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  1. #1
    Lesser Hivemind Node squareking's Avatar
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    Insert coin: PC shooters and a discussion about them

    * WARNING: A huge post is approaching fast! *

    Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed that the RPS readership has a heavy preference for RPG, strategy, turn-based tactics and similar my-brain-hurts-from-the-thinking type games. Rightfully so -- those seem to be the PC’s domain and, in my experience, those titles offer the most enjoyment per time unit spent. Unfortunately, I see neither much coverage nor discussion on a niche videogame genre close to my geeky, bespectacled heart -- the shmup.

    Sure, more popular indie releases like Hydorah and Jamestown received coverage and general applause in the comments, but there’s no discourse on optimal scoring strategies, or uncovered secrets, or any of the delightful morsels that make these games unique. It it because few players find these games as engaging as I? Are your intrigueometers stuck at 0.0 when someone talks about a Gradius run? Do your eyes glaze over when bright pink bullets fill the screen? I’m curious if it’s truly a matter of disinterest or if the games’ surface difficulty is often too tough a nut to crack -- the most common complaint I’ve come across.

    I wanted to establish the beginning of a discussion on and hopefully generate new interest in these games. Thankfully, the PC is the perfect starting point to access a vast library of excellent examples of the genre. The fanbase is well-established in Japan, where doujin (basically indie) shooters are released almost once a month. Many have demos, fairly high production values and even rival the huge arcade releases by arguably the most well-known developer, Cave. Then you have the seedy, dank world of arcade emulation via MAME. But we’ll get there in a bit.

    For now, I’m going to break this post into three categories: background information, recommendations and resources. I’ll start with some basic concepts, philosophies and terms used in the overwhelming majority of shooters in the first section. The recommendation section will have a handful of, well, recommendations for beginning, intermediate and advanced players.

    I can't display more than 4 images per post, so this won't be as exhaustive as I planned.

    // Information

    Part of the allure of these games is the almost uniform simplicity of the game mechanics. Quick crash course: Most often, you control some avatar -- a ship, a tank, a flying catgirl witch thing, whatever -- and you progress through a few levels of increasing difficulty, shooting the bads until they stop trying to kill you. So you have at a minimum controls for movement and attack. Most games have developed some ridiculous flexibility with this system, including toggling several firing modes (Espgaluda 2, Radiant Silvergun), holding the attack button to alter movement (Cave and Touhou titles) and activating shields, bombs and permutations of all these things (Hellsinker, Shikigami series).

    The primary objective is to a) beat the game (ideally, on one credit, known as a 1CC) and b) get the highest score. The earliest examples were content to throw popcorn baddies at you, make you face off with a boss at the end of a stage, add up your score and call it a day. Most titles, however, have deeply elaborate scoring systems that require a good amount of multitasking, perfect placement of your character and a willingness to embrace a deadly risk/reward system. Jamestown, for example, gives a substantial point bonus if you destroy an enemy at a certain point in its on-screen lifecycle with a certain weapon. It’s certainly not obvious from the onset, but if you’ve played it, you’ve seen it happen. That’s really the tip of the iceburg -- games from the now-defunct Raizing usually required suiciding in order to maintain the game’s difficulty.

    This section is going to take the longest to develop, so I’ll update it over time if there’s enough interest. Horizontal vs. vertical, Japanese vs. not very Japanese, more on scoring, art styles, music, etc.

    // Recommendations:
    Entry-level

    Warning Forever



    So you're fighting a single enemy that builds defensive modules onto itself based upon how you attack it. Attack the center/front only and it'll build stronger defense up front and add laser turrets. Attack at the sides and it'll fan out and add weapons. You get a lovely graph explaining why it's making these changes at the beginning of each stage. Controls are a bit strange at first -- you can rotate/spread your weapon when holding the attack button. It's been a while since I've played, but I think that's how it works. Everyone here should play this. Also check out Ray Hound and Shooter's Solitude, the latter I could never get to run.

    Eden’s Aegis



    A great starting point with lots of room to grow. Fairly basic, Japanese-style vertically scrolling goodness with lots of tweaks -- don’t like pink bullets? Go with green or blue or purple. I suggest starting on easy with the other settings at default. Default shot is Z and bomb is X, I believe. Hold Z to focus your shot, slow your character and display your hitbox. ~50mb; install text is in Japanese, but anyone who knows his/her way around a computer (you lot) will know what to do. The other games by the same devs are worth your time, too.

    Jamestown

    It’s everything you want -- great pixel art, great soundtrack, easy-to-understand scoring system. The first ship is the beginner’s best bet and it’s fairly easy to beat on the lowest difficulty setting. ~250mb and stupidly fantastic.

    Tyrian

    Likely the most well-known shooter on this list. Features a well-written storyline and some fairly heavy ship/weapon/shield customization. Tons of secrets in this one, too. Definitely from the 'Euroshmup' school as opposed to the hard-as-hell Japanese danmaku (bullet curtain) style. This was the first shmup I played on PC and I lost a boatload of hours to it. ~10mb & free, so get it.

    CHO REN SHA 68K
    http://i-saint.skr.jp/exception/


    // Recommendations:
    Intermediate

    Samidare



    Only moderately sadistic. I recall there only being 3 stages, but they're tough. Fast bullets, insane boss battles and a nifty bullet deflect mechanic. Some of the best production values for indie stuff, too.

    Patriot Dark

    Haven't spent a lot of time with this one, but it's an enjoyable title in the Cave style of things. Difficulty ramps up fairly quickly. Not the prettiest doujin around, but a blast.

    // Recommendations: Advanced

    Crimzon Clover



    Personal favorite shmup for 2011. Stupidly challenging (though I am terrible at these games), incredibly rewarding and fantastic production values for a one-guy team. Probably the closest you can get to the Cave formula in Ketsui and the recent Dodonpachis on PC -- blockbuster action movie adrenaline at 600mph. Also offers unlockables like extra credits, alternate ships and a super-hard mode for fools, paid via earning points in-game.

    // Resources

    Companies & games:
    HC101: Raizing
    HC101: Cave: Ketsui | Progear | ESP Ra. De. | more...
    HC101: Various Gradii
    HC101: Ikaruga/Radiant Silvergun
    HC101: Toaplan
    HC101: Psikyo
    HC101: Raiden series


    Discussion:
    BulletMagnet’s excellent post at destructoid
    Shmups.com

    Try:
    Rancor’s doujin store (free soft / demos at bottom)
    Kenta Cho / ABA Games

    Buy:
    Rancor’s doujin store
    Last edited by squareking; 08-07-2013 at 05:13 PM.
    steam


  2. #2
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus sabrage's Avatar
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    I'm frankly terrible at SHMUPS, but I have a thing for giant screen-filling sprite art so I'll always have a soft spot for them. What are some other games that have a campaign structure similar to Jamestown? I love that I can play a level, put it down and come back later to either replay that segment or move on to the next one (as opposed to the arcade-style structure of most shooters)

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by sabrage View Post
    I'm frankly terrible at SHMUPS, but I have a thing for giant screen-filling sprite art so I'll always have a soft spot for them.
    This is how I feel about shmups as well. I also find having a million pink bullets on the screen really aesthetically displeasing and not fun. But I do love intricate pixel art of space and I enjoy upgrading a ship.

    Can anyone recommend shmups not of the "bullet hell" variety? Ones from the 90s, especially.

  4. #4
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus sabrage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Birdman Tribe Leader View Post
    This is how I feel about shmups as well. I also find having a million pink bullets on the screen really aesthetically displeasing and not fun. But I do love intricate pixel art of space and I enjoy upgrading a ship.

    Can anyone recommend shmups not of the "bullet hell" variety? Ones from the 90s, especially.
    My experience is largely on consoles, but Raiden, Axelay, R-Type and Gradius are all great and easy enough to get running on emulators. I'm also a big Xevious fan, but that's largely just for nostalgic reasons.

  5. #5
    Lesser Hivemind Node Spacewalk's Avatar
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    I've seen a few PC ports of arcade games on the shelves back in the nineties along with shareware standards like Tyrian which everyone mentions and the less mentioned Raptor and DemonStar. That's probably more along the lines that you want. Darius Gaiden, G. Darius, In the Hunt, Raiden II and Galactic Attack in some places for budget prices too but if you get interested in those now you're going to need a degree in archaeology if you're going to unearth any of them but there has to be a few copies left somewhere. If I had to make a choice I'd probably go for either of the Darius games because I get a raging stiffy whenever I look at the ship design. I guess it's emulation to the rescue again.

    Quote Originally Posted by squareking View Post
    I suggest taking his advice an--GO PLAY MARS MATRIX
    This is solid advice. Don't be put off by all of those bullets it's an easier game than it looks, easier than Gigawing at least which is its closest neighbour.

  6. #6
    Network Hub siegarettes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spacewalk View Post
    I've seen a few PC ports of arcade games on the shelves back in the nineties along with shareware standards like Tyrian which everyone mentions and the less mentioned Raptor and DemonStar. That's probably more along the lines that you want. Darius Gaiden, G. Darius, In the Hunt, Raiden II and Galactic Attack in some places for budget prices too but if you get interested in those now you're going to need a degree in archaeology if you're going to unearth any of them but there has to be a few copies left somewhere. If I had to make a choice I'd probably go for either of the Darius games because I get a raging stiffy whenever I look at the ship design. I guess it's emulation to the rescue again.


    This is solid advice. Don't be put off by all of those bullets it's an easier game than it looks, easier than Gigawing at least which is its closest neighbour.
    Demonstar and Raptor are both great. Demonstar gives off a bit of Raiden and the upgrade system of Raptor is quite compelling. As I said, I love the Darius games. The aquatic based ships are serious business. I'd actually take a look at Metal Black while you are at it, shares a lot of elements with the later games. Laser dueling with bosses and aquatic ships:



    Mars Matrix is also solid. Play it with a friend and you can cover each other's asses with the vortex bombs.

  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus mashakos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spacewalk View Post
    I've seen a few PC ports of arcade games on the shelves back in the nineties along with shareware standards like Tyrian which everyone mentions and the less mentioned Raptor and DemonStar.
    I got DemonStar Secret Missions 2 bundled free with a Saitek joystick.
    In addition to the game being very well made (it's more xenon than Jap bullet hell), the game supports force feedback! It's a novel approach and actually quite enjoyable with a FF joystick.


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  8. #8
    Network Hub Memph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Birdman Tribe Leader View Post
    This is how I feel about shmups as well. I also find having a million pink bullets on the screen really aesthetically displeasing and not fun.

    Can anyone recommend shmups not of the "bullet hell" variety? Ones from the 90s, especially.
    Yup, same thing here. To me it feels like i'm playing more defensively than offensively, having to cower in a corner and hit my special whenever the screen got too full of crap. This is the only way i could get anywhere in Jamestown's hard mode and it got old fast.

    Really good shmups i can recommend not of the trillion pink dot variety:

    Blazing Star
    Pulstar
    Biohazard Battle - megadrive/genesis title. available on steam. the other 2 are neogeo titles so you'd need some Rod/m and Emu. (sod it i can't do strikethroughs)

    Bytheby, how in blazes did a shmup thread get to 3 pages with no mention of Metal Slug? Sure it's not all shaceshippery, but I don't think much pixel art and animation has ever been more beautifully done than in that series. It just drips with style and character. And RAWKET LAWNCHER!
    Last edited by Memph; 23-01-2012 at 02:30 PM.

  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus sabrage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Memph View Post
    Bytheby, how in blazes did a shmup thread get to 3 pages with no mention of Metal Slug? Sure it's not all shaceshippery, but I don't think much pixel art and animation has ever been more beautifully done than in that series. It just drips with style and character. And RAWKET LAWNCHER!
    Well, it did start as a PC shmupdiscussion, but I think we pretty much covered everything of note and moved on to MAME/Console shmups. And I hate talking about Neo-Geo games because it reminds me of how damn badly I want a CMVS, and that abominable price makes me sad..

    Anyways, I just downloaded Exed Exes/Attack of the Savage Bees. Just listen to that soundtrack!
    Last edited by sabrage; 25-01-2012 at 08:34 AM.

  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus mashakos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sabrage View Post
    Well, it did start as a PC shmupdiscussion, but I think we pretty much covered everything of note and moved on to MAME/Console shmups. And I hate talking about Neo-Geo games because it reminds me of how damn badly I want a CMVS, and that abominable price makes me sad..
    lol, you're getting the authentic Neo Geo experience right there. I remember getting heart palpitations back when I was 10 or 11, a buddy at the school yard was telling me that Neo Geo would be releasing a console. The heart palpitations? That was because I heard how much a cartridge cost...
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  11. #11
    Network Hub siegarettes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Memph View Post
    Bytheby, how in blazes did a shmup thread get to 3 pages with no mention of Metal Slug? Sure it's not all shaceshippery, but I don't think much pixel art and animation has ever been more beautifully done than in that series. It just drips with style and character. And RAWKET LAWNCHER!
    I guess its more of the run n gun variety and doesn't immediately spring to mind in this context. But the game is gold. Detailed pixel art, expressive animation, and gun crates full of humor.

    HEAVY MACHINE GUN! ION LIZARD!

    Don't forget about the part where you turn into a zombie and your grenades become streams of bloody projectile vomit.

    Quote Originally Posted by Spacewalk View Post
    It's on Taito Legends 2 (also on PC!). It's pretty swell though I wish that there was a way to skip those awkward bonus stages. They are just awkward. Darius Gaiden and Galactic Attack (as RayForce) are on there too although if you've only got it on the PS2 like I do the latter is replaced by Ray Storm. At least we got G Darius as a bonus to make up for it.
    That's actually how I've played it! You have no idea how jealous I am that the PS2 has G Darius. Contemplating buying another copy just because of that. Its not the same as playing it on an emulator (okay technically its exactly the same, but you get what I mean.)

    Scoregasm, Jamestown and Hirogatta Happa all have incredibly scoring systems. Once you realize how awesome the insane risk taking is rewarded you can't help but take stupid risks and get yourself killed in the process.

    For example, in Hirogatta Happa there is a "zone of control" around every enemy, even bosses. If you get in close it activates and slows down all bullets in the area. Then when the enemy is destroyed all the bullets become gems that reward you with score. So basically, by getting in point blank range you can cripple opponents and score big.

  12. #12
    Lesser Hivemind Node squareking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Birdman Tribe Leader View Post
    This is how I feel about shmups as well. I also find having a million pink bullets on the screen really aesthetically displeasing and not fun. But I do love intricate pixel art of space and I enjoy upgrading a ship.

    Can anyone recommend shmups not of the "bullet hell" variety? Ones from the 90s, especially.
    The majority of shooters in this era you'll find in arcades or consoles, so if you're OK with emulation or consolification, I have some recs.

    Arcade:

    Twin Cobra II
    V-V -- aka V-Five or Grind Stormer (although this is more proto-modern bullet hell, it doesn't get too wild)
    Truxton -- not many bullets on screen, but enemies and projectiles are fast
    Raiden series -- snipers!
    Air Gallet
    Star Soldier series
    Sexy Parodius
    Xexex

    PS2/PS1:

    Gradius V
    R-Type Delta and Final
    Einhander
    Darius series (via Taito collections) and Darius G
    In The Hunt
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  13. #13
    Tyrian 2000 has a campaign structure, and some brilliantly absurd writing. It's available on GoG, I actually got a free copy as an apology after their "We're shutting down!" PR fiasco.
    Edit: I forgot you will have to save before missions if you want re-play them, but it's still worth giving it a try. Fun times.

    I have wasted many, many hours playing Warning Forever. The twist in this SHMUP is that you only fight bosses, but every subsequent boss changes and adapts to your play-style. Sometimes they add moving armatures with laser banks, or homing missiles but as time goes on the bosses inevitably get larger and more difficult. It's neat seeing bosses develop completely differently by altering your tactics, and if you are careful, you can "game" the system.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what people have to say about the japanese shmups. They are truly weird.
    Last edited by Snargelfargen; 18-01-2012 at 06:54 AM.

  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus sabrage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snargelfargen View Post
    Tyrian 2000 has a campaign structure, and some brilliantly absurd writing. It's available on GoG, I actually got a free copy as an apology after their "We're shutting down!" PR fiasco.
    Edit: I forgot you will have to save before missions if you want re-play them, but it's still worth giving it a try. Fun times.

    I have wasted many, many hours playing Warning Forever. The twist in this SHMUP is that you only fight bosses, but every subsequent boss changes and adapts to your play-style. Sometimes they add moving armatures with laser banks, or homing missiles but as time goes on the bosses inevitably get larger and more difficult. It's neat seeing bosses develop completely differently by altering your tactics, and if you are careful, you can "game" the system.
    Noted. HCG101 has a pretty comprehensive article on the Tyrian series, and Warning Forever is freeware so I'm downloading that right now as well. I didn't even realize I had Tyrian 2000 sitting in my GoG library so I'm glad you mentioned it.

  15. #15
    Network Hub Megagun's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snargelfargen View Post
    Tyrian 2000 has a campaign structure, and some brilliantly absurd writing. It's available on GoG, I actually got a free copy as an apology after their "We're shutting down!" PR fiasco.
    Funny, because it had been free and open-source even before then. http://code.google.com/p/opentyrian/
    (EDIT: OpenTyrian is not equal to Tyrian 2000, apparently, because it doesn't include the fifth episode)

    Tyrian is genuinely one of the SHMUPS that I actually enjoy. Perhaps that's because a single bullet hit isn't insta-death (which I hate!) and because it has these neat customizable ships.
    Last edited by Megagun; 18-01-2012 at 03:56 PM.

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    It's a real shame Cave didn't port their games to the PC, and have instead decided to leave shmups behind for the most part due to extremely poor sales.

    I think Muchi Muchi Pork / Pink Sweets sold something like 7,000 units and that was it. Could have done so much better on the PC.
    Last edited by Roufuss; 18-01-2012 at 04:58 PM.

  17. #17
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus sabrage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roufuss View Post
    It's a real shame Cave didn't port their games to the PC, and have instead decided to leave shmups behind for the most part due to extremely poor sales.

    I think Muchi Muchi Pork / Pink Sweets sold something like 7,000 units and that was it. Could have done so much better on the PC.
    I think Cave's real problem is making bullet hell shooters aimed squarely at pre-pubescent Japanophiles. It's like a nexus of my least favorite things.

    This music makes my ears bleed.
    Last edited by sabrage; 18-01-2012 at 11:43 PM.

  18. #18
    Oops, yeah the freeware bit is important!

    I will also pose a question: How do you shmup, keyboard or controller? Or uhh, joystick and arcade buttons if you have a way of doing that.

    I prefer keyboard, if only because the 360 d-pad is terrible.

  19. #19
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus sabrage's Avatar
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    I have one (well, two) of these, but I'm usually too lazy to break it out. Planning on having a nice weekend with Tyrian, Warning Forever, Jamestown and my stick now though.

  20. #20
    Activated Node Urthman's Avatar
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    Esp Ra De is my favorite MAME shmup. I love the little 5-second vignettes each of the characters have at the beginning of their first stage. Such a marvel of economic storytelling.
    Last edited by Urthman; 18-01-2012 at 08:55 AM.

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