Stage 1, then, and the game begins in the city ruins.

Almost immediately you're rushed by enemy troops, so get stuck in, soldier! Each stage has a small selection of the fifteen enemy types (which can be divided into four groups- Grunts, Robots, Turrets and Other) but usually in great numbers. The first stage keeps things gentle, with only yellow and red grunts (like the dudes from Smash T.V., they try to rush you, but they also fire slow-moving yellow bullets with only slightly better range than your gun), green robots (they can't fire weapons and walk in straight lines) and the invincible turrets which are on every stage (they can be stunned, but never outright destroyed). Unlike later stages, you're not given that much freedom in regards to scrolling, so this is mostly a bottom-to-top kind of deal. It shouldn't matter too much, though, so get your weapon powered up and just march onwards- you should have no trouble here.

So here's the first boss encounter and... It's quite bizarre, as are all the boss encounters.

This dude on the chair is the boss of every single stage, and his basic attack is identical- he throws clones of himself at you. It's just as strange as it sounds, but even stranger is that while enemies will pour in (often from both sides) to kill you while you're trying to kill the boss, hitting the boss (not his clones) will kill everything on screen. So, each boss battle boils down to getting up close and wailing on this chair-dwelling asshole to prevent anything else getting on screen. However, the battles differentiate themselves with their use of the pillars, which in this fight are at the top of the screen. In this first encounter, they'll periodically throw energy bolts aimed directly at you. This should offer absolutely no challenge at all, especially if you have the lightsaber- just dodge the energy balls when they're heading your way and give this boss a bloody good seeing-to.

Also, for all you Engrish fans out there, beating each stage of Bullet gives you this:

Not Grade-A SNK-glish, but the punctuation is a mess so I'll take what I can get.

Now we're going down to the abandoned subway. Be on your guard.

Well, I say abandoned but that's not really the case. A couple new enemy types are introduced here, one of which will be a major pain in the ass, the purple grunt. Instead of the piddly pea-shooters their yellow and red cousins fire at you, these guys are packing lasers with much better range and a slightly fiddly hitbox, and they like using them a lot, so get used to seeing lasers everywhere. The other new enemies only appear on this level- the bats (who, like all bats in every other video game ever made, are here solely to annoy you) and, bizarrely, skeleton warriors who instantly reminded me of the most annoying enemy in Golden Axe. Bear in mind that this game came out two years before Golden Axe, but in this game they're one-hit wonders who can't even fire bullets at you, so those of you who were massively frustrated by these pricks in the final battle with Death=Adder can finally have your revenge. The stage itself emphasises the scrolling aspect of the game- it's an incredibly wide stage, so you can scroll a lot of the enemies off-screen. More will spawn in their place, of course, but it's still a perfectly viable tactic to just wander off. Fun.

Now, the second boss has a bit more health than the first one, so you'll be hammering away at this dude's chair for a little longer, but the pillars are... Well, they're actually easier to deal with on this stage. Every once in a while, two pillars facing each other will generate an electric fence between them that appears with absolutely no warning and if you're anything like me, you're going to jump to conclusions and call bullshit on that... Until you realise they're in a pattern that a five-year old could spot- they start from the top, move their way down, then repeat. So just wait for the first electric fence to appear, then make your way to the top and skewer the boss with your lightsaber (you do have one, right?) for an easy victory. However, if you think about being clever and using your mercy-invincibility to sneak 'round behind the pillars, they'll start throwing energy balls at you. There's no point doing that though, just interesting to see Sega considered all possibilities.

Next up, the sewers, because every game needs a sewer stage!

I hope you've been listening to my advice about getting the lightsaber as fast as possible because buddy, you'll need it on this stage. Yeah, the sewers are home to several enemies, including the red and yellow grunts, and blobs that turn into humans for a split second to throw snot at you, but none of them compare to the most fiendish enemy in the game- the rats. These tiny little sods will absolutely hound you throughout this stage, and because they're so small and numerous, your normal shot isn't going to cut it- you need a lightsaber or they're going to fuck you up. Fortunately, early on there's a clutch of power-up pads that should get you up to speed quickly- take advantage of them. If you're in a multi-player game, then sod Player 2 (and 3 for that matter) because out here, it's every man and woman for themselves! Also, you might want to try and stay on the pavement where you can- your character moves much slower in the grimy sewer water, which makes dealing with the rats even harder. Finally, this might be a very strange stage for some, as it scrolls from right to left and top to bottom, i.e. the opposite of everything every other action game has taught you.

Also, better watch out 'cause the status bar obscures your view when you're moving downwards. Nice one, Sega.

On the plus side, the boss in the sewers is a total pussy. The pillars (now only four in number) move across the screen to try and crush you, but you can just position yourself in the top left/top right and jam your bullets into the boss's side, which will also kill the rats that try to swarm you and confuse the turrets that keep trying to materialise and take a shot at you. Even better, the pillars won't even throw energy balls at you- just get near the boss and make sure his clone projectiles don't get past your shots. Simple.

After declaring war on rats, Emmy, Fred and Chris make their way to the enemy base!