Just cleared Kaitei Daisensou/In the Hunt and therewith the last Irem arcade shmup, although I've also cleared all of their console games/ports save the ones on the GB - almost always did the second loop, too, the only exceptions are Air Duel, Gallop and PCE Mr. Heli.
Feels great to add another developer after Toaplan to my list of clears, and several other developers are likewise on their last legs, albeit some dastardly foes remain in some of their camps. We will see how that turns out eventually. Anyway, I thought I might expound some of my thoughts on the Irem portfolio. As far as the arcade games are concerned, here's how I would rank them in descending order of personal preference (which is sometimes quite a bit different from what I perceive to be the better games):
R-Type II > Gun Hohki > Image Fight > R-Type > X-Multiply > Mr. Heli > Dragon Breed > Thunder Blaster > Youjyuden > Gallop > Fire Barrel > Air Duel > R-Type Leo > Kaitei Daisensou
I love everything from R-Type II to Dragon Breed, like or really like the next three, the rest I find acceptable. There's no outright terrible or even decidedly below average game in there, the last spots are more due to failed expectations or personal predilections than anything else. A few disjointed remarks:
- While I'm clearly more a fan of the older Irem games, Gun Hohki is the lambent exception to the rule. I don't associate Irem with interesting scoring systems (I don't mind marathon looping, checkpoint milking is not to my liking, however, neither is stalling the clock à la Dragon Breed, Kaitei Daisensou or Mr. Heli) but they demonstrated that they could do just that with Gun Hohki. The second loop becomes remarkably challenging and the archetypical staple of "living memorization" is still prevalent, of course (as opposed to "dead memorization" as it is present in Saint Dragon where you just sit in specific safespots for half a stage without any variation or personal note), yet the strict restraints of checkpoints are lifted which works very much in favour of the scoring system and moreso light-hearted atmosphere.
- The second loops of R-Type II and Image Fight are the best second loops in existence (well, there's also Xexex!), they will make one quiver in fear. Nothing says Irem just like an implacable phalanx of yellow crawlers, coming from all sides, littering the screen with bullets.
- X-Multiply is the opposite of that. It features the most accessible Irem checkpoints while taking away all your upgrades (Thunder Blaster and Youjyuden are more lenient in overall terms). I actually pulled off a checkpoint recovery in the final stage of loop 2 without any prior practice, I did not even think that possible. It just might be my candidate for the best Irem game, together with the first R-Type. A stupor mundi, it is.
- Dragon Breed is the easiest 2-ALL (not counting Fire Barrel), but has some of the worst checkpoints, too. Funny how that works. One of the hardest section in that game involves a narrow spot where you have to take special preparations in order not to lose your golden dragon which is paramount in this game. It has furthermore the best artistic direction of all of them as far as I'm concerned, which is saying something.
- Thunder Blaster was the biggest positive surprise. The first two stages are a breeze, leaving you thinking it might be a push-over like Fire Barrel. Then you proceed to find out it's actually the trickiest Irem 1-ALL by far! The final three stages remind me a lot of a metamorphosis of Image Fight's Penalty Area, if less devastating. You constantly have to fend off enemies from the sides as well as from behind without any pods that can shoot in that direction, forcing the player to find some creative strategies with the charge bomb. Lots of visual references to Image Fight, too, from the meteorite shower to the larger enemies.
- Air Duel brought to mind an inferior Gun Frontier as I was playing the latter; the carpet bombs, wide straight shot and colossal enemy aircrafts as well as the same year of release were rather striking. One of the bosses might've been the inspiration for Gunnail's highway boss and the larger planes look rather raizingesque in my view, so it was mayhap a bit of an influence for games to come, at least aesthetically. It also marks the dividing line from "old Irem" to "new Irem" for me insofar as it is the first one to eschew checkpoints. Fire Barrel plays (and looks) extremely similar but it also significantly easier which is a good thing in this context.
- Kaitei Daisensou is a decent game, it just bores me to death. I always get impatient and then lose a life as a result, which is not something that ever happens in Mr. Heli. I especially don't see why it was necessary to have boss fights that drag on forever, it's not as if you're doing anything demanding or varied. It's obviously integral part of the experience to steer an inexorable behemoth, therefore I shan't complain too much.
- Same with R-Type Leo: solid game, feels not at all like Irem, much less R-Type. The obtuse "milking" against the two spheres before the final boss is also ludicrous, probably wasn't intended.
- Despite some flaws, Gallop was an interesting experience. I might look deeper into it at some point in time, not quite certain whether the second loop was designed as hermetically tight as the equivalents in other Irem games, my first impression was rather dismal. Useful footage for this game seems to be scarce, unsurprisingly.