OK, here's a question for you.
Who developed Insector X?
What's that? You said Taito, as their name's on the title for the arcade version?
I, too, was once trusting enough to believe that Taito developed this odd little cute-em-up and released it in arcades in 1989, simply on the basis of their name being on the title screen, especially since it fits in so nicely with their other releases at the time. However, it turns out this is not the case, and Gaming Hell has to grovel for forgiveness for, once again, getting it wrong. A few things alerted me to this fact, including the initials HTB on the high-score table and this interview with Kimihiro Endou that alludes to it at the bottom, but it was this interview with Yoshinori Satake from Shooting Gameside 4/5, translated by blackoak over at shmups that confirmed it- this little-known horizontal shmup was developed by Hot-B, a company known to be pretty tight with Taito (Taito let them use their L-System hardware, and the US arm of Hot-B would later publish Graffiti Kingdom in America) but not-so-well-known for actually making decent games. In the world of arcades, their output consisted of stuff like Scheimser Robo, the two Play Girls games (which are as high-brow as you think they are) and the quirky-but-unreleased competitive puzzle game Cuby Bop. With such a limited portfolio, it's no wonder most people assume Insector X was a Taito gig, but Satake says that after Hot-B developed Chuuka Taisen for Taito, they started planning Insector X. It's not a Taito game.
What's more interesting about that interview, though (aside from the in-depth talk on Steel Empire, one of Hot-B's best games) is that it mentions Insector X for the arcade started life as Konchuu Taisen/Insect War, described by Sakate as 'an insect version of Taito's Darius games'. Mid-development Taito suggested they made the game cuter, so the name was changed to Insector X and it was released in 1989. It's a good thing they changed the visuals, as its cutesy visuals make the game stand out... Otherwise, there's no real gimmicks here, and aside from a sub-weapon system I'll talk about later, it's an all-out shoot-a-thon, with you as the brave Yanmer (who, for some reason, wears a little propeller-head hat despite having wings) fighting various bad insects. It's also pretty solid, with a lot of cheap shots, much like every late 80s shooter, and while you can bypass most of these with rote memorisation, some sections just pile the bullets on and, without a Speed-Up item, you're dead. The punishing difficulty is a little off-putting, if I'm honest, and the aforementioned cheap deaths are infuriating, but at least it's nice and vibrant, and certainly a change of pace from the spaceship shooters that were in abundance around this time in the arcades...
Now, sir (or madam), you might be wondering. Who cares if Hot-B developed the arcade game?
And who honestly gives a toss if it was originally going to be a more realistic looking-game?
It matters when you consider the home versions. Aside from a direct emulation in the Taito Legends 2 compilation pack for the PS2/Xbox/PC, there were two home versions- the Famicom and Mega Drive ports. The Famicom one is the one we've chosen to ignore- there's more details in that Satake interview, which explain why there's a choice of male or female Yanmer (it dictates the difficulty) and some other aspects of its creation, but it's the Mega Drive version we're really interested in. Distributed by Sage's Creation in the US, Hot-B themselves in Japan, and no-one in Europe, it was intended to be a little different from inception. Specifically...
... Out goes cutesy Yanmer and his bosom insect buddies. In comes totally hardcore KAIT and his NASTY INSECT ADVERSARIES.
No, these are the same game, I promise. Whether the Mega Drive version of Insector X was based directly on the scrapped Insect War designs or started fresh from the ground-up isn't clear (could go either way, the designs are kinda Darius-esque...) but this looks... It looks like a completely different game. Amusingly, it means the game actually fits in with the other Taito games on the MD (because they owned the license to the arcade game, they get credited on the title screen) like Rastan Saga II and ThunderFox. In any case, compared with the arcade game, the Mega Drive version has a little more 'sting' to its tail. Har har! Did you see that? 'sting'? Like a bee sting? A terrible insect joke already! How funny! Oh my, it's going to be another long night.
Despite the huge makeover, Insector X for the Mega Drive is actually the same game as the arcade one, essentially. There's a few changes here and there aside from the new graphics- a few new enemies have been added, a couple of sections removed- but more important is the (much-needed) change to the weapons system.
In the arcade game, you had to make a choice between anti-air sub-weapons and anti-ground sub-weapons. You picked up the blue cannister for anti-air, and the brown cannister for anti-ground, but you could only have one at a time. This is obviously a tad inconvenient, as some of the ground troops are difficult to hit with your normal weapons, but the anti-ground weapons don't do much for the hordes of enemies attacking you all the time from the air. In the Mega Drive version, however, picking up a sub-weapon cannister actually gives you both of them, and allows you to toggle between the two at will, as shown in the shot above. This is, needless to say, very handy indeed and boosts the Mega Drive game's credibility ever-so-slightly. But I'll save the rest of my handy-dandy game system notes for later on, I think, because at least one observation completely blew my mind.
So, we're going to be doing a little side-by-side comparison for this article. Just on the off-chance that you're blind, the arcade version will always be on the left, and the Mega Drive version on the right. I'll be focusing mostly on the Mega Drive one in terms of the talky bits, though, just bringing the arcade version up where appropriate. At the end, as a super ultra special bonus, I'll tell you which one is best. How judgemental of me. Anyway, shall we get on with it? Let's play Insector X!
The conflict betwixt the insects begins on the next page.