Move Over Sega: Taito’s Sprite Scaling Arcade Games of the 1990s

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Ages ago I did an article extolling my love for Sega’s super scaler series of arcade games from the 1990s. They blend the sensation of high speed 3D movement with the carefully hand drawn details big, colorful 2D sprites. But did you know Sega wasn’t the only sprite scaling fiend at the time?

That’s right, Taito got in on the action as well, with the Taito Z system. It replicated a lot of the capabilities of Sega’s sprite scaling arcade hardware while throwing in a couple of extra features like a Mode 7 style raster distortion which created a 3D looking ground plane.

The first game I want to highlight is Riding Fight, not just because of its superb use of the hardware, but its over the top 90’s “tude”. It stars two rad bros on hoverboards punching the shit out of everything, including vending machines which spit out sodas and hot dogs our heroes can scarf down for health:

The two player is every bit as chaotic and ridiculously fun as it looks. It’s not hard to get it up and running on retroarch, so any emulation setup you can cobble together ought to run it fine, though games from this era only really look good on CRT televisions.

Next up is Night Striker, another futuristic cyberpunk kind of game but this time with a much more serious tone. You pilot a hovering police car in pursuit of criminals, and unlike the melee combat in Riding Fight, this one’s all about the pew pew:

The last level blew my mind. Minor spoilers ahead, so avert your eyes now if you plan to play this…the final boss hides in a Japanese style fortress which you must navigate on a motorcycle. Not your hover car! And IIRC in the end, you send your motorcycle careening into the enemy set to self-destruct. It’s pretty metal.

Next up is a title I gave an honorary shout out to before in the Sega article, but this time it’s all about Taito, so how could I leave out Aqua Jack? It managed reflective water effects with raster techniques that I still can’t wrap my head around:

Look how 3D it looks! That’s with a mixture of land and water too. Those reflections! How?? Besides that, it gets points for originality. How many hovercraft based arcade shooters do you know of? It handles in a really interesting way that makes for some unusual gameplay, versus the usual fighter jet, spaceship or whatever.

Next up is an oddball, in that it uses sprite scaling differently from any other title I’ve seen. Battle Shark is a submarine shooter, but the gameplay is shooting gallery style. Scaling is used for the enemies rather than to convey your own motion through the water. At least in the initial levels. There is movement later on, but graphically speaking it isn’t depicted as convincingly as Aqua Jack or the other two prior titles on this list:

I have to give it the thumbs up though for the theme. There’s just not many futuristic submarine games out there, and the scenery is replete with advanced underwater bases which are somehow unharmed by your reckless application of torpedos.

There you have it, Taito’s overlooked answer to Sega’s phenomenally successful super scaler arcade games. I’d go so far as to say Taito was, on average, more creative with their application of the technology. But then again, having seen Galaxy Force 2, that might be a difficult opinion to defend.

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