capsule review

Kaijin

Recently updated as a Universal Binary for Intel-based Macs, Phelios’ Kaijin is definitely worth a look if you have an Intel-based Mac and you crave arcade gaming the way it used to be. It’s a classic top-down shoot-em-up, or shmup in gamer’s parlance. Great production quality and varied gameplay keep Kaijin from getting boring, too.

Phelios makes no secret of Kaijin’s influences—it’s plainly inspired by legendary coin-op shooters from the 1980s like Galaga. In this game, you pilot a ship that moves over the surface of Planet Terria. It’s the 26th century, and the planet is under an assault from super-evolved insects and ocean dwellers (mainly of the crustacean or cephalopod variety). These beasties are smart and armed to the teeth, and they’re out for revenge from eons of being stepped on and cut up for sushi.

Just like in Galaga and other games of its ilk, the bad guys assemble in waves after waves of hypnotically interesting formations, and it’s up to you to blow them to smithereens. Some creatures even lay eggs that will hatch into other nasties that you’ll have to destroy. And, occasionally, there’s even a big bad boss character you’ll have to take down in pieces in order to proceed to the next level.

Of course, you’re not totally defenseless either. Your ship can blast your foes to bits, and you can pick up bonuses that will provide you with added firepower, special bombs, shield recharges, speed enhancements, more points and other goodies.

An energy level at the bottom of the screen serves multiple purposes—each time your shield is impacted, your energy level drains by one-tenth. But each time you destroy a bad guy, your energy level increases a small amount. The more energy you collect, the more firepower you can use—so it behooves you to stay out of the line of fire as much as possible, especially later in the game as you square off against bosses and huge waves of critters.

Occasionally, you’ll see a creature descend from the top of the screen that sends a tractor beam into your path. Get scooped up and you’ll watch your ship go away. But just like in Galaga, if you then blow up that grabby critter, you’ll be rewarded with double the firepower as your ship is returned to you.

Kaijin—itself a variation on the Japanese word for “monster”—is very heavy in Eastern influence beyond just core gameplay. On top of its three difficulty levels, the game features three gameplay variants, “The Way of the Eagle,” “The Way of the Tiger,” and “The Way of the Dragon.”

“The Way of the Tiger” is classic Galaga-style play: While you’re restricted from moving up and down on the screen, you can move left and right to dodge enemy bullets. You’ll also fight against three bosses.

“The Way of the Eagle” gives you full mobility up, down, left and right through 30 levels of play.

“The Way of the Dragon” is an amped-up action mode for people who have gotten bored of the other two Ways. You’ll burn through three levels of hyperactivity.

A lovely soundtrack and really beautiful, original artwork, scrolling backgrounds and tons of special effects make Kaijin a thrilling ride. This isn’t cutting edge gaming, but it is a proven, solid idea that’s extremely well executed and quite challenging.

It costs $20, which is on the high side for a game of this nature. I was pleased to see the game offer gamepad support, however. Kaijin needs more exposed documentation, too. All the info is right in there as Web pages embedded within the app itself—but you wouldn’t know it unless you clicked on the Help button that only appears once during the startup screen.

The bottom line

If you’ve had fun with past Mac games of this style, such as Mars Rising and Deimos Rising from Ambrosia Software, you’ll surely love Kaijin.

Fight like an eagle In Kaijin’s “Way of the Eagle” gameplay variant, you have full mobility to move your ship up, down, left, and right.
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