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.
I'm curious what you and Mark think would be the best shmup for a noob. Great post!
Noob- none of the ones he is talking about above :) I would start on something that inst a Bullet Hell one.. but something can be said for jumping into the deep end of the pool first.. sink or swim. As Im not that great at um, but love to play um my opinion is not from a good player. I grew up with the classics, 1942 (and all the clones/copies/remakes) Tiger Heli, Flying Shark..
If it was me I would start with some easier ones Raiden, Twin Cobra, even 1942 or 1943.. most the bullet hell ones require you to decide the path of least Damage along with trying to shoot enemies so you can power up.. the early games where far simpler in you could pretty much hammer the fire button, you could focus on avoiding shots and less on enemies. MOST (not all) if you hung onto bombs would let you deal with Boss fights easier as a few bombs would do 75% on a boss so you just had to do clean up.. New games don't let you avoid bullets, you have to eat some.. there are simply to many.. then they expand on that buy dropping hundreds of "points" in coins, stars or other flashy stuff, weapons are no longer small bullets but huge streams of sprites, yet further covering the screen. They basically try to overwhelm your eyes with crap on the screen, which can often hide, or just simple y overwelm your view so bullets and damage is much easier to hit . the .. to take it a step farther they use colors.. and shield swaps.. need white shield to absorb white bullets... man they are FUN! if you can manage it.. I could 10 years ago.. i cant today..
there is a great satisfaction with snaking around a barrage, killing a boss and having a ship with max firepower.. BUT one place Shooters fail (in my eyes) is one mistake.. you still have 5-7 ships.. but 6 levels in the enemies are ramped up so much with that stone stock ship its almost impossible to ramp it up again.. Hence you are limited to a single life run.. If you die in a later stage and have to start stock.. its just to much. Which is one of the reasons i prefer the older game (Twin Cobra being my personal favorite common one)... dying 6 levels in .. i can still build up..
I too am interested in davy ideas on this.. he is far more a shooter lover then me..
here is my personal all time favorite
I agree with clock1966 in that a starter should look at an old school shmup first - Raiden III is quite old school and if you crank the difficulty way down it is quite approachable. Going for an earlier Raiden may be a better way to start though.
1942 is pretty approachable too but it's actually quite tough and the old-school visuals are a bit dull now (and the music is awful) so that can be a bit off-putting. 1943 would be a better one to start on.
There is the whole horizontal and vertical shmup question too - hori shmups are easier to get into - Gradius V is brilliant - if again very tough - even on the lowest setting - but it's so good it demands to be played. I'd avoid the earlier Gradius games - they are really tough and suffer from the power-down on life loss problem. The Parodius series are parody Gradius games and they avoid quite a few of the Gradius problems (though Parodius 1 doesn't - go for the 2nd or 3rd in the series).
Good shmups deal with the problem of power down on life loss by leaving power ups lying around when your ship gets blasted - Raiden and Gradius V both do this. Gradius V leaves your options on-screen when you lose a life so that they can be picked up straight away. This means these games don't have restart points - when you lose a life you keep playing instead of being moved back to the last checkpoint. Avoid shmups with restart points - they will only increase frustration. It may be worthwhile checking out shmups from the 16bit era with no restart points - Super Aleste on SNES or Thunderforce IV on Megadrive for example would probably get you off to a good start - and they will be easy to get hold of via emulation.
MAME is your friend though - and there is a special build of MAME (google shmup MAME) that is optimised for shmups.
One thing I will say though is if a noob - set the difficulty level down as far as you can - these games cater for people with inhuman skills so to make them approachable and enjoyable you have to crank it down - you can always move back up if you get into them.
I quite liked a few of the Amiga SHMUPS that are quite playable for noobs. "Hybris" and "Battle Squadron" came (I think) with one of the editions of the "Amiga Forever" emulation package, and I quite enjoyed these back in the day. Even though they are by the same company, I think the older "Hybris" was actually more fun than "Battle Squadron," although both are great games.
"Project X - Special Edition (AGA)" was an excellent horizontal SHMUP, and perhaps the most beautiful one to be released for the Amiga.
A current "modern" SHMUP that is quite good, yet somewhat old-school and playable by noobs like me, is the indie game "Jamestown." It's available on Steam, and it also came with one of the Humble Bundle deals. It has versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It's reminiscent of "Battle Squadron," but it's borderline "bullet hell," but still playable for old fogeys like me. It has great old-school 2D graphics, an actually intriguing premise, and many upgrades and unlocks. I recommend it.
Battle Squadron was one of my absolute favorites back when I had my Amiga. It wasn't nearly as frenetic as the modern bullet-hell schmups, but had plenty of tricky sections in the "inner core" levels. I also much preferred its control scheme of a mouse, and the tracking it had.
The best part of it was being able to play side-by-side with a friend to tag-team levels. Just plug in a 2nd mouse and off we went.
If you have the Amiga Forever package, I'd suggest trying the game.
If you have the Amiga Forever package, I'd suggest trying the game.
I played "Battle Squadron" via "Amiga Forever" not too long ago, but.... I wasn't feeling it. It was a great game when I first experienced it. But nowadays, the fact that it's NOT a bullet hell shooter makes it look a bit pedestrian. Maybe it's because I played it so much that it's too familiar to the point of being "old hat."
Also, I think it was a bit glitchy on the "Amiga Forever" package, although I could be mistaken. Still, Battle Squadron is a great game for those who haven't played it!
Just had another thought about a good shmup to start with = Layer Section aka Galactic Attack is one of the best examples of the old school shmup. The Saturn got a great port and I guess MAME will let you try it too.
The sequel isn't so hot - stick with the first one.