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THE ARCHIVE 2011-2015

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Pistol Daimyo's Adventure

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

Pistol Daimyo's Adventure (Namco, 1990)

Namco is credited with pushing arcade shoot-em-ups forward with Galaga and Xevious, though they rarely stepped out of those two universes afterward, except Dragon Spirit and Dragon Saber, which aren't too mechanically different from Xevious anyway. For the most part, they let other companies concentrate on that genre while they went ahead and tried to innovate in others. Namco's straight-up shooters were more about looking different than being completely different.

Enter Pistol Daimyo. It was one of Namco's few horizontal shooters (Ordyne being among them), and was not at all serious. The cartoony style lampooned many tropes from Japanese history and mythology and simply turned it into an absurd shooting game. It wasn't the first "wacky" shooting game, since the aforementioned Ordyne and Konami's Parodius came years before, and it definitely doesn't seem like something that Namco was putting a lot of marketing muscle behind. This seems more or less like a passion project (or at worst, a goof-off time-filler) for the team that made it.

Pistol Daimyo's Adventure is notable for a few things. OK, it's notable for one thing: you play as a daimyo with a giant gun fused to his head, and who flies around by rapidly flapping fans he's holding with his feet. His origin is a mystery, but few would want to question a guy with a gun on his head. Technically, Pistol Daimyo's Adventure is a spin-off of Bravoman, as the Daimyo first appeared as a boss character in that game. He's been redrawn and refitted here, as his "Adventure" takes place in his home world of Feudal Japan But Crazier (my nomenclature).

Indeed, this take on ancient Japan certainly paints an odd picture of the nation. You'll be fighting angry frogs, throngs of ninjas, giant whales, entire battleships, and more as Pistol Daimyo slowly floats along the countryside. If nothing else, it looks consistent; it's not so absurd as to throw digitized people or large sexy women in your face like Parodius or PuLiRuLa does. It's just a big damn fun cartoon.

But the true defining characteristic of Pistol Daimyo (the game) is that it's unrelentingly difficult. For something that looks like it's meant for kids, it starts bringing the hurt from the get-go. And since this was before the days of bullet-blanketing shooters like DoDonPachi, the difficulty doesn't come from the volume of bad things coming at you as it does the speed and the volume. Most of the enemies are made with their own movement patterns, so there's lots of grouping of enemies who jump or fly or run in their own ways, leaving you with few "outs." Quick reaction time is important, but if you've been playing too many recent shooters, where most of the time you're making incremental movements to avoid waves of bullets you can clearly see coming, then you might need some readjusting. Regardless, for a clever shooter that's as challenging as it is baffling, simply look down the barrel of Pistol Daimyo.