December 11, 2011

News #5 - Doujin shmups, goodies & Saturn pads

It's been awhile since my last physical shmups purchase (ok the Sengoku collection wasn't that long ago), so it's about time for some new stuff. It's not like I don't have games in my collection that still haven't been treated well enough by myself, but oh well... the desire to get more great titles is way too strong. It seems that by now I am way beyond the point where I can play all the shooters in my collection extensively. Greater choice of games, but harder choices to make.

Kamui got my attention through various mentions in forums which lead me to finally have a look at it. The videos I watched failed to disappoint and finding out about Siter Skain's other titles, RefleX and Alltynex Second, only increased my enthusiasm. All of these look exactly like games that match my taste perfectly with the fast action-packed gameplay and seemingly nice and not too sophisticated scoring systems, but some in-depth playtime has to be invested before I can say that for sure.

A few goodies conclude my recent purchase. The Under Defeat superplay DVD - next to the entertainment factor - will help me clear the game's 1st loop I hope. The Crimzon Clover soundtrack has caught my attention a bit too late as I don't like the music in the game's first stages too much. But most of the other tunes are indeed nothing less than awesome and one of the reasons why the game is so fun. Thus the soundtrack will be a welcome addition to my collection.

Last but not least, two Saturn controllers together with this small thing will make my life on the Playstation 2 a lot easier from now on. This lagless Saturn to Playstation converter will allow me to play shmups on the Playstation 2 without feeling handicapped after all. Let's face it: the d-pads from the original PS2 controllers are some of the most awkward ones ever made.

December 6, 2011

Zero Gunner 2 - A tribute...

It's the 14th November 2011, late at night. After a few failed tries I'm slowly getting tired. Only physically though, not at all tired of playing. So I'm starting my last credit in Zero Gunner 2 for the evening, totally not expecting the following...

The 2nd loop from my 2-ALL replay in Zero Gunner 2

The journey that had started on 6th June 2009, that lasted not less than two and a half years, finally came to an end - I cleared both loops in Zero Gunner 2. Altogether it took me six months of dedicated play to do this. Of course this has been the most tremendous task I've ever faced in any shmup. That's why the breaks of two years altogether were absolutely necessary to keep the fun alive and to prevent me from getting burnt out. In summer 2010 I got to the stage 5 boss in the 2nd loop, but felt so burnt out that I questioned if I'd ever feel like continue on playing again. The weird thing about it is: this time I only needed one month to get to my previous status, to get better and more consistent at the first loop stages and to master stage 2-6 and 2-7. It came together much faster than I ever could have imagined in my dreams.

With this still long period, Zero Gunner 2 connects today with the good old times where I had just started playing shoot 'em ups seriously and for score. In times when bullet hell shooters with overwhelming amounts of projectiles still were way too much for me, it taught me a lot of things about hand-eye coordination in the first place. The bullet count is below average for a Psikyo shooter and so after a while I've always felt like sustaining the overview and being in control. Moreover, the difficulty is just right. All in all a perfect preparation for heavier tasks to come. No wonder that Zero Gunner 2 became my first 1CC in a "non-classical" shmup.

Somehow my All Clear also resulted in a little bit of melancholy. Or should I call it emptiness? For such a long time have I enjoyed this game or at least had this huge goal in the back of my head. Now the journey is basically over. From now on I will only play Zero Gunner 2 for fun once in a while or to improve my Comanche score. Then there's this other thing... The 2-ALL has been a huge task for me and without any doubt my largest effort in video games. Will I ever have something bigger to shoot for or at least something that is comparable to it? Right at this moment I would say: definitely not. I am able to dedicate myself quite much to a single game. But I will accept the suffering and frustration solely for games I outright adore, and even then just as long as the fun remains. Well, and Zero Gunner 2 is my favourite. It can only go downhill from now on. ;)

Needless to say the happiness outweighs the other feelings by far - Zero Gunner 2 simply blessed me with some of the best and most unforgettable moments I ever had with video games. Not only is it my favourite shooting game, it will always have a special place in heart.

R.I.P. Psikyo.
I would so kill for a Zero Gunner 3...

November 16, 2011

News #4 - Status report

A "short" recap of the past months.

Limited playtime

Not too much has happened since the end of STGT 2011, but not too little either. At that point I wasn't nearly as burned out as after STGT 2010 and thus incredibly motivated for the next challenges. I chose to get deeper into XOP Black Ultra and achieved some decent scores at first. But my enthusiasm didn't last for long. Let's just say that this game can be frustrating. It is great overall, but the constant need to point blank enemies and even bosses (!) as well as the raised difficulty and more limited firepower compared to the original XOP Black could be tough. Especially when one death totally destroys your score for the respective stage. However I have to admit that the boss point blanking was incredibly fun - I wouldn't have expected that at all. In the end it was the lack of time that killed my motivation completely and forced me to quit playing. Back then I was a bit exhausted and not able to focus really well.

Luckily this isn't the whole truth. Light showed up at the end of the tunnel and I returned with full force and more free time. What I partly did with that time shall be the topic of my next blog post...

Some new entries to my collection

I have also been way too busy with buying old and new games. These are strangely "Gun"-heavy somehow... I swear I haven't planned this at all.

Most importantly, my Psikyo collection grew once again. This time my victims were Gunspike (alias Cannon Spike) for the Dreamcast and Psikyo Shooting Collection Vol. 2: Sengoku Ace & Sengoku Blade for Playstation 2. So far I've played each one of them a bit. Gunspike, while a very dry and absolutely not flawless take on the Psikyo formula, does have its right to exist. To me there is no doubt that real shoot 'em ups are what Psikyo can do best, regardless this is a nice arena shooter with decent character and attack variety (gun, special attack, bombs, melee) and good overall gameplay. The partly awkward turning and aiming controls ruin it a bit which is sad - especially considering how excellent Zero Gunner 2 was done in that regard. However a comparison of these two games might not be the best idea because of the different game mechanics. Sengoku Ace and Sengoku Blade on the other hand are classical Psikyo shmups in any regard (besides Blade being a horizontal). They are not as polished as the company's later titles, but great fun in their own way. I am especially surprised how much fun I tend to have with Sengoku Ace while I have bought the collection mainly for Blade at first. Anyhow, after this purchase I own pretty much every game from Psikyo that I need: Sengoku Ace, Sengoku Blade, Gunbird 2, Dragon Blaze, Zero Gunner 2 and Gunspike. Only the Strikers games remain.

Furthermore, I decided to register at Steam after a friend had showed me some of his games. I am generally not too fond of download titles, but they looked promising enough to give them a try. The Gundemonium Collection started it all. Consisting of the games Gundemonium Recollection, GundeadliGne and Hitogata Happa, it offers lots of diverting and fun gameplay, cute graphics and outstanding rearranged soundtracks. Even though it looks like Platine Dispositif threw together too many different scoring systems, all games are still very enjoable to be played in a simple and straight way without paying attention to every single scoring mechanic. Some boss fights are what bugs me the most, for example when they shoot out tons of dynamic bullets which change directions constantly. This makes them hard in an odd way. Hitogata Happa is the weirdest game of the bunch. Easy at first with a standard difficulty during the stages and plenty of lives. On the other hand the boss fights with sudden Game Overs after a certain time limit are as brutal as it gets. Fun game, but highly unbalanced.

Gundemonium Recollection in action

Jamestown concludes my Steam purchases. The debut of Final Form Games offers great music, lovely hand-drawn graphics as well as promising gameplay with a simple and fun chaining system. Yet once again this is a little bit of a mixed bag. There are many beginner's mistakes to be found in the gameplay, leading to tons of frustration at times. This could have been avoided so easily. I've still put lots of hours into Jamestown as it is a great game apart from that. The 5th and last stage is not only awesome, but also quite memorable. The level design with all these moving blocks adds some kind of platformer element to it. That reminds me a lot of the Mega Drive shooter Elemental Master which also has some similar elements.


Further orders also include the yet to be released Dreamcast titles Gunlord and Sturmwind. Looking forward to see how these will turn out.

November 5, 2011

STGT 2011 - Conclusion

The forgotten posts, part 3.

Team Too Close for Comfort as well as myself achieved decent results overall during the STGT 2011. It is a little bit sad that we lost the 5th place in the last week, but the point difference was so clear that Touhou Is Too Easy deserved it in the end. We would have needed a CRI with more free time to beat them. However the 5th place would have been the perfect result for us with these great competitors on the spots 1 to 4, so the 6th place is still good.

In the player rankings I ended up on the 21st place, compared to 15th in STGT 2010. Considering the different amounts of playtime this is a very natural decline, so I have no reason not to be content here. Only some individual scores should have been better, but this feeling can't be avoided in a weekly competition anyway.

The only thing I'm not so happy about is the choice of games and thus the amount of fun I had during the whole tournament. 2010 was very good, this year only Daioh turned out to be awesome from my point of view. Blade Buster was pretty good besides the fact that I sucked so much at it. Gokujou Parodius and P-47 Aces were mixed bags while 1944 received lots of hate from my side... I still found lots of enjoyment in the tournament, yet I hope next year will match my personal taste better.

The battle for the top spot in the team ranking between Touhou Is Harder and TCACTRM was the icing on the cake. Here's hoping for more exciting tournaments like this. Too great that it ended in a tie. I wouldn't mind TCACTRM to lose next year though. They have been ruling for long enough. ;)

STGT 2011 Week #5 - Blade Buster

The forgotten posts, part 2.

Remember my ramblings about pseudo Raizing week and pseudo Psikyo week? Well, Blade Buster is almost a pseudo Cave week to conclude it all. Not honestly this time, Blade Buster simply belongs to the subgenre of Caravan shooters. I hadn't played any of these before, so Blade Buster's mechanics only reminded me of Dangun Feveron's, concerning how a new enemy wave appears after all from the previous one have been destroyed. Just like Dangun Feveron this was the conluding week from the respective STGT where I almost ruined my overall result. I seem to suck hard at this type of games.

I wasn't so glad at first about the game choice, or let's say the choice of the platform specifically. The graphics as a whole aren't my cup of tea. 2D graphics inspire me on 16 bit and newer systems, but for Famicom graphics I honestly do not care for the most part. At least, slowdowns, flickering etc. weren't much of an issue. While not caring about the graphics, I adore the music from the 8 bit era. And since the music in Blade Buster isn't particularly enjoyable, there isn't much for me in this game at all; besides the gameplay itself.

Even with the gameplay I had several issues. It's not Blade Buster's fault though, my lack of skill and experience in Caravan games made me pay the price. Firstly, getting used to the necessary hectic style of play is a thing I still haven't managed. Secondly, my memorization abilities are a huge problem. I can memorize linear level designs where enemies always pop up at the same time and spot. In Blade Buster enemies spawn at different times, depending on the player's performance. So the scrolling background and enemy appearances create two different layers which are basically independent from each other. Since I personally need the background for memorizing the stage designs, this confuses me way too much. Last but not least there is my desire for small breaks between all the action which I have already explained in my comment on P-47 Aces.

But in the end I found myself having a lot of fun with Blade Buster. The game's length of 5 minutes was perfect to improve one's score fast, even without lots of playtime. The kill-as-fast-as-possible-to-get-more-enemies-to-shoot thing - despite the hectic pace - was really motivating. Not to forget those many secrets which gave the game some depth. Frustration barely ever showed up. In fact it only did after I realized on Sunday that I'm not able to do much better. I was still way too far away from the top spots or even the region where I usually rank in. I even think I got most secrets in my best run. If I had been able to do better, I would have had even more fun with Blade Buster. This way a slightly bitter taste remains. ;)

This week our team was crushed by Touhou Is Too Easy who took the 5th place in the overall ranking. Sadly they woke up after a very inconspicuous start into STGT. But the 6th place is still nice. Roughly what I had expected before the tournament, too. It didn't help that our best player CRI practically missed three weeks, but anyway. Next year we will strike back!


15. m3tall1ca - 1,629,300
39. STG - 1,481,200
48. Battletoad - 1,434,900
51. Geist - 1,414,600
66. Jockel - 1,267,500
72. DJW - 1,225,900

STGT 2011 Week #4 - P-47 Aces

My god... several months have passed since my last post and I haven't even bothered to finish my STGT comments. Ok, I'm being a bit too harsh with myself, I got very busy with my work and rarely had even time to play any games. So using my little free time to look forward was my choice rather than looking back to STGT.

However, now with more time to think about it (and Kollision's inducement ;) ), I'm not really happy with this incomplete treatment. I even had made some notes on the last two games already. Probably no one cares anymore, but let's nontheless finish this for the sake of completion and mostly for myself, if I ever want read this again and refresh my memories.

P-47 Aces - a second horizontal in the same STGT! Does not happen that often, eh? I sure hadn't expected this and in the end I can say, I wasn't that happy about it either. I am not quite as good in horizontals, let alone when played with a keyboard. My finger position is not ideal for them as I use my right middle finger for both the up and down buttons and that slows down my vertical movements. For a horizontal game with lightning fast bullets like P-47 Aces, this is a killer. Now someone might ask why I don't bother to buy a USB pad instead. I have already tried a bunch of different ones, but without finding a satisfactory solution. (If you have any tips, feel free to contribute.) I gave up some time ago and got used to playing with a keyboard instead. It works well in most cases, but... anyway, I'm rambling too much once again, back on topic.

You could say that 1944 was a pseudo Raizing week in 2011's tournament, then I'd like to call P-47 Aces the pseudo Psikyo week. It is still very different with these two though. While 1944 was developed by Raizing and didn't feel like it at all (because it was done for Capcom and stands in the tradition of their series), P-47 wasn't developed by Psikyo, but clearly reminded me of them. It has some similar trademarks like orange-coloured bullets with lightning-fast speed as well as the nature of the bullet patterns. So P-47 Aces made me think of Sengoku Blade instantly, Psikyo's only memorable horizontal shmup. (Pilot Kids doesn't exist.) Even though P-47 Aces was released one year beforehand.

Since I love Psikyo that should be a great thing. And indeed, I would have also liked P-47 Aces, hadn't it been for two things:
  • The invisible bullets. Whoever thought it would be a good idead to place light-green bullets with a weird flashing animation in front of a light-coloured background or even loads of white smoke, should be tied to a chair and forced to play this for the rest of his lifetime, always to be punished after he lost a life. I probably died half of the time only because I couldn't see the bullets in time. So much about a fair challenge.
  • The powerdowns after a death. This game is the perfect example of how a game can be designed unfair even without checkpoints. You are left totally powerless. You often can't collect the powerups which are left on the screen either since they might be out of reach and take ages to get near you. You can use one or two bombs to grab them without being shot, but even then you are still underpowered. Cheap and frustrating like every checkpoint shooter.

I am not even complaining I guess. It is just sad, this could have been a fun game. The excitement of waving through the fast bullet patterns, the uncomplicated gameplay and the weird, but somehow cool humping feature - all awesome. The humping is like the signature feature of P-47 Aces. It is totally broken since players have to exploit luck-included glitches to get top scores. For a more average player like me this was fun nevertheless. I mean, how cool is it to forget about collision detection for once, jump around on walls and enemies and even get points for that? Pretty fun and original.

I am not such a fan of the game's rhythm though. It feels like getting overwhelmed constantly. Enemies are approaching without breaks, you are just dodging and dodging and dodging and begging for a respite. I prefer a more controlled way of playing to this constant stress. That's also the reason why Zero Gunner 2 and Giga Wing are my favourite Shooting Games: I like to get several slight ups and downs in the game's tension, difficulty increases and sometimes small breaks to get some rest and a reward after dodging tons of stuff, even if it is only for two seconds. P-47 Aces only offers a never ending and never changing wall of troubles.

At last I tried my best, but sucked at this brutal game. I was just lucky that everyone did apparently, leading to an average position for myself, somewhere in the 30s like usual. medals was our team's best player once more and DJW got his first score for the team's top 3. We, the Team Too Close for Comfort, could hold our 5th place in the overall team ranking.


17. m3tall1ca - 2,037,860
34. Battletoad - 1,216,970
35. DJW - 1,201,720
57. Geist - 737,520

August 31, 2011

STGT 2011 Week #3 - 1944: The Loop Master

I must be fair, 1944: The Loop Master never had a real chance with me. In shooting games I enjoy dodging a lot more than shooting, a formula with equal proportions is nice, too. But I don't like such an emphasize on shooting in most cases anymore and so I didn't have much fun with this game either. I don't accuse 1944 for being this way, yet there are quite a few things that are simply wrong in this game. Firstly, the hitbox including your small sideplanes is huge and it's not fun to lose so many of your assistants because you don't have enough room to dodge. Secondly, I found the ship speed being too slow, especially since it is a vertically oriented game on a horizontal screen.

Then there is this lifebar thing. Before this week I didn't understand how much hate this mechanic gets. I mean how should a lifebar ruin a game if it's fairly similar to having lives, just that you don't explode and respawn, but stay on the screen? Can't possibly be worse than checkpoints and losing all powerups. Indeed it isn't, nontheless I understand the problems now. It is just wishy-washy. I screamed at the screen more than once not understanding how I had so little energy left. Numbers as the amount of lives are simply way more convincing and obvious than this. So I thought I must have received so much damage from one mistake because of getting hit by several bullets or something. Then I tried this out in practice runs, flew into enemy shots twice in a very short interval and noticed that you are given a decent time of invincibilty after one hit. But then it just happened again. I swear that I got multiple hits in a row without invincibility several times. I don't get it.

The worst part about 1944 is the invincibility during charge shots. Not directly, but how the game design is based around it. End bosses are the best example. Their patterns, or at least some of them, are just broken. What you are supposed to do is mostly use your charge shots and bombs on them. Otherwise there is no way to dodge certain attacks or it is way too dangerous. And when you figured out a pattern and think about dodging, suddenly sub-turrets which have been passive in every previous run start to shoot for no reason and ruin your plan. Sounds like fun, right?

So these are not the exciting and fair boss fights I would wish for. Moreover, some end bosses hop around the screen like madmen. So unsteady that it's just annoying. Incidentally, it is also odd to see the normal enemies' movement in this game which is kept rather realistic, and then boss planes with these crazy flying routes and tanks accelerating and braking like they had turbos on their backs.

I have to be honest one more time as I liked a few things about 1944 indeed. The tactical use of your sideplanes like shot blocking and suiciding to execute a minibomb are sweet. The possibility to load up your charge shot in multiple phases adds another tactical element and leads to fast transitions between normal shooting and charge shots. Yet I'm not a huge fan of these charge shots that take forever to load. That bothered me in early Psikyo shooters already.

I absolutely don't know what more to say about this game. I just didn't like it. I even screwed around senselessly with the player sides, switched to P2 side early because I don't like Lightning's ship design. Then I noticed far too late how often I got hit because I guessed my ship's positioning wrong. Zero's green sprite tended not to have enough contrast to the background since there are so many damn forest levels. So I switched back to P1 on Sunday, even though it didn't help anymore. My best run even ended by triggering a bomb just slightly too late. The bomb was activated, but the lack of instant panic function wanted my game to be over. I at least reached my minimum goal of 6 million, 7 million were in reach though. Considering how little time I had before the weekend and how inconsistent I performed on this game, I still can be half-content with my score. medals also hated 1944 and got a similar score while CRI was back to kick some ass. Not a too bad week for Team Too Close for Comfort, somehow it even got us the 5th place in the overall ranking.

Funny side note: I got shocked when I finally had a look on the title screen on Sunday to find out the game was indeed released in 2000. It already said "2000 Capcom" in the YouTube No Miss replay, but I just ignored it thinking "no way". It feels and looks so oldschool that I would have expected mid 90s or something. The boss sprites are huge and well done, but besides them I didn't find the graphics exciting or nice to look at or whatever.


16. CRI - 12,875,900
31. Battletoad - 6,312,670
34. m3tall1ca - 6,038,280
66. STG - 3,641,720
67. Geist - 3,578,889
89. DJW - 2,525,800