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Posts Tagged ‘shmup

Geometry Wars (Bizarre Creations)

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Geometry Wars is as genius as it is simple and reminds us that the days of high score popping in titles like Asteroids and Galaga are not over.  This is a fast-paced game that requires pattern recognition and the ability to weave between enemies with the hardest of shups.  In the end, just like in the arcade, it’s all about the score.  The most impressive part of this story is that this multi-million download powerhouse began life as a free minigame.

Project Gotham Racing (or PGR for short) was an Xbox exclusive franchise developed by Bizarre Creations (who also developed Blur) that focused on arcade racing for the win while doing it with style.  You advanced your upgrades and car with “kudos” that were awarded by doing everything from clever weaving to power slides.  In PGR2 when you entered your garage, where you could customize and upgrade your cars, there was a minigame you could also play called Geometry Wars.  It was a basic shooter that used only the two sticks to play – the left stick controlled the movement of your craft and the right stick controlled the direction your ship shot bullets.  As you progressed, the game would get more and more frantic until you were getting swarmed at every moment that you were alive.  Couple that game design with the Atari-style graphics that look like they could have been lifted from a vector monitor and you have an instant hit.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Rez (United Game Artists)

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Rez was one of those games I hear way too many people recommend without mentioning what the game is about.  In my mind, it’s an on-rails shooter version of the virtual reality world I so desperately wanted to play in the movie The Lawnmower Man.  In truth it’s a bit more like a visual representation of William Gibson’s famous novel Neuromancer with a different plotline.  Either way the significance of this title, and it’s predecessor Child of Eden (which came out later), has aesthetic value that is a treat for both the eyes and the ears.

Scene from The Lawnmower Man

Conceptually the game entails you as a hacker entering the virtual world of a computer known as the K-Project, which I think of as the Internet.  An AI controls the goings on of the K-Project, her name is Eden, and she has become overwhelmed with the amount of data stored within.  Her solution to the problem is to shut down the K-Project and thus basically shutting down global communications.  Your job as a hacker in the system is to prevent her from doing this through five levels that have everything from small, simple enemies to big bosses with many destruction points.  I have always been a huge fan of cyberpunk, my youth spent watching movies like Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic, and of course The Matrix while authors like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling spoke of things to come when man meets technology.  Even the mention of what Rez was all about prompted me to quickly pick up a copy, although for the life of me I can’t imagine why I opted to import the Dreamcast version over the HD remake on Xbox Live.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Deathsmiles (Cave)

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Welcome to contemporary shmup week, where we discuss recent games that have graced modern consoles and can be found on store shelves even now.  Developer Cave, probably best known for vertical shmups including the DoDonPachi series, has only created a few horizontal shmups and Deathsmiles is the only one that saw a true retail release in the US.  Of course it didn’t sell very well, the collector’s edition that comes with a faceplate and soundtrack is still found for about $20 in many retailers, but is still significant as one of the few Japanese shmups to release in the US.  It’s also interesting because it integrates many themes we’ve seen before including the fact that it’s part of the sub-genres cute ’em ups, danmaku (bullet hell), and has color integration like many Treasure shmups.  If you’re into shmups in the least, the content-heavy title is worth picking up at full price, let alone the meager cost found nowadays – on a personal note, make sure you get the Collector’s Edition, it’s so worth it for a few more dollars.

Unlike many shmups, Deathsmiles features four (five in the Mega Black Label version, see below) young witches that you can control as they take on hordes of demonic forces.  Each of these girls are young, between the ages of 11 and 17, each with thier own version of magic (typically elemental) and familiar.  A girl’s familiar will follow them around, blocking bullets and firing counter bullets as well.  In the arcade version the familiar moves opposite the controls that the player uses for the girl (ie: if you move your girl to the right the familiar will move to the left around the girl).  This game has plenty of different modes, power-ups and strategies so definitely look them up online, but the most compelling aspect is that you basically have a 3-bar life counter that is persistent (status carries over level to level) and you get a game over when it runs out.  There are various ways to refill the counter in addition to knowing techniques that can prevent the loss of life (1/2 bar for collisions and full bar for getting hit by a bullet) including knowing the areas on your witch that are invulnerable and using a familiar as a shield.  After being defeated, an enemy releases items and “counter bullets” (yellow in color) that increase your score counter and in turn strengthen your shots and give you optional powers and attacks.  Once you’ve gotten used to the items (and started to memorize the levels) you can delve into the balance of saving and collecting these power-ups.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Xevious (Namco)

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Xevious is one of those games that doesn’t get the credibility it deserves despite being so easy to find on almost every console.  I think it’s because it does a lot of things other shmups do, even though in many cases it did them first, and therefore gamers are drawn to the more popular titles.  Back in 1982 when Namco released it into arcades – it would be released into US arcades by Atari and have the strongest port on the NES, if you believe that – the textures were amazing for the time.  This game also had both air and ground weapon that had their own button so it was up to you to use the right armaments.  Even today many vertical shmups don’t discriminate between ground or air when you blow things up, so it added a complexity to the game.  It was also one of the first games to introduce in-level bosses with central “cores” you had to destroy.  What still turns me and probably many other gamers off is that if you die you restart the level unless you’ve completed 70 percent of the area, at which point you will move on to the next level.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

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River Raid (Activision)

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Shortly before the video game crash of 1983, a little company by the name of Activision, formed to give programmers credit for their properties and hard work, released a game called River Raid on the Atari VCS/2600.  Released in 1982, this game was a basic scrolling vertical shmup where you control a little plane and blast enemies that appear.  Your plane remains at the bottom of the screen, but you can increase the scrolling (plane) speed and move left and right.  I know that seems like a basic version of most shmups we’ve seen this month, but when you consider it was an early 80s home video game – on Atari’s limited space, no less – River Raid is an achievement.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Star Wars Arcade (Atari)

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There is a surprising similarity between Star Wars Arcade, released in 1983, and Star Fox, released in 1993.  For starters they are both 3D graphical on-rails shooters that involve space battle and a predominance toward the cockpit view.  In addition they’re all about blowing up things in space while people scream at you with words and phrases that offer no assistance in the gameplay.  Okay, so they’re not actually all that similar when it comes down to gameplay (honestly I find Star Wars Arcade to be the better game), but it does demonstrate that the style of gameplay does withstand the test of time.

Even though it coincided more with the movie release of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars Arcade was a vector graphics 3D shooter where you controlled Luke Skywalker as he attacked the Death Star in Red 5 at the end of the Star Wars: A New Hope.  The game involved three stages of battle, called “waves” in the game, that they had to overcome in order to complete it.  In the first wave you would destroy TIE fighters as you approach the Death Star, in the second wave you would destroy turrets on the surface and in the final wave you would fight in the trench against both types of enemies and take a crack at shooting the exhaust port and destroying the space station.  If you did so, you would loop into the game again and receive an extra shield that allowed you to play for longer periods of time.  Doing so without firing a single bullet in the trench until the perfect shot on the exhaust port would be considered as a “using the force” run and net you a huge point bonus in addition to your additional shield.  Because of these bonuses it was possible to play for a long time on one quarter, which was like finding gold in old school arcades, and one guy even played for more than 50 hours on a single credit.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

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Galaga (Namco)

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Just as America was tapering off from “Pac-Man fever” (we were obsessed with Pac-Man in the late 70s), arcade powerhouse Namco unleashed Galaga on us.  While it was quite popular and generated plenty of income for Namco, Galaga has always been the counterpart to the Pac-Man series that wasn’t as lucrative – it’s often bundled together with Ms. Pac-Man in re-released cabinets.  That’s not to say that Galaga doesn’t have its rightful place in American history, these days it’s more popular with my friends (and in bars, no less) than more traditional arcade staples.

Some may not know this, but Galaga is actually a sequel of Galaxian, which was released a year earlier in 1980.  Galaxian was basically a clone of Space Invaders that improved on the formula by featuring full color graphics versus the two colors of Space Invaders and had the enemies drop in pattern formations from different parts of the screen.  It also removed the barriers at the bottom.  Galaga updated the formula even more by allowing the ship to fire more than one bullet at a time, awarding bonus points for clearing stages and had an enemy that could capture your ship.  If your ship was captured you would lose a life but it would remain in possession of the thief until you destroyed it, at which point the ship would join your current one and you could fire with two ships.  This becomes a tactic that those in the high score world tend to take advantage of, although I’ve met a few that prefer to keep their ships out of alien possession.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

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Defender (Williams)

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As a classic Defender‘s reputation is one of those titles that surprisingly few people have played.  I know as a child I was discouraged by the looping screen – unlike Asteroids the screen would scroll with your ship, looping after you reach the edge of the map.  Not only that, it was a game where you tried to survive a “wave” of enemies and protect soldiers on the ground.  In the days of Gears of War’s “horde” mode and various other versions of the same concept, this is nothing new, but it was difficult to wrap my head around in the early 80s.  It was also really difficult, which is now a staple of the shmup genre but back then it was discouraging next to Space Invaders and Pac-Man.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

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Space Invaders (Taito)

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It is the world’s most popular arcade machine of all time, caused such a craze in Japan that there was a temporary shortage of 100-yen coins (equivalent to a quarter in US arcades) and grossed a whopping $2 billion worldwide in 1982.  Not only that it skyrocketed sales of the Atari VCS/2600, its “alien” creatures are now symbols representing video games as a whole and the Guinness Book of World Records labels it the top arcade game ever made.  I’m speaking of none other than Space Invaders(Supēsu Inbēdā in Japan), the very first shmup and the arcade game that ushered a new action focus in arcades instead of the previous sports focus.  Whether you played it, or a derivative game like Galaga, this game is so well-known that it still spells gold for developers even today.  It was probably one of the first games I ever played and anytime I see a cabinet I have to plunk down a quarter for a play.  Even Nintendo’s own Shigeru Miyamoto (responsible for Mario, Link and plenty of other Nintendo staple titles) admitted that Space Invaders was the game that got him interested in video games.  I know it sounds like I’m singing the praises long after they’re due, but this truly is the ideal example of a game that is both easy to play and addicting as hell.  This is a true video game.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Asteroids (Atari)

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Back in the 70s, before the VCS/2600 dominated the home market, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell created the first arcade game, Computer Space.  Intended to be a single player version of what is considered by some to be the first video game, Spacewar! by MIT students on a PDP-1 valued at $100,000, it was a marvel of ingenuity that was met with commercial failure outside of the scope of nerdy college kids.  Shortly after, Bushnell created the much more user-friendly Pong and raked in over $1 million annually for Atari.  Unfortunately back then it was much easier to copy a game and get away with it (home versions of Pong that didn’t come from Atari/Sears were actually referred to as “Pong clones”) so the way Atari stayed on top was to make the newest and best games.  The apex of the concept begun in Spacewar! came with the Atari coin-op Asteroids in 1979.

Although the connection with Spacewar! and Computer Space hasn’t been universally made, I always view the games as being generational improvements on the formula.  If you ask Atari exec Lyle Rains, which is credited with conceptualizing the game, he would probably tell you it came from his famous discussion with Ed Logg, a then Atari programmer, when he asked, “what about a game where you smash asteroids – big rocks into small rocks?”  After that Logg and designed and programmed the game with fellow co-worker Dominic Walsh.  One of the basic concepts to be born out of the early days of arcades, Asteroids is not only one of the highest regarded titles of all time but it holds the top slot in terms of sales at Atari.  Selling more than 70,000 units domestically, many of them needing to be modified with larger coin boxes to keep from shorting out, this game was so popular that when the next big game, Lunar Lander, came out some were custom installed with Asteroids instead because the customer was only interested in that specific game.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

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