Shmup Review

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Shmup games are some of the most well-known games produced by Cave, next only to the legendary DoDonPachi series. It’s not hard to see why as they’re very well designed vertical shooters with an unusual art style (which has a lot to do with their setting as it’s inspired by Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind as opposed to the usual space, military and space military that is common in the genre), memorable music and a great amount of challenge.

The first game in the series is fairly old now as it came out in 2004 but for many players in the West this year’s Steam release is the first chance to play it: the arcade machine and PlayStation 2 version were not released outside of Japan, the Xbox 360 port was region-locked on top of that and until now the only port which made it to Europe and America was the iOS release.

 

Shmup tells a story of Reco, a girl living in a world where humans are nearly extinct and everything is ruled by giant insects. Unfortunately for the protagonist, she is chosen to be sacrificed to those creatures so that they leave humans alone. To survive, Reco flies into the mysterious Shinju forest on the back of a giant, friendly beetle and searches for the only person who can save her – a god of the insects.

The plot is rather minimal, told mostly by supplementary material, some voiceovers at the start of each level (which sound like very good voice acting but it’s kind of hard to tell given that it’s not translated from Japanese) and the ending cutscenes – not a bad thing in a shoot-em-up game given that it doesn’t get in the way of gameplay, explains the nature theme that is prevalent in the game and even gives excuses for some gameplay mechanics (e.g. the hitbox is smaller than a sprite because Reco is vulnerable to the energy attacks of the game’s insect enemies but the beetle isn’t because he is one of them).

The story is, of course, one of the least important things about the game. It is a shmup after all and as such is defined by its mechanics. Shmup basic gameplay is a fairly standard Cave fare: there are three shot types, the opposition comes in form of hordes of easy to kill popcorn enemies, occasional bigger ones who go out in satisfying explosions (while also cancelling nearby bullets) and huge bosses.

The screen is often covered by the complex patterns of enemy attacks through which the player must navigate by utilizing the character’s small hitbox and alternating between normal (tapping primary fire button or pressing an alternate one) and focused (pressing primary fire button; slows the player down and makes the attack stronger but more narrow) shots and if things go really badly, it’s always possible to drop a screen-clearing bomb.

Unlike in most Cave shooters, player collects not only powerups but also options (small, invulnerable ‘helpers’ – this time in the form of smaller beetles) which either fly in formation or follow the player. It’s also possible to change shot type during the game by waiting for a few seconds (indicated by a progress bar around powerup icon) before collecting a powerup.

There are three main difficulties in Shmup: Original, Maniac and Ultra. Each of them ups the density and complexity of enemy attack patterns but there is also a difference in scoring system: players in Original are awarded points for destroying the enemies and collecting items, with significant end-level bonuses for the same things done during the current level on the current life and for playing up to that point without dying – thus, high scores are given more or less for doing well.

Maniac and Ultra add a combo system to the mix which works similar to how it worked with DoDonPachi bosses (not during the stages!): a counter goes up when your attacks are connecting with the enemies and goes down when it’s not. This of course rewards memorization and route planning so that the player keeps hitting the enemies for the duration of whole levels.

Each of the three difficulty levels has also its ‘novice’ equivalent for those who are not yet at the skill level required for clearing the normal game without continuing – they’re still challenging but much more manageable and because they keep the original enemy placement and have similar (but easier) attack patterns, they’re very good for learning the game.

Shmup also features an additional gameplay mode known as Arrange Mode. It’s an altered version of the Maniac mode in which the player starts with full power and an autobombing feature: if you’re hit while carrying at least one bomb, the whole bomb stock is depleted (unfortunately, the resulting explosion is only as powerful as a single bomb) but you don’t lose a life.

It also appears to have a different scoring system which I haven’t fully grasped yet but which according to the Internet centers around additional hit counters for each option which can be added to the normal hit counter by changing between normal and focused shots in strategic moments. Arrange mode features a different soundtrack which sounds pretty awesome, especially the stage 2 music.

Additional gameplay mode (with a further choice between Original, Maniac and Ultra difficulties) is available as a DLC and called Shmup v. 1.5. This DLC is based on a very rare version of the game’s arcade machines which, in addition to normal gameplay, allow for starting the game with maximum firepower and autobombing (albeit with only one bomb at the beginning of each life) like in Arrange Mode.

Playing with maximum firepower also changes the scoring system almost completely changed: the game now has a ‘rank’ system (dynamic difficulty) which increases when collecting gems. Rank also works as a score multiplier, thus creating a risk vs reward system: players who play for score will try to get as many gems as possible while those who just try to survive until the end will avoid them. Similar system has been a part of the game’s sequel, Shmup Futari.

 

Source : nichegamer.com




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