Evercade Game Spotlight: Flying Shark (Toaplan Arcade 1)

Written by Pete Davison

Tags EVERCADE, Evercade Game Spotlight, toaplan

Toaplan is one of the most respected names in the arcade shoot ’em up space, and it’s titles like Flying Shark (also known as Hishouzame in Japan and Sky Shark in some regions) that helped to solidify that reputation.

Flying Shark is a notably distinctive take on the vertically scrolling shoot ’em up formula, and as such it’s worth taking a bit of time to get to know. So that’s what today’s Evercade Game Spotlight is all about. You’ll be blasting baddies with confidence in no time!

But first, a bit of history. Flying Shark was first released in 1987 to arcades. It actually became relatively well-known due to the large number of home ports it received to a variety of different computer and console platforms in Europe and North America, but unlike many of Toaplan’s later titles these were mostly developed by third-parties rather than Toaplan themselves. The version you have here to enjoy on the Toaplan Arcade 1 collection for Evercade is the original arcade version.

Flying Shark was a noteworthy title for Toaplan because it was their first game to make use of the 16-bit Motorola 68000 microprocessor. This allowed the team the flexibility to include more detailed visuals and more sprites on screen simultaneously, but also presented a variety of new challenges for the developer to overcome. Alongside this, Flying Shark was also Toaplan’s first game to make use of FM synthesis for its sound and music, marking a notable advancement from the PSG sound of its earlier titles.

The game was inspired by the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now and a company trip to Thailand, and from a mechanical perspective was intended to play up the thrilling aspect of shooting and dodging. The inclusion of a bomb weapon was also intended to act as a means of stress relief for players. Toaplan’s game designs often focus on the overall “feel” of playing the game, and Flying Shark was a relatively early example of them putting this idea into practice.

The various distinctive design elements will become quite clear from the moment you start playing Flying Shark. This is a shoot ’em up that will quickly eat you for breakfast if you try and play reactively; instead, it’s a game that it’s best to take your time with and learn.

The majority of enemies should be regarded as snipers in that they shoot fast-moving bullets directly at the point on screen you were sitting when they fired. As such, it’s best if you’re positioned in such a way that you can easily dodge once the bullets start flying. By memorising enemy formations, you can be ready for attacks before they happen — the truly skilled can take out enemies before they’re able to get a shot off at all!

There’s a strong strategic angle to Flying Shark’s gameplay that it’s best to try and master as quickly as possible. Since enemies fire with fairly predictable timing, a little experience will help you to understand what spots on screen are likely to be safer than others, and when is the best time to go on the offensive.

When defending, try and stay out of the corners of the screen, as positioning yourself here gives you fewer options for dodging. And between enemy shots, try and prioritise your targets, eliminating threats that are both significant and easy to destroy.

It’s worth noting that in Flying Shark, a significant proportion of enemies can be disarmed, if not completely destroyed, with a single shot. Tanks on the ground are a great example of this; hitting them once destroys their gun turret and often immobilises them, completely eliminating them as a threat even if you don’t destroy them. Likewise, small planes can generally be shot down with a single bullet.

If you can eliminate relatively soft targets like this before anything else, you’ll cut down significantly on the number of bullets coming your way and thus give yourself greater freedom to move around. You can then go back and finish the job on helpless tanks or focus on stronger opponents as required.

To go along with this, larger, more seemingly dangerous targets often fire several bullets simultaneously on a set pattern. Again, understanding timing here is of critical importance; know when it’s safe to launch a barrage of your own shots and when you should be concentrating on moving out of the way.

Don’t be shy about using your bombs, either. Since in Flying Shark, your bombs act on a very specific area rather than being screen-clearing affairs, they’re best used as an offensive weapon rather than a defensive one. The game is quite generous about providing additional bombs to pick up from defeated enemies, so make good use of them, particularly against hard targets such as large armoured vehicles or structures that tanks keep emerging from — or large battleships armed to the teeth with gun turrets!

Of course, once you start taking aim for high scores, you might want to try and save your bombs, since at the end of each stage in Flying Shark, you’ll receive a bonus according to how many you have left. But in the meantime, don’t be too proud to use them — and do so assertively. Unlike some other shoot ’em ups, a “panic bomb” released in the hope of saving yourself from disaster likely won’t work here — but a well-timed, assertively delivered bomb can put you at a significant advantage against hard targets.

Flying Shark is not a game you’ll master immediately — but the same can be said for most of Toaplan’s shoot ’em ups. This is a good place to start exploring them, though, because many of the design principles found in this game were explored further and built upon in the company’s subsequent games. It’s also a good means of training your memorisation and strategic shooting skills, which will stand you in good stead not just for other Toaplan titles, but for shoot ’em ups in general.

And, as with any other title in the Evercade library, you should feel free to enjoy Flying Shark however you see fit. If you want to credit feed your way through to the end of the game and use save states to pick up where you left off rather than being set back to a checkpoint? Feel free. At the other end of the spectrum, you can use features such as Competition Mode and the new Coin Limit feature to place deliberate restrictions on yourself for the ultimate challenge. Will you manage a one-credit clear?

And that’s Flying Shark. It’s a relatively early title from Toaplan, but the company’s distinctive sense of design shines through immediately, making it one of their most consistently popular titles from over the years. We hope you enjoy experiencing it on Evercade!


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