Earlier this week, a brace of games from developer Treasure made their way to the Nintendo Switch Online’s service, which is all the excuse we needed to celebrate the beloved Japanese studio. They’ve been remarkably quiet in recent years, with nothing but re-releases since 2014, but that shouldn’t stop us enjoying its remarkable past, especially now once elusive and expensive games such as Sin & Punishment and Radiant Silvergun can be played relatively easily.
Here, then, with zero science but hopefully some insight, are nine of the very best Treasure games we’ve picked from their outstanding back catalogue. Here’s hoping it’s a back catalogue that might grow again someday soon.
Gunstar Heroes is Treasure at its most refined; Alien Soldier, which has always felt something like a companion piece, is Treasure at its most chaotic. Which one I’ll tell you is the best depends what mood I’m in, though I’ll always assert they’re both masterpieces, perfectly presenting both sides of Treasure’s beguiling personality.
It’s tempting to see it as a boss rush distillation of Gunstar Heroes, but Alien Soldier is more than that – it’s so, so much more. This is a maximalist take on the side scroller that’s in stark contrast to Gunstar Heroes’ refined two-weapon system, presenting you with a dizzying amount of options that are barely contained by its control scheme. It’s a complicated thing that still confounds me more often than not, but that’s why I love it so – it’s as mad and maddening as anything Treasure ever made. MR
Astro Boy: Omega Factor
Treasure seemed to lose some of the punkier side of its ethos when it started pumping out sequels and licensed fare for the Game Boy Advance at the turn of the century, but while the likes of Gunstar Heroes Advance and Guardian Heroes Advance couldn’t quite live up to their legacy there were some real gems in Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting – Treasure does Punch Out!, effectively, and it’s as fun as that sounds – and, of course, Astro Boy: Omega Factor.
A scrolling beat ’em up with rare imagination, there’s so much to marvel at in Astro Boy: Omega Factor. It’s an ambitious, infectiously energetic thing whose many ideas are held together with some enjoyable crunchy combat. At a time when the gaming world had seemingly abandoned traditional 2D games, it was a reminder of their potency when served up by masters of the form. MR
A classic story really: a brother and sister climb into a heavily-armoured mech in an attempt to thwart the plans of local fruit smugglers. Bangai-O is a joyous multi-directional shooter that uses very small on-screen characters to make the action feel as big as possible. Switching between homing rockets and bouncing lasers as you move around the game’s short, hectic levels, the aim is to blast everything you can see as quickly as can be.
There’s more, though. Bangai-O’s screen-shredding special attack relies on you making the absolute most of the carnage rattling around you. And slowdown itself becomes a useful partner in your tactical thinking. I once read that Bangai-O started off as a simple experiment to see how many rockets one designer could get on screen at the same time. The answer is clearly: a lot. CD
In the world of shooting games, Gradius is royalty. How exactly do you approach that legacy and do it justice? For Hiroshi Iuchi and team at Treasure, the answer was to remix it and subvert it until you’ve got one of the very best shooting games ever made – something that’s respectul to Gradius’ history as well as as exciting as the original was when it first came out in 1985.
Treasure had already proven its chops in the genre with Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga – both also helmed by Iuchi – and Gradius 5 reinforces that further. It’s a thing of some grace, helped along by another soaring score from Hitoshi Sakomoto, and it’s served by some of the tightest, smartest and toughest levels ever seen in Gradius. It’s a shame there’s never been a numbered Gradius ever since, though it’s understandable – how you follow up a work of this genius is beyond me. MR
Gunstar always feels like the ideal Treasure game – quirky heroes in colourful environments laying on massive damage against enemies with names like Pinky Roader.
This is a truly gleeful action game, one that expresses simple joy in everything from the number of directions you can shoot in, to the many attack waves of some of the best bosses. You know: that one.
At the heart of it, though, is that magical clip-it-together weapon system, whose deadly permutations have kept the game alive and feeling futuristic even for the last few decades. Cobbling a new variety of attack together means that there’s always something to try out, a new strategy to explore. This is a genuinely beautiful videogame and there’s always a fresh reason to fire it up. CD
Few games revel in Treasure’s peculiar minimalist/maximalist ethos as much as Ikaruga, a vertical shooter with a simple colour-matching gimmick as you switch between firing – and absorbing – either light or dark projectiles. Switch your polarity to absorb projectiles of the same kind and power yourself up, and try to make sure your enemies are hit by polarities of the opposite kind – it will double the damage.
It’s so streamlined – a brisk, brief campaign, a simple conceit and nothing in the way of customisation or upgrades. And yet it’s also so wildly over the top: bullet hell at its most balletic and bedazzling, a Vegas firework show of righteous fury. Someone once pointed out that Ikaruga is so compact that its code can be included as an email attachment – yet it’s endlessly replayable and filled with opportunities to surprise yourself. MR
Combining an action game and a puzzle game, Treasure arrived on Nintendo with one of its most inventive oddities – Mischief Makers, an adventure in which you play a robotic maid who grabs and shakes and throws stuff.
It’s wonderfully creative, with every new level introducing a gimmick or two. And that grabbiness at the centre of it makes for a game that’s refreshingly tactile too. Squint, and the 2D action of Mischief Makers suggests an evolution of Gunstar Heroes. In truth, though, as platforming and puzzling slots in alongside some genuinely unusual combat, this is its own thing – and it’s wonderful. CD
Pseudo-sequel Ikaruga gets most of the attention, but I’m sure most would agree Radiant Silvergun is its equal. I’m sort of convinced it might even be the better game, and as with Gunstar Heroes and Alien Soldier before it here are two games that play to both extremes of Treasure’s personality. Ikaruga’s binary colour-matching here extends to a much broader palette which would be a headache weren’t it for the fact that that’s one of countless things you’re juggling in this brilliantly maximalist thing. Here you’ve got six weapons and a sword, a scoring system complete with myriad secrets and to top it off there’s Hitoshi Sakimoto’s gloriously grandiose score. It’s another Treasure masterpiece. MR
Sin & Punishment
Whisper it: this late N64 shooter might be one of the most beautiful games ever seen. Really? Really.
There is beauty in the design, of course, as you run and gun through waves of invading monsters, watching as they arc overhead one moment and arrive in dropships the next. BUt there is beauty too in the hardware struggling to keep up with the vision for what a Space Harrier type shooter should be like in the era of Mario 64. Treasure’s spindly, angular heroes make the transition to three dimensions with all their lithe character intact, and the colours bloom as the world comes apart.
Oh yes, and it’s absolutely blinding fun to blast through, too. What an absolute treat. CD