Gaming History 101

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Posts Tagged ‘gradius

24 Hour Extra Life Livestream Video Playlist is Live

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Each video contains game data, how it was captured, and schedules for when various games/levels happen.  This was recorded on Oct. 20 originally, enjoy!

Podcast: What the Shmup

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One of the oldest and most popular genres in gaming is the “shoot-em-up” or “shmup” for short.  Whether you’re a space ship, a young girl, or even a winged pod the basic goal is to navigate the screen, rack up points, and don’t die.  Fred and Jam dive into the origins of the shmup, the sub-genres that exist, and some of their personal favorites.


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Podcast: Game Club – Salamander/Life Force

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This week Fred flies solo to discuss the shoot-em-up (shmup) series Salamander, better known as Life Force in the United States.  He discusses the various games from the arcade titles to the NES/Famicom port, to even the MSX and PC-Engine (Turbografx-16) ports.  Additionally the connections to series Gradius are discussed and the various ways to play the games today.  He also announces April’s game club title.


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Written by Fred Rojas

April 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

Top 5 Shmups on Portable Consoles

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Given the frantic and brief nature of most shmups, the genre is perfect for the portable platform, much like it was perfect for the arcade. For one reason or another, these titles can be rare to find on traditional handhelds and even harder to find actually good ones. On the other hand some of my favorite shmups are exclusive to portables (at least in the United States) so we’ve compiled a list of the portable shmups actually worth playing.

5. Space Invaders Extreme (Nintendo DS)

space_invaders_extremeWhen Taito decided it would re-invent the Space Invaders formula I was skeptical. We were told in previews that the game would feature an upbeat techno soundtrack, plenty of screen tricks and explosions, dual screen integration on DS, and a hybrid between modern game mechanics and the original title. Just in case that sounds tempting to you, it’s almost verbatim what no gamer wants to hear when a beloved franchise is rebooting. Somehow Taito pulled it off and with no updates save for that fearful list Space Invaders Extreme was an addicting masterpiece. It released in a few forms on a few consoles but bar none the Nintendo DS version is the one to get. With non-linear level progression and utilization of dual screen to make the DS function more like a vertical arcade monitor, it’s like having Space Invaders on speed. Bonus rounds, boss battles, and power-ups were simple tweaks to the original formula that switched up gameplay without being a specific reason to play the game. Needless to say if you haven’t played Space Invaders Extreme, regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the original, you should give this handheld game that’s easy to learn and brutal to master a try. It will keep you occupied for many a train, plane, or bus ride to come.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

Parodius Series (Konami)

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There’s been a lot of build-up for the Parodius series, especially because I mentioned it was my favorite series and not one iteration (except maybe technically Otomedius, but I consider it a different series) came out in the United States.  Unfortunately there really isn’t much to say because the game completely parodies the Gradius series and thus it follows the exact same formula.  There is also the fact that I cover the series quite well in the Cute ‘Em Up article on this very web site.  Furthermore, since it has been such a scattered series there are only a handful of titles but they span almost every console in both Europe and Japan.  Why the series never released in the United States is really anyone’s guess.  Some say it’s because so many of the bosses are either mildly sexual or blatantly mock American culture.  Others say that the regionalization team for Konami wasn’t that great and didn’t want to worry about what to trim and what not to trim to get through our audience.  Whatever the reason, and mind you the Japanese don’t have the best track record with US localization, we haven’t ever received a single one.

Parodius

As most would guess, the first title in the series is called Parodius, but it began life on the MSX microcomputer system only in Japan.  At this point it was more cartoon-like and lacked any of the risqué sexual innuendo that the series has always been known for.  Mind you, this sexual undertone is rather innocent and in other countries doesn’t even make a gamer blush.  In the innocent United States, our parents would have probably gone nuts.  Regardless of the content or the controversy, one thing remains constant: Parodius titles are fun and challenging versions of Gradius.  Contrary to popular belief, this game was released solely on the MSX with no ports save for the various collections that had it as an option on Playstation, Saturn and PSP.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Axelay (Konami)

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You’ve heard this very web site make consistent statements about the unfortunate slowdown that plagues almost all SNES shmups.  Some say it was the limited amount of processing power (literally half that of the Genesis), while others claim that the increase in graphics meant that developers wanted to push the visuals at the expense of the framerate.  Whatever the reason, Axelay, developed by Konami, the very company responsible for the SNES port of Gradius III that slows to a crawl around every corner, has absolutely no slowdown.  It’s like a miracle of programming – the game does not slow or stutter and is a strong and competent shmup with horizontal and vertical (behind the ship) levels, much like Life Force.  As far as I know, it’s the sole reason we have to say “most” SNES shmups slow down, because one alpha title soars above the rest: Axelay.

Vertical/behind the ship level

It’s pretty much your typical shmup story, and given the fact that this is no series nor does it have ports, there’s really nothing to note other than aliens attack humans and we send a space ship in to kill them.  What is notable is that the Konami team that programmed Axelay was none other than “support program”, better known as Hideo Ueda and Kazuhiko Ishida, but many companies wouldn’t allow programmers to be revealed for fear they would get recruited to competitors.  In this case, Ueda and Ishida instead went on to help create their own competitor: Treasure – best known for Gunstar Heroes, touted by some as the best game on the Genesis, and more prominent contemporary shmups such as Bangai-O, Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga, Gradius V and Sin & Punishment.  Turns out those two programmers that made a fast and smooth shmup on the SNES were actually on to something.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Salamander (Konami)

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I can’t stress this enough, Salamander is my favorite shmup of all time.  It’s not that the game is unique, it’s clearly a spin-off of Gradius and in the United States Konami pretends that this game, renamed Life Force here, is the second game in the Gradius series.  It’s not the challenge or anything like that, honestly the game is one of the easiest shmups.  Nope, it’s just so much fun to play and the little tweaks over the Gradius formula just keep it on the top of my list.

Salamander adjusts the power-up bar that Gradius established, which appeared to be popular enough to include it as an option in all future Gradius titles moving forward.  It also adds co-op gameplay, the second ship being the “Lord British” although in this title there is no difference to the power-ups or gameplay.  Instead of your deaths returning you to a checkpoint, your ship automatically respawns when a life is lost.  In addition all the cold mechanical machine settings of the Gradius series are instead replaced by organic styled levels and bosses.  In Japan and Europe, the game released as Salamander and both versions are essentially identical.  In the United States, we received a version called Life Force that added a plot about being inside an alien complete with cut scenes, more organic themes to the bosses and level names that sound like body parts.  Japan later released their own version of Life Force that included most of these elements and changed the soundtrack.  Unlike Gradius, Salamander switches between horizontal shooting levels and vertical shooting levels, even in its ports.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Gradius Series (Konami)

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Responsible for plenty of attributes to the shmup genre, notably the space aesthetic, but the most significant thing I remember about the title “Gradius” is how often people mispronounced it.  Okay people, I’ve confirmed this with Konami, the pronunciation is “grah-dee-us”, not “gray-dee-us”, “grah/grey-die-oos” or any other awkward pronunciation.  It’s pronounced simply how it is spelled.

The Gradius series has withstood the test of time with the first technical iteration in 1981 and the most recent actual game released in 2008 (Gradius ReBirth on Wii).  In that time the series has graced almost every console and portable that has come out, although recent iterations have been predominantly collections.  Not only that, the series is responsible for a few offshoots including my favorite shmup of all time, Salamander (Life Force in US), and the Parodius series.  Despite critics rightfully complaining that each new title in the series seems to harken back to the original, I feel it is the series staples that keep dedicated fans and strong sales.  I grew up knowing this series on the NES, although I am told that in Japan and Europe it has a more significant presence on the MSX.  Like all shmups, it does bury its roots in the early days of the arcade and to me is still on that short list of video games you must play before you die.  Nowadays the list of titles is quite long, but after recently playing the series over last week, I still find the original title (not necessarily first in the series) to be the most significant.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm