Monday, June 30, 2008

Apparently Shmups Suck! Who Knew?

Let's take a quick look at Metacritic scores here, shall we? What follows is just about every american-released shmup that has an average score listed on Metacritic. I've selected review excerpts from most of them that pissed me off, not because they just criticized the game, but because they displayed horrible ignorance of Shmups as a genre. I in fact left out any negative review excerpts that criticized the game and made a fair point about it. I also obviously left out positive review excerpts, of which there were several for each game. Keep that in mind as you read on.

Raiden III: 61
-Review excerpts that piss me off:

"A purebred '80s throwback, Raiden III hasn't a chance of competing with exciting modern shooters - or even the classics of yesteryear."

"The game is too short, and doesn’t sport enough play options to keep it fresh past a few hours of play. "

"The game doesn't take long enough to beat, there's no real reason to play it again, and there isn't anything even remotely special about the experience."

Gradius III and IV: 64
-Review excerpts that piss me off:

"Only enjoyable if you equate fun with frustration, but most gamers have long since outgrown that philosophy, as have most games. Yet Gradius III and IV clings to its roots like a long rotting tooth."

"Two arcade perfect ports of games that will get stale within a short few minutes. Back then, way back then, this may have been revolutionary but on the PS2 it's almost like an insult to the grown intelligence of gamers."

"Meritless in terms of taking their genre forward or, worse even, invoking the warm glow of nostalgia. Spend £15 on a NES and the original games instead." (I'd like to point out that neither of these two games were on the NES. Or on any home console until this collection on the PS2, in fact. And Gradius on the NES was a joke compared to the two masterpieces of Gradius III and IV)

"Old-school graphics and unprecedented difficulty level make this one a loser for all but the most dedicated retro-game freaks. "

Chaos Field: 61, 63 (DC, GC respectively)
-Review excerpts that piss me off:

"It's like fighting a fireworks display. Sometimes the enemy blows up. Sometimes you do. There's no strategy; no hook that makes you think about how you'll do better next time."

Triggerheart Exelica: 63
-Review excerpts that pissed me off:

"Despite the enjoyment of slinging bad guys around like giant wrecking balls, Triggerheart's indecisive difficulty, average looks and short length render it a bad choice for any but the most devoted shooter fans."

"Like most arcade shooters, the experience is brief. The challenge is there for those who would like to memorize attack patterns and master the five levels, but there isn't anything that feels exciting."

"I enjoyed Triggerheart, but the game's length is both a good and bad thing -- it has only five levels, and most players will be able to beat them all in about 30 minutes."

Castle Shikigami 2: 67

Castle Shikigami 3: 67
-Review excerpts that pissed me off:

"If this were a downloadable title on WiiWare, Xbox Live Arcade, or PlayStation Network, it's a safe bet that we'd be telling you to go fire up your console and start it downloading right now."

"Castle of Shikigami III is a great title for people who enjoy the occasional classic, arcade-style game. However, it has a decided lack of content and doesn't offer much beyond the initial experience."

"The mere fact that it fills a niche on the Wii doesn't excuse this disappointing lack of substance. "

Under Defeat: 67
-Review excerpts that pissed me off:

"Inarguably, what Under Defeat does, it does very well. The execution is perfectly pitched and it clearly ticks each and every box the developers drew up on the ideas table. But it's hard to shake the feeling that this is '80s gaming dressed in '00s visuals running on '90s hardware. The gameplay is sweet and eloquent but, underneath it also tired and relentlessly derivative."

Thunder Force V: 70

Gradius Collection: 76
-Review excerpts that pissed me off:

"Twenty years ago, it would have been worth forty bucks. But today, it’s just another obsolete space ship, grounded in favor of better, faster rockets."

"If you love slow, old-fashioned gameplay, you'll be in heaven here. "

"The Gradius Collection will mainly appeal to fans who want to relive those old school memories; I can't see many new gamers being hooked on Gradius, even though it's a fun experience."

R-Type Final: 79

Gradius V: 82
-Review excerpts that pissed me off:

"Even though its more visually polished than some of the other shooters out there, the lack of innovation and the small number of seven stages makes Gradius V a must for fans of the series only."

"It's just too bad that there isn't much to it beyond the standard gameplay. "

"About the only things that keep the game from scoring higher is the lack of any meaningful innovation in the gameplay and the fact that the game only has seven stages to play."

Ikaruga: 81, 85, 88 (DC, GC, 360 respectively)
-Review excerpts that pissed me off:

"As fun as it starts out to be, it gets old rather quickly. Fortunately or unfortunately, the game is extremely short, and on its easiest mode can be completed in about an hour."

"A perfect example of why shooters have become such a niche genre. It's a good game that's well made. It's even got an interesting hook to keep the hard core happy. But the insane difficulty will keep most players from getting past the first level before giving up. And with the ultra-short playing time, even shooter fans might not find enough to like here."

Summary of Criticisms

Shmups are "retro" or "old school"; "not modern"
Shmups were once one of the top genres of games on consoles and in arcades all over the world. To this day, companies such as Cave, Seibu Kaihatsu and Alfa System continue to develop and release shmups in Japanese arcades, but in America and Europe they have become much rarer. The reason this criticism pisses me off is because new shmups are being released all the time! If you say Gradius V is a "retro throwback" and that it "isn't modern" is ridiculous because the game was released in 2004! If an average reviewer decided to play Cave's newest shmup, Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu, I can guarantee he or she would mention how it's such a "retro" game even though it came out about a month ago as of this writing! It includes new features compared to other shmups and Cave has always pushed the genre forward, albeit slowly. A game released this year cannot be "not modern."

Saying a shmup released this year is retro is like saying that one of the dozens of FPSes released last year (like Bioshock, or Half-Life 2: Episode 2, or Crysis, or CoD 4) is retro because FPSes have been around since Doom in 1993. "Hey, you walk around with a gun in a first-person perspective and shoot things," on the most basic level the most modern FPSes haven't really changed that formula. So it is with shmups. "Hey, you just fly around in a 2D plane and shoot enemies and dodge bullets," and on the most basic level modern shmups are the same. That's what a genre is!

Shmups are too short
Ugh, I hate this one. So, most shmups are between 5 and 7 stages in length (not counting loops) which usually equates to about 30-45 minutes of gameplay time to beat it in a single run. Criticizing shmups for this trait, however, shows a real ignorance about the genre and about arcade games in general. Sure, if you get a shmup and just play through it, continuing every time you get a game over, until you hit the end, you might think "wow, that was fast." But that's not how they are meant to be played. For arcade games, and shmups specifically, the aim is for high scores. To achieve the highest theoretical score, you will need to beat the entire game without using any continues because continuing resets your score each time. To truly "beat" a shmup, you need to beat it without continuing. This is called a 1CC, or "1-credit-completion." To accomplish this requires considerable skill and often memorization, but above all PRACTICE. While it's true that you can continue through a shmup in 30 minutes, to actually beat it properly by 1CCing it, will take you considerable more time. Often 20-30 hours of total play time, depending on your skill level. To put it into perspective, I played Ikaruga on the easiest possible settings for over 25 hours before 1CCing it. I don't even consider that 1CC to be legitimate because it was not done at default settings. Under default settings and in easy mode I'm lucky to even make it to level 4. I played those 5 levels over and over and over until I could survive for longer and longer, and rack up chains to get a decent score as well. I think my 1CC score was around 13 million, which is still horrible considering the world high score is around 40 million.

Anyway, my point is, properly beating a shmup takes just as much time as beating an average FPS or even some shorter RPGs. It is just ignorant to complain about how short shmups are. Playing the game right means replaying each level over and over, trying to improve your run each time and get just a little further. In fact I advise not continuing, ever. That way each time you get a little further in the game you will see new levels and areas and enemies and bullet patterns. In my experience this helps you improve faster, too.

Shmups are too hard to be enjoyable
If you're too much of a wuss to play a shmup, don't cry that the game is too frustrating. Maybe the problem is you. Seriously, keep practicing, get better, and you'll enjoy making progress. Of course shmups are hard games. That's a part of their inherent awesomeness. The entire fun comes from bettering yourself. The only time this criticism is valid is when a game is unfairly difficult and where there was nothing you could do to prevent death. A small number of shmups do fall into this catagory; namely, most things made by Psikyo and Raizing. But even those games aren't really that bad.

Shmups don't have enough content outside the main game
When was it that gamers started caring more about the extra content that come with games than they do about the games themselves? I remember when you got a game, and that was all you got. Does Contra III have online multiplayer and bonus movies and storyboards and making-of documentaries and a thousand extra levels? No, it has 6 stages and a couple difficulty levels. And it's still a FINE game. What about one of my favorites, Star Wars: Jedi Knight 2? It's a 3D PC game that came out in 2002. It featured a single player campaign, and a (amazing) multiplayer component. That's it. So why is it that shmup reviews can honestly say "The gameplay is great! It's really fun! It has a deep scoring system! But wait, the game only comes with 5 levels. It has no extra content! Waaaa! 60/100!' If the game is FUN, then that makes it a GOOD GAME.

This is like when reviewers take away points on games lacking online multiplayer. Why don't you judge the game based on what's there, not what isn't? Now, I won't complain about extra content if it's included. The recent Blast Works on the Wii features an extensive level editor and 4 other shmups that were ported from the PC, besides the main game. Hey, that's great. But I wouldn't have cried if they had only released the main game with no other extras. I've heard it's a solid shmup with improvements over its predecessor Tumiki Fighters.

My point is, extra content is a nice bonus, but really not that important.

Shmups have no storyline
So what? If I want a storyline I'll play an RPG. Or better yet, read a book. I play shmups to dodge friggin' bullets!

Time to end this rant in the way any shmup-related article should end: with this immortal quote from Winston Churchill:

"There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What am I playing right now?

Over the past couple weeks I've been in an RTS mood so I've been playing Supreme Commander, Starcraft, and Dawn of War a lot. Check out some of these Korean pro Starcraft matches, they're really exciting to watch, complete with hilarious English commentary by Tasteless! Also who else is excited for Starcraft II?

I've also been playing lots of MechWarrior 3, the best mech game in existence. Also if anyone wants to challenge me to some megamek let me know.

I've been working my way through Metal Gear Solid 3 on the PS2. In terms of gameplay it's probably the best one yet, although the story seems a little lacking compared to the other two. I'm not at the end yet, though, so I'm sure there will be lots of plot twists to change my mind in the near future.

I'm also still plodding through Mass Effect but the only motivation I have to play it lately is that I payed $50 for the thing.

Finally, I'm stuck on the final boss in Metroid Prime, called... uh, Metroid Prime.

Thar she blows

This boss is a tough one. I can get through most of its attack patterns without taking much damage, but when I get to Prime's final form, it becomes exceedingly difficult to hit it without taking damage.

Today marks the release of the Spore Creature Creator. It runs on crappy integrated graphics cards as well as intel macs (and thus probably linux very soon), so there's absolutely no reason not to try out the free trial. Download it and have fun creating horrible affronts to nature and watching them struggle with their miserable existence!

Monday, June 9, 2008

More Mass Effect Impressions

Well, after a lot more time with the game, here's some updated impressions:

combat is getting really boring. It basically amounts to sitting behind cover and clicking on enemies until they are dead. If they get too close I might have to back up, smack them with my gun to knock them down, or use a tech/biotic power to destroy them before getting back to clicking on enemies from cover. There is absolutely no more depth than this.

the story missions kind of suck. I'm intentionally doing every side quest because I don't want to do the story missions. The story missions are consistently about excessive and long combat sequences and driving sequences. Over and over. For a long time. And occasionally there's NPCs to talk to and do a few small side quests in the middle of it. It's basically the same structure of KOTOR (which wasn't bad in that game) but because of the boring combat and driving, it just falls apart.

In fact, everything besides the conversation (which isn't much more advanced than KOTOR) is pretty dull. The inventory sucks too, I'm constantly reaching the 150-item maximum limit, which forces you to convert any NEW items you pick up into omni-gel. You get no choice in this as far as I can tell. So if you hit the item limit but you pick up some sweet items at the same time, and you want to convert some old useless items into omni-gel and save the new ones, you just can't. You can't (as far as I know) just 'not' take stuff from a storage locker; you have to take an item or convert it to omni-gel. The inventory list is awkward too. I hear it's an improvement over the one on the xbox, but if so I'd just hate to see how much worse it could be. There's basic categories by item type, but within those categories can be as many as 20 or 30 items just laying around. This is especially true in the weapon upgrade items, because I rarely go into that item category unless I'm actively upgrading a weapon, so there can be a hundred ammo types just sitting there that you'll rarely even see until you need to lighten your inventory.

Also, unlike KOTOR's vast assortment of weaponry, from vibroblades to lightsabers to stun batons to blaster pistols to disruptors to sonic blasters to bare hands, in Mass Effect there are literally just 4 weapons: pistol, rifle, shotgun, sniper. I don't know how Bioware could have taken such a large step backward in its game design compared to KOTOR, but Mass Effect feels like such an unpolished game it's sad. I really think the entire reason this game was praised so highly by major gaming press was that it plays like a slightly more complicated version of Gears of War, but with a storyline that copies KOTOR. Hence, the phrase that I like to use to describe Mass Effect: