Review by: Michael Motoda
It’s been said that the nature of inspired works is to provide ideas to those with no vision. This way of thinking can be applied to any form of art or entertainment in our society; from film to written literature, borrowed ideas from those who inspire generally end up less engrossing than their predecessors. Just as significant is the application of the above to the world of video games, which leads us to Treasure, a small group of talented game developers based in Japan, responsible for some of the most memorable and remarkable video game experiences of all time. While they may not release more than one game per year, when they do, they generally inspire, amaze, and reinvent whatever chosen genre they’ve decided to tackle. Silhouette Mirage is one such title.

Treasure, a group that was initially formed by key members and programmers from Konami’s Contra series from the late 80s and early 90s, have been developing for Sega (and now Nintendo via Enix) since the Mega Drive/Genesis days. Their titles, even from way back then, have served as the, groundwork if you will, for countless clones that have tried to emulate their patented style of gameplay and presentation. For example, Sony Computer Entertainment’s early shooter, Gunner’s Heaven, was all-too-similar to Treasure’s Genesis title, Gunstar Heroes. Additionally, Banpresto’s fairly recent action-brawler, Panzer Bandit, was a blatant rip-off of Treasure’s Guardian Heroes on the Saturn. As Gamefan Magazine (www.gamefan.com) has said in the past about games like this, if you’re going to copy someone, you may as well copy the best. In this respect, I guess the developers who designed the above games had the right idea. However, it’s the original titles that will be remembered for their fun and innovation, not the clones.

With that being said, it’s good to know that Treasure is still alive and kicking on the Saturn. Developers like them, Game Arts, Sonic Team and Warp definitely make owning a Saturn worthwhile. And their latest platformer, the endlessly fun and innovative Silhouette Mirage, further solidifies my happiness in owning a Saturn, despite the comatose state of affairs at Sega of America.

Silhouette Mirage, like any game that comes from Treasure, is an exercise in skillful hand-eye coordination and mastery of new gameplay techniques. While their effort on the Nintendo 64, Yuke Yuke!! Troublemakers (Mischief Makers in the US), was valiant and perhaps an extreme in gameplay technique (the number of moves you can perform is staggering), in Silhouette Mirage, they have made the wise decision of instead focusing on highly innovative action, while still having a good – but not overwhelming – number of moves. And as with every Treasure game ever made, you can expect the 2D wizardry of Treasure’s programmers to amaze and astonish you in ways that you’ve never seen before. Yuke Yuke!! Troublemakers, while being a very fun game, kind of lacked the inherent “oomph” you normally feel when you power-up and play a Treasure game (as a sidenote, the main boss encounters are among the best ever). Silhouette Mirage, on the other hand, manages to pull off some of the most amazing sprite effects that you’ve ever seen, and as a result, the madness that ensues can only be described as vintage and unmistakably classic Treasure.

From the moment you turn the game on, you’re immediately treated to a beautifully hand-drawn and animated FMV movie. While the framerate may be somewhere in the 10-15fps range (similar to that of Gungriffon), it would be difficult to think of another anime-style FMV movie on the Saturn that looks this good. It runs in full-screen mode, and the amount of decompression artifacts are very few; a rarity on the Saturn. There’s also no sign of dithering, either (unlike the FMV in Dead or Alive). If you were somewhat disappointed with the movie decompression in Guardian Heroes (blocky and washed-out), this will definitely make up for that. It’s something you’ll want to show to the nay-sayers who think that all Saturn FMV is inherently bad.

Gameplay is only one of the many areas of Silhouette Mirage that really excels. Your character, controlled primarily with the D-pad, buttons A through C, and the left and right shoulder buttons, has two halves – a Silhouette side (blue) and a Mirage side (red). Depending on which way you’re facing, your character’s clothes will appear as either of these colors. The world you’re in, which is inhabited by two different races (appropriately named Silhouettes and Mirages) are defeated by attacking them with the opposite form. So, if you’re facing a bunch of Mirage enemies, you’ll be most successful by attacking them with your Silhouette form. Since enemies attack from both sides of you, your best bet is to figure out a way to get on the correct side of them. But your options aren’t limited there. Additionally, you can (a) grab them and throw them in any direction, (b) do a fancy somersault over their head to end up on the other side of them, (c) punch your opponent to get more money out of them, and finally, (d) hit another button to ‘swap’ your Silhouette and Mirage forms. Basically, if you were facing right and were in Mirage form, you would now be in Silhouette form. Attacking enemies using the same form (Mirage vs. Mirage, for example) will result in your enemy ‘ranking down’, which has various effects. Enemies with magic attacks will lose magic power if you do this, which is a key element in defeating some of the enemies in this game (more on that a little later in this review). Your character is also armed with a ‘reflector’ defensive technique, which is useful for reflecting enemy projectiles back at them. However, it is rendered useless if you are facing an enemy of the same ‘race’ as you (as an example again, Mirage vs. Mirage). And sometimes, you have to reflect back projectiles or attacks of the same color. Therefore, you really have to learn about the characteristics of the enemies you’re facing and what works best against them. Sound confusing? At first, it is, but a little practice will have you defeating enemies within a decent amount of time. These are new and slightly difficult techniques to learn and master, but would you have it any other way in a title from Treasure? To put it in perspective, this is nowhere near as difficult as Dynamite Headdy on the Mega Drive/Genesis.

In addition to the above, your character can also perform other fairly standard moves, such as crawling, dashing, and triple jumps. When dashing and crawling, your character can scale walls and ceilings, while triple-jumps become an important aspect in avoiding enemies, quickly recovering from hits, and getting to seemingly unreachable secret areas and ledges. While the more complex moves and techniques sound daunting, Silhouette Mirage starts off with a very helpful Tutorial Program, which teaches you everything you need to know about the game and then some. It’s easy to understand, even if you don’t read/understand Japanese.

Weaponry and special attack effects have always been Treasure’s claim to fame, and they surely don’t disappoint here. You can choose from a wide variety of different weapons, which you can carry 3 of at the same time. You buy these from a ‘vendor’ who appears throughout each level, and the way in which he sells you stuff is hilarious. You can also sell back weapons and buy replenishing capsules for your health and magic meters. Weapons have various levels of strength, depending on how much power you have left in your magic bar (fortunately, attacking doesn’t drain anything from your character). They also have levels 1-3 in strength, and when you buy level 3 weapons, it’s definitely an insane spectacle of sprite animation. Each attack is rendered beautifully with rotating, scaling, and transparent sprites which fly all over the screen. Most weapons lock onto enemies, making their defeat a bit easier, but by no means is it simple (most of the time, it’s completely ineffective). You’re also armed with magical attacks, which use up your magic bar (you also spend magic points when swapping your Silhouette and Mirage forms), and these attacks are quite a visual feast. They’re awesome and could never have been done on any 16-bit platform. Special effects and graphics throughout each level are also done with the utmost attention to detail and flair. Lasers from the sky rain down across barren landscapes, streams and waterfalls adorn underground caverns, detailed reflections appear in building windows, rocks and explosions fly up through the air, large areas of land are annihilated, and that’s just on the first two levels. Treasure has packed more special effects into the first level alone than most other games do in their entirety.

Another trademark of Treasure games are the boss encounters. If you thought you’d seen it all in previous Treasure games, think again. Some of the regular enemies in this game are more impressive than most other platform bosses. For example, one of the first enemies you run into is a huge 2-legged walking mech that is incredible to watch in motion. Bosses will attack you with anything and everything at their disposal; this includes battleships, meteor showers, 100mm cannons, refrigerators, missiles, tracking lasers, motorcycles, and a host of others (again, this is only in the first couple levels, as I don’t want to give away anything regarding the later levels). Figuring out how to defeat these bosses is half the fun of the game, and you’ll spend just as much time admiring the animation of these creations as you will figuring out their tactics.

Musically, this is among Treasure’s very best. Light-years ahead of the decidedly mediocre (by Treasure standards) PCM soundtrack found in Yuke Yuke!! Troublemakers, Silhouette Mirage’s soundtrack is more along the lines of Gunstar Heroes or Guardian Heroes, containing a great mixture of rock, classical, ambient, funk, and Japanese pop-style tracks. The opening FMV music sounds very similar to that found in Guardian Heroes. The game also has lots of voice samples, giving each character a unique personality and sense of humor and the obscure. Sound effects are great. Lasers have a high-pitched crispness to them and explosions rock your speakers as you would expect them to.

I think the best part of Silhouette Mirage is the fact that it will remind you a lot of the 8-bit and 16-bit platformers. Not in the way it looks, but in the way that the entire game feels as a whole. If you die, you can either continue (9 credits) or exit the game (which will then save your game to system or cartridge memory). But it’s one of those games that you’ll want to spend hours with, playing through each level, mastering how to defeat certain enemies without getting hit, and just admiring the beautiful game design. And when you’re at school or work, you’ll be thinking to yourself, “Now, if I try this technique against that boss, I’ll probably be able to beat him!” And then you can’t wait to go home and try it. I haven’t felt this way about a platformer in a while, and I’m glad that it’s Treasure that’s making me feel this way again. Highly recommended.

Score Breakdown (out of 10):

Graphics: 9.5
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+ Incredible sprite animation and manipulation (scaling, rotation, stretching, etc.).
+ Beautiful hand-drawn opening FMV movie.
+ Generous amounts of parallax.
+ Lots of little details in the background animations.
+ Bosses constructed out of lots of sprites, a Treasure hallmark.
+ Character designs similar to Sega’s Astal.
+ Vibrant color use (SVHS recommended).
+ Amazing spell effects and bosses.
– Certain transparencies are dithered, and some are not.

Sound and Music: 9.0
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+ Pumping and very energetic soundtrack. Well-composed and melodic.
+ Great voice samples throughout, and lots of them.
+ Excellent sound effects.
+ Contains one of the best theme songs I’ve heard in a while.
+ First game with a vocal introduction for the Treasure logo.
– It would have been nice to have voices for the dialogues that occur in between each level.

Gameplay: 9.5
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+ One of the most innovative platformers in recent memory.
+ Lots of techniques to learn and master.
+ Tight control and intuitive button layout.
+ Contains some of the most memorable boss encounters ever.
+ Intense level design. You haven’t seen anything like this before.
– Slightly difficult learning curve, but that’s always been true of Treasure titles.

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Overall: 9.5
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With enough gameplay and effects to satisfy even the most hard-core platform game players, Silhouette Mirage is among a host of holiday must-buy’s for the 97-98 winter season. Coupled with Success’ Cotton 2, Game Arts’ Grandia, Taito’s Bubble Symphony, and several others, Saturn import gamers will definitely have more than enough to get them through the holiday season and beyond.

Review Copyright © 1997 by Michael Motoda (mkmotoda@uci.edu). Please feel free to email me with your comments, questions, or criticisms. Thank you for your time.