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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.
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  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
    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 05:54 AM.

  4. #4
    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.

  5. #5
    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.

  6. #6
    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.

  7. #7
    Activated Node Urthman's Avatar
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    Needs a link to Kenta Cho's webpage (ABA Games), which has some fantastic freeware shmups.

    rRootage, Parsec47, TUMIKI Fighters, and Torus Trooper are all highly recommended. Noiz2sa and Gunroar are also good.

    http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~cs8k-cyu/index_e.html

    Another fun, difficult, and great-looking SHMUP on PC is Exception. I say great looking even though the enemies are just cubes and blocks, but check it out:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7h7G3l_tQM

    Game website here: http://i-saint.skr.jp/exception/
    Last edited by Urthman; 18-01-2012 at 07:55 AM.

  8. #8
    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 07:55 AM.

  9. #9
    Network Hub Spacewalk's Avatar
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    List CHO REN SHA 68K under entry-level. It gets pretty tough on the later loops though and it's a fantastic game, great music especially. I recommend practicing the power-up trick which will allow you to nab all three if you hang around in the centre long enough until you can do it at the drop of a hat because it's very helpful.

  10. #10
    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 02:56 PM.

  11. #11
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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 03:58 PM.

  12. #12
    Lesser Hivemind Node squareking's Avatar
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    Sweet, discussion! I'll add those links to the OP. I was going through my library of these things...oh god, why did I embark on this? There are so many!

    Sabrage: Tyrian 2k was the first title to spring to mind. Campaigns and storylines are few and far between, but there are a handful of Japanese titles that offer something. Trouble Witches and Deathsmiles (TW is PC, both are on Xbox, I believe) are some options, but aesthetically might be tough to get into after the SHEER MANLY STEEL of Tyrian.

    Spacewalk: CRS68k is indeed a thing of beauty. Easy to get into, tough to master. A similar and super-excellent Flash version is Arcanacra.

    Snargel: Yes! Warning Forever is so excellent and possibly the definitive entry to shmuppery. As for controls, I'm perfectly fine with keyboard, but never the mouse. I built a USB stick with decent parts are few years back, though. My score went up by a sizable margin.



    Urthman: I never really got along with Kenta Cho's stuff, except for Tumuki Fighters. I'd still recommend them to newcomers, though. And Exception is great too, though it's less of a traditional shooter and more...conceptual, I guess. Fantastic nonetheless. ESPRade is superb, one of Cave's best.

    Roufuss: It is a shame, though it means getting all those 360 ports to PC would be pretty damn easy. I know Cave is more focused on arcade and iStuff at the moment and PC gaming isn't huge there, so chances are slim.
    Last edited by squareking; 19-01-2012 at 05:33 PM.
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  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus ColOfNature's Avatar
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    Super Crossfire (as featured in the New Year's Indie Royale bundle) and Really Big Sky have done much to rekindle my affection for shmups. Super Crossfire's addition of simply jumping between top and bottom adds a much needed tactical edge to the Space Invaders concept. And Really Big Sky will melt your eyeballs to the back of your skull.
    Last edited by ColOfNature; 18-01-2012 at 06:56 PM. Reason: Added linky goodness
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  14. #14
    Activated Node Urthman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by squareking View Post
    Urthman: I never really got along with Kenta Cho's stuff, except for Tumuki Fighters. I'd still recommend them to newcomers, though. And Exception is great too, though it's less of a traditional shooter and more...conceptual, I guess. Fantastic nonetheless. ESPRade is superb, one of Cave's best.
    Have you tried Parsec47? It's the most Cave-like of his games. Reminds me of Dangun Feveron.

    Other truly great PC Shmups:

    Kamui: http://www.siterskain.com/products/d...mui/index.html
    Crimzon Clover: http://www.vector.co.jp/soft/winnt/game/se481428.html
    Samidare: http://www.rebrank.org/products/smd/index.htm

  15. #15
    Lesser Hivemind Node squareking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Urthman View Post
    Have you tried Parsec47? It's the most Cave-like of his games. Reminds me of Dangun Feveron.
    But there is nothing like FEVER with its FLOATING DISCO MEN. Chances are I've tried it, but I don't remember much about it. Might give it another shot soon.

    Kamui and Samidare are stellar. Fit snugly between beginner/intermediate and they're remarkably well-made. CC makes my top 5 all-time faves list (OP is updated with some info on it). I recommend those three for serious and/or experienced fans.
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  16. #16
    Activated Node Urthman's Avatar
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    I've also had some good times with Demolition Gunner which is sort of like Under Defeat but with sweet SNES-style graphics. It's not deep or anything, but it feels really good.

    http://www.interq.or.jp/saturn/takuhama/Shooting6.html

    I'm not sure I recommend it, but I thought I'd mention Storm Calibur, which for some reason was the first shmup I really put time into learning the scoring system. It's a nice beginner shump, not too hard, has a shield that lets you take more than one hit, and features offensive bullet grazing (grazing bullets turns sends them back at enemies as homing shots which raises your combo multiplier). It's pretty old so the graphics are primitive. The author has also done some "Gaiden" remixes that I haven't tried.

    http://www.ssp.x0.com/scv3/index.html

    Another one of my all-time favorites is Raystorm. I have the Playstation disc, but it looks so much better in high res on the PC using the ePSXe emulator that I've always played it that way.

  17. #17
    Activated Node Urthman's Avatar
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    Parsec47 has the crazy speed of Dangun Feveron and the falling score balls that you have to catch before they bounce back up to the screen to keep your combo going. But it definitely would be better with disco music and a dude shouting "CAN YOU FEEL IT?"

    My top 3 Cave games are Esp Ra De, Progear, and Dangun Feveron. I love Progear's rhythm of going back and forth between rings and gems (also SHINY DIAMONDS!) and the artwork is just fantastic.

  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus SirKicksalot's Avatar
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    The only one I've been OK-ish at is Gridrunner Revolution.
    I recently tried to play Jamestown and I can't even beat the second level, although I'd love to. Renegade Ops was insanely hard. I have fond memories of Raptor: Call of the Shadows, but I'm quite sure I never got too far in the one either.

    I strongly dislike limited lives and strongly hate the idea of locking upgrades and options on lower difficulties. Why are developers not catering to chumps like me? Just give me the option to enjoy the full game while being rubbish at it...

  19. #19
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    I do loves me some shmups. I'm pretty bad, but I don't let that stop me. I've had a good time this year introducing Jamestown to a couple of people in co-op- it's ideal because it's so intuitive, and because two people and one screen never stopped being fun.

    Speaking of Jamestown, what am I not getting about the Bomber? It seems vastly inferior to all the other ships.

  20. #20
    Lesser Hivemind Node squareking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Urthman View Post
    I've also had some good times with Demolition Gunner which is sort of like Under Defeat but with sweet SNES-style graphics. It's not deep or anything, but it feels really good.

    http://www.interq.or.jp/saturn/takuhama/Shooting6.html
    Astro Port has made some awesome lo-fi shooters. They've recently released Satazius on Steam, too. I wanna say they also created some creepy Giger-esque horror shmups a while ago under a different name.

    I'm not sure I recommend it, but I thought I'd mention Storm Calibur, which for some reason was the first shmup I really put time into learning the scoring system. It's a nice beginner shump, not too hard, has a shield that lets you take more than one hit, and features offensive bullet grazing (grazing bullets turns sends them back at enemies as homing shots which raises your combo multiplier). It's pretty old so the graphics are primitive. The author has also done some "Gaiden" remixes that I haven't tried.

    http://www.ssp.x0.com/scv3/index.html
    Wow, there's one I haven't played. Looks decent enough.

    Another one of my all-time favorites is Raystorm. I have the Playstation disc, but it looks so much better in high res on the PC using the ePSXe emulator that I've always played it that way.
    Another classic, but I never fell in love with it. I think there was a recent reboot on Xbox? The dual shot/lockon thing was wonderful, though. Ether Vapor is sort of an evolution of that idea.

    Quote Originally Posted by arathain View Post
    I do loves me some shmups. I'm pretty bad, but I don't let that stop me. I've had a good time this year introducing Jamestown to a couple of people in co-op- it's ideal because it's so intuitive, and because two people and one screen never stopped being fun.

    Speaking of Jamestown, what am I not getting about the Bomber? It seems vastly inferior to all the other ships.
    Yeah. It's very powerful and decent against bosses, but it's pretty awkward and seems to be a better support fighter for co-op than a solo run. I wish we could get online or at least LAN co-op action in Jamestown.
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