While Gyruss holds a celebrated and respected place in arcade history, it's a distinct shame that game design legend Yoshiki Okamoto didn't deliver it to gamers just a few years earlier. During the Space Invaders craze and subsequent coin shortages that Gyruss' ancestor caused, this game had the potential to perpetuate the world's crippling small change famine.
Like all brilliant ideas, Gyruss is a clone that's so well camouflaged by the unique subtleties of its design most gamers don't quickly recognise its obvious influences. Though it's certainly not a criticism, Gyruss is without question a brilliant and blatant redesign of Space Invaders. While players loved the concept of piloting Earth's last defence against a xenophobic invader in 1978, Gyruss delivered the same basic gameplay but astutely put gamers right in the middle of the action by providing a perspective as seen by the pilot, and not a dissociative third-person viewpoint.
Rocketing through a tube-like hyperspace from planet to planet, players had to battle their way from Pluto to Earth while fending off a legion of attacking spacecraft. By skirting around the pseudo-circumference of the warp tunnel in the wonderfully balletic spaceship, Gyruss was granted a feeling of dangerous break-neck velocity alongside the thrills of futuristic warfare; a brilliant and far more pragmatic approximation of what an outer space battle might entail.
Some of the most renowned old games ever have a terrible knack of ageing horribly. Take Gyruss. By virtue of the fact that it was created by Yoshiki 'Street Fighter 2/Final Fight' Okamoto in 1983, it appears to have been granted a disproportionate level of historical interest, despite not actually being anything special in its own right. It's yet another luke warm addition to Microsoft's downloadable games service, and one that sure to beg the question: why are they bothering with crap that wasn't even that interesting at the time?
Take away the fact that one of the true gaming luminaries was responsible for it, and it all starts to get a bit dull. Slightly uncharitably, but with complete accuracy, you could describe Gyruss as a classic 'cut-and-shut' shoot 'em up. It takes the swooping wave-based attack runs of Galaga, and the 'tube shooter' gameplay of Tempest and fails to come even close to matching the pure thrills of either.
At the start of each level, enemies (spaceships mainly) swoop round the perimeter, giving you an opportunity to snag them early before they descend down the 'tube' and settle into formation. With repeat play you can start to memorise where they appear from, and clear wave upon wave before they've even had a chance to start firing things back up at you. Eventually, the stragglers start to work their way back up, and you get a chance to blast a trio of 'satellites' that award you with points bonuses and a weapons upgrade - just the one, mind. This was 1983, remember, when just one 'power-up' was pretty much the rule across the arcade scene.