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Video Game / Spiritual Assassin Taromaru

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If your ninja game doesn't allow you to ride on a severed kitsune head, you're doing it wrong!

Spiritual Assassin Taromaru or (Psychic Killer Taromaru or Spiritual Assassin Taromaru) is a 1997 action game made by Time Warner Japan for the Sega Saturn, and one of Saturn's rarest, most valuable titles, considering it's released shortly after Time Warner cuts ties with it's Japanese branches.

The game plays out like an arcade Run-and-Gun-style shooter, set in an alternate version of Feudal Japan infested by assorted Yōkai and demons.

The titular hero, Taromaru (on two-player mode, the second player assumes the role of Taromaru's comrade Enkai), is a "psychic" ninja, trained in both combat, ninja acrobatic skills, and also magic, with the ability to fire powerful electric blasts from his bare hands. On the trail of a kidnapped princess, Taromaru travels the land while battling assorted enemies, ranging from ninja mooks to the undead and all sorts of demons.

Spiritual Assassin Taromaru, as noted by various reviewers (including Kurt Kalata from Hardcore Gaming 101) is a borderline Boss Game, starting from the second half, where the game starts throwing boss encounters en-masse at the player, many of them lifted from Japan's rich collection of yokai myths. There's at least 15 bosses in total (excluding multiple Mini-Boss encounters), each one more colourful than the last, and it's amazing.

Spiritual Assassin Taromaru contain examples of:

  • Airborne Mooks: Bird-men, Wanyūdō, floating demon masks, enemy ninja on kites and numerous other airborne enemies will show up to impede Taromaru's progress.
  • Amphibian at Large: There's a massive Surinam toad monster (wait a minute, in Japan?) serving as a boss near the river area, who attacks Taromaru by launching the eggs in it's back as a ranged attack. If defeated, the toad then... automatically swallows Taromaru whole into it's guts, leading to a Womb Level where Taromaru must penetrate it's stomach to kill it for good.
  • Animated Armor: A sentient, possessed suit of Samurai armor is one of the bosses, who initially appears as a hovering set of parts (helmet, chestplate, shoulder-guards, katana etc.) attacking Taromaru from all sides. Once Taromaru dealt enough damage on it, the armor then assumes a humanoid form.
  • Asian Fox Spirit: A kitsune serves as one of the bosses, initially appearing as a beautiful woman who sheds her disguise as soon as Taromaru enters her quarters, including having nine laser-shooting tails. Deal enough damage and she sheds her body except four of their tails to form a giant furry shuriken. Upon defeat, Taromaru then rides the kitsune's severed head to the next area.
  • Assist Character: Taromaru can summon golden Palette Swapped version of common enemies via a scroll to back him up during gameplay.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: Several of the bosses are vulnerable only in certain weak spots, that Taromaru will need to direct his energy blast attacks on in order to damage. Notably, the pores inside the Surinam Toad, the exposed heart inside the ribcage of the hovering skeletal demon, eye of the floating eyeball demon, though the weak spots are usually rather obvious.
  • Background Boss:
    • The giant Surinam toad is fought in the background of the river chase (via shooting eggs from it's back) while Taromaru himself is on a raft up front.
    • The twin skeleton-heads that Taromaru fights right at the start pops up from behind a wall in the back, taking turns moving to the foreground to attack.
    • The kaiju-sized demon skeleton spends most of the boss fight rampaging in the background, just as Taromaru arrives via boat along the waterfront, where the skeleton occasionally breathes fire into the front.
    • The skeleton priest rising from his graveyard in the background attacks by sending projectiles, which Taromaru retaliates by blasting his own spells in return.
    • The Karakuri puppet is fought in a room in the final stage, where it's installed in the back wall while Taromaru hits it from the front.
  • Bird People: Bird-men enemies pops up occasionally, and can send tornadoes at Taromaru from their elevated position.
  • Blade on a Rope: Ninja enemies swinging kusarigama are a common mook-level opponent.
  • Boss Bonanza: The game's final stage in a mansion throws a colourful plethora of never-before-encountered bosses in a row at Taromaru. Starting with an animated samurai armour note  followed by the kitsune, then a two-sided flying parasite worm, the Tsuchigumo samurai, and another floating demon who summons centipedes, a pair of beating demon hearts who then turns into a gigantic fetus, a sentient Karakuri puppet and finally (finally!) the game's Final Boss.
  • Charged Attack: By holding down on the fire button, Taromaru can turn his normal energy bolts into a powerful thunder blast useful for taking down large numbers of enemies grouped together or wiping out chunks of health off bosses.
  • Creepy Centipedes: An Ōmukade shows up to fight Taromaru on a bridge, with it's main attack being using it's body to circle around the bridge and slash at Taromaru with it's legs.
  • Dem Bones: All over the place - the game have it's fair share of animated skeleton enemies and bosses menacing Taromaru. The first opponent encountered in the first stage, in fact, is a pair of giant animated skulls on elongated spines!
  • Detachment Combat: The game's Final Boss, a Draconic Humanoid-demon creature... thing, firstly appears as lower half pair of legs with a human head on it's waist. Then, the dragon-headed upper half drops into the screen, merging with the waist, and the boss battle begins in proper. And much of the battle have the demon separating itself to fight as two entities.
  • Flying Face: The boss of the first stage is a horned Onibaba mask who floats around the area while dropping fireballs on Taromaru. Smaller, lesser masks later appears as recurring mook enemies.
  • Free-Fall Fight: One level have Taromaru falling off a tower for... several minutes and trying to secure a safe landing while fighting Wanyūdō enemies from all sides. It culminates with Taromaru fighting a gigantic tentacled Oculothorax monster as a boss.
  • Gashadokuro: Two of the bosses:
    • A kaiju-sized demon skeleton appears rampaging across a town, destroying buildings everywhere it steps as Taromaru reaches the docks. It stays in the background, preoccupied with attacking the city, though it sometimes sends a breath of flames at Taromaru's boat.
    • Later on another stage set indoors have a gigantic floating skeleton whose ribcage can shoot electricity. Besides using it's spine for a Tail Slap.
  • Giant Spider: The game loves throwing oversized arachnids all over the place (gamers with arachnophobia might want to sit this one out), from the near-endless swarm of oversized spiders infesting the forest to the stage's boss, a spider-monster with a human head. There's at least two other oversized arachnids later on serving as bosses.
  • Gorn: Expect plenty of bloody overkills in the aftermath of killing mooks. The game really doesn't shy away from graphic onscreen gore, in fact it indulges in it.
  • The Great Serpent: An Uwabami shows up as a boss in the bamboo forest, alongside it's handler. Disguised as a mother and son, when showing up before Taromaru the boy lose his head and a serpentine monster spawns from his neck-stump, that stretches for several hundred meters, while the mother reveals herself to be the monster's controller as she rides on the Uwabami's head and orders it to attack.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Some undead enemies in the game can keep going without their lower halves.
    • There's a lesser hunchbacked demon mook enemy early on who can tank multiple blasts from Taromaru, losing it's body from above the waist after suffering enough damage only for the legs to continue walking ahead.
    • Zombie swarms are slow on their feet and their individual members can be crippled with Taromaru's weakest attacks (charging an energy blast can easily take down a row of these enemies). But despite losing everything below their waist, they will continue crawling forward to attack.
    • One of the many encounters in the final level's Boss Rush is a floating, bald skinny demon who doesn't seem to have his lower body, though his waist area is draped by robes obscuring the details.
  • Hand Blast: All over the place:
    • Taromaru himself cast his spells by blasting energy bolts of varying strength from his hands.
    • The Demon Priest boss alternates between summoning demons through portals, and shooting a thick, green energy beam taller than himself trying to wipe out Taromaru with it.
    • The miko and lesser priest enemies all can launch energy projectiles from their hands too.
  • A Head at Each End: There's a two-sided, flying green parasite worm monster Taromaru battles on a rooftop, where it will stick both sides of it's heads to attack from the left and right.
  • Hitodama Light: Floating ghost-fires are another enemy, including a gigantic King Mook Hitodama as a boss.
  • Hulking Out: The boss on the docks level initially appears to a huge, muscular human brute who tries attacking Taromaru with his bare hands. Taromaru's attacks causes the man to lose one arm at a time, which somehow doesn't even slow him down, but after dealing enough damage he sheds his human disguise by turning into a red-skinned demon that towers to the top of the screen.
  • Kite Riding: Enemy ninja on kites appears hovering above Taromaru, trying to attack him while he's on a boat.
  • Losing Your Head: To bring up the creepiness factor this game has to offer.
    • Two skeletal demons in the first stage have the ability to detach and throw their heads at Taromaru. Who then floats back to their necks.
    • The Karakuri puppet boss detaches her head as the final phase of her fight, where her cranium will float around the area while dripping bloody tears lethal to the touch from above on Taromaru.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Mook-level enemies will explode into a geyser of red (mixed with bits of flesh) upon being killed. As does plenty of the bosses. It helps that Taromaru attacks by launching electric blasts at everything.
  • Magic Knight: Taromaru the "psychic ninja" is as skilled in supernatural magic as he is in running, jumping and fighting.
  • Mini-Boss: The game have loads of these.
    • Right off the bat, there's a pair of giant skulls attacking Taromaru, which appears before the first mook-level enemy. And they're followed closely by two skeletal demons who throw their heads as a ranged attack.
    • The Ōmukade shows up in the first level as well, but being a mid-boss he goes down like a chump and the level continues.
    • The second giant skeleton that attacks Taromaru as he tries ascending a flight of stairs is defeated shortly before the demon priest.
  • Miko: This game actually has hostile Miko priestesses as enemies, dressed in the classic white-and-red outfits, and casting attacking spells on Taromaru when he entered their temple.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: For some reason, the game's official cover art is just the title over a dull brown background. Really. It barely managed to capture the sheer insanity and awesomeness the game delivers, if at all.
  • Ninja: Majority of the human mooks are these, befitting the Japanese setting. Taromaru himself is an elite "psychic" ninja.
  • Oculothorax: One of these shows up as a boss, and naturally it can be dmaaged by aiming for the eye.
  • Perverse Puppet: A sentient Karakuri puppet shows up as one of the many bosses in the final stage. Dealing enough damage will make it's ceramic face to fall off, only to reveal a human skull underneath.
  • Segmented Serpent: How the giant Uwabami and the Surinam toad's elongated arms are portrayed.
  • Shock and Awe: Taromaru's spells manifests as powerful electric blasts that vaporizes his enemies instantly. More than one of the bosses have electric-based attacks as well, notably the floating skeleton monster who can fire yellow bolts off it's ribcage.
  • Slide Attack: Taromaru have a sliding move that drops him to below waist-level while skidding him left and right across the screen, handy in getting him out of a fix. In fact, several bosses have attacks which are unavoidable without the sliding move.
  • Sword Beam: The sentient samurai armour can launch spear beams, when he's in armoured form. His attacks are taller than Taromaru and easily covers most of the screen, and can only be dodged by performing a low slide.
  • Thinking Up Portals: The Demon Priest boss can open up portals to summon flying demon masks to back him up.
  • Tsuchigumo and Jorogumo: Both the Jorōgumo and Tsuchigumo shows up as bosses, depicted as having a humanoid upper body above a spider's abdomen on eight legs. The latter is clad in samurai armor and wields a spear, in conjunction to attacking using his legs.
  • Wolverine Claws: There's an undead, ghoul-like enemy with claws longer than swords attached to their arms, that they can use to execute a Rolling Attack with.
  • Word Salad Title: "Spiritual Assassin Taromaru" just rolls off the tongue excellently, doesn't it?
  • Youkai: The game have plenty of these serving as bosses or enemies, from hitodama flames and Wanyūdō as mooks, to a kitsune, an Uwabami, the Jorōgumo and Tsuchigumo
  • Zerg Rush: The forest stage contains an entire swarm of spiders, each of them larger than puppies, crawling across the floor in entire waves. They're thick enough to carpet the entire area, fighting them is borderline hopeless and the best way is for Taromaru to avoid them by jumping and grabbing on railings.