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Shmups!

@_Kimimi writes: I’m rather fond of shmups (or as we used to called them before FPS games turned up, “shoot ‘em ups”) and in recent years companies like Cave, G.Rev, and…err…Cave have been spoiling our consoles with wonderful games, handhelds have had a look in with a combination of high quality ports and remakes and even the dear old Dreamcast has a selection of new homebrew shmups to play. While never stealing the limelight the way these console games do, the PC continues its tradition of quietly supporting the shmup with a wide range of excellent games.

I’m going to be using the word “doujin” a lot in this post – it’s just a word that means “Japanese indie [thing]” (apologies if you already knew this). If you ever hear of someone talking about a “doujin circle” that’s just another way of saying “Japanese indie developer”. Like their Western counterparts, doujin games run the whole gamut from absolutely awful to “How on earth did they make this so amazing?!”; unlike their Western counterparts doujin games are frequently sold in professionally printed retail packaging and will even have their own soundtrack and/or art book releases if they do particularly well.

The Touhou series are generally pretty well known and so they should be – they’ve been around since the 90’s and thanks to creator ZUN’s rather relaxed attitude the Touhou characters and setting have been used by many a doujin group for anything from action RPGs to platformers. As these games are already covered far better than I could manage over on The Touhou Wiki (and other websites) I’m going to instead take a look at five of my personal favourites from other doujin groups, starting with…

Trouble Witches


Hopefully this one will be familiar to some people as it’s available worldwide on Xbox Live Arcade under the title “Trouble Witches Neo!”. It took until 2011 to get there though and the game went through quite a transformation on the way. The original game came out in 2007 and was a visually striking, if not particularly refined, shmup. Studio Siesta continued to work on the game and eventually released several patches that would excise some unnecessary elements (such as Chime’s lengthy reveal as a “Trouble Witch”), make major changes to enemy placement and numerous other touches. Two years after the initial release the game had a few further additions and professional arcade release on Taito’s Type X2 hardware (as Trouble Witches AC), a feat that only a handful of other doujin titles have managed.

Trouble Witches 2Trouble Witches 4
For all the changes, some things have always remained constant – whatever character you choose will have a small familiar alongside them that’s capable of slowing and cancelling bullets caught within their magic circle for a brief period of time. Destroyed enemies and cancelled bullets earn you gold to spend in the pumpkin-shaped shops that float through each stage, each one offering a selection of spell cards (essentially time-limited power ups) and occasionally extra lives or other useful goodies. Spell cards are not only handy for clearing enemies out the way, they also generate star coins which count towards your end of level score bonus.

The whole game’s got a madcap light hearted feel to it and while the stages get a bit busy on harder difficulties I don’t really feel it resorts to the bullet diarrhoea you can find in some other shmups.

RefleX

RefleX 1

The final game released in Siter Skain’s ALLtynex trilogy (the other two are ALLtynex Second and Kamui), this is a more traditional space shmup with a distinct zodiac theme to the bosses.

Your ship (there is only one) has two modes of attack – the genre-standard shot and a reflective shield. The regular shot can’t be powered up or changed and it really isn’t the focus of the game anyway; success depends on learning how enemy fire reacts to the shield. The rules are quite simple – blue coloured shots are reflected back, pink shots are cancelled, purple shots can be cancelled by the shield or shot and missiles or other physical objects ignore the shield and must be shot or avoided.

RefleX 2RefleX 3

Reflected shots start a chain multiplier going that increases up to a maximum of x64, learning when to hold off and when to shoot is the key to a high score… although you’ll have to wait until you finish the game or quit to find out exactly what that final score is as the game has absolutely zero breaks between levels! Unlike a lot of shmups, when you beat an end of chapter boss in RefleX all that happens is the next level title displays and you’re straight back into the action. It’s quite exciting to have nonstop action with no breathing space and it helps to give the levels a better sense of place than in some other shmups.

Crimzon Clover

Crimzon Clover 1

Yotsubane is a one man team – everything in Crimzon Clover is his own original work. Crimzon Clover is also his very first game (doujin or otherwise) and it’s simply fantastic!

The game is a score-focused vertical shmup with three ships (two unlockable) and three different play modes (one unlockable). Rather than simply increasing the number of bullets each time or making bosses hard to kill each mode has its own quirks that give them all a very different feel and require their own approach to scoring – it’s entirely possible to be an amazing Original Mode player and do terribly at Simple Mode.

Crimzon Clover 2Crimzon Clover 3

Just like RefleX mentioned above, the standard shot in Crimzon Clover can’t be changed or powered up, meaning you have everything you need available right from the start. The secondary attack is a lock on system a little like the one in Soukyugurentai, although Crimzon Clover’s ships can lock onto anything within range rather than using a wireframe “net”. There’s also a Break Gauge that behaves differently in each mode, although the general result is always along the same lines – better scoring opportunities (such as an enhanced multiplier) and a better chance at survival (bombs in Simple Mode, or Break Mode’s super-shots).

The main menu has an extensive shop filled with all sorts of goodies; some of these are obviously practical items like extra credits (for the next run only, mind) and practise levels, others are more “window dressing” but none the less very welcome such as the sound test and the option to skip the brief opening sequence.

The game is due for release this year in Japanese arcades on NESiCAxLive, published by Bouken (the same publisher that handled Trouble Witches AC) with a new two player mode and I would assume some other tweaks and changes.

Royal Edoma Engine

Edoma 1

Time for something a bit different – a fantasy-styled isomteric bullet hell shmup! The relatively unusual point of view can take a bit of getting used to, fortunately Platine Dispositif realised this and made sure the floor always has a neatly arranged grid pattern on it, and all enemies cast a shadow underneath so you can see exactly where they are in relation to your character. There are also physical obstructions along the way too, often these can be moved around but sometimes they’ll need to be shot through – unless you want to be squashed!

Edoma 2Edoma 3

Oddly enough, the game revolves around sushi. Sushi is released from defeated enemies and depending on various factors it can heal you (this game uses a health meter over a more standard “one hit loses a life” system), power you up and counts towards the end of stage bonus tally.

This game has a really neat touch that I’ve not seen in any other shmups (yet) – visually each level is represented literally as a stage; scenery is plopped onto the far end and when reaches the back it falls off the end of the conveyor belt instead of merely scrolling out of sight.

Bike Banditz

Bike 1

The final game of my five favourites is another colourful shmup, this time by Hot Pulse/French Bread.

In Bike Banditz you have to keep an eye out for enemies flying in from every angle – the game always scrolls horizontally but you’ll be under constant fire from anywhere and everywhere. Luckily each of the four playable ships (five if you apply the latest update patch) comes equipped with a small “bit” that can be rotated to fire at these oncoming enemies. Operation is simple, the bit moves in the opposite direction of the player when not firing (so moving forward rotates the bit to the back, moving upwards rotates the bit below the player) and it will stay in place as long as the player is holding down the fire button.

Bike 2Bike 3

Secondary fire is regulated by a gauge at the top of the screen; these shots are more powerful than the usual but have to be used sparingly as the gauge depletes quite quickly. It refills over time, but it recharges fastest when the player is at their most vulnerable and aren’t firing at all.

Scoring uses a ranking system, increased by collecting gems dropped by defeated enemies. The better the rank, the bigger the gems! Getting hit reduces rank by two though, so some serious dodging skills are needed for the best scores.

I hope this post has shown a few games you might not have been familiar with or at least made the vast sea of doujin seem a little more approachable! There’s a lot out there and I’m always interested in playing more, these five are nothing more than the tip of a very big and ever growing iceberg.

Download Links
Trouble Witches Official Website
Trouble Witches Official Demo (Right Click -> Save As…)
RefleX Official Website
RefleX Official Demo
Yotsubane (Crimzon Clover) Official Blog
Crimzon Clover Official Demo
Bike Banditz Official Website (No demo)
Royal Edoma Engine Official Website
Royal Edoma Engine Official Demo (Only meant to give an idea of how movement works)

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4 comments on “Shmups!

  1. I love shoot em ups. The ones you covered seem pretty cool. Although I do wish they did make more of them.

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  2. There is a *ton* more good doujin shmups out there, the problem is they aren’t widely stocked and most people (quite reasonably) don’t know of any particular titles to search for anyway. Hopefully this will have set the ball in motion for a few people ^^~

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