Gyruss (Parker Brothers/Ultra)
Gyruss is one of those classic arcade games that has been lost to history. It made it's grand debut in 1983 and vanished in to relative obscurity in 1989 after the NES version was released in North America, it's been included in a plug 'n play or two, but the same thing goes for Namco's Bosconian, if anything this is Konami's Bosconian. This game is what I think the illicit love child of Galaga and Tempest would look like, and when it was released there was no follow up, no sequel, it just stopped, there were no sequels or deluxe versions ,and that is sad, since this is and excellent game that deserved better. What's even more unfortunate is that this game was made by Konami, and anybody who knows anything about the current videogame industry knows that Konami is not interested in in anything relating to their rich and, frankly, astounding past in the arcade and home console market, and seem hell bent on destroying themselves in a Pachinko shaped mushroom cloud of destruction. But what about Gyruss, how did it fare back then? Well I don't have the arcade cabinet but I do have the three most popular home console ports of it, the Atari 2600 port, the Colecovision port, and the NES port. All three of these ports are surprisingly different, and are rather good in their own unique ways, but who is the best? Lets start with the graphics..
There is an obvious winner to this question, and that is the NES version. The NES could do so much more with the graphics than the Atari or Colecovision could ever hope to do. The enemies are large and detailed, your ship is large and detailed. The NES version also has something that, from what I've experienced, neither of the other ports has... and that's slowdown, oh yeah this is some of that famous Nintendo slowdown, and if you thought Megaman had sprite flickering take a look at this game. The Colecovision port has admirable graphics for the system, and manages many things that the 2600 simply cannot... For example when an enemy makes it to the 'bottom' of the screen, on the 2600 the enemy simply disappears, in both the NES and Colecovision versions they are still visible, flying around in the distance. Both the NES and Colecovision ports actually have proper sprites for the power-ups the Atari' are just another enemy. Now I know it may seem like I'm picking in the 2600 here but I have to admit that this game is really quite ugly, all the enemies are vaguely pizza shaped, the starfield in the background flickers around spasmodically, which doesn't impart a sense of motion. I can at least say that the enemies in the 2600 version are multicolored to say the very least.
How well do these games pull off one of Gyruss' weirdest quirks though... how well can these consoles recreate J. S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565? I'm astonished to say that they all do it rather well...Even the Atari. The 2600 bypasses all of the sound overlap that tends to happen when more that two sounds are playing at once, since the 2600 has only two sound channels as standard it simply uses those two channels for the music and nothing else... there are no sound effects, only a fairly decent rendition of the music. The Colecovision version, which I personally feel has better sound than the NES version, tops the 2600 version by adding sound effects to the game and also producing a much richer sounding composition than the 2600 version, really putting that noise generator to good use. The NES version's sound I feel is a bit over complicated, all it really had to do was play the single piece of music, but instead it remixes it into something that barely sounds like the original and includes several new tracks.. which I don't hate but I don't feel that they add anything to the game, It sounds more like Castlevania than anything else. Chalk up a win for the Colecovision...
But... Which game plays the best? Well... Not the Colecovision... at least not with the standard or super action controller, I'd recommend simply using an Atari joystick, then the game is more than playable, it's excellent. Speaking of the Atari joystick, I feel that that is how this game was meant to be played, with a joystick. It adds a sense of fluidity to your motions, but I'll admit it would be nice if you could connect some paddle controllers to the 2600 version. But otherwise I'd say that both the Colecovision and 2600 ports are comparable to each other when played with a joystick, maybe the 2600 version is a little slower, but hey I'm not complaining. Konami seemed to be showing a little bit of favoritism with the NES... What do I mean by that? Well... how about each of the now 39 stages, the arcade had 24, having different enemies, as well as bosses on every third stage for each planet, there is now a chance stage similar to Galaga, where you can shoot enemies unopposed to gain more points. The final boss is the Sun... THE SUN! This blows the other two out of the water completely. My main complaint though is the controls, since the NES only had a directional pad on it's controller, your thumb will have divots worn into it by the time you reach Saturn, it's simply
uncomfortable, but if you take an occasional break this shouldn't be much of a problem. The NES version wins this... but only because of the sheer variety of the stages, enemies, and power-ups.
I wish I could detail everything about these games, but that would be boring, and half the fun of playing a new game is finding out all of it's secrets, and where's the fun in spoiling it all for you? I would recommend the NES version to Hell and back, I unfortunately have to designate both the Atari and Colecovision ports to the Collector's Zone though, since they're both more expensive than the NES version, and neither really delivers the excitement of the NES version despite the higher price tag. I know that it seems a foregone conclusion but the NES wins it!