Tyrian is an top-down shooter; its main points of interest include many different gameplay modes, weapon and ship upgrades.
Players control Trent Hawkins, a terraformation pilot whose goal is to uncover the reasons behind the death of his friend, Buce Quesillac.
The core gameplay involves flying over various locations and destroying as many hostile forces as possible. Players have a main gun and two support guns that can be upgraded to fit any number of different weapon types. Players earn upgrades by picking up money from destroyed enemies.
In a full game, players begin with the standardized USP Perren Scout ship, which is a stripped down fighter craft with less armor than the usual Gencore League ships.
At certain spaceports, players will have the opportunity to buy better ships. Each ship has different armor and speed ratings. These ratings are displayed below the overhead view of each ship.
To select a weapon for the front weapon port, just click on front gun from the Upgrade Ship Menu. Each weapon has 11 levels of power.
Each ship has a rear weapon port. Choose rear gun to select a rear weapon. Some rear weapons have two configurations for even more fun. Like the front weapons, the rear weapons also have 11 levels of power.
An energy shield that protects the ship from incoming attacks.
Generators power the ship. They determine how fast weapons can fire and how fast the shields recharge.
Sidekicks are weapons that fly alongside the ship and provide additional firepower. Each ship can have a left and a right sidekick. These weapons range from single-shot cannons to plasma storms that can devastate entire sectors of a planet.
For weapons that have unlimited ammunition, firing the normal weapon also fires the sidekick. Sidekicks have weapons that charge-up or have a limited amount of ammunition. The left and right sidekicks can be fired separately.
Front weapon power-ups are characterized by a blue ball with weapon superimposed over the ball. Power-up the front weapons by getting numerous purple power up balls.
Rear weapon power-ups look like red balls with a weapon icon superimposed over the ball. Power-up the rear weapon by grabbing the metal power-ups that flash green and red.
During arcade mode, special weapons can be acquired when one of the player's weapons are charged to near full capacity. The ship icon in the top left of the screen indicates the player's power level; this icon will read '8' when a weapon is near full capacity. When a ship is destroyed, the weapon power level drops by one.
While some of the special weapons can be fired continuously, others can only be used after they have had enough time to recharge.
- Attractor - Attracts power ups and coins when continually pressing the fire button.
- Repulsor - Repulses shots when continually pressing the fire button.
- Ice Beam - When pressing the fire button the ship will fire an ice shot, which freezes enemies. Because of their inertia, they can still move, but will be unable to fire.
- Pearl Wind -Shoots several spheres when pressing the fire button.
- Soul of Zinglon -Creates a large ephemeral beam of light when pressing the fire button.
- Flare - Causes several flares to be scattered around the screen upon pressing the fire button.
The 'Tyrian' logo is actually an ambigram, meaning it looks the same both right-side-up and up-side-down.