When it comes to genre pieces, Treasure almost always seems to take the fundamentals and inject some sort of crazy mechanic that sets it apart from its competitors. Case in point: Silhouette Mirage, originally released for the Saturn, then ported to the PlayStation, in 1998. It's a side scrolling action game that's part platformer, part shooter, and part beat-em-up, with a number of unique twists that make it completely unlike anything out there.
Silhouette Mirage stars a little girl-type thing named Shyna Nera Shyna. Despite her cutesy demeanor, Shyna is actually the Messenger of Justice, a being created to set balance to the world. Unfortunately, the world isn't exactly in the greatest of shape - a psychotic computer system called Edo has attacked the entire planet, leading to a war between two factions, dubbed Silhouette and Mirage. Shyna is awakened from her hypersleep in the middle of this chaos, and needs to hunt down the Edo system before the two wipe each other from existence.
Shyna Nera Shyna
The so-called "Messenger of Justice", Shyna is one of the few beings that possesses the powers of both Silhouette and Mirage. Unfortunately, the explosions in her shelter at the beginning of the game has left he without a good chunk of her memory, so she's a bit bewildered.
The first level boss, Bug mistakes Shyna for the "Messenger of Destruction" and attacks. After realizing his error, he joins Shyna on her quest, and transports her between stages. He has a pretty odd speech pattern and stands like a stammering weirdo.
Zohar, along with Shyna, is one of the few beings that also possesses both Silhouette and Mirage characteristics, and can switch between the two at any time. However, in doing so, he/she also changes genders - the male is Mirage and called Metatron, while the female is Silhouette and called Sandalphon. Zohar is a constant pain in Shyna's side, and must be fought several times. He/she seems to be able to bend time and space through the use of complex mathematical formulas.
The big catch with this game that is almost every enemy is classified as either Silhouette (blue) or Mirage (red). Shyna, on the other hand, is both. When facing one direction, she'll have Silhouette properties, but by facing the other direction, she'll change to Mirage. By default, she's Mirage when facing right and Silhouette when facing left, but you can switch these at any time at the expense of some Spirit power.
Similarly, each character - both Shyna and enemies - have two meters: the standard life meter, and a Spirit meter. The Spirit meter determines the strength of attacks. When Shyna's spirit is low, her magic is pretty weak - however, if the enemy runs low on Spirit, their attacks will also be weakened, and potentially nullified.
Here's when it gets a little strange - if you attack Silhouette enemies when Shyna is Mirage, you'll damage them and cause them to lose health. However, if you attack Silhouette enemies as Silhouette, you'll only drain their Spirit. That means that you need to approach every enemy from a specific angle in order to actually kill them. Of course, the same properties apply to Shyna - if she's Mirage and gets hit by a Mirage attack, she'll only lose spirit instead of health. It creates a weird dichotomy - do you want to attack foes head-on and risk damage, or jump on the other side, drain their spirit until they're practically defenseless, and then leap back and kill them? It's actually a lot of fun to slowly incapacitate your enemies and watch as they fruitlessly try to launch an offensive attack, only for their efforts to spectacularly fail.
There are some melee attacks too, like the ability to slide or toss enemies. Shyna, while a bit on the slow side, can also triple jump, so her movement is pretty versatile. Your shots automatically aim towards enemies, so as long as you're facing the right direction, you'll probably hit your targets. This is similar to the Genesis game Alisia Dragoon - it took awhile to get used to there, and it's still a bit odd here. The camera also zooms in and out of the action when there's a lot of stuff going on - a typical feature in many fighting games, but pretty unique in a sidescroller.
All of Shyna's weapons are technically cuddly little creatures called Parasites. You begin with only the Sarosa Parasite, at the weakest level, which is a standard rapid firing weapon. As you progress through the game, you can purchase six other Parasites - one, Priday, acts as a boomerang. Another, Grattoni, acts as a powerful laser beam, and another, Angara, explodes on contact. (The names are modified versions of the seven deadly sins, strangely enough.) There are six strength levels to each Parasite, and you get access to more powerful versions in later levels. However, you can find fully powered up versions in special hidden shops, if you keep your eyes peeled.
Alas, the shopkeepers - the same silly rabbit creature with a ramen cart - need to pay the rent, so you need cash to get any of the other Parasites. Killing enemies will grant you a small amount of cash, but it's much more useful to grab a few and beat the money out of them - this mugging technique is known as the "Cash Bash". While you can blast straight through each stage killing things indiscriminately, it's much more effective to Cash Bash everything first before disposing of them. The game is also notoriously cheap with doling out health restoratives, so you also need to ration some money to purchase restorative items.
And this is probably the biggest problem with Silhouette Mirage - the pacing just feels incredibly off. Having to constantly reorient yourself so your attacks will damage to foes, along with all of the required Cash Bashing, makes for a curiously slow going experience, a huge contrast to the run and gun action of most Treasure games. It doesn't help that the level designs are generally pretty pedestrian.
But like most Treasure titles, the real strength likes in the boss battles. There are a number of wacky boss characters, including an anthropomorphic fish with a punk rock hairdo, and a gigantic flying fish with the head of a little girl and the mentality to match. One of them is a gigantic revolver which shoots different colored enemies. As it reloads, you see what their colors as they jump into the bullets chamber, so you need to remember their order so you can defend appropriately. In another fight, you're riding on top of a limousine as it careens through a city, while its driver - a gigantic misanthrope wearing a Jason-like hockey mask - bursts through the ceiling and tries to throw you off. At one point you fight a loud samurai lizard against the backdrop of a city. The noise of resulting brawl causes the residents of the neighboring apartment to start yelling and tossing bits to debris to get the both of you to shut the hell up. Wacky stuff.
Another foe sits in the background, sucking out soup from a giant bowl in the middle of the screen. He's Silhouette class, so all of the enemies toss in red vegetables - every time he sucks in the soup, he gains spirit power and unleashes a powerful attack. However, all of the enemies are Mirage class, so you need to knock them into the soup, slowly changing the broth from red to blue, so it actually damages the enemy when he drinks. These fights are actually pretty clever, and highlight the strengths of this unique system.
The continuing structure is a wee bit outdated - Shyna only has a single life, but you can continue where you left off a number of times. However, once you run out of continues, you need to start from scratch. The game gives you dozens of opportunities to save - usually after each level segment, which is accompanied by annoying load times, especially long in the PlayStation version - forcing you to ration continues throughout the entire game. Considering the save system, it would've made sense to just drop the credits completely, and restart you at the beginning of the stage when you die. The problem is that so many of the later boss battles are so difficult that it's hard to beat them in a single life, making them a huge battle of attrition. The game's not terribly long - it can be beaten in a bit over an hour - but all of this makes the whole ordeal come off as poorly balanced. At least there are multiple endings to see, depending on your victories and choices in the final stages.
Silhouette Mirage was initially released on the Saturn, but was ported to the PlayStation shortly thereafter. The differences between the versions are minimal - the Saturn version has extra background layers and various other details in certain stages that are missing from the PlayStation version, but that's about the only major change. To make up for this, there's an extra boss fight - the Reaper - at the end, as well as an additional ending for beating it. Considering how badly a lot of other ports got butchered back in the 32-bit era - especially 2D games for the PlayStation - Silhouette Mirage turned out pretty damn well.
However, when it was localized into English, there were a number of gameplay changes implemented by Working Designs, the American publisher. Working Designs was known to tinker with gameplay elements, usually to make them more difficult, but they really went overboard with this one.
The very essence of the power draining mechanics have changed. Previously, you could use any of the weapons as much as you wanted - now, all weapons drain spirit power as you use them. To make up for this, when you attack enemies with the same class, you'll replenish your own Spirit meter in addition to depleting theirs. This is actually really useful in certain boss battles when your spirit is depleted, since you can just suck the strength back out of them. Additionally, some of the weapons in the Japanese version were pretty unbalanced, and this seems to be a way to keep players from abusing the more powerful attacks.
Ultimately, however, the changes do more harm than good. Most of the weapons drain way too much power to be useful. It also pretty much forces you to drain every enemy before killing them, and potentially you can expend more energy than you replenish. It also forces you to use the weakest weapons in most cases, since that usually expends the least amount of Spirit. Quite simply, the game is already complicated enough trying to deal with the different classes - keeping track of ammo conservation just isn't fun.
Furthermore, Working Designs upped the difficulty by increasing the damage inflicted by enemies, as well as making all of the items in the shops more expensive. The latter solves nothing - having to stop and cash bash enemies to be able afford upgraded weapons and health replenishments was already somewhat tedious in the Japanese release, but this just makes everything worse.
That's not to say they screwed up everything. The opening anime was reencoded to look nicer, and there are now pictures on the loading screens, so it doesn't look quite as barren. Additionally, the game now keeps track of how many endings you've obtained, and opens up an option menu once you've cleared all the paths. Granted, this is pretty much the same option screen that was accessible with a code in the Saturn version - how does it make sense to enable the "Super Easy" mode only after you've beaten the game five times? There's also a bonus two-player minigame where you can control Shyna or Zohar in a dual to the death. There's also a little bonus in the ending credits sequence where you can control the characters that bounce around. Some of this is superficial, but they're nice bonuses.
Working Designs translations usually take great liberty with the source material, and Silhouette Mirage is no different. Despite the doom-and-gloom overtones of the plot, it's a very light hearted, silly game, and the wacky jokes and speech patterns are appropriate in this context. All the voices have been translated into English, with some amusing choices - the punk rocker fish in the first stage has been given an Australian accent, and the samurai dude from the second level has been given a stereotypical Japanese-Engrish manner of speech. Some of Shyna's voice clips (like when she yells "REFLECTOR!") are intensely loud and grating, but they weren't much better in the Japanese version anyway.
The general problem with Silhouette Mirage is that the idea sounds brilliant on paper, but doesn't quite work out in practice. The controls are a bit on the sluggish side, most of the weapons are awkward to use, and the jumping back and forth and cash bashing make everything feel tedious. It's got some fantastic boss fights, loads of personality, and it's definitely still a fun game - it's just that it wants to be more brilliant than it actually is, and ends up suffering from it. Regardless, it's an interesting experiment in game design, and some of the ideas were carried over to Treasure's Ikaruga, to much greater effect.
Comparison Screenshots - Censorship