game, despite only being five stages long. Much like Gradius, when you die, you get sent back a bit and you lose all of your power-ups. This makes it very tough to regain your advantage, not just because your weapons are gone, but because you’re slow again.  

While your ship is impressively large and looks cool, it seems to be a bit larger than a typical shooter sprite, and the hit box isn’t very forgiving. Given the background colors and with so much happening onscreen, a few of the enemy bullets are difficult to see. There are also times when enemies will come from behind, colliding with you and causing a fairly cheap death. This is especially a problem when playing on the “hard” difficulty.

Truxton boss
It’s so… big

I suppose that’s about as strong a segue as I can expect to mention that my personal copy of Truxton is the Japanese import for the Mega Drive. The cartridge actually has both the US and Japanese version of the game on it depending on which console it’s being played. I didn’t notice much of a difference in the game other than the Tatsujin title screen and there is only one difficulty level on the Japanese one. 

Once you defeat the final boss, you are rewarded with a short, fairly bland ending. Then, the game immediately restarts for “round two” through the stages again, just like the arcade version. If you’re a console gamer only interested in beating games, that’s no big deal, but if you’re a score maxing purist, it’s nice to have your score carry over. 

Truxton Game Over screen
You’re dead. Chaos and evil reign supreme.

Pretty Space Death

Aside from your sick skull nukes, there’s nothing visually in Truxton that will jump out to a modern gamer as remarkable. The environments are varied and colorful, but there are no notable background effects, for better or worse (they can sometimes be distracting in shooters). Among its 1989 contemporaries, however, Truxton looks top notch, with larger ship and enemy sprites, giant bosses, weapon effects that fill the screen, and of course, the skull nukes. 

The game’s soundtrack is also top notch, making good use of the tinny Genesis sound capabilities to replicate the sound of the arcade original. The stage one track is not only one of the catchiest themes on the Genesis. The other tracks don’t reach the same heights, but they still offer a driving audio backdrop to the hectic action onscreen. 

As I mentioned above, my copy of Truxton is actually the Japanese Mega Drive version of Tatsujin. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the extremely cool artwork in the Japanese manual. It almost makes owning the Japanese version worth it all on its own. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. 

The Japanese Tatsujin manual
The Japanese Tatsujin manual

A Fine Start

At only five stages, Truxton is a bit short, and I’m sure some would have liked to see a two-player co-op mode. Despite that, Truxton was truly an impressive feat for an early 16-bit game, especially when placed alongside its NES competitors. It is almost certainly considered the best of the early Genesis/Mega Drive shooters, though games like M.U.S.H.A. & Lightening Force (aka Thunder Force IV) would eventually snatch that crown from it. 

Truxton is perhaps the perfect shooter for the late 80s – the age of metal – with pounding tunes, giant alien creatures, and of course, the signature skull nuke. There may not be any aspect of the game that stands out as extraordinary, but it’s pretty much all “very good”, and everything comes together to craft a top notch horizontal shooter experience. Most importantly, it’s still very fun to play today. 

Truxton SEGA Genesis box art
Sweet box art

Thanks for reading!

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