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.