It’s always pleasing to see digital re-releases of PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 games. The system was never officially sold in Europe, making it quite the obscurity. Exotic, even. With Konami’s PC Engine Mini long sold out on Amazon – and the Wii U eShop shuttered – one of the few solutions to play official releases comes from Ratalaika Games’ series of individual game packs. In hindsight, we probably should have bought a PC Engine Mini. Sigh.
1989’s Cyber Citizen Shockman (known as Kaizo Chojin Shubibinman in Japan) is pretty obscure, even by PC Engine standards. It was the first game in a series, but only the second game (Shockman) made it to the US. This also marks the first time this action platformer has gained an official translation – one which is peculiarly authentic to the era, featuring lots of ‘90s lingo. “I turned ya into Shockman!”
The plot sees a doctor (Doc) awaken cyborgs Tasuke and Kyapiko to save a city from the clutches of Dark Skull, with as much explained in a single paragraph on the initial map screen.
The map provides a choice of stages, with two or three available on branching paths that duly lead to the villain’s ominous fortress. By “freeing” certain areas -including a bank, a church, and a hospital – you’ll gain a reward, including vital upgrades. This means it pays to know the best order to tackle stages, adding replay value. The map screen also gives the chance to repair (heal) at a cost. There’s a hint system too – one which can be cheekily exploited by using the new rewind tool.
With the exception of the ruthless final area, the stages themselves are short, lasting just a couple of minutes and only ever scrolling from left to right. The same three backdrops are recycled throughout, and while each stage ends with a boss battle, the majority are palette swap dragons only with different attack patterns.
There is a moderate difficulty curve though, with the game’s first half being relatively easy. Later stages increase the enemy quota and introduce trickier platforming sections. While it’s tempting to run past enemies, some drop power-ups and additional health, so it’s worth stopping to battle. Both characters attack with swords, making it feel more like Rastan than Mega Man.
Cyber Citizen Shockman is, unquestionably, a game of its time. That time being 1989 – the same year the Mega Drive released, and a year before the SNES made its debut. It has an unwavering feel of a typical 8-bit action platformer but resembles a very early 16-bit game. The bosses are large and the backdrops colourful, but character animation is a bit stiff, and the sprites aren’t masterfully drawn either, looking a little crude at times. Controls are responsive, although both characters do build slight momentum, moving forward for a few seconds when releasing the d-pad.
A simultaneous two-player mode is an unexpected feature, and thanks to Tasuke and Kyapiko being able to stand on top of one another, it’s reasonably entertaining. As for new extras, there are scans of the cover and manual, along with an artwork gallery. These are all appreciated, helping the package to feel more than just a repackaged ROM.
If you’re expecting Cyber Citizen Shockman to be a hidden gem on par with something like Alien Solider or Pulseman, you’re in for a disappointment – it’s merely a straightforward platformer with a couple of ideas innovative for the time, such as the interactive map screen. It’s still fascinating to see what kind of experiences the PC Engine had to offer though, even if they can’t be classed as trailblazers.
Published by Ratalaika Games and Shinyuden, Cyber Citizen Shockman is out May 19th on PS5/PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.