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Posts Tagged ‘shmup

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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Review: Power-Up

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powerup_boxConsole: Xbox 360 (XBLA Indie Games)
Released: September 13, 2013
Developer: Psychotic Psoftware
Publisher: Psychotic Psoftware
Difficulty: Hard
Price: $1.00
Similar Titles: Sine Mora, Deathsmiles, eXceed

In full disclosure I have been watching Power-Up since it was first discussed about a year ago, along with my push to support the game on Kickstarter, and contact with the developer.  Still, like so many other games one can get jazzed about in concept art and developer interviews it really comes down to the released product (and I never show favor to a project I back).  I assumed that with the title and art design Power-Up was going to be a Gradius clone – which definitely isn’t a bad thing since I’ve been dying for a true sequel – but what I received instead was a delightful surprise.  Power-Up has a hook that feels unique, and coupled with the beatiful art, aggressive design, and a momentum-inducing soundtrack it stands alone as its own property.  The fact that it sells for a mere dollar only stresses even more that developer Psychotic Psoftware is almost giving away a product that would be a steal at ten times the amount.

powerup_1Naturally as the title implies, Power-Up is a side-scrolling shmup that is all about building up weapons and raking in the highest possible score.  What’s unique about the way it handles power-ups is the fact that you have five weapons to choose from, all available from the beginning, and it’s up to you how you upgrade them.  Swapping weapons at will is easy, simply tap the left or right bumper to move to the previous or next weapon, and whatever you have active when you collect a power-up will level it up.  While this may seem somewhat simple, especially since most shmup players are acutely aware of their preferred shot, the level and enemy spawn design forces you to utilize each weapon at certain times.  This combination of having all the right tools at your disposal and requiring you to know when and how to use them is why I’m so impressed with this game.  All of the so-called rules of shmups are broken, enemies flying in from every direction attempting to shoot down or even kamikaze their way into your ship makes for a frantic game of cat and mouse.  Not only that, but play tactics depend solely upon you, so if you can handle enemies from behind without relying on the reverse shot or above/below without a vertical shot then success can really be had any way you want it.  There are times – namely boss battles, flurries of enemies, or scenarios – where I couldn’t see how you wouldn’t use a specific weapon, but if there’s one thing I know about shmups it’s that nothing is impossible.

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Written by Fred Rojas

September 30, 2013 at 7:07 pm

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

Podcast: The Treasure Box

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treasurebox

This week Trees returns and we are talking about the Japanese developer Treasure, best known for some of the most impressive games on Sega’s consoles (Gunstar Heroes, Radiant Silvergun, Guardian Heroes, and Ikaruga) as well as Nintendo’s later consoles (Bangai-O and Sin & Punishment).  We discuss the company origins, values, and of course the entire library of this impressive developer.


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Below is a video of an unreleased (canceled) title, Tiny Toons: Defenders of the Universe.  The beta that was presumably used as a trade show demo eventually leaked on the internet.  We have acquired it and played it on an original, modded, PS2.  Enjoy!

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Review: Espgaluda (PS2)

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espgaludaConsole: Playstation 2 (Japan Only)
Released: 2004
Developer: Cave (original arcade design, port by Arika)
Publisher: Arika (PS2 version only)
Difficulty: Moderate
Price: $60-$100 (used, unknown new)
Digital Release? No

Aside from its Japan only status and the incredibly difficult pronunciation, Espgaluda (pronounced “esu-pu-galuda” in English) has so much going for it. A second generation shmup from Cave, the development studio responsible for DoDonPachi, this is when the studio began to think outside the box and expand its audience to the masses. This game is made easier than most titles in its genre with the slowing of bullets and shields to assist the player in getting familiar with the danmaku (bullet hell) genre. Wrap it all together and it truly is a shame this title has never made its way stateside because it’s much more approachable than the titles we have received.

The roots of Espgaluda stem from the arcade (and Japan) only title ESP Ra.De. (pronounced “esu-pu-rye-do”) about a group of young girls with super human powers. It all takes place in the not-too-distant future (2018) on a remote island called Tokyo-2 off the shores of an overpopulated Japan. It appears the Japanese police force is hunting down these “ESPers” that are capable of psychic powers and the story takes place over a 24-hour period of time for three escaping females. None of this matters all that much since the game was only in Japanese (not localized on the MAME versions I’ve found), but the game is notable for several reasons. For starters the fact that you control a flying girl instead of a ship or vehicle will be the first thing you notice, and given the 1998 release of the title it’s quite possibly the first time this type of character is used in a shmup. Each girl has a barrier power, which allows them to temporarily absorb the power of the bullets coming at them and then release that energy back at their opponents. Aside from that the game is relatively a standard vertical shmup with plenty of explosions, bullets to dodge, and massive boss battles.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 8, 2013 at 11:00 am

Top 5 Shmups Worth Importing

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Ah March, shmuppreciation is back and in full effect on Gaming History 101.  If this is your first time hearing the phrase, shmuppreciation is for the love of the shoot-em-up genre (shmup for short) and is celebrated all March on the site.  If you missed Shmuppreciation 2012 I highly recommend you check it out as we provided more than 30 articles dedicated to introducing you to genre specifics and the myriad of popular series in the most triumphant genre of all time.

This year we’re going past introductions and into the intermediate world of shmups, which requires more skill, dedication, and money than the games covered last year.  While I would hardly call the games we will be covering obscure by any stretch, these titles are much less known outside of enthusiastic shmup fans.  To kick it off we’re featuring the top 5 games worth importing.  Shmups are of the most expensive games out there so you can expect a bit of sticker shock even with the games mentioned here.  Just keep in mind that you’re currently dropping $60 for day one releases and sometimes even more if you’re into that special edition stuff.  The titles in this list are unique because they have not seen a release, even digital, within the United States and thus require some sort of special circumstances to play today.  There’s a great list of import games that have released digitally on PSN, XBLA, and Wii Virtual Console as well so be sure to check out our article on those titles as well.  In order to play these games you have to either import them or get access to a digital service outside of your region.  The links in each title will take you to the games’ review or video on our site.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Shmup Podcast

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shmup_banner

Derek from the Playground podcast joins us to talk about the wonderful world of the shoot ’em up (aka “shmup”) and the amazing games that owned his soul over the years.


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Written by Fred Rojas

April 4, 2012 at 11:00 am

Last Hope (NG:Dev.Team)

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Under most circumstances, console games are licensed to be released on consoles (meaning the manufacturer sold the right to create a game on its console), however in the case of Last Hope, lead development console Neo Geo was completely out of print.  Furthermore the game has seen much more success as a Dreamcast title, where it was more appropriately tweaked and cost a hell of a lot less than the 128 mb carts (basically a small arcade board) they originally produced the game on.  This is often the case when a developer makes a game for a system long past its prime, we’ve also seen similar unlicensed titles from indie devs like the recent Genesis/Mega Drive release of Pier SolarLast Hope is a surprisingly fun shmup in the vein of R-Type that really captures the feel of a classic 80s arcade game based almost purely on score.  It’s even more significant that it was originally developed on the Neo Geo, a console fully capable of supporting large sprites in busy shmups but few developers created these types of games for.

To even touch the plot at this point is pretty stupid because you know the drill and can probably guess by the title alone: aliens invade and you are the last hope.  What is impressive is that this shmup contains six levels, four difficulties, hand drawn backgrounds (this is a big part of my love for it) and I believe sprite-based ships and enemies.  Furthermore the game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, both the Neo Geo and Dreamcast versions are identical (including identical pixel-to-pixel count in 320×240) and all versions are region free (European players will need to support 60 hz on whatever display device they use).  In short, it is programming a game with love for the console and game in mind, not profit.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 31, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

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Sine Mora (Grasshopper Manufacture/Digital Reality)

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Many would tell you that the shmup is officially dead in the United States, especially when you consider that we’ve never been all that hot at creating titles for the genre and recent sales for retail titles (Deathsmiles, Otomedius) suck.  Fortunately a venture between the eccentric Suda 51 (Killer 7, No More Heroes) with his development team Grasshopper Manufacture and Hungarian developer Digital Reality (mostly PC MMOs) brings one of the best contemporary shmups to date.

Sine Mora is all over the place.  I can’t quite make out the language, but there’s clearly some German in the spoken word, although looking over the development teams perhaps I’m mistaking a Hungarian/Japanese hybrid for German.  A complex story is told in the main campaign, the key to unlocking the true staple shmup options, but don’t worry if you don’t get it because it’s all text-based and has no relevance to the action.  Characters are anthropomorphic versions of various animals from leopards to buffalo and even an incomprehensible robot.  I was also surprised that while the activities in the game aren’t mature, it definitely deserves its M rating with some severely adult themes and language in the dialogue.

After you strip away all that, it’s just a solid horizontal shmup with gorgeous graphics in a steam punk world.  That previous statement honestly sells the graphics short because as a download title the game is stunning.  With 2.5D graphics (3D rendered characters on a 2D plane, much like recent fighter Street Fighter IV) it amazes me how close the actual graphics are to the concept art (see example below) and the attention to detail shows.  What’s a shmup without boss battles, right?  Well Sine Mora is not only filled with them, but they were all conceptually created by legendary anime artist Mahiro Maeda (of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame).  Each ship also has enough detail to be distinguishable, which is useful when trying to imagine the pilots that occupy it and the strengths/weaknesses when using them.  There are also big sweeping moments within the levels that allow you to enjoy the landscape and aircraft you’re piloting before returning to the battle.

Concept Art vs. Actual Visuals. Impressive, no?

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Beat Hazard (Cold Beam Games)

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When I think about the combination of music and video games, I can’t help but think Konami and Harmonix.  Thanks to the Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) series by Konami – c’mon gamers, everyone tried it at one point – your love for music and games could be realized.  Unfortunately the series focused on techno music, many tracks from Japan, and there wasn’t that connection with the songs you really wanted (although there was this awesome DDR on the original Xbox that had a remix of the Neverending Story Theme).  Enter Harmonix, a company that made its humble beginnings in similar techno infused video games with titles like Frequency, and its idea to take a big cumbersome plastic guitar and mix it with hard rock tunes.  Guitar Hero and the slew of spin-offs that Activision juiced out of it had one painful flaw: you were still limited with the songs that were released.  Even today Rock Band has thousands of songs but you aren’t able to pick anything you want/like.  That’s where Beat Hazard comes in.  A twin-stick shmup that utilizes any music track you provide to create an entire level lasting the length of that track.

Okay, let’s get the setup clear because a “level” will be in a fixed location (Asteroids, Geometry Wars) and not a scrolling level (Gradius, R-Type).  Enemies will appear along with certain aspects of the code to generate the various obstacles that will be thrown at you – everything from actual asteroids to large bosses.  I don’t think that developer Cold Beam Games has released any info on how the game is able to take your music and create a level, but if I were the developer I’d keep that secret until my game had run its course.  Even more impressive is that Cold Beam Games CEO Steve Hunt appears to have created (and possibly developed) the game by himself, although I can’t find concrete evidence of that.  In addition, Hunt admits to taking the addictive concept in Geometry Wars and adapting it to taking codes from MP3 files.  As time has gone on he has updated the game as well as created a definitive version, Beat Hazard Ultra, which now supports many formats such as iTunes’ AAC format and even streaming formats like those found on Last FM.  The original, which can be found on the XNA community channel on Xbox Live, only supports MP3 files as far as I know.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

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