Are you into SHMUP’s?
I have a bit of a soft spot for shoot-em-up style games more commonly known as SHMUP’s. Like any game I play there has to be a certain something that makes me want to keep playing. Almost anyone can design a game where you just shoot waves upon waves of enemies, it takes a keen sense of game design to make that game feel right. Of course the feeling is subjective and the only way I can demonstrate what I mean is by telling you about two of my all time favourites.
If your not aware of who Treasure is and you are fond of SHMUP’s, then you really need to check them out. Ikaruga was first published way back in 2001. On first impressions it might look simple enough, shoot the bad guys, dodge the bullets, wonder at the chaos that is happening on the screen. It’s usually at this point where you start to play with the simple but very effective game mechanics.
You start with your white ship, it’s not long into the game before you realise that bullets of the same colour cannot hurt you. Your ship also has the ability to turn black and then black bullets don’t hurt you. When you absorb the bullets you build up a powerful super weapon that you can unleash onto you enemies for additional damage. Immediately this brings a very different play style to the usual ‘avoid all the bullets’ strategy.
The second major mechanic also revolves around the colours. If you hit a white enemy with white bullets they take half damage, when the enemy dies they also release a small extra torrent of bullets in your direction. However you hit them with the opposite colour then they take double damage and release no extra bullets upon expiring. So now your faced with something else, do you go for speedy kills risking yourself because you cannot absorb the bullets or take longer to kill things in order to absorb more bullets to power up your super weapon.
There is one final mechanic to mention and it’s all to do with scoring. Shoot three enemies of the same colour to start a chain. Chaining gives you no tactical advantage; the feature is purely just for scoring reasons. You can switch between three black or white enemies to continue your chain which multiplies your score, breaking the chain ensures your multiplier resets to zero. This is definitely for the more advanced players, people who are scoring fiends and want to get as close to the top spot as possible.
Now I will happily admit that I am pretty bad at Ikaruga, I think I have only got to Level 4 after putting several hours into it. I played it originally on the Gamecube and since then I think I bought it on Xbox and PC (yes I like it that much), I would highly recommend playing it, and when you think your okay at it check this video of a person playing a two player game using two sticks by themselves.
TxK is effectively Tempest. If you don’t know what Tempest is then look back in history to a game published by Atari in 1980; it was ground breaking at the time as it was one of the first to use vector graphics. Since then there has been many iterations of the same game with a game play change here and there but there is something truly wonderful about how TxK feels.
TxK is made by Jeff Minter who actually used to work for Atari and currently only available for the PS Vita. I believe Jeff had a plan to also release a PS4 and PC version with full VR (Occulus Rift and the like) support but those plans were stopped because of a falling out with Atari that we may cover this in another post. The game is really pretty, the PS Vita’s vibrant screen and Jeff’s choice of presentation makes it beautiful. The game is easy to pick up but require a bit of playing to get the feel of and to start to master it. Your ship is attached to the grid (known as the web) and you fire at the various beasties that fly down it. If a beastie gets to the bottom of the web and touches you then you might die, which goes the same with bullets they shoot at you. To help you along you are granted one smart bomb per level which kills everything on screen; this sounds very generous but believe me it’s needed. Collecting the power ups left by the enemies improve your fire power, give you the ability to jump off the web (so you can shoot any beasties at the bottom), or even give you a helper droid.
At the end of each level you are thrown into a small bonus level where you guide a dot through some rings aiming for the centre to gain more points. When played by someone who knows how this works it looks easy but it takes a bit of getting used to. To control this you can use the tilt sensor and/or the joystick but it requires very subtle input. Most people get this wrong the first few times while they figure out just what little input you need to stay in place. There is something really satisfying about hitting that glorious centre point when you rewarded with a beautiful red love heart. There is an amazing soundtrack for it too, mostly produced by Jeff’s fans. This is the sort of game you want to put your headphones in, get in the zone, tune your eyes in and just start to feel what it is doing.
TxK only costs £5.79 and there really is a whole heap of game there for that value for money. 100 levels of shooter and the need to get better and score more, just pure pleasure for your eyeballs and fingers. I have to that I am a little biased as I have loved what Jeff Minter has done since the very early days of computer gaming but despite that I still think that TxK is one of his best pieces of work and would love to play it in VR.