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

August 26, 2011

STGT 2011 Week #2 - Daioh

Daioh! Just listen to the voice shouting the title at the end of the intro: it tells you right in the face how cool and wicked this game is. Welcome to awesomeness! Or not? Admittedly, this is the purest form of a love or hate game. Or even both at once. I had loads of fun with it personally.

My first impressions were decent already. Daioh appeared to me as a mix of Raiden Fighters and Tatsujin. Yeah I know it was released a few years before Raiden Fighters, but the fast bullets and frantic gameplay reminded me a lot of it. Perhaps it would be better to compare it to the original Raiden, but to be honest I don't know that one well enough to do so. Tatsujin on the other hand... well just look around. Stage 4 is Tatsujin! It seems to borrow complete enemy sprites, attack patterns and background layouts from Toaplan's late-80s shooter. Additionally, Daioh has three different kick-ass weapons for your ship: lightning (blue), spreadshot (red) and forward shot. How could you not think Tatsujin? Some may find these similarities cheap, I think it is awesome this way. It somehow feels like another, more straight forward version of Tatsujin, not too memorization-heavy and with not such a huge hitbox and thus more enjoyable for me. Together with the nice graphics and catchy music this caused a fat grin that got frozen into my face during the first hours to play it. All the fun made me forget Parodius' frustration fast.

The three different bomb types are something I have never seen before in any shooting game. Sure, at first it was annoying to get used to all the 6 buttons, but the variety of the bombs' impacts added another nice tactical element to the game. Once the stages are learned, you can keep your finger prepared for the most appropriate bomb for the specific passages.

Apart from that aspect Daioh is not particularly a shmup that wants to be innovative. I even tend to say that it sends forth a fairly cheesy charm as it steals more than the above mentioned things from other games, is not always perfectly balanced and feels a bit weird to say the least. Yet the overall game is so fun that the lack of originality didn't bother me.

Daioh still has its flaws, no doubt. The shot patterns are extremely simplistic and repetitive. Looking at the release date this is no big deal though. The fast bullets combined with a certain amount of randomness lead to cheap deaths, but keeping rank low can mostly bypass this problem, too. The enemies shooting at you from each possible position, angle and distance with barely any possibility to point blank them was unfamiliar and annoying at first. If you take care of all the enemies carefully, you can avoid evil bullets from the side rather easily though. The only thing that really stinks is bullet visibility. When everything on the screen flickers during certain explosions you better beg for not getting hit. Not only the bullets disappear momentarily, sometimes the enemies do so, too. So there you go thinking you have destroyed them, before they appear out of nowhere again and hit you with a shot to the face. Brilliant. However I died to this only three or four times during the whole week which I still don't understand. Must have been lucky. Enemy shots also get camouflaged in normal explosions although that wasn't too much of a problem for me.

Unlike Gokujou Parodius, Daioh kept my fun alive throughout the week, even with these issues. Simply because it does a lot of things right. I will only mention a few.

Let's have a look at the checkpoint system. I am horrible at this kind of games and always get way more frustrated than motivated. It is ridiculous and unfair since one mistake can kiss your whole run goodbye. But what does Daioh do? It takes the system of going back and losing powerups to a much more forgiving level. You never have to go back really far as there are tons of checkpoints in each stage, you are given a decent initial ship speed, you even keep a few powerups if you had unused P items in your stock and you can make use of three bombs which should usually get you to the next checkpoint at least. You even respawn instantly when dying during a boss battle. Come on, seriously, who are the geniuses that developed this game? Ok, I do not mean that fully serious as it shouldn't be that hard to program a fair checkpoint shooter where it is possible to recover from deaths without being a shooter god. The thing is, apparently no one had the guts (or rather the mercy) to do it, especially not companies like Konami and Toaplan. So hats off, Athena! Loop 2 is still a different story though.

If there is one thing that characterizes Daioh, it shall be the lightning weapon. I said it on day one and I can only repeat myself: best homing laser ever. It is fast, precise, jumps from enemy to enemy or even circles around in an opposing ship until it dies. Just watching the laser dance around the screen is incredibly cool. No more explanations needed.

In the end the rules of STGT do not apply to this game as I actually loved it at the end of the week. I did go through a huge hole just before the weekend though. I struggled a lot, especially because of having almost no experience with rank management in shmups. Thus I had 1.7 million in stage 1-5 by Saturday noon. All the time (even though it wasn't much of it), I had approached it in two wrong ways:
  • Picking up everything for points and thus raising the rank way too much. Very fun way to play the game in the first 3 stages, rushing over the screen with maximum speed and dodging all the lightning fast shit coming at you, but it gets too ridiculous in stage 4 and afterwards.
  • Collecting nothing and powering up just slightly. Also working in the first stages, but then you are too underpowered.

On Saturday I finally did it right. Picking up no point items, but powering up fully and collecting nothing after that was the key and made the game much, much easier, especially when rank decreased after not collecting the flashing powerup. Furthermore, a lot of credit goes to m3tall1ca who helped me out and gave many tips. Without him I would never have beaten the first loop, let alone reached stage 2-4.

So this was not only a great game for my taste, but a beautiful week overall, ending with my first STGT 1CC (I count a 1-ALL as 1CC and additional loops as a bonus only) and my best effort in both of my tournaments by far. Well yeah I only ranked 23rd, way behind my 11th place in Mars Matrix last year, but I already had played that game before and wasn't fully content with my score. With Daioh I couldn't have been happier. So thanks Daioh, your place in my recently posted top 25 shmups list is well-deserved.

Our team result turned out great, too. Our best player CRI didn't have much time unfortunately, otherwise it could have been even better.


16. m3tall1ca - 6,217,630
23. Battletoad - 4,809,450
34. Jockel - 3,569,460
51. DJW - 2,012,730
62. Geist - 1,726,790
64. CRI - 1,704,180

August 22, 2011

STGT 2011 Week #1 - Gokujou Parodius

My concluding thoughts for Gokujou Parodius. Most of it probably has been said before, but anyway.

What I liked:

  • Another Konami shooter, but simply a huge improvement over Xexex last year. Weapons, gameplay, level design, graphics, music, score-based extends - all much better than in the R-Type clone. The only thing that Xexex did a lot better was the usage of shields. See below.
  • Graphics and music. The graphics are colourful and the bosses outstandingly animated. But Parodius lives from its setting of course. The funny, cute and often rather obscure style adds greatly to the fun of the game and even makes some frustrating deaths more bearable. Same can be said for the soundtrack. Though borrowing from classical music a lot, it sounds unmistakably like Parodius due to the overall well executed rearrangements.
  • The powerup system is great. Really. But just as long as you stay alive.
  • Weapon variety and character selection are also cool. I tried everyone at least once, then chose Michael before sticking with Koitsu for the rest of the week. The characters without the traditional option system allow for great variety and yet fit well into Parodius.
  • I was very much afraid of the bell chaining at the beginning of the week. It turned out it wasn't so bad in stage 1 and 2 at least. Admittedly, it even was fun to figure out the best ways not to break your chain. From stage 3 on it just got ridiculous nontheless because I couldn't find enough time to let off the fire button and grab the bells without getting massively overwhelmed. But I was surprised to find myself having some fun with the scoring.
  • The bell powers are all fun and of good use if you just have the luck and/or eye coordination and planning to get the right one at the right time. Sadly I didn't have neither.

What I hated:

  • Checkpoints and powerdowns. I think nothing more needs to be said here. It's unfair, cheap and not even necessary. Why can't you keep at least some of your powerups? Trying to recover at certain spots is cruel and for me next to impossible as I am not so good at it.
  • The rank "helps" a lot with that. It goes insane quickly and then drops very slowly after dying. After the first death you are still encountered with countless bullets, just you don't have any weapons to deal with the enemies. After losing most of your lives, the rank is low enough to finally have a chance again. Wow.
  • The hitbox always felt weird. Several times I had the impression that I died shortly before getting hit or I thought to have dodged a bullet yet died. Moreover the collision detection is very inconsistent. You can almost fly through the destroyable mass in stage 3, but the boss' lasers seemingly kill you even with a few pixels distance to your ship. Either I'm just not used to huge hitboxes anymore or Parodius' one is just messed up.
  • How would I accept the unfair checkpoint system? If the game would still allow some mistakes without the brutal punishment, for example with shields. Gokujou Parodius does have shields, but they are mostly garbage. Some take more hits, but just protect you from the front, others increase your hitbox (probably double size) and vanish before they actually get useful. Koitsu's shield is decent actually (and the main reason why I chose him over Michael), can take a lot of hits and offers a little protection from above and below, too. Only problem is the lack of indication how many bullets it can still hold off. I still managed to get hit a lot from behind, too.
  • The most terrifying thing about this game was stage 3 though and this statement is probably even more subjective than the rest. Not only have I never no missed it, moreover most of my runs ended here as I died in any possible way this stage offers. It actually got worse throughout the week. After constant improvements, I reached stage 5 a few times, but then problems just increased as I performed better, always got the Moai battleship after stage 2 and thus raised the rank for stage 3 to "insane". The limitation of movement, masses of durable enemies dancing all over the screen, countless bullets and stuff falling down... my god. There we have it again, the Xexex-style difficulty jump. Would have been a better stage 5 or so. Seriously, this stage will hunt me down in my nightmares. Forever.

So this was a week with very mixed feelings. Our team ended up struggling a lot and I was wasn't really happy with my score either. With 900,000 points I would have been, but stage 3 kept kicking me hard. CRI saved our asses, so our team result wasn't too bad.


13. CRI - 1,017,400
41. Battletoad - 787,600
42. m3tall1ca - 779,400
57. DJW - 723,600
88. Geist - 564,100

August 21, 2011

STGT 2011 - Introduction

Alright! Let's get the dust off this blog and open up a new chapter that is long overdue: the Shooting Game Tournament 2011. As I'm horribly late with my planned concluding thoughts for each week, we are already heading towards the end of this journey full of fun, action, frustration, anger and great competition. I can't even say I was lazy, my time simply is very limited this year and I didn't want to waste too much of my free time not playing. Anyway, to me STGT 2011 has been surprising with the choice of the specific games that I mostly haven't even heard of before, let alone played. I also hadn't really expected so much oldschool and two horizontals. What hasn't been so surprising was the overall feel of the tournament. It is clearly business as usual. What I mean by that:

  • Games are chosen which are rather unknown and/or haven't been played seriously by too many people.
  • All games are really, really hard.
  • A bunch of players show you how bad you actually are at shmups as they complete the games easily with ridiculous scores. Especially considering that they are achieved during only one week.
  • At the beginning of the week you find the game odd or kind of fun before starting to like it, then getting frustrated after a few days and totally hating it by the end of the week. STGT always remembers me of why I normally just play shooters I adore and with a healthier playtime.
  • Last but not least almost all games turn out to be fun, but mercilessness and especially some critical flaws often turn it into frustration. Just look at last year. Cyvern: The Dragon Weapons had utterly brutal rank and boss fights, Xexex ridiculous difficulty jumps and checkpoints, Mars Matrix' chaining was off-putting for newcomers at least, Raiden Fighters 2 ended up in restart hell (for me) and well, Dangun Feveron had Uo-Poko. I still liked 3 1/2 of these games.

But I'll just stop the ramblings and get straight to Gokujou Parodius. Post coming today or tomorrow. Promise. ;)

July 6, 2011

News #3 - Revolution

Alright, I'm officially back in business. Directly after my last blog post my old notebook broke irreparably. Well, rather it wouldn't have been worthwile to repair it, but anyway... I had few internet access in the meantime, but now it's time to get serious again. So get yourself prepared for some truly revolutionary news!

Revolution #1 - Wait, nobody cares, so jump right to #2 ;)

I have a new notebook. It's mainly for work and internet and won't run a game like Crimzon Clover without slowdown. But well, I have time, in 2 or 3 years I might care to buy a decent PC tower for newer games. For now there are enough console shooters where scores need to be exhausted. Plus I still need to finish a few PC classics and personal alltime favourites - especially Thief: The Dark Project and Thief II: The Metal Age.

Revolution #2 - A first step into the deep strange cave

It took me quite some time, didn't it? In 2007 I started playing shmups, in 2008 bullet hell invaded my home and in 2009 playing seriously and for score became much more of a matter. Yet all this time I managed to mostly ignore today's most popular shmup developer: Cave. This mainly had one simple reason: I owned a Super Nintendo, a Mega Drive and a Dreamcast. And you all know how many Cave shooters were released for these systems. Besides Cave didn't seem to have the kind of appeal that Takumi, Psikyo and Technosoft shooters had on me. I had played a few credits in Donpachi, Dodonpachi, Dangun Feveron and Progear no Arashi and found all these games "okay". Yet there were certain shooters from Cave that I really got interested in and one of them just became the first Cave game in my collection: ESPGaluda. ESPecially its scoring system doesn't just seem to be one of Cave's better ones, but genuinely superb. Now I just need to get my hands on a modded Playstation 2 that allows import titles to be played.

Talking about revolution, it's kind of astounding what I got with ESPGaluda: my first Cave game, my first Japanese Playstation 2 game and my first superplay DVD that is included with the game. Hell yeah! Additionally, I bought my first pure superplay DVD, the Shikigami no Shiro II appreciate DVD.

Revolution #3 - A weekend in shmup heaven

Still not enough with my "first" thingies. After not being able in 2010, I could attend this year's shmupmeet at Robert garcia's in Northern Germany between June 10th and 12th. Finally I got to know some of the really cool German and Swedish shmuppers in person, I had only met Plasmo and thyseus before. Actually, it was my first time at an arcade cab and my first real time to use a stick, too. Robert garcia owns several cabs with tons of PCBs, not to forget the countless console shooters. After a nice night in Hamburg I played the shit out of a few games trying to get used to a stick and achieving half-decent results. The only considerable score would be 30 million in Ketsui. I also got to know Cave better which eventually led to the purchase of ESPGaluda. A few highlights for me were the battles in Windjammers, one of the most diverting games ever, the 4 player session in Giga Wing 2 including the ridiculous "Reflecto Fooorce" voices every second or so, and the small masochistic score battle with Plasmo in Sonic Wings. This game has some of the cheapest attacks ever.

It's a shame that a bunch of people who wanted to attend couldn't do so, like third_strike, Prometheus, DEL and abschüssig, but hopefully we will see you next year!

Revolution #4 - The Xylophone of Pain is back

It's back! Twice and now even with ultra extra content and enjoyment! ToastSoft recently released the greatly improved XOP Ultra and XOP Black Ultra providing a new challenge and a classy shmup experience to challenge experienced XOP players once again and also to attract new ones. Both games offer more enemies, more enemy types, more shots, more bullet patterns and tougher bosses than before, plus much improved level design, two different courses consisting of 5 stages each as well as tons of game modes and difficulty settings. Both XOP Ultra and XOP Black Ultra are freeware, so there is no reason not to check them out!

Revolution #5 - Coming soon for your home reading pleasure

More regular posts could be found here within the next time as the Shooting Game Tournament 2011 is about to start, on July 25th to be precise. Let's start the weeks of rage and torture again! And may "Team TCFC - Too Close for Comfort" be a worthy successor to the 3rd ranked "Fatloli Luftwaffe" from the 2010 tourney! We have five of the same people back and are ready to kick some butt. Now wouldn't one blog post per week be revolutionary for me? Let's just see if I can do it.

May 3, 2011

News #2 - Good scoring, great distraction, eventual completion, nice get, assiduous writing and lazy translating

So April was the first month without a post in my not-yet-so-long-existing blog. But no, neither am I dead nor do I want to stop writing. Private and work stuff demanded quite some time lately, yet much gaming-related stuff has happened in the past 1 1/2 months. But be warned, it's going to be a lot less shmuppy than before.

Homura - A nearly divine accomplishment

That accomplishment wasn't mine though. But I still play the game regularly, at least two or three times per week. Still loving it even though some frustrating aspects have shown up in the meantime. But these are just standard for shoot 'em ups when you've hit a wall and it constantly becomes harder to improve. It might not be long before I quit (or at least take a break), but I'd like to achieve my two main goals which are very close: a 1CC and a score of 2 billions. So far my best attempt yielded me 1.98 billions.

But of course someone else is responsible for the really exciting news here: abschüssig! Ladies and gentlemen, we now have a western player holding the Homura world record!! Seemingly the first ever shoot 'em up world record not hold by a Japanese player any longer. abschüssig worked for months if not years on this and you can watch the awesome result on his YouTube channel.

God of War II - An almost unfair challenge

Being my first PS2 non-shmup, God of War II became my necessary distraction from Homura, was just overused a little bit as I played it for hours and hours. But what can I say, God of War II is godly to say the least and totally deserved my time. I have played neither part 1 of the series nor any other hack 'n slay games, but I can hardly imagine how it can be done any better. Well the riddles could have been a bit more difficult and the controls have issues in some specific fights, but you really have to search deeply to find flaws in this game. To keep it short... The fighting system including all weapons, combos, magic and attack throws allows for tons of different tactics. The variety of your attacks and enemies is sheerly insane. The climbing, swimming and flying adds greatly to the gameplay, especially climbing on walls and ceilings while fighting enemies is always fun. Graphics, camera work and music is superb, too. And let's not forget Kratos! Without a doubt he is the most manly character in video game history. All his adrenaline and testosterone practically passes through the screen and flows directly into the player. Never ever have I enjoyed video game violence to such an extent, with the exception of the Battletoads arcade game which was more cartoonish and less serious of course. God of War II now is one of my favourite 3D games. Wait, screw it, it is simply one of the best games ever made! Period.

Right now I'm still trying to beat Titan mode, the highest difficulty of the game. I love how you finally have to learn every single enemy attack and how to avoid them to at least have a chance to survive. You also have to use all of your abilities or you're dead right away. Thus you get one hell of a challenge. For the most part it's fair and doable though if you are good enough and make use of the best tactics. I'd just say there are about four passages in Titan mode which are unfair or at least close, the first one being the boss fight against Theseus. Don't ever make one single mistake within 10 minutes or you start all the way from the beginning. I'm now at the last hellish passage in the hallway before Clotho. God is it hard. This part eventually seperates the true Gods of War from the rest. Even if I ever get through this, it will take at least a few more hours to do so. Luck desperately needed.

Contra: Shattered Soldier - A quite frustrating experience

Holy shit, I finally beat this game! It really did kick my ass though. It is hard yeah, but comparing it with the other Contra titles... I can constantly beat Contra: Hard Corps with all endings and characters on one credit, sometimes even no miss. Furthermore I almost beat Contra III: The Alien Wars with 3 lives on hard difficulty without using continues. Yet Shattered Soldier gave me a lot of trouble, for several reasons. Firstly, I could only play it once in a while when visiting a friend who owns the game. Secondly, the game is quite hard. Memorization is more important than ever before. Thus it takes some time to find the save spots and the weapons which suit each passage the best. Thirdly, you have to get an A or S rank in each of the first 5 stages to get to see 6 and 7. So screw up once and you're done. Luckily my friend found out that you don't lose destruction percentage when continuing from the beginning of the level (instead of the middle where you lose 10% while I think 80% is needed to get an A rank). Last but not least the practice mode is plain stupid. Whoever from the developers had this idea, deserves a shot to the head. Stage 1 to 4 (not sure about 5) are available for practice from the very start. But then the formula goes like this: Beat a stage and it becomes available. Hooray! Like I wouldn't want to practice to actually beat the stage in the first place, no I can do so after I already beat it. Stage 6 gave me nightmares only because of this idiocy. How if you could practice it after you reached it without using continues? Would have made much more sense. Therefore I always had to start from the beginning which became tedious and irritating after a while because the game is quite long. Especially due to slow boss fights where the vulnerable parts just appear seldom and there are too many and too long breaks between enemy attacks.

Not to forget it is a great game overall. Just said speed as well as weapon variety and some enemy/boss attacks could have been better to create a more exciting Contra expierence. I just beat Shattered Soldier with continues, might go for the 1CC next time I have the opportunity to play it. I'm also planning a review on this game, but as you might know, there isn't even one "pure" review on my blog so far. Simply because I tend to plan a lot and realise little, so we'll see.

Rendering Ranger - A rather lucky coincidence

I recently tripped over a unique chance. As a result I got my third Super Nintendo shmup. The incredible part of the story is, I got it for free. Oh and that it is Rendering Ranger. It doesn't matter that it's just the cartridge, never would I have bothered to pay the hilarious prices which the game fetches on eBay & Co. even without packaging and manual. So now I am extremely happy to have it in my collection, as I have played it once on a forum's meet and enjoyed at least the shoot 'em up stages a lot. The only problem is that my Super Nintendo still has to be modded before I can start playing, but Rendering Ranger is just the final reason to get that done very soon.

Donkey Kong, Battletoads & Double Dragon - A truly overwhelming task

Still back in March I reviewed the Super Nintendo games Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest and Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team for a German SNES site - with very different results. While I developed a strong hate on one game, I still adore the other one (almost) like on the first day. And no, Battletoads & Double Dragon is not the latter one. I failed miserably at keeping the reviews clear and short, so both of them became monsters of over 3,000 words and I don't know yet if I bother to translate them for this blog. Maybe coming soon.

March 12, 2011

News #1 - Extensive impressions on some new games

So it turns out it I hadn't bought any shoot 'em up games for almost the whole year 2010. Looking at some old score posts it seems that I purchased Under Defeat (Dreamcast) back in October 2009, Hellfire in November and Tatsujin (both Mega Drive) in December. And then absolutely nothing! It's once again weird how fast the time passes, I barely noticed it was such a long period without any new purchases in my favourite video game genre. But it wasn't that bad after all, there was still plenty of time to be spent with the freeware game XOP Black and especially the Dreamcast including all of its shmup awesomeness namingly Giga Wing, Zero Gunner 2, Mars Matrix and a bit of Under Defeat. I'm happy about that as my purse wasn't that well filled this year anyway...

But it's very likely that you just can't live without new stuff. As I had spent enough time on the above mentioned games, it was about time and my opportunity arrived in the last days of the year 2010. So I could celebrate the sudden arrival of four new shmups in my collection: the brandnew independently developed games Crimzon Clover and Fast Striker as well as Homura and Dragon Blaze as the start of my Playstation 2 collection. Some years ago, I would have played them all mixed up, but of course I've learnt that this doens't work out too well. So what do you do in that situation which was kind of new to me? Probably try them all out, stick with 1 or 2 and that's what I did. Meanwhile I could play all of them quite a bit, except Dragon Blaze which will have to wait a little more. While it's still too early to write detailed reviews, I'd like to post my impressions on these games. So if you're still hesitating whether to buy Crimzon Clover and Fast Striker, this might help you. Here we go.

Fast Striker (Dreamcast)

Last Hope isn't my cup of tea. I can tell so by watching 2 or 3 videos. R-Type like, memorization based, frustrating gameplay - there are many things in this world that are more fun. But surprise surprise, NG:DEV.TEAM developed, created Fast Striker as a serious effort to invade the arcades and the homes of serious score players. Four difficulty modes are included, so one thing is for sure: If you like the basic mechanics and game design, you will find a mode which perfectly suits you. Novice is rather uninteresting for experienced shmup players, very easy to 1CC. I also don't like the weaponry of your ship here. But it's very hard to find fault with any of the other modes. Omake is a little too hard for my taste, but still fun that way. Original is the default mode and concentrates on survival. Your ship is equipped with a spread shot to take care of enemy hordes more easily and with a very strong concentrated forward shot that kills powerful enemies and bosses quickly. Aside from the weapons, what makes this mode so fun are the few and simple, yet fun scoring mechanics. Destroyed enemies leave gold nuggets which imcrease your chain respectively multiplier. Shooting big enemies with your forward shot milks some bigger nuggets out of them. Last but not least surviving long enough activates devil rank where certain enemies leave suicide bullets, the difficulty is maxed out, but it is also much easier to grab the nuggets.

Maniac is where things get more complex. Chaining is now enemy based like in Dodonpachi. Shit, I hate this sort of scoring, I doubt I would ever try serious scoring attempts in a Dodonpachi game. But you know what? Fast Striker keeps it clearer, doesn't make it as hard and most importantly adds an element of forgiveness. When your chain breaks it's not the end of the world, the chain counter isn't reset, but drops so that you have some time to recover. Man great, I really like it this way. Maniac adds another scoring mechanic as well. When you focus your laser (the equivalent of the strong forward shot in Original) on big enemies, the beam turns from blue to green for a few seconds or longer if you continue to laser big baddies. With the green laser enemies give more points and point blanking them gives you nuggets which greatly contribute to your chain. Devil rank is now harder to reach and to hold, but gets much more important and adds another awesome element to the risk & reward system. When devil rank is activated you don't just get the standard scoring items, but NG:DEV.TEAM logos which add more points and increase your chain further. Bullet cancelling enemies and bosses yield you a ton of these logos. So better try your best to hold devil rank as long as you can. Dying, breaking your chain and using shields decreases the rank though the usage of one or two shields every once in a while may still retain devil rank. Omake takes Maniac's gameplay to the extreme. Very hard and for expert players and/or masochists only. Not to forget, in all modes you can get secrets throughout the stages and earn technical bonuses by destroying certain boss parts before finishing them off. What NG:DEV.TEAM managed astoundingly well in the end is to create this scoring system that is complex yet intuitive. While there are many different ways to increase your score, everything is easy to understand, adds positively to the challenge and is fun to do. Also the scoring mechanics don't get in each other's way, but harmonize well. The nice, tight level designs, varied enemies and fast, fluid, uncomplicated gameplay leave further positive impressions.

Unfortunately there are some things which I don't like at all. The balancing has flaws. The stage 1 boss spams bullets all over the place while the stage 2 boss has some very easy to dodge patterns. The 4th boss is also easier than the 3rd. Another example: in the middle of stage 3 there's a passage where a whole lot of the powerful bullet-spamming enemies enter the screen at once, together with a bunch of popcorn. You barely have enough firepower to destroy all of them and find yourself in bullet hell. Cruel bullet hell. It would be ok for its own maybe, but it feels unnaturally difficult compared to the rest of the stage. More balancing between the modes would also have been nice. The stages, weapons and scoring mechanics differ, but the bosses always shoot the exact same patterns in every mode besides Omake. I guess the idea was that the different weapons from each mode shall influence the length and thus the difficulty of the boss fight, but it doesn't feel right especially because boss fights in Novice are harder than in Original for that reason. Another problem is devil rank. Once you're in its fine, challenging and especially on Maniac and Omake very rewarding. But if you have the "luck" to enter devil rank by destroying a big enemy, you're welcome by suicide bullets you don't expect. You can avoid this by being careful in the first place, but it's still a bit unfair. Last but not least some of the patterns bother me. It could just be me, but I find dodging in Fast Striker harder than in most other games. The main reason seems to be that some patterns aren't as refined and fair designed as I'd like them to be. They just throw the shit at you without letting you the necessary breathing space. It is just a small number of patterns though, many of them are fun to dodge. The problem: they use the same formular too often. Like when you have to dodge through a slow pattern and then the fast red aimed bullets appear. More variety please! In conclusion this looks like a lot of complaints, but be aware that I criticize mostly small issues which don't destroy the game, Fast Striker is still very fun overall! I hope the Hellwig brothers will continue to develop and improve the way they did from Last Hope to this game. Then more great shmups will await us in the future.

Regarding graphics Fast Striker became the expected mixed bag. The visual style is awesome, I especially love the enemy and boss designs a lot. The backgrounds are also nice, but - you guessed it - don't offer even a bit of variety, with the exception of stage 4. Sadly some parts of the backgrounds in the final stage have been cut out on the Dreamcast port, thus it looks quite dull, too. The main problem about the graphics though is the colourful style which looks nice, but can cause problems. When there are lots of stuff on the screen, preferably bullets of too many different colours, enemies and scoring items, the overview suffers. That leads to confusion and some cheap frustrating deaths. Speaking of which I don't like different colour bullets anyway (unless they are somewhat similar like blue and green), so others might not find it that disturbing. Technically Fast Striker is almost flawless, slowdown occurs only seldom in Omake mode. If you like trance, chances are high you'll also dig the soundtrack. I'm not really into that kind of music, yet I like some of the music quite a bit, especially stage 1 and 3.

Crimzon Clover (PC)

Now THIS game is one of the most incredible things I've ever seen. Right out of the blue Yotsubane gives us his first game which looks like he has developed shmups for his entire life already. Everything about Crimzon Clover screams perfect. The scoring system is deep yet easy to pick up. You basically have two shots, standard and lock-on. The system evolves around a multiplier which constantly diminishes, but can be raised by destroying enemies. When destroying a bigger group of enemies with one lock-on shot you gets you a lot of stars and another multiplier for a short time. Moreover you can raise the break bar by killing enemies, once it is half full you can use a bomb. Once it is full, you can fill up a second bar and are free to enter Break mode. During Break mode (lasts approximately 10 seconds) you get invincibility for a few seconds, become faster, your shot is more powerful, the multiplier is double as high as before and you constantly get stars when shooting baddies. Not enough, if you fill up the second bar during Break mode you can enter Double Break mode where the multiplier is doubled once again, your fire fills practically the whole screen and you get even more scoring items. The break modes are plain fun, not to say maybe some of the coolest things ever giving you the power to kill giant enemy waves in seconds. It needs some time to get used to all the small scoring tricks like positioning full lock-ons, point-blanking enemies to fill your break bar faster and find out the best break timings, but that's part of the fun. Luckily you don't have to learn exact stage routes to get decent scores, the game allows for some freedom and spontaneity without breaking your score. The high amount of extends and practically infinite bombs also make Crimzon Clover more motivating than frustrating as you're always able to suit your strategies to your current ingame situation. Graphically, all I can say is that the visual effects are just sick. At times I still can't believe what is going on on the screen. Masses of enemy sprites, bullets, lasers, stars everywhere and not to forget your own weapons (especially in the break modes) result in a visual firework that you simply have to see. Yet the overview is maintained most of the time. Moreover Crimzon Clover offers some of the most imaginative level designs, enemy formations and shot patterns which are out there. It just never stops throwing things at you which take your breath away.

The only real problem about this game are the system requirements. Too much for my laptop. Crimzon Clover slows down intentionally when there are tons of bullets onscreen, but for me it does way too often. The built-in frames counter should always stay at 60 fps, for me it slows down to 20 frames at the most extreme parts. So I quit posting my scores on Shmups forum as they would be far from legit, continued playing a little bit, but then lost my motivation because of that. This is a shame admittedly because Crimzon Clover is one of the best shooting games ever made. Oh yeah I mean it! It's just so awesome it's unbelievable! Later I will definitely continue playing on my own or simply try to get a better PC. This game deserves it. If you want to play Crimzon Clover on your PC and run it without unintended slowdown, you will need to fulfill these system requirements:

Windows 7/Vista/XP
DirectX 9.0c
2,8 Ghz processor
500 MB space on your HDD

I couldn't find anything about graphic card requirements, but I suppose you shouldn't have a bad one either.

Homura (Playstation 2)

After I had stopped playing Crimzon Clover and achieved good scores in Fast Striker, it was time for the next challenge. I didn't hook up the Playstation 2 earlier because I still needed to get an RGB cable to enjoy the games in full 60 Hz glory. Homura was one of my most wanted shmups and probably the reason why I chose the Playstation 2 over the Xbox 360 for now. It didn't click with me instantly as much as I had expected, but after some time and getting used to all the techniques, I love everything about it. Even some of the less detailed background graphics don't bother me. The setting and overall graphical style are great, the tracking shots well crafted and the enemy design coherent. Yet the orchestral soundtrack is even much more interesting. It gives Homura a distinctive, somewhat dark and very epic atmosphere on a level which sadly is seldom for shoot 'em ups nowadays. It perfectly supports the gameplay experience and makes it feel complete. Speaking of which, let's finally talk about the gameplay. Skonec's shooter caught my attention with similarities to other games at first: the Giga Wing series (one of my favourites) with the similar bullet reflecting tool and Shikigami no Shiro (one of my other most wanted shmups) where the character also attracts the gold items when defeating enemies with some kind of special attack. With similarities to these games, they could hardly go wrong. But Homura still has a lot of individuality. The bullet reflecting has to be approached differently, the Thunder Attack where the character dashes around the screen killing all enemies is a cool idea, too. The scoring system is a bit confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's top notch. Bullet hoarding does play a role though it is not as important as in Giga Wing, simply because your "reflect" phase is so short here. It's more important to get a good timing and slashing the tight patterns to hit as many bullets as possible. Like in Takumi's games it is huge fun to use of the overwhelming enemy fire to your own good. Besides the shot patterns are like an own piece of art, fascinating to watch, fun to dodge and to slash back. One remarkable thing about Homura is its forgiveness. When you die you don't lose your current bomb stock, but get an extra one. That means you still can use all the bombs which are available in the game if you don't lose your last life with bombs in stock. You're score won't get hurt by dying either (missed enemies, slashes etc. not counted). So if you're not going for a world record score, an early death won't hurt you. Personally, I sometimes tend to do rage restarts when I die early or make small mistakes, in Homura I sure won't ever do such things. This way Skonec eliminated a lot of potential frustration. The only things I don't like concern the awkward controls when activating a bomb. Also accidentally executing a thunder attack instead of slashing bullets happens now and then in stage 4 because it's hard to see some enemies in all that chaos. I may revoke this complaint while mastering the stage though.

You could call Homura rather a beautiful experience than just a game. A very special and underrated gem.

Dragon Blaze (Playstation 2)

Only played a few credits here so far. I came, I saw, I didn't conquer. This will be one tough challenge as it's probably one of the hardest shoot 'em ups ever. What I can say right now is that the scoring system seems great. I did like the coin system in Gunbird 2 and Strikers 1999, yet this is a very nice change. The need of flying very high on the screen to destroy the enemies with dragon shot and being as offensive as possible makes it feel like no other shmup. It's harder to pick up though, you will have to plan your routes carefully to get the desired gold coins and not to get caught by enemy fire. Additionally, this is for sure the most hectic shmup expierence I know, with the exception of Dangun Feveron. I hated Cave's shooter for that, but I sure hope it will be different with Dragon Blaze. In the end this is definitely Psikyo madness as usual, fast bullets, crazy rank, memorization fest, seems even harder than Gunbird 2. Which doesn't have to be bad. We'll see.

Incidentally I changed the site layout and blog title (which was just a stupid working title anyway) from horrible to not too bad. I hope at least. Moreover I'm playing and reviewing Battletoads & Double Dragon on Super Nintendo. Don't ever touch this game, you'd regret it! Not even the toads could save it from being toadally average and unnecessary.

February 21, 2011

Mars Matrix - A look back... and forward

What a shooter! Without a doubt Mars Matrix is one of the most important ones in my collection, for various reasons. It is one the games (next to Giga Wing 2 and Gunbird 2) which sparked my interest in bullet hell shooters. It was my first shoot 'em up with a scoring system that is plain hardcore and barely shows any mercy with its timed chaining. Unlike Dodonpachi I do find it really enjoyable, I did even in those days where it just kicked my ass. The chaining and Mosquito system are simply brilliant. Additionally, Mars Matrix might be the shooter which I've spent the most time with by now, probably between 150 and 200 hours. Of course not without a reason, it does have that much replay value. Last but not least it is the best example (for myself) of what you can achieve with immense amounts of practice, dedication and most importantly the maintenance of fun when you're playing a game for such a long time. Luckily Mars Matrix made at least that last thing rather easy to achieve.

So I'd like to take a look back to the beginning. I got Mars Matrix sometime in summer or autumn 2008 and immediately liked it. Well basically, all I did was enjoying the nice shot patterns, dying, credit-feeding, creating mini chains, constantly trying to improve them a little and buy new options from the shop to get to play with more lives and credits. You could say I had no idea how to play shmups, let alone the hand-eye coordination to survive in this bullet hell. Not even to speak of scoring well at the same time. Though not playing the game seriously, I had some good fun with it already.

Everything changed in April 2009 when I registered at Shmups forum. Suddenly I found scoreboards, strategy discussions and superplays. So finally I didn't just play for fun or against my own pathetic scores, but had lots of competition which increased my motivation by a ton. I started to play on default settings and posted my first score of about 79 billion taking the last place on the scoreboard. And that was even by far my best score at this point. Never would I have dreamed that I could get near the top spots, millions of EXP or even a 1 Credit Clear. But I hoped to climp up some places and after 2 or 3 months of practice I did, ending up at 200 billion points with 1.1 million EXP by the end of stage 4. This stage felt impossible at that point. I went on to play other games, knowing I would return to Mars Matrix whenever the time has come.

A full year had passed before it actually came. Mars Matrix was played during the 3rd week of the Shooting Game Tournament 2010, the first tourney I participated in. I was motivated as hell having achieved decent results in the first two weeks and now having a very good reason to get the dust off Mars Matrix. Well not exactly. Due to the different scoring values of the Dreamcast port, we all had to play the Arcade version. The one button controls were a bit troublesome, but I got used to it within the week. And much, much faster than I had expected, I got past the beast that is stage 4. Blame it on improved hand-eye coordination and finding respectively being told about some easier strategies to avoid difficult situations. By the end of the week I had 297 billions with 1.3 million EXP, reaching the final boss. So I could barely improve my chaining, but get more constant and survive better.

During this week I also started to play the Dreamcast version again. The results came fast, my score was soon four times as high as before. I never played much at a time, but constantly a few credits per week. This was the best way to stay motivated and not to get burned out at a point where it became more and more difficult to improve my score. But a 13 digit score and a 1CC were suddenly in reach and enough reason to keep playing. Let alone the fact that Mars Matrix became more and more fun as I got better chains and improved my overall skills at the game. So I managed to get decent or good chains in stage 1, 5 and the second half of stage 2, while still failing miserably in stage 3 and 4. At least there were some easy chains to get from gold fountains. After a lot of tries, deaths, chainbreaks and bad luck I could finally get it all together. On 18th December 2010 I ended up with a 1CC scoring 1.3 trillion points with 2.5 million EXP. Quite a perfect run for my current skills and strategies and probably my 2nd best achievement in the shmup genre so far.

Luckily this is not the end. I'm burned out from Mars Matrix right now, but I'll be happy to return back to it some other time, hopefully this year. I still haven't fully given up on chaining the so important stage 3. Additionally, I want to practice the Arrange Mode more which shares the same gameplay mechanics, stage layouts and bosses with the main game, but offers some new enemies, whole new enemy formations and bullet patterns as well as a level design that is just as awesome as ever.

For now there's nothing left to say except: Thanks Takumi for giving us one of the best shooting games of all time!

Not to forget: Mars Matrix review coming soon. Hopefully.