['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we slot M.U.S.H.A. into the Ono-Sendai deck.]

2.07.jpgTexas Radio

Washed out of school, kicking around the Sprawl, trying to live some teenage daydream of drop-tuned guitars and burned out amps. Reading Gibson’s Neuromancer and studying Survival Research Lab videos for secret strategies. Side one of SY’s Sister playing over and over. Smoke the color of rust and smelling of kerosene. A hit of Vasopressin to clear the haze.

Kid Afrika drops by the apartment to show off his new Sega Genesis. These are high grade chips, straight from Chiba City, he says. The vented black plastic, with its ports and expansion slots, looks like pre-war surplus. Here, boot this up, he says handing me a cart. It’s called M.U.S.H.A. - Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor.

Phantasmal Noh

3.10.jpgWelcome to the Retinal Circus. Gekiga sim-stim sets the scene with techno-shred-trash in stereo. M.U.S.H.A. comes on fast, swarming with metal demons and bio-mechanical ghosts. The pace is hard-edged and demanding. You versus the universe and it’s raining shit. Embedded symbols from Noh drama cross-band with sci-fi mecha as the hand-crafted, parallax-scrolling landscape erupts in a frenzy of destruction.

Shooter Heaven

5.11.jpgM.U.S.H.A. was developed in Japan by Compile and published for America in 1990 by Seismic Software. Look for it online and expect to pay around $35 for a complete copy with its box and manual. Pay a lot less if it’s just the loose cartridge.

In its nineteen year history Compile developed a wide variety of software. It was perhaps most famous for creating the puzzle game Puyo Puyo (better known as Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine in America) but the company was also behind some fantastic shoot’em ups as well. Titles like Zanac, Aleste, Blazing Lazers, and M.U.S.H.A. helped define the vertical scrolling shooter genre of the late eighties and early nineties.

Unfortunately, when the 32-bit generation came along, the shooter began to fall into disfavor. While developers stayed true to the formalized patterns of shooter design, critics lost patience with a genre that appeared played out and irrelevant. The games were pushed to the margins, little discussed and indifferently marketed to an increasingly niche audience. In recent years Treasure’s Ikaruga received a lot of notice and new shooter games continue to pop up every now and then, but most people pass them by. Compile itself closed shop in 2002. Fans dream of a revival but shooters remain a ritualized form, difficult to get into and all but closed to casual gamers. And maybe that’s the way it should be.

Slot M.U.S.H.A. into the deck. If the A.I.’s on Straylight dream, it probably looks like this. Shooter Heaven.

[Jeffrey Fleming is a Bay Area book dealer and writer. More of his writing on video games can be found at Tales of the Future.]