The Turbo Grafx was a decent console in the US but had a fantastic library in Japan. Almost every console has hidden gems that were left in Japan but next to the Saturn the PC Engine is the worst offender in that category. Seeing crap like JJ and Jeff and Impossamole lining shelves when awesome games that required no localization such as Psycho Chaser were missing sucks. This could very easily have been brought over in a week since it is already in English. One thing’s for sure, it’s far better than a lot of the stuff we were handed.
As a vertical shooter the closest comparison would be Elemental Master or Undead Line for the Genesis. The game scrolls automatically with death coming in a single shot. As if that weren’t enough you also need to avoid being crushed by the environment. It isn’t all doom and gloom however as you are equipped with four weapons that can be switched on the fly. Fire is self-explanatory and travels in a straight line. Multi-way is designed for enemies that come from behind. Buster attacks your left and right sides and would probably see the least use if not for thunder. Thunder seems awesome at first as it has some tracking properties. However it is extremely weak and leaves you defenseless as it struggles to take out stronger enemies.
All of these are supplemented by a variety of items that increase movement speed, missiles for added power, and even a temporary boost to max level power. The most important however is psycho energy. Psycho energy is rare and is used to increase the power of your primary weapons between levels. The difference is pretty notable not just in look but effectiveness. Generally you’ll find at least a few pieces of energy so that ideally you’ll be at full power in the game’s second half. It does mean that the early stages can be especially brutal until you reach that point.
While the game’s slow pace can be off putting it picks up considerably by the second level. Enemies attack in greater numbers, there are ground based obstacles to avoid and attacks come from every direction. It’s incredibly easy to lose sight of your surroundings and end up crushed by the environment. Despite the increased firepower from allocating psycho points the enemies also increase in strength as well. You’ll actually have to switch weapons pretty frequently to survive as no one item is so overpowered that it is ideal in every situation.
This is most evident during boss battles. Despite their large size these mayors are incredibly mobile and will keep you on your toes. Weapon switching is most prominent in these moments as you’ll need to change momentarily just to get off 1 or 2 hits while dodging. It’s very intense and I wish more of this were spread throughout the game. The difficulty curve is a little bit high mostly due to the lack of a life bar. While it would be appreciated power-ups are dropped so frequently that it makes up for it. Once you have adapted to weapon switching it becomes significantly easier which does lead to the most crucial flaw: the length.
With just six levels the game is over right when everything begins to click. As you progress the level design becomes more elaborate as the designers play with the environment to limit your path. Stage two features destructible walls amidst an assault of tanks that can flip sideways to better block your path. Level five is a series of narrow paths that force you to really consider your movements lest you end up boxed in. With a few more creative stages like this Psycho Chaser could have really been something special.
While I like the gameplay I can’t say the same for the presentation. The game’s limited color palette resembles an early Genesis title or Amiga game. The creature designs are exotic and the game never slows down but overall it looks very drab. As you progress the backdrops do become more interesting but that isn’t saying much. The sole highlights are the large bosses and fantastic soundtrack but they aren’t enough to elevate an average visual package.
Lackluster presentation aside Psycho Chaser plays well enough that it is still pretty good even today. Scrolling shooters that don’t put you behind the controls of a spacecraft weren’t too common so its nice that this one turned out so well. Psycho Chaser won’t blow your socks off but is dirt cheap at this point and more than worth the few dollars it costs.