Played through Violent Soldier [PC Engine - 1990].
This awkwardly-named 16-bit game boasts all the trappings of a grade-A shoot-em-up. It has a heavy R-Type influence (high memorization factor and endearingly derivative mechanics), fantastic design and atmosphere (with great music and a creepy, organic visual twist on everything from lightning-filled caverns to vegetation-heavy space trails), and a highly memorable “jaw” gimmick. Said jaws are the defining feature of this title - they hinge from the front of your ship at adjustable angles to increase the spread of your fire as well as shield you from enemy bullets (and enemies themselves). I found the mid-range angle most useful (allowing for a wider shot without overexposing the vulnerable cockpit of the ship).
Unfortunately, two glaring factors hold Violent Soldier back from the greatness it comes so very close to achieving. First is the unrefined hit detection that prevents you from plotting reliable routes through the stages. When enemies can’t be defeated in a consistent manner, each run you make has an element of chance that’s more-or-less unwelcome in a space-shooter of this nature. It’s very possible that this inconsistency is my own fault, but I couldn’t help feeling the mechanics lacked a degree of polish nonetheless. The second factor is the unrelenting difficulty. I had to make liberal use of save-states at checkpoints, before each boss encounter, and even throughout the final stage just to stand a chance at rolling the credits in this game, and it still smoked me over and over and over again. Granted - I’m not great at video-games to begin with, but shoot-em-ups that offer unlimited continues and STILL break me to the point of cheating with copious mid-stage bookmarks are probably a bit unbalanced.
Flaws aside, Violent Soldier is a memorable space-shooter that I’m glad I slogged through (even by save-scumming to the end). I almost wish I had opted for the TurboGrafx-16 version, which has a much cooler name - “Sinistron”. But “Violent Soldier“ isn’t all that bad, especially as a deceptive non-entry in Hudson’s “Soldier” series.