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Osman / Cannon-Dancer

YEAR: 1996
SYSTEM: Data East 156
DEVELOPER: Mitchell Corp.
DESIGNERS: Isuke, Utata Kiyoshi

In the early 90's, many of Capcom's original design staff left the company, for various reasons. Isuke, head programmer of Strider, was among those who left. He went to Mitchell Corp., producer of such games as Party Time and the Pang! series.

While at Mitchell Corp., he produced one of the most legendary Strider tributes: Cannon-Dancer (or Osman, as it was called outside Japan). An unparalleled blend of Contra, Shinobi, Ninja Gaiden, and Strider, the game bears such a striking similarity to the CPS-1 Strider that many gamers began calling it "Strider 1.5". Others went even further, lauding it as "the spiritual sequel to Strider". Whatever that meant.

Isuke gave Cannon-Dancer ties to Japanese mythology, just like Strider had. You control a black-ops character named Kirin. A kirin is sort of a cross between a dragon and a unicorn. It protects the righteous and the just by bringing them good luck. Just to lay eyes upon a kirin is an omen of extremely good fortune, but only if one is virtuous.

Kirin has access to some serious energy, primarily unleashing it through his feet in Tong Pu-style attacks. His real weapons are his feet, but he can also unleash a powerfully lethal energy bomb attack, reminiscent of Shinobi or Run Saber, which is powerful enough to cripple the early bosses down to about 20% of their total power.

The crux of Cannon-Dancer's gameplay lies in its power-up system. Power-ups allow Kirin to set "afterimages" or "shadows" a la the Ninja Gaiden series. Collect a power-up and you will feel it. In your pants. Different colors result in increased afterimages. Here's how it works:

Once Kirin is powered-up, when he attacks an enemy, an afterimage remains rooted in that spot for a few seconds, attacking from that position whenever Kirin does. The afterimage cannot take damage and does not transmit any to Kirin, allowing a player to jump in, position a double right on a boss's weak spot, and leap back to safety while continuing to lay the smackdown on that boss.

A note of caution, though: afterimages can't be repositioned until they disappear. Initial placement is crucial to success while battling bosses, and there are almost more bosses in this game than enemies. Around every corner lies a new boss to fight. Just like Contra. Also like Contra, there are lots of explosions and a few annoying parts due to difficult-to-distinguish game sprites.

Until recently, if you were looking to play this game, you would've had a better chance of being abducted by aliens. There weren't many Cannon-Dancer cabinets (and hence, Cannon-Dancer boards) distributed. Those who did have them were loath to give them up. Supply and demand. Eventually the MAME guys cracked the encryption on the CPU, allowing for complete, glorious emulation.

Go get this game. You NEED this game. But you'll have to find it for yourself, I won't help you out with that. Until you find it, you're just going to have to be content with the screenshots and this picture, drawn by Utata Kiyoshi, one of Cannon-Dancer's designers.

...and if you want a more in-depth review of Cannon-Dancer, check out Radd Spencer's Cannon Dancer Page. It's sure to please.

Review | Screenshots | Dialogue | Concept Art | End Credits