Trigon - Konami

[US: Lightning Fighters] - Konami - 1990

Reviewed by Malc

Take this bloody game away, somebody, please. I hate it. But I love it too. Trigon is one of those rarest of games, those titles which demand repeated play again and again, sinking their hooks in and not letting go.

The pcb has been hogging my cab for over a week now, and I have no intention of taking it out any time soon. I love discovering gems in my own collection, ones that I had dismissed as average when bought, and then stacked away for a rainy day's shmupping.

Revisiting Trigon one damp Sunday, I had a few plays and suddenly got quite good at it. Reaching level 7 once, I realised that I was probably in with a chance of completing it, so I then dedicated myself to the task. Unfortunately I'm still only reaching level 7, but now the hooks have sunk painfully deep.

So, I underestimated Konami's little-known vertical shooter, and it's possible you might have too. Which is why I sat down to review it.

First, why review Trigon? Why not the US version - known as Lightning Fighters. Well, I consider Trigon to be superior, because it features a 1-player Trigon weapon, and restart points. I'll tell you why I consider that this makes Trigon better later. We're not talking the complete disaster that is the US version of Thundercross though, so if you can find the more common Lighting Fighters pcb, I'd get it anyway if I was you.

Alright, it has taken me nearly a page to inform you that it is a vertical scrolling shmup, so down to some facts. Imagine Flying Shark remade in 1990. Or Twin Cobra. Trigon feels VERY similar to early Toaplan shooters. Which is a good thing, because I love those games to bits. These are quite slow, intense games, with few bullets and missiles onscreen - but all of them aimed at your ship. The hit area is the full size of your craft though, which comes as a shock if you've just played a Cave title. Very unforgiving, but accurate at least. This may be the biggest put off that first time players of Trigon will feel, especially combined with the slow ship speed and quite sluggish shot rate.

But it is these restraints that give Trigon its addictiveness. Yes, it's VERY addictive. Put your conceptions about using continues to one side for a moment, while I tell you I spent nearly 2 hours on level 6, using up almost 30 or so continues to inch my way up to the next restart point. I was tearing my hair out, but I couldn't stop, I just HAD to do that next bit. And of course when that bit was done, the NEXT bit needed done. A credit muncher, one which would definitely earn more money in this way than the resurrect method of Lightning Fighters, which lets you continue where you died to blunder along to the end.

See, Trigon - like R-Type, Twin Cobra, Gradius etc before it - is split into lots of wee challenges throughout a level. Die, and you will be taken back a little (2 screens max) to a place where you can pick up a few weapons and maybe a bomb, and then tackle the bit you died at again. But unlike Gradius, the fine line between frustration and enjoyment is almost perfect. Even after attempting a section 20 times in a row, you can't possibly give up because you know what you need to do, and a little bit more skill will see you through to the next chunk.

It works brilliantly, forcing you to get GOOD at the game, but not landing you in deep shit without a chance like Gradius games do. It's not very often restart points are so carefully judged in a game, and they've gained a bad name because of it. But lose the restart points, and you lose the "try try try again" gameplay entirely. This is one of the reasons why I rate Trigon over Lightning Fighters... a small change, but one that's very significant to the gameplay.

The levels themselves are designed carefully with enemies and bonuses and pickups all placed with precision. Very little of the game is random, or carelessly laid out. It's a game which requires accuracy of ship position, use of the correct weapons, timing and choice of bombs, as well as memorisation of attacks, good dodging skills and blind luck when things get hairy. R-Typey gameplay in a vertical shooter is how I see it. This is no mindless blast.

Strong levels then, and those levels would suffice quite nicely as a complete game even without any bosses. How are the bosses? Fine, thank you. Very fine. I am still quite scared to meet some of them, as they are equally strong. Some of them seem impossible to beat until you work out their pattern, and even then death is just seconds away at any point. Taking on a boss with no bombs and a puny weapon is not impossible though, but total concentration is a must.

You can't blink while fighting Trigon bosses, and I find myself breathing an audible sigh of relief when they finally die. Especially if I have lovely powerful weapons which I know will be stripped away if I even nick the paintwork.

Sounds pretty perfect then doesn't it - and yes, its a great discovery for the Flying Shark fan who wants more of the same. Except I don't find it the prettiest of games, with lots of muddy textures and oversaturated colours around. Pleasant enough, but it's quite tiled looking, even though it gets more adventurous later on. There's a tiny bit of scaling in there too, quite underused actually. Some bosses zoom in and out of the screen chunkily, a few sprites do a warping effect, and that's about it. Oh, and the bonus numbers scale a wee bit too when you pick up stars. Best see the pics below to gauge for yourself really how it looks to you!

Soundwise it's also quite strange. Very chunky and raw instruments, clashing cymbals and heavy drum beats drown out the otherwise quite tuneful trademark Konami bgm. Nothing as catchy as Gradius or Thundercross, and less technically accomplished, but I like it and it suits the game. Sound effects are top notch though, with lots of loud whooshes and zooms and voices announcing pickups. I especially like the battleship siren that goes off when you begin to fight it, and the explosions from Level 1's dying boss as it breaks up.

I'll go onto weaponry in a bit, but I want to mention 2 player mode first as it's not just an afterthought. It's brilliant, but underused once again. In 2 player mode, there are three types of Trigon superweapon you can pick up, and once you do, there will be a sort of elastic band joining both the ships, and by moving your ships around you can direct where the joined superweapon fires. So between you both, you can point huge lasers at any area of the screen - and yes it's just as much fun as it sounds. I haven't had much chance to play with a decent 2nd player yet, and I look forward to when I eventually do.

OK, weapons. There are two main weapon types, available by shooting streams of red enemies. In classic toaplan style, the icon floats around the top of the screen tempting you to grab it recklessly and die.

   Vulcan Missiles
These give you a single autofiring stream of Vulcan missiles. It's quite powerful, but has no spread capability at all. Picking up more of them gives you a faster rate of shooting and bigger missiles. Sometimes I choose vulcan simply because I like the autofire and can have a little rest from button mashing.
  Spread Shot
Not autofiring, instead you need to bash madly to get a decent rate of fire. Pick up more to get a wider shot, which I find I get along a lot better with. This shot type is very similar to Flying Shark's bullets, and is actually pretty powerful. Choose Life, Choose Spread Shot.

Trigon also has two types of bombs, which can be collected from certain places on the ground and stored to explode on demand later. I've had about 6 of them stored at once, not quite sure what the top limit is.

   Lightning Sword Bomb
This is the Lightning Sword. It provides almost instant protection from bullets when used, but doesnt last for very long and is less powerful than....
   Dragon Laser Bomb
My favourite bomb. Lasts for ages and ages, and travels round the screen taking everything out with ease. Some bosses can be damaged really heavily or even killed outright by a Dragon Laser let off at the right time. Unfortunately, it is slow to deploy, and won't save you if a bullet is going to hit. It can also be "killed" by hitting certain bosses' shield parts and become useless, so be careful when using it.


Here's those 2 player Trigon weapons:


Shooting certain types of craft (small grey ones I think) makes this icon float around the screen, which rotates between these three types. Haven't played enough in 2 player mode to remember what they do, but here's one which is obviously a laser. See how it joins the two player ships and can be directed by them?

BUT! - and this is the main reason I rate Trigon over LF - is the special ONE player trigon weapon. Lighting Fighters does NOT have this weapon. Why they removed it, is a mystery, especially as its so much fun to use. There it is if you don't believe me.   

It appears in 1 player mode for the first time in level 3, where you shoot a row of grey baddies as you navigate some floating mines. Pick it up, and you get a multiple which sends homing shots automatically to incoming enemies rotating around your ship. Because of its rarity, and usefulness, it always puts a smile on my face when I pick it up, and I hate losing it, as the next time it appears is level 5. Unlike the 2 player Trigon weapons, there is only one type to pick up.

Plus, there's a rudimentary medal system of sorts, collecting the stars on the ground (blow up certain types of buildings and trucks to get them) will give the player 1,000 points, which increases by 1,000 points until it gets to the strange maximum of 5,360 points, which puzzles me a lot. Does it puzzle you?

I think it's time for screengrabs now, and I'll show you some of the more interesting aspects of what turns out to be a very underrated and enjoyable game. Just be prepared for massive hair pulling and repeated girly screaming when you encounter the devilishly constructed restart points later on. Feel free to throw in credits without too much guilt when you get to a particularly hard bit, for once creditfeeding can add to the enjoyment instead of spoil the game. Don't look at me like that, wait til you try it.

Ahhh, the hard bit. A score. Phew, do I have to? Based on how much it has hooked me, it will be quite high. 8 I think. Not the best shmup ever ever ever, but I found it VERY enjoyable to play and intensely aggravating at the same time, in a good way. And that's what counts innit?

Score: 8


Now, before you start on me, I'm only playing 2 player mode so I can continue where I died. For reviewing purposes you understand, because in 2 player mode there are no restart points when you die or continue, even if the other player quit ages ago. Normally I'd never dream of doing this, oh no.

Annoyingly, the 1 player Trigon weapon actually appears sometimes in 2 player mode if there's only one player left, but it doesn't do anything at all if you pick it up! Gah!

So the only way to get the proper 1 player Trigon weapon is to start a 1 player only game from the beginning.



Trigon's story, such as it is, is entirely told in pictures. What happen? Large black spaceship crash into Earth! Small spaceship are bursting from it! Launch all Trigon!

Actually I'm not sure what the names of your ships are, Trigon is likely the name for a special pickup you get occasionally, probably because a voice announces "TRIGON!" when you pick it up.

The first level introduces you to the basic flying and rumbling enemies which dog your progress through the whole game, even during boss fights.


Scaling is used in Trigon, but very sparingly. The first level boss zooms in from above with a suitably whooshy noise, and your first true test begins. Bosses' patterns are easily worked out, but executing them is another matter. Mostly I die here from a stray bullet from a small baddie, because I am concentrating on the bosses pattern too much!


Just before the giant plane zooms in, so does this tiny baddy. He warps in, and then warps back out again instantly, and doesnt fire a shot at all. Why???



For an outfit that's just landed on the planet, they certainly rolled out and established their bases fast. This red icon device you see on the tank is their company logo. What it means I do not know.

It's about here you discover that your ship has a rather large hit area, with very little margin for error.

Only the most pixel perfect positioning will let you survive between the big tank's dual shots. Learn early in Trigon to run away from clumps of bullets.

If you think you will squeeze through a space, chances are you won't. Run away! Run away!!


A tricky sub-boss emerges from a large brown rift in the earth. I used to automatically bomb him when I got here, but it's a simple pattern to beat, if a little tight.

Did anybody actually know how to play Koronis Rift by the way?* I used to wander about aimlessly for hours, without a clue as to what I was supposed to be doing.

* AHA! Thanks to Chuck for these
Koronis Rift Tips :)



Level 2, and some larger midbosses appear. Doesn't look that difficult does it? Hah - just try and shoot the brown plane and avoiding the incoming stream of smaller ones on the left. Classic instant death moment - so be aware for these situations and remember when they come next time so you can try different strategies for survival. Trigon requires a curious mix of memory and reactions to beat.


Oh dear.

You can't fight the bosses forever, after a bit they snort derisively and trundle offscreen, firing as they go. Here I have managed to get myself into a sticky situation that I can't possibly survive. Twat.



I got seriously stuck at level 2's boss when I first got Trigon. He appears sort of twice, firstly for a very short time, then goes under a bridge and gets fiercer. But it's possible to kill him during his first appearance if you know how! Saves a hell of a lot of trouble if you can.

If you can't, then just make sure you stay well away from the centre when he reappears!


The big green one is not nice. Taking a lot of shots to kill, they really have to be wiped out, as they continue to fire double shots at your ship - its very easy to get trapped by them. Worse still are the new type of tanks which have appeared, firing hard-to-dodge clumps of 4 blue bullets, none of which you happen to see here.



This is the point where you can pick up the 1-player Trigon weapon. But I started the game in 2 player mode and won't get it. Grrrrr. Watch out for the mines getting too close - they seem to be magnetic and start moving towards your ship!


For some reason, the bits that make up the boss fly overhead all throughout the level very fast, and eventually spin around the screen at this point. The attacks introduce you to what the boss will finally do when he assembles.



Oh there's some blue bullets there. Having the Trigon weapon here is very handy as it can take out these tanks before they get a chance to shoot. Shoot first, don't bother asking questions later.


Level 4, with some cute little penguins running on the ice to distract you from the business at hand. Not in this pic though, I just remembered about them. Caused me at least 2 lost lives once.



Here I have blown up a lot of the boss's shield bits, and left with the hardest pattern to dodge - the streams of triple blue doughnuts. This is level eh, 3 I think. Yes, it is. I found that one early Dragon Laser will almost completely wipe this guy out. YAY for Dragon Lasers.

"REFLECTOR!!! BAM!!! BAM!!!" >>

Level 4's boss, and he's actually quite fun. Make sure you blow away the shield at the start - don't waste a Dragon Laser on it as it will just bounce off. As soon as the shield has gone, let rip!!!



Not really my favourite level, as a new type of enemy appears which can be HELL if you are not powered up. They drop little homing missiles and run away, leaving you with only a short time to kill the missile or else you are DEAD. I HATE THEM!!!!


I am hopeless at this bit. We're in level 5 now, and if I die in this level, chances are it will take me many tries to be able to progress. This is where you really begin to care for your weapons, and dread losing them. Bomb here to save being cornered, worth it to protect your weapons!



Those little oblong shots are very easy to avoid, even though they home in quickly. Your biggest threat here is the purple laser which comes from the centre, which will also break your Dragon Laser. Time it carefully!


It's an aircraft carrier.

Lovely whoopy noise as it begins to attack, very difficult boss if you are not prepared weaponwise. An easy start with planes zooming out of it, conceals a very difficult section where about 12 homing missiles burst from the centre at once. Have a couple of Lightning Swords at the ready for him.



Obviously, helicopters. I'm sorry, I've run out of juice, my throat's dry, and my eyes are all bleary. Time for bed.

[10 hours later] Morning! Hiya! Helicopters - shoot them - they have very fast shots which BEND as they go, so stay wide!


An easy boss to kill if you have a Dragon Laser. If not, be prepared for a long fight through VERY tight clumps of bullets.

Usually I curse the fierceness of the collision detection luridly here.



Ahhh BUGGER!!! This is where I got stuck for hours. Literally hours, restarting again and again, and FINALLY managing to scrape past him. The trick was NOT to kill his front legs, cos if you do, he throws more blue balls than before. Then it is easier to survive until the bomb-giving tank appears on the right, which I immediately used as a Lightning Sword to kill the crab thing.


From nowhere this Sphere appears. Wasn't that a shit film, I mean, much as I love scifi films, it was boring as fuck. Event Horizon was much better, and even that wasn't very good. I liked it anyway. At least stuff happened in that.



Pretty sure this is level 7. Here is where obscenities flow rapidly and smoothly. Three large planes with LOTS of large homing missiles is almost impossible to get past if you die and lose weapons. I said almost..... perseverance will win through. As will a mad circle round the top.


Actually, very disappointing boss. I didnt expect a normalish looking tank to come out of that hole in the ground. His attacks are nothing inspiring either. A minor hiccup though, as we now come to The Traditional Konami Boss Regurgitation Area...



As is normal with invading aliens, they like to draw all over the ground. The lettering looks a wee bit Dark Ages / Pagan to me, rather than Alien, as such. You know you are not far away from the end of the game, when the felt tips come out.


Bloody family reunion or something. They don't seem to be that much harder than before, and die much quicker too. Just as well or this level would take ages to finish.



Yep, level 1 boss again, and he blows up as satisfyingly as he did the first time. The way that wing comes off and falls to ground is still impressive today.


I make it a point to use that caption at least once in every review. Almost a lull in the action, time to relax, then BLAM!!! lots of turrets pop out from sliding doors and kill the overly relaxed player. Like me.



Come on, this is taking the biscuit, do we need to fight EVERY boss again? Woooaaahhh what's that big bluey thing? Yep, its the gigantic mothership we saw crash into Earth in the attract mode, finally, let's finish them off!


Hmm, after all that, I was SURE I was supposed to destroy it. It just scrolls offscreen without a murmur, leaving us in the hands of Flame Boy below....



Fuck! Shit! Pish! Here I am about to FUCK! SHIT! BASTARD! FUCK! Die.... Sorry....


Whoa!? Now, I'm not going to spoil it, but one of these things happens next.... only one way to find out!

A. The credits start to roll and lounge music tinkles away in the background as the earth turns black with red glowing bits..

B. Another final ninth level then Round Two starts over but this time EXTREMELY hard.

C. Faces of the staff appear on the rock like Mt Rushmore and the dragon flies away into the skies to become a shining star with the voice of Sean Connery (Isn't he dead yet?).



FINAL BOSS TIME!!?! Horribly hard to kill, because of wavy fire blasts that change direction rapidly. I've practiced long and hard trying to get a pattern that works to kill him without dying, but I just can't manage it.

Maybe I will have to give up my dream of 1CCing Trigon, as this is just too hard for me to do if I have no bombs. Bah. This is hard almost to the point of unfairness even. I hate this bloody game!!!!. Must play it once more. Grrrrr!!!!

Excellently playable in MAME, so give it a go. The only thing that doesn't seem to work under emulation is the dimming effect that happens to the entire screen when a level is cleared, but its not a big deal. All the zooming effects seem to be in their proper place at least, which is more important.

PCB-wise, Trigon wasn't easy to find. Maybe it is possible to make a Trigon from a Lighting Fighters by burning the necessary roms for it, I dunno. Depends which version you prefer of course, you might like the resurrect style of Lightning Fighters better. Bet you won't stop thinking about the lovely 1 player Trigon weapon being missing if you do though. It's sublime :)



shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie