Toaplan Forever

The history of a Side Scroller Shooter supporter from it's roots, and from 1984 to 1994.
March 31, 2008
Toaplan. The company. What games springs in your mind? Zero Wing? Snow Bros.? You must not know who Toaplan is. I didn't in the beginning of the internet ether. Toaplan actually made more games and was a very thriving company who supported the Side Scrolling Shooter genre.

Well, like some companies, it had a little known genesis.

The Orca, wait, a dolphin?

In 1980, a new company, Orca came by into the gaming industry. During the golden age of the Arcade rooms the company joined the bandwagon. They published games like Espial and Zodiack.

Espial in action. Oh Yeah!

Zodiack as well in it's action.

Orca made 13 games before it filed bankruptcy. After that they wanted to continue it's soon to grow legacy. They made a short-lived company named Clax and published Gyrodine, which soon became a game named Tiger Heli

Well, it's Gyrodine in it's full pledged glory.

After Clax's quick bankruptcy they did the same after Orca's bankruptcy, only their next company laster longer. Sit back and enjoy kids and adults, Toaplan's coming to town! But wait, don't get too excited! Seeing how both comanies were unstable they decided to take their new evasive plan which is to be supported by major companies. First, they tried SNK for a game named Jong Ou (Mahjong King), but then they tried Data East (Performan, Jong Kyou {Mahjong Mania}). After not succeeding every well, they soon found the right company, Taito.

After Joining Taito (they also joined earlier to support Gyrodine when they were Clax), they developed Tiger Heli, which became their first success in the gaming industry in 1985. You also literally blasted everything, otherwise unnecessary targets, as in parked civilian cars, roofs of houses, railroad crossing arms, and road stopping guards. This was not characteristic even for shooters at the time.

Tiger Heli in action. This game hasn't actually aged well.

Tiger Heli has achieved a conversion on the NES. It later got converted for the PlayStation in 1996, more than ten years after the game was published.

Another big success in the gaming industy is Slap Fight, or A.L.C.O.N. in the United States, released in 1986. It also uses the Gradius inspired power-up system.

Slap Fight, of course. Again, notice the Gradius Power-Up system.

Oh, what does "A.L.C.O.N." mean? Well here's some detail taken from the box of the Commodore 64 conversion from a company Imagine.

"The year is 2059. Humans have been living in exile on the planet Theon since aliens attacked their last home, Orac, in 2055.

...The Allied League of Cosmic Nations (ALCON) has chosen you to pilot the top secret experimental SW475 Starfighter. You are the last hope there is to stop the enemy takeover. To reclaim the planet, you must destroy the aliens once and for all. There will not be a second chance."

Slap Fight was not only converted to the Commodore 64, but also the Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, and Sega Megadrive (Genesis). There is also an cameo of the simple, well known Space Invader sprite later in the game, due to it's supporter Taito.

After that, the year is 1987, and now Toaplan unveils one of it's greatest success in the company. Flying Shark. Also known as Sky Shark in the United States, and Hishou Same in Japan. Many Taito fans are familiar with this arcade hit. The game as well appears to have inspiration with Capcom's 1942. It was also the first game to utilize the Yamaha YM-3812 sound-chip which the chiptunes became a symbol of the Toaplan comany.

"Just when you though it was safe to come back in the air". You meet the Sopwith Camel bi-plane, blasting enemy planes and tanks.

By the way, this IS the U.S. version, Sky Shark.

According to a later Toaplan game Batsugun, the pilot is Rom Schneider. He returns to kick some major ass again in that game, but I'll save that for later so I won't spoil the fun.

Flying Shark was converted to the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS DOS, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, FM Towns, Sharp X68000, and the NES. That game of course made a big mark in Toaplan's history. It later got a sequel named Fire Shark (Same! Same! Same! in Japan), and simular games like Fighting Hawk (Entirely by Taito), and Twin Hawk (Daisenpu in Japan).

Okay, Warder (Pyros in the United States and Warder No Mori in Japan) isn't actually an arcade sensation, but it was a neat adventure with catchy tunes and contexts not like many other arcade games. Inspired by Wonder Boy and Ghosts and Goblins and a mix of both, the game is filled with pitfalls and traps and is hard as nails, but not impossible to clear without being a god. Visits to shops from the end of level 1 and 3 can break down the process.

You are a phesant dating a princess while a mysterious guy asks you if you want to take the trail to Fantasia, while you stop in a forest swamp to notice that you've been tricked and your girlfriend gets transmogrified into a crystal ball as a present to the evil lord Wardner. You with your pyromatic magic spells must go on trough a perilous odyssey and rescue your girl from the vile Wardner and return to the garden of Eden.

Adventurous, eh?

Warder was ported to the Sega Genesis and Famicom Disk System.

Toaplan started making many hits after Flying Shark. On the same year of 1987, Toaplan released another great. Twin Cobra (Kyukyoku Tiger in Japan, suggesting that it is a sequel to Tiger Heli). Like Tiger Heli, you're strapped into another military helicopter, only with more action than ever! Power-ups, and new weapons!

Twin Cobra was released on the NES, Sega Genesis, PC Engine, Sharp X68000, Commodore 64, and even Mobile Phones!

Then moving to 1988, brings another big gem by Toaplan. Truxton (Tatsujin in Japan). This game features bullet festival bosses which soon, again, latters their later game Batsugun. This was as well considered a very legendary game by Taito fans.

For some reason I sometimes nickname this game "Space Satan" because of it's uses of skulls.

Basically you fly through asteroid fortresses and defeat an alien armada to the armada's base which is a bio-metal lava factory.

Truxton was ported to the Sega Genesis and the PC Engine (Which is the Turbografx-16, of course).

As 1988 came to a close, I brightens up the end of the 1980's in 1989. In that following year it was the era known as "The Wings of Toaplan". Starting up the year in it's games is Hellfire. The Hellfire is the name of the weapon in this furious shooter where you can change your firing positions, which sometimes often get you killed. Hellfire is the game of the "lasts-firsts".

Hellfire is available on the Sega Genesis and the PC Engine CD as "Hellfire Z". This was the last Toaplan game supported by Taito until Batsugun for American distribution.

Later in 1989 came a game that would later give birth to a popular internet meme, Zero Wing. The name is to be taken as in your ship has no wings! This game like all of Toaplan games started on the Arcade and only told the tale as a lone hero to fight for the galaxy.

Zero wing was ported to the Sega Genesis and the PC Engine CD. But wait, this is the moment you're waiting for! The Sega Genesis conversion that was entirely by Toaplan was the game that started it all. Unfortunately, due to Williams holding distribution for American Zero Wing Arcade Cabinets, they forbid the company to sell the port to the United States! The intro is very well know for it's hilariously bad translation sequence.
Narrator: In A.D. 2101, war was beginning.
Captain: What happen ?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It's you !!
CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
CATS: All your base are belong to us.
CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
CATS: Ha Ha Ha Ha ....
Operator: Captain!! *
Captain: Take off every 'ZIG' !!
Captain: You know what you doing.
Captain: Move 'ZIG'.
Captain: For great justice.

The villian only known as Cats and the mistranslated words.

Now in the beginning of 1990, three years after their big mark with Flying Shark presents the sequel of the legend, Fire Shark (Same! Same! Same! in Japan). Much like how Twin Cobra Upgraded Tiger Heli, Fire Shark as usual upgrades Flying Shark.

With the upgrades of Fire Shark, you can carry a torch to blow a line of fire to your enemies!

The game was only ported to the Genesis and was not available on any other console or computer. The arcade game also features the Hitachi MCU board that prevented emulation of sound so the game during emulation with MAME is empty with sound. What a sad shame.

Later in 1990, came Out Zone, yet another serious shooter only you're not a lone hero strapped into a ship or a military helicopter, but you yourself are set to fight an army and armada. Very Ikari Warriors or Commando.

Out Zone was never ported to any console or computer. (Shame!)

Toaplan actually released three arcade hits in 1990, instead of just two or one. After Out Zone they went back to creating non-shooter games. Later in that year they released Snow Bros. The game soon became a big sensation, and Snow Bros. was the first non-shooter success, and based up Bubble Bobble, so it's basically a "comic-platformer".

Of course this game is different. You scale a tower instead of go down through dungeons, and you shoot "magic snowballs" and roll your enemies encased in a huge ball of white downhill (It can as well crush enemies who meet the raging sphere) and catch some sushi instead of shoot bubbles and have to burst them, and then catch some fruit, fries, and BOOZE.

Snow Bros. was very popular at the time. The game got ported to the NES by Capcom (Like Firebird and the "loathed" Software Creations did Flying Shark to computer platforms, and Taito did Kyukyoku Tiger and Tatsujin for the PC Engine) and was going to be ported by Ocean for the Amiga and Atari ST platforms, but when they were finished with just about everything for the conversion, they forgot to notify Toaplan that they were doing the conversion in the process, so the game never got booked on shelves of computer stores! Snow Bros. was as well ported to the Genesis, well, by Tengen.

The games in store for 1991 was Vimana and Teki Paki. Vimana was a shooter similar to Truxton, only when you charge your weapon your shots spread and it's your only weapon, while it can be powered-up.

The game uses the themes of a sacred thousands year old Indian book the Mahabarata. The elephant statues are the the Hindu elephant gods that your stone ship get materialized by the statues and the ships and vehicles are based off of drawings in the context.

Teki Paki. Your usual puzzle game. You place blocks in one place to another like Columns, but you don't usually have just lines but also the tiny "L"s.

Now in 1992, while Toaplan is enjoying it's success in the business, they were actually starting to decline slowly in finances. Four years after Truxton and in response of it's Success and legendary status, they released a sequel, obviously called Truxton II (Or Tatsujin Ou in Japan).

Truxton II was ported only to the FM Towns.

Now in the closing year of 1992 and the beginning of 1993, Toaplan got really serious with the difficulty level of their games. They presented a new, nail bitter hard shooter Grind Stormer (Or V-V, otherwise V-Five or Charge-Five). The game like Truxton contained a spew of bullets, not only in bosses, but everywhere you go, and the enemy patterns are unpredictable! This game almost introduced the Manic Shooter/Bullet Hell Subgenre, but it's later in Batsugun they officially named their game as the manic shooter.

Another thing is, the game's power-up systems are different.

Grind Stormer, released in the United States and Europe or other parts of the world except Japan has the regular power-up system.

V-V (Or whatever you want to call it) in Japan uses the Gradius power-up system.

Grind Stormer or V-V was notably ported to the Genesis by Tengen. The Genesis conversion had a mode where you can change the game whether to Grind Stormer or V-V.

After the Bullet festival of Grind Stormer or V-V, Toaplan made yet another nail bitter shooter, only it officially named it as the Manic Shooter. This is the moment you have all been waiting for to the end.

Ladies and Gentlemen...


Batsugun is considered the crown jewel of all Toaplan's games. It enjoyed the giant success in the arcades, and in it's towering degree that released the Special Edition version which was easier and the palette was rearranged. The original Batsugun had an actual ending that stopped the game and had it's credit roll. The Special Edition taken you back to stage 2 after to finished the 5th stage, and was like all other Toaplan shooters.

While the game Batsugun that was very successful in the arcades, it didn't save the company from a financial decline, sadly. In 1994, Toaplan was declared bankrupt, and pronounced a permanent closure.

Unfortunately, Toaplan was still working for games.

One game Distopia which was themed as a platformer was in progress, but never entirely got finished while the prototype was available, while of course scarce.

A sequel to Teki Paki obviously named Teki Paki 2 was planned, but never became reality.

Another sequel, only to Snow Bros. was made named Snow Bros. 2: With New Elves was finished, but was shipped to a weird, very unknown company Hanafram.

Like what happened to Orca and Clax in the past, the former employees of Toaplan never gave up. First came Cave, a company well known for a continuation of the Batsugun legacy, a new manic shooter named DonPachi (1995), as well as it's sequel DoDonPachi (1997), Es.Pe.Rade (1998) and Danugun Fevereon (Fever SOS) (1998). Next was a twin offspring named Raizing and 8ing, who made Battle Garegga (1996), Armed Police Batrider (1998) and Battle Bakraid (1999). The third offshoot was Gazelle who joined with Banpresto to create Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon (Beat em' up) (1995) and Air Gallet (1996). Out of all the offshoots, Gazelle was short-lived. Employees soon left for Raizing/8ing and Cave. The forth and final company was Takumi, who made the sequel to Twin Cobra, Twin Cobra II (1995). Then with the support of Capcom, they published Giga Wing (1999), Mars Matrix (2000), and beyond. Capcom visited all four companies, except for Gazelle which never stood the test of time.

That is the story of the legendary company, and their very popular games. The one last secret is in the high score screen of DonPachi reset to factory settings, the table reads in sideways "Toaplan Forever."


Neo Arcadia (French): Information about Orca and Clax being the original companies which Toaplan is the phoenix company of both
KLOV, Killer Lists Of Videogames: Images and a few sources
Wikipedia: Some sources and information
Perfect Blossom: Some sources
Everything else: My own words
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