Since their arrival on the scene with DonPachi in 1995, Japanese video game developer Cave has satiated their relatively small but rabid fan base of adrenaline junkies with each stupefyingly brutal yet beautiful new arcade shoot-em-up they release. Cave may not be a household name in the west (or their native Japan for that matter) but the passage of time has been kind enough to even Cave's earliest titles to consider them true classics within their genre, amongst those who are able to seek out the arcade boards or console ports. In the grand scheme of things, then, this would make Dangun Feveron a cult classic among cult classics. Easily one of Cave's most experimental and outlandish games, Dangun Feveron (also known as Fever SOS, its international title) ditches shoot-em-up tradition for a very elaborate disco theme and soundtrack. The combination, as you can imagine, is jarring and ridiculous. Add to that one of the most unorthodox and demanding scoring systems ever to be found in a shoot-em-up, and you have the makings of a very peculiar game.
As the arcade board's attract sequence starts, bright pastel silhouettes of disco dancers fly around to the sound of a shredding guitar. Another hard rock theme accompanies the ship select, then comes the funky slap bass as stage 1 begins. Say what you will about disco music as a whole, but this soundtrack makes for some very rich, invigorating, and compelling video game music. The sound is extremely layered and full of varied instrumentation: flutes and saxophones, hammond organ, and other reedy instruments float in and out over the very prominent disco basslines. Many players will notice the similarities of a riff in the stage 1 song to the song "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees. Comparisons to other popular disco songs could be made throughout the soundtrack, but for the most part it just flirts with commonplace disco chord progressions and melodies, sounding familiar enough that you'll question if you've heard the tune before. Earth, Wind & Fire, KC and the Sunshine Band, and the Village People are definitely influences, but the game never goes so far as to rip any one of them off. The game switches back to heavy rock for the boss theme, which is just as in your face as the boss fights themselves.
The announcers in some of Cave's other games can be pretty sassy, but of course Dangun Feveron's announcer takes that attitude and throws it way over the top. As he constantly chatters away, don't be surprised to hear "Heaven is here inside my soul!" as you take down giant battleships, or "You know you have to have it!" as you scoop up the cyborgs that it releases once destroyed. After the first stage ends, he exclaims "Freeeee love!" As if the mash-up of disco and space shooter wasn't hilarious enough, the announcer is almost the star of the game, encouraging you as your eyes tear up from laughter.
Aside from the flourish of dancer silhouettes and the disco ball that drops when the stage ends, there isn't much visually that would imply this is a disco themed game. The enemy and level designs are very reminiscent of some of the later Toaplan shoot-em-ups such as Dogyuun and Tatsujin Oh (Cave was founded by former employees of Toaplan after that company went bankrupt.) The enemy shot patterns have a very post-Toaplan vibe as well. The emphasis isn't on thick clusters of bullets to plan around and try to squeeze through like most Cave games; these bullets are much faster and aimed directly at you. That being said, there's rarely any shortage of bullets on screen, especially in later levels. Just because it doesn't classify as a danmaku (or "bullet hell/bullet curtain") title, doesn't mean it isn't just as punishing. If your experience with shoot-em-ups is based around the Touhou titles, where you're focused on navigating gobs of relatively slow, almost crawling bullets, you will most definitely get served by Dangun Feveron. So will just about anyone... the game requires a level of swiftness not a lot of players will be able to handle. You must constantly be on the lookout for stray cyborgs, even as you are being swamped by enemy ships.
When you start the game, destroying enemies will only net you their base worth of 1 point, but the ships will drop cyborgs (referred to as "disco men" by some players) that increase your score. Each normal enemy destroyed is worth as many cyborgs as you've managed to rescue, without losing one. The cyborgs have a red circle around them that turns to a flashing yellow once they have bounced off the bottom of the screen. The faster you're able to destroy the enemies, the more cyborgs they'll drop, and the quicker the next formation of enemies will come out. You must catch the cyborgs before they manage to float up to the top, or your count will drop back down to 1, followed by a sour piano sound. Managing to swoop up enough of these to get a high score without losing all of them is tough. The only help you'll get if you're about to lose one is to drop one of your bombs. This will freeze all the cyborgs on screen in addition to getting rid of all on-screen bullets and enemies. This is one of the strangest scoring systems you'll find in an arcade shooter... while a lot of them have you swooping up items or other bonuses, going back to 1 point per enemy every time you miss a single cyborg is something else entirely. Your cyborg count also starts at 1 for each new stage. Scoring is linked entirely to how many cyborgs you rescue, and there are no other bonuses... it can be pretty merciless. The ones you lose still matter for two things however: your score for the boss of each stage is the total number of cyborgs you picked up in the stage multiplied by the total you managed not to lose, and the one extra life you can get in the game appears once you have collected 2200 total cyborgs. You probably won't grab that many until sometime around the fourth of the five stages.
Your ship selection makes a huge difference on how well you'll do in the game, so choose wisely. Ship A is a straight shot, B has a bit of spread, and C has a very large spread. While Ship A might seem like a good idea for point blanking enemies, there's usually too much on the screen to fire at effectively with that shot. Ship C is excellent for taking out enemies all over the screen, but you'll end up trying to take out everything from the side because your straight shot is pretty weak. It's still a good ship for scoring, but Ship B is the best compromise for point blanking and taking out stragglers. Your next choice is your powerful shot weapon: Lock-on, Bomb, or Roll type. Lock-on is the closest thing to the DoDonPachi style phallic laser of death, but is also the most ineffective weapon for scoring. You'll shoot a continuous stream of sawblades at the closest enemy on screen when you hold down the shot button, but you won't kill things quickly enough to get the most cyborgs out of enemies. It's fairly good if you're having trouble with the bosses, but streams of enemies can gang up on you quickly. If you want to play just for fun or to survive, lock-on is a fun weapon to use. The next is bomb type, although they look more like missiles. You hold the shot button to drop these, and three can be on-screen at a time. The hardest special weapon to get accustomed with, these things crawl very slowly, but are very powerful and the most beneficial for scoring because of the ability to chain explosions. They are definitely not for beginners, but once you've played the game for a while, you might be able to squeeze out some good scores if you can use these effectively. Last but not least is the roll type, which is a charge shot (not very typical for a Cave game.) You don't need to charge it fully to get a good shot, infact that can actually do less damage in some situations because it can scatter off. These shots penetrate anything so you can shoot multiple sections of a boss at once, or get at big enemies when you're too far down the screen. This is a pretty solid choice for beginners or experts. Your final choice is your ship speed... generally you want the ship speed as fast as you can take it, but at max speed it can be very easy to coast right into bullets.
With a code you can unlock a secret ship: the cat from Uo Poko, Cave's arcade puzzle game from the same year as Dangun Feveron. At the title screen, hit Down, Up, Right, Left, Up, Down, Left, Right. You'll hear a sound if you did it right, so hit start. You should know what you're getting into, though... this ship is faster than the maximum speed of the other ships, and you have no bomb or special shot. Instead, the bomb button will switch between the three types of spread shot. You might not miss the bomb or special shots much since the cat shoots extra powerful, erm... squids? However, with no way to freeze the cyborgs you'll have to rely on that extra speed to catch any that get away. One last thing, the Uo Poko cat is NOISY. He will meow every single time you hit a direction on the stick. This can get extremely annoying. The meowing also cuts off the announcer mid-sentence. How much nuttier can this game get?
Just as many people that are turned on to the game by the disco music could be turned off by the extreme difficulty. It's very tough even to get on the game's default high score list. Cave's other shooters aren't exactly picnics either, but don't require you to dip through waves of fast, aimed bullets trying to collect droves of cyborgs. If you're playing the game to win, you will be moving constantly, and at full speed. More laidback gamers simply couldn't handle this extremely fast, demanding action. Nevertheless, this game has a big following among arcade shooter fans for the same reasons. There's simply nothing quite like Dangun Feveron to this day. Even some Cave haters love Dangun Feveron, although that's mostly because it doesn't play like a Cave game at all. No stage long chaining or anime girls to be found here. Many level of criticism at Cave that, especially within the last few years, they haven't experimented with the shooting game formula nearly as much as they did with games like this. While it might not have been the success Cave was expecting in japanese arcades, it's still exceptional for the excellent music and humor, and there is always a challenge awaiting players who want to master the game. For the expert players, there is a "true last boss" like the other Cave games, if you can manage to clear all five levels without losing a life. Strangely enough, as long as you don't let out a bomb, you will totally invulnerable to this secret boss. Clearing it will give you a huge bonus either way. DoDonPachi fans will notice it bears more than a little resemblance to the true last boss from that series, Hibachi.
An article on Dangun Feveron wouldn't be complete without mentioning the excellent time attack mode. It isn't exactly a secret, since it is mentioned during the attract sequence, but it might still be easy to look over. Just hold shot and bomb before you hit start to play a time attack game. You have unlimited lives, and three minutes to get the highest score. Unlike the rest of the game, this stage takes place on land, and there are a few other differences. Mainly, you want to be looking out for yellow posts in the ground... if you move over these, they will stand up and can then be destroyed. They will add 5 to your count and are also worth five successive kills. Time attack is another thing you won't find in most Cave games, but it really should be more common, if Dangun Feveron's is any indication. When the main game is giving you grief, this mode is a nice way to take a load off. It's still frantic but lots of fun.
After all this, if you're still not sure if Dangun Feveron is something you'd like, it's still worth a try. It works well in MAME, as does all the first generation Cave stuff. There's no difference between the English Fever SOS! and the Japanese Dangun Feveron, either. If you want it for your arcade collection, be prepared to spend about 20000 yen on this board if you're buying from a Japanese seller, which isn't too bad compared to some other more rare shoot-em-ups. According to some interviews with Cave, Dangun Feveron might have been receiving a port in 2011, but this did not happen.
Special thanks to: stuminator, Sapzdude, SFkhoa, incognoscente