I've typed this article up on an Apple laptop - and had to google to find out how to type the hash symbol. How lame is that? Jobs had some strange ideas about what people use - what was it with Java support in the iPhone/iPad default browser? Noone uses Java? What a load of rubbish.
Anyhow, it has been some time since I posted here on this subject (i.e. my far too big collection of games that I will never get around to playing to the level of commitment that the games probably deserve) and here are two I've been putting some time into recently and keep going back to - Gunbird 2 and Raiden III.
My last post in this blog was about a shmup (Darius Gaiden) and I make no apologies for following up with another two - because I'm going to rant a little bit about high scores again. Look at Darius Gaiden on the Sega Saturn - a lovely game that is tarnished because it doesn't save high scores (boo!)- taking a big chunk out of the reason to own it which is a crying shame as its an excellent shooter with a lot going for it. But a shmup with no high score is bordering on pointless. Gunbird 2 and Raiden III both do it right - though the OCD part of me thinks that Gunbird 2 could have gone a bit further with how it supports high scores.
Gunbird 2 saves high scores (hooray!) but it saves separate tables for the different difficulty levels (double hooray!); as does Raiden III. Gunbird 2 adds 1pt onto your score when you continue. I'm glad it shows a score as one that involves using continues but I'd rather it copy Raiden III which lets you continue but before resetting your score it auto enters it on the table with the name =C= - so you get to save the score but you are denied the pleasure of having your name against it - a pretty good compromise. Gunbird 2 should really have a separate table for each character too as they play really differently. However the game compromises by showing which character you used on the high score table.
Gunbird 2 still gets attention in shmupping circles such as shmups.com and with good reason. It has loads of replay value - one of the reasons being the opportunity to build large scores by chaining coins left behind by enemies. Such chains are made by grabbing coins only while they glint - so making for quite a challenge to keep chains going as you have to time when you pick up a coin to coincide with the little glint animation. I'm nowhere near good enough to even think about this - the game is murderously tough and I've heard the second loop, accessible by 1CCing the game at easy level or above, is legendary for its difficulty even among the hard core. I've only been able to 1CC the game at its lowest difficulty (several notches below easy!) so it will be some time until I see the 2nd loop.
You have several weapons at your disposal; each differing greatly between characters. One is used for close quarter kills that have greater power but are high risk because you need to get in close to enemies to use them, while another is activated by holding down the fire button for a couple of seconds - another risky undertaking.
I'm using the Dreamcast's arcade stick which is a delight - responsive and clicky - it really adds to the game and makes it feel like the arcade at home. For PAL people Gunbird 2 has a 60Hz option but unfortunately isn't compatible with the VGA box. You can force the game into VGA mode by using a boot disc but it will glitch which is a pity as I recently picked up a rotatable monitor which would have taken full advantage of the TATE mode that the game also offers.
Raiden III on PS2 also offers TATE and 60Hz - a big deal for those of us in PAL land but it tends to not get as much attention in shmupping circles. Its quite old-school - there isn't much to the scoring scheme - but it's pretty tough as well and has a some extra modes like a boss rush and a very odd double mode that lets you control two ships with one controller - i'm unlikely to get anywhere with that.
Raiden III also lets you record and playback your games which is nice to have - but what really makes that feature is the fact that there is an expert play through to watch which is quite eye-opening. Raiden III serves high score support very well - all modes and difficulty levels have their own tables and it's a comfort to see that developers care about things like that. Raiden III even has a score attack mode that saves different tables for each level - excellent. I understand the PAL version is quite rare so it might be hard to pick up in Europe if you aren't importing.
Both games support 2 player simultaneous modes which is always very welcome.....and Gunbird 2 has an unusual mode that lets you pick 2 characters in one player mode so that you see the very odd little cut scenes between levels that tell what passes for a story for 2 characters - so I guess completists who are into this will get a kick out of that. In this mode you change character after each life loss so it introduces some variety into things and I don't recall seeing this in any other shmup.
Both these games come over as bit generic on first inspection but they reveal their charms after a couple of games - particularly Gunbird 2 which really is a class act. I recommend both of these but I'd be prepared for a challenge - especially if you are going to play them right and avoid continuing too often - as they are both pretty tough. They both have several difficulty levels though so they can be tamed quite a bit and if you are looking to get into shmups then I could think of far worse places to start.
STOP PRESS: Good old Bill L has been kind enough to stick my jabber on the AA front page and has even gone to the effort to pasting an image in. Not sure if the image he selected was purposeful - but the character in that image - Morrigan from Capcom's Darkstalkers 2D fighting series - is an exclusive character in the Dreamcast version of Gunbird 2 - another nice little extra that Capcom threw in. They provided sterling support for the old DC with a decent selection of 2D fighters too - I may well cover these in my next posting.