In the space year 2003 (give or take), back in an age when the concept of a 'motion controller' was limited to the Power Glove and thousands of nerds had not yet been sucked in to the labour camps of World of Warcraft, the gaming world was different... It's a pity, then, that I wasn't paying attention back then, otherwise I'd have something insightful to say right now. Y'see, at that point in time I was so into old-school emulation, it hurt, and something that always caught my attention was arcade emulation, mostly because I missed out on a shameful amount of arcade games in my youth (primarily because I lived in a shit-hole called Walsall where there were no easily-accessible arcades, but I'm digressing). Needless to say, this was a nice way to play catch-up.

What was more interesting, though, was the stuff that wasn't emulated. Sites like Emulation Status (sadly no longer with us) and unMAMEd Arcade Games were essentially peep-holes, looking into an arcade that time forgot. Some games had vicious piracy protection or weird hardware making them difficult to dump and emulate (Moto Frenzy is a good example), some were games that made it to location-testing but missed out on a wide release (Bouncer is one of the most infamous- the company's money ran out before they could mass-produce it), and others were, well, completely non-existent (That'd be Parasol Stars, then). Since then, lots of games have been located or had their protection cracked, and honestly, it's quite heartwarming to see games like Rumba Lumber and Red Earth/Warzard finally playable and preserved long after the arcade boards have died. Even so, some games still aren't fully emulated to this day (the longest-standing example is Raiden II, with the stance being the same since 2004- 'The sprites are encrypted... The various people who've cracked the Neo Geo, CPS 1 & II,PGM, Sega 8-bit, and other encryptions have all run screaming from it.')

Among all those unemulated games, there was Bullet, which caught my eye because of the air of mystery surrounding it.

For many years, this was all there was on Bullet. Just a title screen and an extremely blurry in-game shot. Well, alright, there was a flyer too (which told us that game ran on System-16 hardware and had a Robotron-style control scheme) but that was your lot. In fact, that's still all there really is on this game, because although the ROM was finally dumped in 2007, and emulation was made perfect in late 2010 (previous versions of MAME crashed at the end of Stage 2, due to the rather nasty protection), no-one really seems to know anything about this game. It couldn't have been given a massive release (if MAME's history.dat is to be trusted, then Bullet was massively unpopular in Japan, to the point where most of the boards were converted into Tetris boards as Sega's version ran on the same hardware), there was no home port, and yet it's unique as it's (probably?) the only three-player dual-joystick game in existence.

That and it predates Smash T.V. and Total Carnage by three/five years respectively.

Naturally, there's almost no plot, which is just the way we like it here at Gaming Hell- Emmy (P1), Fred (P2) and Chris (P3) must make their way to the mysterious enemy stronghold deep beneath the Earth and strike a blow for justice, I guess. The game itself is essentially a scrolling version of Robotron: 2084, with one stick used for movement and the other used for firing (if you're gonna rip off a game's control scheme, no better game to plunder from than Robotron) but as well as the scrolling, there's some other differences. For a start, when I say scrolling, I mean it- it's not that the levels are long (far from it) but they feel more expansive, as you have far more room to work with. While there's no auto-scroll like Total Carnage, this is no real advantage because if you stand still, the enemies will spawn constantly anyway- there is a limit to how many enemies can be on-screen at once, mind you, but there's only a few places where you can really exploit this.

The other difference is that you can power-up your blaster (remember, this was before Smash T.V.) and believe me, you'll need to- your starting shot has all the reach of a dying hamster. The power-up system is interesting, at the very least- you have to walk on multi-coloured pads, and stand still while it charges your energy meter at the bottom of the screen. Each pad charges it up by one level, and that's only if you stay on it- move away and it'll stop short and you can't use it again. Even if you wait, you'll still need to find another pad soon after, as the meter will drain over time, eventually bringing you back to the standard shot. Naturally, the optimal strategy on each stage is to find three power-up pads and get the best weapon as soon as possible, especially since you revert to the starting blaster at the start of every stage. Let's have a cursory glance at these weapons, then, in time-honoured Gaming Hell tradition:

Weapon Level 1 - Blue Shot
The standard shot, absolute crap.

Weapon Level 2 - Yellow Shot
Slightly better range than the Blue Shot, still crap.

Weapon Level 3 - Fire Ball
Slightly better range than the Yellow Shot, this is more like it.

Weapon Level 4 - Purple Lightsaber
A constant light beam, the best range.

The game is pretty short- there's only six rounds, and while the fourth and fifth rounds get pretty long, the game can be comfortably beaten in about 25 minutes- but it offers a fair challenge as you are not allowed to continue. There's not even a dip-switch to enable continuing (although you can cheat and keep at least one player alive at all times- a handy tactic to practice later levels). Besides, there's still some interesting things to see, and let's face it, the game's not exactly going to be documented en-masse so I might as well go all-out. And the game deserves it, because it's essentially Ikari Warriors with Robotron controls- although arena-based shooters with dual-joystick controls were common, Commando-type games with this control scheme weren't, especially not this early, so comparisons to Ttoal Carnage are inevitable... In that sense, Bullet is interesting from a historical perspective, as it's a veritable battle of East versus West! Can Sega take on Eugene Jarvis and Mark Turmell at their own game? Who had the better ideas for where to take the dual-joystick shooter?! Who will survive?!

... Anyway, let's lock and load, people- let's play Bullet!

Emmy, Fred and Chris crash head-long into battle on the next page!