['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 dig up Treasure’s shooters.]

treasure.jpgTreasure is a game developer whose name is written on collector’s hearts. Formed in 1992 by ex-Konami staff, the company is well known for creating anarchic games that gleefully undermine genre expectations. Often filled with bizarre characters, discordant music, and lots of explosions, Treasure’s games move at a frenetic pace, seemingly fueled by Lucky Charms and DMT.

However, on occasion the studio dials back some of its eccentricities and focuses on creating rigorously formal shooters. Within the narrow confines of the shooter Treasure approaches its craft with a seriousness that elevates their pop trash (I mean that in a good way) into nuanced works that are as beautiful to look at as they are to play.

No Refuge

silvergun.jpgRadiant Silvergun was Treasure’s first effort at pure shooter design and probably its most famous despite not ever being released in America. Initially created for the arcades in 1998 and then quickly ported to the Sega Saturn, Radiant Silvergun was a vertically scrolling masterwork.

Players were given a generous selection of weaponry with which to clean the field and face down a succession of elaborate boss fights. Not content with simply satisfying twitch and reflex, Radiant Silvergun was also a thinking person’s shooter. Utilizing a combo scoring system and complex pattern memorization, the game rewarded thoughtful play. Radiant Silvergun was further enhanced by a Hitoshi Sakamoto score and animated cut-scenes from GONZO (Blue Submarine No. 6, Last Exile).

Radiant Silvergun enjoyed a generous print run and healthy sales in Japan making it easy to find online. However, its elevated reputation among Western importers has insured that the game’s price remains in the $175 to $200 range.

Fireworks

bangaio.jpgTreasure’s next shooter Bangai-O was published in Japan for the Nintendo 64 in 1999. Later that same year it was ported to the Sega Dreamcast with significant enhancements, making the Dreamcast release the preferred version. The game finally made its way to America in 2001 thanks to Conspiracy Entertainment.

Bangai-O was hard to classify as a strict shooter and had much in common with the studio’s earlier run and gun rave-ups. The Bangai-O itself was a super robot in the style of Getter Robo although it was rendered as a small figure in the center of the screen while the 2D background scrolled in all directions around it similar to Time Pilot. The basic point of Bangai-O was to blow everything to bits and firing a 360 degree special attack in the game provided the same visceral thrill as setting off a string of Black Cats. Look for the Dreamcast version which goes for about $35.

Fool’s Gold

silpheed.jpgSilpheed: The Lost Planet found Treasure working with Game Arts to create a a sequel to the Sega CD game Silpheed. Brought to America in 2001 by Working Designs, Silpheed was somewhat of a misstep by Treasure. As a vertically scrolling shooter, normally a fairly intense experience, Silpheed suffered from a oddly sluggish pace. Much of the game passed in a haze as apocalyptic scenery scrolled by at a measured pace while lugubrious music surged in the background. Boss fights provided some relief from the tedium but they were separated by wave after predictable wave of enemies that rolled down the screen, doing little to challenge the player except get in the way.

Game Arts, Treasure, and Working Designs are all dear to game collectors but Silpheed: The Lost Planet can be safely passed by. If you must add it to your collection do not pay more than $15.

In Praise of Shadows

ikaruga.jpgIkaruga was Treasure’s spiritual sequel to Radiant Silvergun. First published in Japan for arcades in 2001 and then a year later ported to the Dreamcast, Ikaruga made it to America in 2003 as a Game Cube game published by Atari.

From the beginning Ikaruga stood out from other shooters, distinguished by a unique artistic style that was both austere and painstakingly detailed at the same time. Working with a muted color palette, Treasure created a look that seemed informed by the ceremony of Noh theater and the obsessively precise aesthetics of Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows.

Sticking with the visual theme, enemies were either black or white and the player’s ship could change duality to absorb like shaded bullets. In a further development of Radiant Silvergun’s combo system, higher scores in Ikaruga could be achieved by skillful players chaining attacks on like shaded enemies. Of course this became jaw droppingly difficult as the game progressed and enemies radiated an insane number of bullets across the screen in blatantly psychedelic patterns of death.

In Japan, Treasure released a super-play video called Ikaruga Appreciate DVD that showed expert play throughs of Ikaruga. The game itself also featured amazing and humbling Demo Play demonstrations.

Now out of print, copies of the Game Cube version are fetching almost $50.

Vic Viper Returns

gradiusv.jpgTreasure’s latest shooter is Gradius V, a horizontally scrolling shooter for the PlayStation 2 published by Konami in both Japan and America in 2004. Unlike Treasure’s previous effort at working on another company’s property with Silpheed, Gradius V is a great success. While remaining true to the series’ roots, Gradius V exploits the PlayStation 2's graphic power to create a visually lush experience in which frantic action is bathed in a corona of light. Like all shooters, the difficulty level is set quite high but Treasure designed the game to be welcoming to newcomers by providing lots of continues. In a nice touch, Treasure brought Radiant Silvergun composer Hitoshi Sakamoto on board to provide a high energy electronic soundtrack that is quite different from the Carmina Burana-like scores that he typically writes for RPGs.

In Japan, Konami created a variety of pre-order and limited edition bonuses for Gradius V including a documentary DVD and booklet. For the American release of the game Konami produced a DVD called Gradius Breakdown as a pre-order bonus.

Although Gradius V was released some time ago, new copies are still available from Konami for $29.99.

[Jeffrey Fleming is an East Bay writer. To read more, please visit Tales of the Future.]

Images: (C) Treasure/Konami All Rights Reserved