Just a quick heads up! An article I orchestrated for http://Racketboy.com is now up. The piece is an overview of the Game Boy Advance's library of shmups. We tried to be really thorough and go over imports as well as compilations and even borderline shmups.
Check it out here: http://www.racketboy.com/...ce-gba-shmup-library.html
If you've been following my blog for a while now, then it's no secret to you that I've become a pretty big fan of shmups. And when I'm collecting for a system, it becomes near impossible for me to pass any up at the right price. This means that constant trips to GameStop have resulted in some peculiar purchases. Y'know the old saying of judging books by their covers? I don't really buy into all that. I tend to know the sort of games that I enjoy. And I tend to believe that many game companies knew enough to market a lot of their games as such. If I see a shmup that has an anime witch with odd-colored hair and the screenshots boast bright pink or green bullets, then guess what? I'm probably gonna like it. But then there's a game like Platypus. I mean forget the cover -- just take a gander at that title: Platypus? Really?
Platypus is a horizontal shmup that seems to draw inspiration from the Cute-em-up sub-sub-genre. To put it bluntly -- everything is made out of clay. It's sort of like Gradius meets Clay Fighter. Your ship has several power-ups to its main gun, and no secondary weapons. One interesting feature is that rather than lose your power-up at a death, instead there's a count-down timer on each power-up you collect. So while you may find one power-up more useful than another, it's also in your interest to keep grabbing new ones so as to not be demoted down to your standard shot.
I'm not going to pretend that Platypus is some amazing hidden gem. It's not. It's basically a very so-so shmup. But it is at least unique in its presentation. And it boasts thirty levels, which means it will keep you busy for at least a bit. Perhaps more importantly, it's very cheap on the after-market. Basically you're getting into a just good shmup, but for the low premium why not? The visuals are at least interesting, which is at least saying something. The bit of searching I tried to do on the game's developer, Squashy Software seems to say that this is their only game so far (and it was released in 2006). I'd at least give them a chance to see what they do next considering their attempt at putting a unique visual spin on such a long-running genre.
If you've been following the Game Boy Player Land blog then surely you're aware of my recent fascination with Shmups after finding my Hori Gamecube Fighting Stick. There were two previous posts I did about Shmups released for Game Boy Advance, which undoubtedly left some of you wondering when I might get around to the Game Boy Shmups. Well friends, here we are. I also threw in a couple of Game Boy Color titles, as it seems to me there just aren't enough good Shmups on the GBC. Now let's dig in, y'all!
In 1990, Ultra released a little Game Boy cart known as Nemesis. If those screens look at all familiar, they should. That's the Vic Viper flying around, shooting shit. And Nemesis is the Game Boy port of the Konami classic Gradius. Like most early Game Boy versions, Nemesis is certainly a lot more stripped down than its NES counterpart. The music is nothing to write home about, and the backgrounds are generally simple. But the game is no less fun.
The controls in Nemesis work well, and there are plenty of power-ups to keep the Vic Viper kicking ass. Not to mention the fact that the game is also generally easier than the NES version, compounded by the fact that you can choose which of the five levels to start on or select up to 99 lives. Most likely these helping-hands were put forth to make up for the extra challenge caused by cramping so much within the Game Boy's tiny screen. But if you're playing on the Game Boy Player, then things feel a lot less claustrophobic.
In 1991 Konami brought it's cult-classic Parodius to the Game Boy. Sadly, they didn't release it in the US. What's upsetting about that decision is that Parodius is easily one of the absolute best Game Boy shooters released.
Parodius seems to have gotten everything perfect that Nemesis was close to getting right. The music is fantastic; The backgrounds are great and even include various scrolling effects; The boss battles include impressive animation; And best of all -- you can choose from multiple ships -- I always go for the Octopus myself. If you can find it, do yourself and add Parodius to your collection!
Project S-11 is the only Game Boy Color-exclusive Shmup that I can think of to recommend. The game is bright and colorful as you can see from those screens above. It also features some really great music -- y'know upbeat techno kind of stuff that gels so well with space shooters.
The gameplay mechanics are quite good. Your ship is responsive, and unlike most Shmups Project S-11 differentiates itself by straying from the one-bullet-kills-you deal. However if I had to pick one element that causes S-11 to demand replays it would be the power-ups. There are many interesting power-ups that force you to figure out the best way to implement them. For instance some are best left to holding down the shoot button, while others are better off with rapid tapping. Likewise, there's even a weird plasma-laser that works best if you shoot one stream, hold it down for a bit and then let go as it then sucks itself back at you causing more damage to enemies on its way back. Very original.
The first two R-Type games were released for the original Game Boy, and I wasn't a huge fan of them. My main plight was that the ship just felt too damn big to maneuver comfortably through such tight quarters. Eventually both games were combined and colorized and released as R-Type DX for the Game Boy Color. Now certainly the same complaint can be made about the ship size, but in some way I feel that the enhanced graphics somehow made the ship-handling at least slightly easier.
The sound and graphics are wonderful, feeling like a long-lost NES port that we all wish we had played. Though obviously the GBA port of R-Type III would put this version to shame visually, I find R-Type DX a far more playable game. Recommended if you're a fan of the series.
Released very early in the Game Boy's lifespan, Solar Striker may in fact be the first Shmup released for the system. It's an unassuming little title. Those screens above really don't do it the slightest bit of justice. For all the simplicity in the games' presentation, just a few minutes of playing reveal that Solar Striker is one hell of a fun game. The controls are tight, the bosses are generically awesome and the power-ups useful yet rather cliched, and yet somehow that works in the games' favor. It's as if Solar Striker is the perfect example of what a simple Shmup should be. It's a game that's both somewhat banal and completely must-own at the same time.
Trax is actually pretty different than all the other games I outlined in my Shmups posts. For one thing, it doesn't take place in outer space. Instead you man a tank... that's shaped like an egg. Also, the screen doesn't automatically scroll like in so many genre-defining Shmups. This alone gives it an extremely different feel than the other games mentioned. What's even more different is that your gun can move independently of your tank's movement.
Okay, so Cute-Em-Up style graphics? Unconventional controls? That's right! You guessed it! This is a Hal Labs game. All the more reason for you to give it a try. It's definitely nothing like the other games I went over, but it's interesting enough to warrant a try. And you know Hal always delivers. This is definitely a game that seems a bit forgotten, which is too damn bad. The game also features a secondary mode that plays out in a melee style and seems to be an homage to the Atari 2600 classic Combat. Certainly a bonus.
Okay so obviously I've given my arcade stick a total workout on Shmups. But just in case I missed something awesome, please let me know. Or if there's a specific Shmup I should keep miles away from, also a warning is appreciated.
In keeping with my recent obsession with playing various arcade-centric genres with the Gamecube Fighting Stick, I can't help but return to the Shmup in all its glory. As it turns out, there's plenty more of them released for the GBA that I stumbled upon since my first GBA Shmup post. A few of which I even got my hands on, so let's take a look at few more, shall we?
In my last GBA Shmup post I raved about Iridion II, although I had never played the first game. As it turns out Irion 3D is really quite different than the sequel. It should be noted off the bat that the graphics in Iridion 3D are excellent. The backgrounds are all extremely detailed and definitely show off what the GBA was capable of. In fact, visuals are even more impressive when you realize that Iridion 3D was a GBA launch title. Likewise, the music is fantastic. The game features a slightly generic, but nonetheless hyper and fun techno soundtrack. There's no denying that such music goes hand in hand with futuristic Shmups.
Having said all that, the truth is that Iridion 3D is far more awesome in theory than it is in reality. As incredible as the game looks and sounds, it really doesn't play all that well. First of all the controls utilize the inverted Y-Axis scheme -- meaning you have to push up to go down. Admittedly, that might be a bit nit-picky and more of a preference thing. The game also chugs along rather slowly, which seems to kind of go against the grain of the chaotic shooter formula. However the biggest problem with the game mechanic is the point-of-view. The camera is behind the spaceship, similar to the classic Star Fox on the SNES. Unfortunately it doesn't work as well here. Instead it makes aiming at anything far more work than it should be, and ultimately you find that your ship often gets in the way of your line of vision -- resulting in you crashing and burning because you never even saw the enemy fire. Iridion 3D is basically a solid effort that sadly just fell short (but was completely redeemed in its second installment).
Phalanx was originally released for the SNES in 1992, although it's generally more remembered for its bizarre and misleading cover-art rather than its gameplay. That's really too bad, because as I have just recently discovered from the 2001 port, Phalanx is an unbelievably perfect 16-bit Shmup. The controls are responsive, the scrolling is hyper without being overwhelming, the weapon upgrades are awesome and the bosses are robotic versions of marine life. What else do you really need?
There's certainly no denying that Phalanx borrows heavily from other popular Shmups of the day. All the genre cliches are there right down to the aforementioned robotic seafood. But what makes Phalanx work so well is the feeling that the developers were not trying to duplicate something successful just to cash in on it. Instead Phalanx plays out like an excellent homage to the classic Shmups in the vein of Konami's "holy trinity" of Gradius, Darius and Parodius. If you are a fan of such games, I can't recommend this one enough. It's easily one of my favorite GBA Shmups ever.
When Konami released their Arcade Advanced collection in 2002 it included a completely revamped version of the 1981 arcade classic Scramble. By simply inputting the trusty Konami code at the title screen you can play a brand new version of Scramble with all new graphics and sounds.
The gameplay is ultimately the same exact thing as the original. This means it's not incredibly fast paced, but it is still challenging. The big gimmick in Scramble is the fact that your ship is continually burning up fuel, so it's almost more important to be refueling rather than shooting stuff. Though this isn't exactly the ultimate Shmup, it's definitely a novel diversion for fans of the genre.
In 1989 there was a rather awesome NES game called The Guardian Legend that managed to incorporate elements of an action game with Shmup segments. The game is generally well remembered by a certain cult audience, and for good reason. In 2005 Namco attempted to make a sort of spiritual successor to The Guardian Legend called Sigma Star Saga.
Oh Namco, how you tried.
With Sigma Star Saga Namco attempted to combine an RPG with a Shmup. Maybe this isn't a completely insane idea. Both genres have rabid cult followings. But at the same time, they are two radically different genres, that present themselves in polar opposite gameplay atmospheres. Let me put it this way: when I play a Shmup, I mainly want to just shoot a bunch of shit without thinking about a story. And when I play an RPG, I want to slowly explore things and think about each move carefully. See the dilemma?
In the end though the main fault with Sigma Star Saga is that no matter how good Namco's intentions were (and I give them props for trying), really even if the visuals are spot-on, the Shmup portions don't amount to a very good Shmup. And unfortunately the same can be said of the RPG elements.
Okay, so after playing through all these GBA Shmups and the ones before I can say that really the only one I'm still really after is Darius R. Unless you know of another that I absolutely must get my hands on? Or is there another that's so bad I should avoid at all costs? Any comments are welcome!
The recent acquisition of my Hori Fighting Stick has gotten me in a very arcadey kind of mood. I've been going through various genres that I tend to associate with the feel of an arcade stick. That being said, don't be shocked if the Game Boy Player Land blog becomes a bit flooded with these sort of random rundowns of stray games. First up: Shmups.
Now I should note that different people tend to classify genres differently. It tends to be a personal thing. Shmup, or slang for "shoot 'em up" (as anyone who frequents this website is well aware) is described by the all-knowing Wikipedia as a game in which "the player controls a lone character, often a spacecraft or aircraft, shooting large numbers of enemies while dodging their attacks." This is actually exactly how I tend to think of Shmups. Others consider something like Contra to be part of the genre. But in my head -- no spaceship, no Shmup. Contra and the likes are Run-N-Guns, which many consider to be a sub-genre of Shmups, but again -- no spaceship, man. So to me those two genres are millions of miles apart. That's just me.
Also, I think it's important to point out that this is not meant to be any sort of comprehensive list, or Best Of, or anything like that. Ultimately, it just touches upon games that I've actually had experience with.
Gradius Galaxies seems like a good place to start. I mean look, right there in the title... it says Gradius, so it must be good. Right? Well, sadly that's just not the case. Sadly, Galaxies has a lot going for it, but manages to drop the ball. The graphics are certainly top-notch, but the huge downfall is the control. Unfortunately, control is pretty much the most important aspect of whether a Shmup will be playable or not. And Gradius Galaxies is damn-near unplayable as far as I'm concerned. You see, the ship is terribly terribly slow. I mean really slow. I mean if you're at the top of the screen and you hold the down button expect to really wait a while to make it to the bottom of the screen. In a genre that prides itself on pandemonium, this kind of snail's-pace just doesn't cut it.
Invader seems to be a somewhat overlooked GBA exclusive from 2002. And it's pretty much everything I want out of a Shmup. It's brightly colored with crazy robotic bugs and explosions. It's got lots of power-ups, a fantastic ambient-techno soundtrack and vocoder voices. It's really hard, but not infuriating. This is a game I cannot praise enough. Though it's rare that I see it mentioned when discussing GBA Shmups, ultimately I think it will earn a certain cult-status. In my eyes it's like the Ikaruga of the Game Boy Advance.
Iridion II tends to be the first game anybody ever mentions when discussing Shmups released for the Game Boy Advance. And with good reason. In reality Iridion II -- which is somewhat confusingly the sequel to Iridion 3D -- is a fantastic game. It's got a great control scheme, and stunningly innovative graphics. To be fair, this game and Invader are certainly a tough call as far as which is my favorite GBA Shmup. I've actually never played Iridion 3D but from what I can tell it portrays its ship from an over-the-shoulder perspective like Space Harrier or Star Fox. Though those are two games I love, I generally flock more towards traditional vertical or horizontal shooters.
R-Type III: The Third Lightning is such a frustrating release to me. Take a look at those pictures and you can see that this is a game with gorgeous graphics. They certainly are on par, and maybe surpass the SNES version. However my major plight with this game -- and it's the same problem I had with the previous Game Boy and Game Boy Color R-Type games -- is that the ship is just too big for the screen which results in incredibly difficult maneuvering. Your ship is just so long that it works as a detriment, making even simple movements result in crashing into something. This is a real letdown considering just how great the game looks. I've heard that some fans really love the Game Boy releases, so who know; maybe this game is for you. But I just couldn't get over this flaw in any of the Game Boy entries in the series.
Besides these, there's a supposedly near-perfect port of the SNES classic Phalanx that I would love to track down. Similarly there's the Japan-only release of Darius R which I'd love to get my hands on. But you tell me, what GBA Shmups am I missing out on? And more importantly, which should I avoid?