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. ;)