Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru. Psychic Assassin Taroumaru. Spirit Killer Taromaru. No matter what one calls it, this is without a doubt the rarest of games for the Sega Saturn. With a mere 7,500 units printed before Time Warner Interactive folded, Psychic Killer Taroumaru is definitely one game every collector should be actively trying to get. While the game does appear on places like eBay and Game Trading Zone from time to time, you can be sure to pay at least $200 USD for a copy in decent condition. While the undeniable rarity of the game makes the triple digit price seem almost palatable, but does the actual game warrant the cost?
Published by Time Warner Interactive very shortly before unceremoniously shutting down after the Midway Games acquisition, Psychic Killer Taroumaru for Sega Saturn is a port of the similarly named (and similarly rare) arcade Sega ST-V game. The player dons the sandals of a man hired to save a man's only daughter from the evil army that has kidnapped her and countless other women. With tuned psychic abilities, the player makes his way through level after level of enemies and bosses in order to kill the baddies, get the girl, and disappear, ninja-style, into the sunset. While the story has been heard countless times, the refined gameplay makes the journey through the game immensely enjoyable.
Upon starting the game, one is greeted with his character and an icon. The icon drifts to various enemies, depending on where the player's character is facing, and may be shifted between multiple enemies via taps on the shoulder buttons. Pressing the B button attacks the enemy, and one can hold down the button and release it for an extra powerful shot reminiscent of Mega Man. Some enemies, however, can be brought to fight for the players cause by using the A button instead of the B button, changing the enemy's color, giving him a life meter, and causing him to attack any enemies he comes across in zombie-like fashion. If he's about to die or the player would wish to discard him, pressing the X button will give him a death resulting in a smart-bomb like attack on all enemies. Pressing the A button next to him while he is not at full power causes the player's score to decrease and his energy to increase. A double-tap down (or pressing the Y button) gives the player a temporary shield from all attacks, a down-C executes a dashing move, and that is the complete arsenal of moves. The control scheme is internalized after but a minute of play and timing feels very natural.
On the receiving end of these attacks are a plethora of enemies, from ninja and shrine priestesses to centipedes and skeletons. While the normal enemies are fairly unremarkable, the game has excellent bosses, with designs that rival even Treasure's repertoire of games. A boss appears nearly every other minute, and each is very unique: a brown orb which sends green fire and wall tiles in attack; a skeleton's torso that throws fire at you and must be defeated in that way; a frog's stomach, threatening the player with deadly worms and acid. There's even a monster that must be defeated while in a Temple of Doom-like mine cart chase. Character designs run the gamut and are quite fun to look at.
For an arcade game from 1996 the graphics are pretty good. They are varied and the designs of enemies are nice. The colors are not much to look at, and one might wish that they could be smoother or more vibrant. As it is, there is a lot of brown in this game. If only the colors were as varied as the designs for the bosses. There's not much animation here, and the sprites are on the small side; if it wasn't for the smoothness of the game and the pieces of 3D which pop up here and there, one might confuse this for a 16-bit era console game. Still, the graphics do the job well enough.
The music for the game is Red Book audio, which was pretty standard back then, but these days, is unusual. The extra fidelity of the music doesn't seem to mesh very well with the rather low fidelity sound effects. Voices and effects have little strength and top end to them, with the sole exception of the "shot charging up" sound effect which one will be constantly hearing throughout the game. The music is decent, well mixed synth-orchestral and traditional Japanese instruments which isn't too memorable, but accompanies the onscreen action very well.
The most pressing argument against the game is its length, as it is little more than a straight arcade port plus a simple ranking mode. Beating the game requires little more than an hour of your time, and less once you understand all the bosses. With two players, the game becomes rather easy. This, however, is not enough to keep me from thoroughly enjoying the game. It has solid and interesting gameplay and decent technical components, but is it worth the couple of hundreds of dollars that a seller will probably ask? That depends on where your priorities are. Many will find little in the game after beating it; little more than a solid game play concept fleshed out, this game is not for them. If you are an ardent fan of arcade 2D action, then Psychic Killer Taroumaru is a fine game to add to the collection.