Kaneko is not a name typically known for their shooters. Before going out of business, they received some infamy with their incredibly racist beat em up, DJ Boy. During the tail end of their years, Kaneko produced exactly one manic shooter, an overlooked gem about cyborg dragons flying through a futuristic sky and raining down hell on anything that stood in their way. Cyvern (a portmanteau of "cyber" and "wyvern") certainly stood out from the rest of Kaneko's library, consisting of mostly adult oriented Qix clones or Street Fighter knock-offs.
Cyvern's storyline involves biologically engineered dragons created as the ultimate military weapons. To add extra power, the dragons were enhanced with robotic wings and cannons on their backs. This is mostly an excuse to blow things up using cyborg dragons.
There are three types of dragons to play as. Each dragon has special cannons and sub cannons on its back. For additional firepower, dragons are equipped with screen clearing bombs and a special Banisher attack. Tapping the shot button fires the cannons and holding it unleashes the banisher. When a banisher attack is used, it depletes the banisher power bar. This bar is refilled by killing enemies with normal shots or bombs. It is a very simple system to understand once you get the hang of alternating between normal attacks and banisher attacks.
The type A dragons are traditional fire breathing dragons that most people normally think of. Their sub shots are large, slow, homing lasers and their banisher is a powerful breath attack that moves as it is used. The player one type A dragon is Altair, a large, red dragon that breathes fire as his banisher attack. The player two type A dragon is Vega, who is purple, plays identical to Altair, and breathes ice instead of fire. Unfortunately, large flying living weapons typically do not have very much character development, however, Altair appears to be crying in one of the attract mode shots that flash on screen for a split second, so he may not enjoy blowing things up as much as its creators had hoped.
The type B dragons are a bit different. They are very strong, but make one of the most annoying sounds in any video game when they die. Type B dragons have wavy sub shots that fire on their sides and powerful homing lightning as their banisher. Once again, the two dragons of this type, Schwarz and Vais play identically, and look exactly the same, save for colors.
The type C dragons are weird. Their sub shots are very slow and powerful missiles. Their banisher is a powerful laser, much like the one from Dodonpachi. The two type C dragons, Ferious and Serene, have no eyes. They also look the least like actual dragons during gameplay, and resemble a stealth fighter more than a creature.
Many of the enemy designs are just as imaginative as the main characters. From giant insects, to robot eagles, to explosive sperm, Cyvern can be a very weird game while retaining its brutal, dark, sci-fi look. There are also standard tanks and jets to blow up, but those are in many other shooters. The first three bosses are a bit less interesting than the others, being a weaponized train, a flying wing, and a very standard battleship that is larger than a football stadium. Fortunately, the last two bosses pick things up, as they are both powerful dragon gods enhanced with modern weapons.
There are five levels in Cyvern. All of them have a good mix of fast, Raiden style bullets and slower bullets more suited for a manic shooter. The fact that both types of bullets are very prevalent in Cyvern can make it very easy to get overwhelmed. One way Cyvern can feel downright cheap is that there is hardly any respawn time after you die. Also, your bomb may clear bullets, but it does not make you invincible and some bullets are so fast that they can fill up the screen while your bomb is still exploding. Even though Cyvern is not always fair, it's still possible to complete on one credit.
If you do manage to complete Cyvern, a second loop awaits. In this second loop, bosses are nastier, some enemies explode on you, and there are no more slow bullets. When Cyvern stops pulling its punches, it gets really brutal. Completing the second loop is the only way to see endings, even though they are for the most part, all the same.
Cyvern has a scoring system, but it is a very basic one that was ripped almost completely from Raizing's Battle Garegga. When land enemies are destroyed with a banisher, they drop medals that remain stationary on the ground. As you collect medals, larger ones appear, and eventually the highest level medal, a jeweled trophy can be collected. Once the trophy is collected, the medals reset back to being small again. Unfortunately, this is very poorly implemented, as not all land enemies drop these and some levels go on for long stretches without any land enemies. The only other way to score big is by grazing, where an enemy attack goes through you dragon's sprite but not their hitbox. This is very risky, as the game never tells you where your hitbox is. Even worse, if you do manage to pull this off, your dragon lets out a gut wrenching scream of pain to indicate that it is hurt. This has no effect on how your dragon performs, but it seems a little cruel to hurt your dragon just to get a couple of extra points.
While Cyvern may not be a perfect game, it's still quite good. It was never ported to any consoles, even though most of the hardware that was out in 1998 could have handled it, and it never left Japan either. The biggest reason Cyvern could have been ignored, of course, was the video game industry setting their sights to games with 3D graphics.