This obscure 1987 arcade game from Data East was a big influence on many games that came after it, in particular Manfred Trenz‘s Turrican series. It is obviously itself influenced by Nintendo‘s 1986 game, Metroid.
It also displays some similarities to Karnov, another Data East arcade game released the same year.
And, while you may have never heard of this game, it’s safe to say that it’s a bit of a ‘hidden gem’ in terms of old arcade games still worth playing today.
Psycho-Nics Oscar – like many early arcade games – is quite challenging.
You begin with three out of a possible five energy tanks. One hit from an enemy or bullet will absorb one tank of energy. Running out of energy will lose you a life and send you back to the last checkpoint. Energy can be replenished by shooting enemies and picking up any (red) energy tanks they drop.
Psycho-Nics Oscar is also an early example of a ‘progressive weapons shooter’. A three-button shooter as well (fire, jump, and activate weapon).
You pick up special (yellow) power-ups, dropped by defeated enemies, throughout the game. Picking one up increments the grey upgrade bar (at the bottom of the screen) by one. A system that some have said appears to be identical to the one seen in Konami‘s 1985 hit, Gradius/Nemesis, and I wouldn’t argue with that. But this one is different in that: a vital strategy to beating the game is to let the bar ‘loop’ more than once. If you fill the bar up, without activating a weapon, the word ‘Gun’ will change to ‘Armor’, allowing you to activate a special (green) armour to make you tougher.
The wisest course of action, from the start of the game, then, is to get missiles first, then get Gun, then get Armor. There are enough power-ups available to do this before reaching the boss at the end of the second stage, which I think is what the programmers intended. Before I figured out the Gun and Armor upgrades I couldn’t beat that boss.
Psycho-Nics Oscar is a bit of a ‘boss rush’ type game, in that: boss fights are happening constantly. And some of them are very tough. The first level alone has three boss fights. Boss battles have a fair amount of RNG* – usually stuff that they’re throwing or shooting at you – so some luck is needed. They are also pretty much impossible if you don’t have a powered-up gun.
There are five different levels to play through in total. Getting to the third level is an achievement in itself – Psycho-Nics Oscar is a difficult game, but still very much worth playing today. If you can find it.
*= Random Number Generator