SNK Essentials: Bermuda Triangle

A couple of years after Alpha Mission, SNK put out a follow-up of sorts — if not a direct sequel. (That would show up in the Neo Geo era!)

That game was Bermuda Triangle, and much like Alpha Mission before it, it’s a very creative and unusual take on a genre that, even as early as 1987, was heavily saturated with very similar titles of varying quality.

In order to stand out in such a situation, you need to do something distinctive — even unique. And, well, there are definitely a number of features in Bermuda Triangle that I haven’t seen attempted since!

One of the most interesting and daring aspects of Bermuda Triangle is the fact that you’re not controlling the usual nimble little spaceship. Instead, here, you’re controlling a capital ship — specifically, a time-travelling, shape-shifting monstrosity called “ZIG”. (Side note: for those curious, Bermuda Triangle’s use of “ZIG” for “spaceship” predates Toaplan’s Zero Wing and its infamous mistranslated “all your base are belong to us” European intro by a full two years.)

ZIG has a few interesting features up its sleeve. Firstly is the fact that it is able to move and fire in different directions. In the original arcade version, this was handled via SNK’s patented “rotary joystick”, which could be twisted to determine orientation independently of the direction the stick as a whole was being pushed. In the absence of such a peripheral for modern gaming systems, the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection adaptation instead uses a twin-stick setup, with the left stick (or directional pad) controlling movement, and the right analogue stick allowing ZIG’s turret to aim in eight different directions.

Like SYD in Alpha Mission, ZIG is able to fire both air-to-air weapons and air-to-ground missiles. Both are handled by the same fire button in Bermuda Triangle, however; missiles always fire forwards, while the air-to-air weapon fires in whichever direction the turret is facing. This becomes particularly important during the sections of each level where the scrolling slows to a stop and then proceeds backwards for a short period, often requiring you to deal with foes and obstacles coming up “behind” you.

ZIG is also able to rescue SYD fighters that have become stranded around the levels, and up to three of these will fly in formation to escort the giant craft. SYDs fulfil two functions in Bermuda Triangle: firstly, when arranged in formation in front of ZIG, they can add their firepower to the already formidable arsenal ZIG has at its command; and secondly, they are able to absorb a few hits on ZIG’s behalf, meaning they can be used to “tank” seemingly unavoidable obstacles rather than allowing ZIG to take damage.

This is a key aspect of Bermuda Triangle, and part of the game that significantly differs from modern shoot ’em ups. In a typical modern shoot ’em up — particularly if it’s a danmaku/bullet hell title — the ship’s hitbox is smaller than its sprite, meaning that only a specific part of the ship will register collisions. Bermuda Triangle takes the opposite approach — both the ship you control and its hitbox are absolutely enormous, meaning there’s no real squeezing through implausibly tiny gaps or “grazing” in this game. Instead, you’ll need to make careful use of your SYDs’ formation to prevent ZIG from taking damage.

There’s another key difference from most shoot ’em ups here, too; ZIG doesn’t explode in one hit. It is a capital ship, after all, so you’d expect it to take a bit of punishment. Rather, you begin each stage with a partially charged energy bar similar to that found in Alpha Mission, and taking damage reduces this bar. Should it reach zero, ZIG will crash and you’ll lose a life — though unlike in Alpha Mission, where you then restart from a checkpoint, in Bermuda Triangle you immediately pick up where you left off.

Note that I said “partially charged” not “fully charged” energy bar. That’s because like in Alpha Mission, you can collect “E” icons to charge that meter higher. This has two functions, then: firstly, allowing you to take more damage, and secondly, powering up ZIG. As well as ZIG’s weapons becoming more powerful at higher levels on the meter, it also shapeshifts into various forms, allowing you to see at a glance what kind of state it’s in without having to take your eyes off the action. This is a really nice touch; at higher energy levels, ZIG looks particularly badass, but don’t get complacent! Even with powerful weaponry and three SYD escorts, you can still get blasted to smithereens if you’re careless.

Bermuda Triangle’s levels tend to unfold in several segments. Firstly, you’ll be scrolling forwards in a conventional manner; then, you’ll reach some sort of “barrier” and be forced backwards for a while; finally, you’ll reach another “barrier” behind you and fly onwards to the base that concludes the level, which generally requires accurate missile shots to pick off specific locations rather than simply acting as a bullet sponge.

You’ll also often encounter “black holes” in levels; these take you to secret areas with challenging enemy encounters, so learning where these are, how to survive them and how best to take advantage of them to maximise your score is essential to high-tier Bermuda Triangle play. They can, of course, also be skipped if you so desire — simply don’t fly into the black holes when you see them!

Bermuda Triangle is a very strange game in the best possible way, and we haven’t seen anything quite like it ever since. I really like it, though; it’s full of interesting, distinctive aspects, whether it’s the gigantic size of the ZIG and the different approach that requires you to take to more conventional shoot ’em ups, the use of the SYD outriders to “tank” damage, the persistent digitised speech that constantly narrates the action (“ZIG ONE! POWER UP!”) or the amusingly inappropriate light blues soundtrack that accompanies both the demo mode and the continue screen.

While it certainly takes some getting used to, Bermuda Triangle is well worth your time if you’re a shoot ’em up fan; it’s a hidden gem from SNK’s early years that I don’t see talked about all that often, so be sure to give it a shot (pun at least partially intended) the next time you get a chance.

More about Bermuda Triangle
More about SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.

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