It might seem odd to begin a review with a short history lesson, but in the case of Battle Garegga, it's certainly warranted. Originally released in arcades in 1996 and developed by Japanese firm Raizing (also known as Eighting / 8ing and now primarily responsible for creating games based on the Kamen Rider TV show), this vertically-scrolling shooter was arguably one of the first to bring a cohesive visual style to a genre famed for its cookie-cutter sci-fi plots and garish, day-lo graphics; instead of Buck Rogers-like space ships you controlled steampunk planes powered by old-fashioned motors and the gameworld shared similar themes, taking inspiration from the works of Jules Verne and Hayao Miyazaki's seminal anime Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Battle Garegga's presentation combined superbly with its tight, almost manic gameplay, but it would be the subsequent port for the SEGA Saturn in Japan (published by Electronic Arts, no less) that secured it enduring fame in the age of eBay and reselling; it is one of the console's most sought-after titles and changes hands for many times more than its original sale price.
Because of this, fans have previously been quite restricted when it comes to enjoying the game legally, as the Saturn version is prohibitively expensive to all but to the most dedicated shooter addict. Thankfully, that has all changed with the release of Battle Garegga Rev.2016 on the PlayStation 4. Not only is this a perfect port of the arcade original, it also includes the revised coin-op version, the Saturn port, and an entirely new revision (hence the Rev.2016 in the title). Production has been handled by Japanese emulation experts M2, also responsible for the excellent Sega 3D Classics line on the Nintendo 3DS, as well as many other notable retro updates. On paper at least, the stars have aligned almost perfectly for Battle Garegga fans – and once you fire up the game proper, things only get better.
Before we delve into why Battle Garegga Rev.2016 is such a compelling package for fans of the game and the shooter genre alike, it's worth looking at exactly what makes the 1996 original so beloved. Beyond the gorgeous visuals and pumping techno score there's an incredibly complex ranking system which sits under the surface, invisible to the naked eye. Every action in Battle Garegga has an impact on this system, which essentially determines how difficult things get. Firing your weapon, collecting power-ups, and simply surviving for prolonged periods of time all slowly but surely push your rank up, so if you play a perfect game you're going to be punished for your talent by a relentlessly scaling difficulty level. Dying lowers your rank and for many expert Battle Garegga players, this becomes a necessarily act in order to keep the on-screen carnage at a manageable level. For some players, this represents an absurd mechanic, while others consider it the perfect means of achieving effective balance when it comes to difficulty.
While Battle Garegga doesn't quite hit the bullet hell levels seen in Cave's shooters, it certainly gets close – especially when your rank is running high – and the challenge is amplified by the fact that unlike most other shooters, many enemy projectiles are realistically-coloured so that they actually look like bullets and rockets. This adds to the game's unique visual style, but it can make it frustratingly hard to discern incoming threats. The developers acknowledged this issue with the revised arcade release, and in Rev.2016 there are options which allow the player to change the appearance of projectiles in the game. In fact, the sheer volume of options available is jaw-dropping; you can alter the speed at which pick-up items fall down the screen, change the size of your ship's hit box and even tinker with the speed of enemy bullets. And yes, there's an option to fix the ranking system on a stage-by-stage basis, removing the headache of having to artificially manage your rank by killing yourself at certain points – thus solving one of the big issues raised by the game's small number of critics.
Battle Garegga purists may well turn their noses up at this option, but the fact is that M2 has given players almost complete control over how the game plays, busting it wide open so that it can appeal to a wider demographic of players. And that's not all – you can add authentic CRT-style scanlines for a true old-school feel, and it's possible to save replays, record score attacks, and even save your game in the middle of a run, all features which enrich the experience considerably. The narrow play window – an unavoidable result of the original arcade game being presented in a vertical monitor, like many other shooters of the period – might put people off, but if you have a big enough TV it's not an insurmountable problem, and the real estate on either side is put to good use by showing all kinds of pertinent information.
Naturally, it would be foolish to suggest that simply because Battle Garegga Rev.2016 presents the definitive version of one of the genre's best offerings that means it can be recommended to absolutely every PS4 owner on the face of the planet; this style of game isn't as popular as it once was and if you have no desire to play a 2D shooter in 2017 then it's perhaps doubtful that even this exemplary package will do anything to sway your opinion. However, fans of 2D shooters should certainly consider this a high priority. A Western release is apparently in the pipeline, but the process of creating a Japanese PSN account is relatively simple and while many of the options are in Japanese, translations exist to ease the confusion.
M2 are the undisputed masters of updating past classics, but the studio has perhaps outdone itself with this amazing package. Not only does Battle Garegga Rev.2016 present every previously available version of one of the 2D shooting genre's best efforts – as well as an all-new edition to mark the 20th anniversary – it throws in so many options and additional features that it's genuinely hard to think of what else a fan of the game could possibly demand. It may be an acquired taste these days – to be fair, the same could be said of the original back in 1996 – but Battle Garegga remains a defining release in the shmup canon, and this is without a shadow of a doubt the best way to experience it. You don't have to feel bad about cashing in your valuable SEGA Saturn version anymore.