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Whoa! I'm Still Alive, Yet I've Nothing to Say... Sort of.

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Hey! I decided after gaming on the 360 and overall isolating myself from all the people I've met online and off to visit GS and its boards and what-not. I'm amazed at how everything looks almost exactly how I left it: ESHU is still up and hasn't seen a new post or topic in well over a year (that's not even getting to the SH Vixens Union), everyone's still active but doing their own thing. It's weird coming back here, but a good kind of weird, like revisiting an old Hippy Commune. It kind of makes me feel warm inside knowing that, despite this age of Twitter and Facebook where staying social and connected to everyone on a three second basis, places like Gamespot still support our inactivity. It's like a little vacation spot without the traveling expenses or responsibility. There's a lot bad going on in the world and I just happen to be amidst it, but to have a place like this to go back to every now and again to see how tranquil it is... it's rather comforting.

Bottom Ten Hateful SHMUPs Part 3

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#3) Super Real Darwin/4081, for the Sega Mega Drive/Wii: I never thought Id see a SHMUP equivalent of Silent Hill 4 the room, but here it is: A SHMUP that boasts innovation and something new & different that is broken, flawed and irritating to no end despite an interesting story. Made by people who genuinely did know how to make good Action games, Super Real Darwin is a game with potential that gets shot down at every turn. It sounds cool to have a bioship that increases firepower and size with every EVOL power-up, but its wretched to have these power-ups be temporary and have the ship devolve after ten seconds. It may be cool to have the ship take some damage before finally getting destroyed, but rather than have the ship gradually move down from previously collected evolution stages, it devolves down to the very first stage, the slowest, weakest piece of crap since the Solvalu. The story is interesting, sure, but its really just another alien invasion plot and one that doesnt even match the insane backgrounds you scroll over such as a giant Casio, computer mother boards or a medieval castle growing out the side of a canyon. Ordinarily Id say thats the red flag, but it doesnt stop there. The soundtrack is genuinely annoying offering only one or two decent songs among so much tedious noodling, hidden enemies in the background that are hidden only because the graphics suck and a checkpoint system that often lands you seconds away from a fast moving enemy... all of which are all the reasons why I hate this game. #2) Strania, for the X-Box 360: This was my introduction to G.Rev, a company forged from rogue employees of Taito, a company I have a lot of respect for. What possible respect I could have for G.Rev was instantly lost the moment I played this cheap, irritating, pretentious, stupid assault on the senses. Strania is by far the worst vertical scrolling Mech shooter Ive played. Much like Ikaruga or DoDonPachi, Strania is beautiful on a technical level and most of the level songs sound great, but those alone dont save this irritating monster. The games weapon system is broken due to cluttered Power-Up Item placements, half the weapons are useless and the inability to move your robot in more than one direction is B.S. especially when the enemy robots you fight can do just that. Its also unfortunate how much attention they put into the games story because its still genuinely stupid, more so than any other game in the genre. Their genuinely good idea to make the villains of the game playable is made terrible when you see what the villains look like and read their motivation for invasion. And this isnt just a fun-lover complaining about a game thats too challenging. Ive played plenty of SHMUPs that are tough as nails I still like such as Cybattler, MUSHA, Imperium and Gun Frontier... but theres a little something called fairness and entertainment that all of those games had to offer even if their final boss fights were a pain in the ass. Strania was anything but that and playing this game to the end only hammered its lack of both into me like the last nail into a coffin. #1) Otomedius Excellent, for the X-Box 360: I may not be a big fan of Konami SHMUPs, but at least when I see the words KONAMI and SHMUP in the same sentence, I feel it right to get a little excited because Konami has made some genuinely fun SHMUPs over the years. Konami makes especially good SHMUPs when they go the parody route and make a Shooter designed entirely to laugh at and have fun with like the Twinbee or Parodius series. This is the first time Ive ever seen a Konami SHMUP Parody that screwed not only the pooch but my expectations as well: Otomedius Excellent is hands down the worst Shooter Konamis ever had a hand in. Otomedius Excellent is a slow-paced, ugly, boring, cantankerous mess with disorienting graphics that hide enemy bullets, a less than enthusiastic soundtrack, a truly boring pace to mostly long-ass levels, cheap/cheating bosses and truly wasted adult themes. The ability to tap a cursor on the girls you play as is about as far as the adult humor goes; the Parodius games had you play as characters that used CONDOMS as shields and the furthest Otomedius goes is ripping off the Easter Egg from Resident Evil DS?? This was one of the many disappointments for the 360 in 2011 and its probably the worst SHMUP to come out that year.

Bottom Ten Least Favorite SHMUPs Part 2

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#7) Judgement Silversword, for the Xbox 360: I think the only bad thing about Eschatos was the fact it was released with its inspiration: Judgement Silversword. As far as pretentious vertical scrolling shooters go, Judgement Silversword is right up there with the Shooters of Treasure and G.Rev. Judgement Silversword promises modern day shooting with old school graphics and sound, but fails to deliver the fun from either. The difficulty is crippled due to artificial B.S. such as restarting stages every time you lose your lives; its one thing to make hard, unpredictable enemies, but its another to make a game where the enemy is an unwritten genre rule. The graphics are fine, but the sound is repetitive and ugly. Combine these aspects with an overabundance of Areas within Stages and no power-ups and you have a very annoying firecracker of a SHMUP. #6) Image Fight, for Aracde and NES: Image Fight is one of those kinds of games where the challenge and strategy is there, the inspiration behind the combat is present, for the Arcade version the graphics are great and the soundtrack (save for several awkwardly kinky songs) is rockin. The game play overall however is brutal beyond comprehension: if Image Fight could be personified as a movie character, it would be Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Im serious, this game is NOT FUN. I know Irem love putting checkpoint systems into games with One-Hit Kills, but add those to a Vert SHMUP with a **** of foreground objects and you have a recipe for continual frustration. The weapon system seems great with all the different weapons you can equip, but take one enemy shot from them and your nifty new weapon is gone! The Options you pick up seem cool until you realize the blue ones are completely useless compared to the red ones; if you desperately try to pick the red ones up, youll probably end up with a blue one because the item changes color every three seconds... and thats a very BAD THING in a hectic combat situation! The side Options are especially bad when you try to use a diagonal attack from a far corner of the screen when an Option disappears off-screen. Worse yet, the game literally punishes you for dying too many times. If you beat the first five levels and die a few times along the way, you get sent to the Penalty Zone which is by far the hardest level in the game. None of which even makes sense story wise: as this is happening, an automated counter-terrorist Moon computer has gone rogue and is attacking the Earth, but the first five stages were your Training Lessons! Take the annoying Training Lessons out, leave the main plot Stages in and you have a SHMUP thats only THREE STAGES LONG!! #5) Gynoug/Wings of Wor, for the genesis: Im still amazed by how bad this game is. In a speechless jaw drop of shock, I still look at this game and wonder who the Hell thought this was good. Well, the Frazetta cover for the American version is good, the graphics are fine and the boss designs are reeeeeally cool, but do THOSE make the game fun? No. What does? NOTHING. The game play is generic at best leaving players with decent power-ups and useless special weapons and a flying man who cant even walk along the ground let alone brush against most walls without dying. Hes surrounded at all times by long levels made excruciating by repetition, pacing and level presentation (some stages have a run time of about eight minutes before the boss fight with no change in background). The soundtrack is the most tedious, annoying circus music you can imagine all done by a composer who actually demonstrated a lot of musical competence on the Genesis (like with Ranger X, Steel Empire and Gley Lancer). No matter what version you play, Gynoug/Wings of Wor is a gaming exercise in torture. #4) Grind Stormer/V-V, for the Sega Genesis: I still dont agree with the appeal behind Toaplan games. There are some of them Ive played that I like (Vimana, Truxton and Fire Shark to name a few), but a lot of the arcade ports for Toaplan games to the Genesis were just miserable train wrecks. Grind Stormer may not be one of their worst, but its the most annoying right after Twin Cobra: the soundtrack has little sense of urgency or action and sounds more appropriate for a tentacle Hentai, the weapon system shows little inspiration, the Bombs and gimmicky power-up systems are ineffective and the story is Discount B.S. in a Can. Plus, its a Manic Shooter with a Checkpoint System and a One-Hit ship; thats the equivalent of a board game where you lose one turn with every spot you land on.

Bottom Ten Least Favorite SHMUPs

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And by 'coming soon' I meant 'in three months time.' Blaaarg. Also, try to keep in mind, this is going to be a Rant, so if I sound a bit too venomous it's because I'm talking about a game that had to really do something special for me to hate it so much (play it for a quick and hollow achievement, that's fine, that I can let slide). If it happens you like these games, don't worry: I'm not out to get you or take away the love you have of that game. I'm just a guy who played that game and didn't like it very much. Here we go! #10) DoDonPachi, for the Sega Saturn: It goes to prove just because its a Manic/Bullet Hell SHMUP, doesnt mean its automatically good. DoDonPachi looks and sounds great, but its one the most abusive games Ive played in my life. The repetition from the first game is back but made worse due to there being TWELVE stages to beat instead of ten, the later six just being the same stages done over again. This is tripled in badness as the 2nd loop takes your continues away and its all for the sake of a true ending that may offer closure, but is otherwise anti-climatic BS. The AI and Bullet patterns are cheap leaving little to no room to navigate and the once cheerful voice acting from the first game is replaced by female voice overs so boring they make Miko Hinasaka sound upbeat and human. #9) Gaiares, for the Sega Genesis: If its any indication, I dislike a lot of games that try to hammer its innovations into the player no matter how broken they are. Gaiares is one of those games: its got everything you could like in a SHMUP: a good soundtrack, amazing graphics and a unique story, but getting through the game is a nightmare made irritating based on the games innovation. Being able to drain enemies of their power and use it is fine so long as you dont have to risk your life getting it and so long as you know what power youre getting from what enemy. Thats not the case in Gaiares: Save for a few enemies in the manual, youll have no idea what enemy carries what weapon until they shoot at you. Once the enemy shoots at you, they quickly take leave. Either before or after that happens youll more than likely end up taking a hit from their weapons shot which you may or may not need because its firing pattern and usefulness at any power-up level will determine your survival. I know this is all complicated, but it didnt need to be; this is the kind of game where dumbing down the AI and using a color-scheme for the weapon types actually wouldve helped. It also wouldve helped not having a friggin Checkpoint System and a ship with only one hit in a game with really long stages! I get the feeling that if Micronet (mis)handled the game play department, Gaiares mightve actually been fun. #8) Ikaruga, for the Game Cube/XBLA: Ikaruga is a lot like a femme fatale: its beautiful to look at and may even sound sexy, but it has no intentions of screwing you in the way you find pleasurable. With its overabundance of foreground objects (which is unforgivable in a Vertical Scrolling SHMUP), Kamikaze enemies, a flawed one-hit wonder jet with no genuine Power-Up system and weak weapons, Ikaruga serves mostly to annoy rather than offer a good time; three of the games five stages are so crammed up with idiotic AI and foreground objects it couldve made for a decent Atomic Robo-Kid sequel. Of course, If this WERE a UPL game, theyd find a way to mix the polarities and give you a gray weapon or power-up or, Hell, ACTUAL POWER-UPS. Really, Ikaruga just feels like someone came up with a nifty Score Attack mode where you attack enemies by color and get extra points off it and decided to make it a whole game. Yeah, like no other SHMUP developer has done THAT before: making a game entirely based off a ridiculous scoring method... how revolutionary! Treasure can suck it.

Top Ten SHMUPs Part 4

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#2) Curse, for the Sega Mega Drive: Im going to be perfectly honest here: this is by far and wide the easiest Shmup ever made, second only to X-Over for the 360 and its not entirely the best developed game. Its hard to expect much from the creators of Heavy Nova - one of the worst games on the Genesis - but its probably one of their most accomplished games. Why? Because its damn fun, thats why! If I could go back in time and seal the deal to have Curse be ported to US shores in 1989 like it was supposed to, I would. If you asked me to pick any Shmup from the 80s to play for the rest of my life, Curse would be it (and the 1980s had some awesome Shooters... remember Megablast?). The game is short, but very well paced between the slow scrolling levels and the fast moving levels, the latter actually being the highlight of the games adrenaline and action. Plus, theres nothing more I could ask for than a Shmup space ship with more than one hit-point. Maybe I get hard for a ship with a health bar, but that just makes more sense to me. The ship also has one of my favorite kinds of weapon you seldom get in Shmups and I have to say, as minimalist as the game is, its one of few in the genre that actually has a unique and interesting plot involving a space army belonging to people who went extinct centuries ago harbored by supernatural powers. Add to that the outright creepy final boss and a surprisingly rocking soundtrack and Curse ends up winning my Shmup love. #1) Metal Black, for the Sega Saturn/PS2: Something I love about Horizontal scrolling shooters is just how trippy they can get. R-Type took awhile to throw in bizarre and creepy imagery beyond enormous meat zones in their final levels, but it never worked for them because R-Type was eternally tied to that anti-fun Checkpoint System. Thats why I love Metal Black so much: Its got all the scrolling shooting action you could ask for, its two player, theres no Checkpoint System and it gets really weird and trippy halfway through! The soundtrack is appropriate to much of the action and focuses on the darkness in the games plot while still containing that creative and catchy Zuntata structure. While the plot itself is very generic, it uses abstract imagery to describe the motivation behind the events and its some of the weirdest, most psychedelic imagery Ive seen in a Taito game. Plus, after playing this game, you can see where Taito came up with many of Darius Gaidens ideas and images. Whats even funnier though is how this game was supposed to be Darius III! Indeed, the game has so many elements similar to a Darius game that it easily could have been apart of the series as a sequel... or even a prequel like G Darius. Sure, the weapon power-up mode is rather minimalist, but any ship that wields a huge plasma beam - one that you can duel bosses with - is a weapon worth having. Metal Black is a trip to play especially in just how trippy it is and its my favorite of all. So that's it for my Top Ten SHMUPs. There were a lot of SHMUPs I wanted to put on here that I still hold dear and with Sine Mora out I still had to procrastinate. But with so many SHMUPs I love and so many fun ones to choose from, I couldn't help but wonder... are there ten of them I hate? Coming up soon: CB2's Least Favorite SHMUPs!

Top Ten SHMUPs Part 3

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Note: I tried posting images, but the site doesn't like me. #5) Chaos Field, for Game Cube/Wii: Im not the biggest fan of Bullet Hell Shmups mostly because most Bullet Hell Shmups are really long, rarely take place in space and they usually have forgettable soundtracks (except Dangun Feveron). Thats why I love Chaos Field: its fast paced, its short, its got a groovy soundtrack, sensibly designed space fighters and it has space levels! What I love the most about Chaos Field over the few other Bullet Hell Shmups in space (like Mars Matrix or Dangun Feveron) is the sense of weapon and game play variety immediately at your disposal. Not only can your ships take more than one hit and absorb bullets, but they can also power-up using warp-drive technology that ramps up the difficulty as it does your firepower. The story leaves much to be desired especially considering how it goes into Alternate Dimension territory, but so do a lot of good Shmups. Besides, I know Chaos Field loves me back because it gives me a strong ship with homing lasers, a light saber and a hot girl pilot in a mini-skirt! Wait, didnt Steam Hearts have the same thing plus sex?? :P #4) Darius Burst, for the PSP: This was a genuinely tough spot to fill because I am a Darius fan; even after Thunder Force and Raiden, the Darius series has earned my love and appreciation over the years. I love the history of the series, the surprising SNES sequels it got (the sequels that even its creators seem not to acknowledge) and Darius II still wins my heart when I hear that catchy and goofy but all at once touching soundtrack. It came down to Darius II or Darius Gaiden which is by far and wide one of the best Shooters ever made for its beauty and action. But then a mediator came along, a game in the Darius series that is as beautiful and challenging as Darius Gaiden, yet is as fun and adventurous as Darius II. With an honestly beautiful and epic soundtrack, some of the best graphics Ive seen on the PSP and a unique use of the Beam Duel combat first introduced to the series in G-Darius, Darius Burst is a fun and memorable addition to the series that's earned my love. #3) Acrobat Mission, Arcade/SFC: Now heres a game where no matter what version of it I play, Im always in for a treat. Whether it be a badly emulated version of the Arcade original on MAME or the flawed but playable SNES version, Acrobat Mission always serves as my personal pick-me up game. No matter what mood Im in, no matter what games I intend to play on the SNES, theres only one Shmup on it I always turn to. When I crave fast-paced Shooting action and a groovy soundtrack, I turn to a game made by UPL, the guys who brought us Steel Fortress Strahl AND Bio-Ship Paladin! These guys knew how to make a Shmup entertaining and original no matter how generic the plot and that shows in Acrobat Mission: the Icarus star fighter is one of the coolest rides Ive controlled in a Shmup with its ability to sturdily bump into oncoming enemies and objects, damage them with its jet exhaust, Kamikaze into them once shot and its nice use of bomb-shields. Now if UPL would release the arcade original of this and Omega Fighter on Xbox Live Arcade, then Id be in Vert Shmup Heaven!

Top Ten SHMUPs Part 2

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#8) Iridion II: Theres really something to say when the you find yourself playing one game every time you power-up a different console, especially when that games a Shmup. For the Genesis its a toss-up between Sol-Deace and No.2 on the List, for the DSi its Cosmos X2, for the normal X-Box its Exizisus (off the Taito Legends Compilation), for the Saturn its Shienryu, for the X360 its either Eschatos or Raiden IV and for the PS1 its either Philosoma or Raiden II. Iridion II is one of those games I always find myself playing on the GBA/DS, yet somewhere among my multiple playthroughs of the game I realized my love for it. Of the four Shmups made by Shinen, Iridion II has got to be the hands-down coolest. With that beautiful, unmatched score by Manfred Linzner, a totally boss power-up/Weapon System, tons of decently paced levels (that never manage to get boring) and big bosses, Iridion II is THE Shmup to own on the GBA, even putting the ambitious Sigma Star Saga to some shame. Although, I will admit... at least Sigma Star Saga had a plot... and hot chicks. #7) Verytex: This was a really hard call for me to make because there are a lot of Shmups on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive that kicked butt. This spot was probably reserved for Sol-Deace, Insector X or Steel Empire, but I narrowed it down to this one: the one that never officially reached American shores! Verytex is one of those kinds of Shmups that doesnt boast much in regards to inspiration, but it makes up for it in both having an original plot (for the time anyways) and a kick @$$ Action Game pace that makes for one thrill ride of a Shmup experience! Seriously, why cant more modern Shmups by like Verytex? With yet another rockin balls-awesome score by Hitoshi Sakimoto (and friends), fast as Hell scrolling speeds and surprisingly challenging bosses, Verytex is a Shmup to admire and an Action Game to be reckoned with! Id pour 1600 GP for Verytex on XBLA if they every put it up, and I stand by that! #6) Sol-Deace: This game was a genuine surprise for me: a game Ive never heard of from a company I had yet to learn about. The first game of Wolf Teams Ive played and honestly the best is also one of my personal favorites when it comes to SHMUPs. Sol-Deace is a SHMUP that evokes a lot of emotions for me: the battle of man vs. machine at the zenith of human space travel, action blazing space adventures and the brief frustration at just how hard the sucker is! Sol-Deace is a budget title that delivers a lot of entertainment and challenge despite its limitations. While this is the Genesis port of the Sega CD original, I cant help recommend this one over its predecessor: its narrative and delivery is actually much stronger in this one despite lacking the originals voice acting and additional scenes. Indeed, Sol-Deace is one of the best Man v. Machine SHMUPs out there and one of my personal favorites.

Top Ten SHMUPs Part 1

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Okay, it's been a long, loong, time since I've worked on this list because asking me what my favorite SHMUPs are is like asking a rampant nymphomaniac what their favorite climax was. Needless to say, I needed a lot of thought with this one and I finally narrowed the list down after filtering through all of the console, arcade and MAME SHMUPs I've played and enjoyed to ten and ten only. I still have a lot of runner-ups even on Emulator/Arcade only titles, but at long last, I have a list of my favorite 10 SHMUPs ("And that is my label to make you feel better..." Heh, no one's ever gonna get that). Granted, I have too much to say about these games, so I'll post my blog in parts. #10) Soldier Blade: If its one thing Ive learned from Shoot em Ups its that Earth gets invaded a lot and often for no good reason whatsoever. Soldier Blade is only one of the hundreds of Shmups with the same cut and paste plot I described, but it does something that not too many Shmups do with that plot: they make the fight against evil aliens feel worth a damn. The moment you start the game up, youre treated with a melodic, dangerous and overall catchy musical score that throws you into a setting that makes you feel like youre going to war. But Soldier Blade doesnt win its way on the list for its soundtrack alone: the game is one of my favorites on the TG16 and my overall favorite from the Soldier series it comes from. Super Star Soldier was way too long and hard in that cheap-at-the-last-minute kind of way and Final Soldier, beautiful and fun as it is, felt way longer than it really was. Plus, while the weapons in those games were big and impressive, they were either disorienting during combat or in some cases really pointless. Soldier Blade is just right, though: its seven stages long, but doesnt feel any longer and the weapon system was effective in its own simplistic way. Also, I have to give kudos to a game where the final boss openly vows to kill you after throwing out Schwarzeneggar qoutes; Leave it to Hudson Soft to make a vert. Shmup whose rival mech theme destroys the likes of Strania. #9) Soukyou Gurentai: Riding on the heels of games with a Going to War feel, Soukyou Gurentai makes its way on my favorites list for almost the same reasons as Soldier Blade. I usually try to avoid praising games that fall under the General Opinion of game criticism and in the Circle of Shmup Lovers, Soukyou Gurentai falls under the Perfect Game category... the 10/10 Stars type game if you will, the kind that somehow mystically avoids proper Critical Game Play Analysis. It is easy to see why in this case, though: Soukyou Gurentai is a fast paced vertical scrolling Shmup with everything a well made Shmup needs. Its got an amazing score by Hitoshi Sakimoto, surprisingly good graphics, three ships with three different kinds of firepower and frankly the best Homing Laser attack weapon design that crushes other vertical shooters that implement it from the Layer Section/Ray Force series all the way down to Ikaruga. Add to that customizable controls that allow you to use the laser weapon targeting system to your wishes and Suky ends up being a solid Action experience. Plus, the plot is fairly original for a space Shmup involving Earth: its about a company war fighting over who gets Mars first, though that slightly contradicts the dramatic feel that the soundtrack gives it. Part 2 coming soon...

F.E.A.R 3: Project Every Other FPS

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All right, this is going to be a Rant post. I've grown quite an appreciation for Tactical First Person Shooters as of late. I've found myself enjoying Crysis 2, FEAR 1 and 2 on the same level I'd enjoy a fine wine. There's just something about the formula of a Tactical FPS I find myself drawn to be it the constant desire for cover, the desperate attempts I've made for stealth combat or the surprisingly over-violent combat present when you'd expect it in a game like Borderlands or Quake II. Said Tactical FPS' are adorned with Sci-Fi themes as well, so that could be the root of my fascination, but there's some kind of aura that separates said games from the rest of the FPS out there.

Then FEAR 3 came along... Sheeeit. All right, I've always been aware that the FEAR series has told a bad story. FEAR 1 was sort of like the original Resident Evil plot, but instead of genetically engineered weapons it was cloned soldiers taking orders from a psychic commander, all lead by a ghost. I was fine with that plot, that actually made sense in the universe this game sets itself up for. I don't get Harlan Wade's motivation near the end of FEAR 1, I'd imagine Alice could have easily felt more guilt than a character the game paints as an uncaring, family destroying monster, but whatever, FEAR 1's story structure and arch was still present.

FEAR 2's plot immediately falls a part because the entire city is in a post apocalyptic state where in the last game only a few city blocks got destroyed. It makes very little sense especially considering how Armacham is trying to cover the whole thing up is only more confusing. However, what little sense those plot devices make, it's still telling us that a ghost is running rampant around a city and it's your job to exercise it. Plus, FEAR 2 had a lot of intense action, was gorier than the last game, had better graphics, features a fun little Expansion Pack/DLC and referenced The Brain That Wouldn't Die. :)

FEAR 3 takes everything known to the FEAR series from weak, but fairly easy to follow plots to sweet combat and DESTROYS it. Previous FEAR games featured health bars replenished by collectible medkits, had a four/five ct. Weapon Inventory, Health and Reflex Boosters, shotguns capable of destroying the human body on a molecular level and taught you to rely on tactical combat. FEAR 3 switches all of that for a Regenerative Health Bar that's useless in the search for better cover, has no Boosters, a two gun Inventory, shotguns developed by a third world country capable of making people look like they fell asleep in a Paint Ball game and enemies who swarm around you en masse and openly beg for you to come out from hiding. I never thought I'd play another Duke Nukem Forever in the same year that takes a game and game formula I love and smashes it, but here I am.

Then there's the plot. Okay, remember the ending to FEAR 2? The last thing we saw depicted a ghost in a state that only a living person would be in. At first I thought 'okay, it's symbolic of something, like this apocalypse thing is just beginning or maybe there's a second ghost involved.' But no, that was meant to be taken literally. That's actually happening in FEAR 3. A ghost is doing something that only the living are capable of doing.

FEAR 3, a game that all ready has enough BS in its story to be its own septic tank actually conceives a plot line that is impossible and implausible in the very universe it sets itself in. It pulls a SILENT HILL 4 in trying to make us believe that a ghost is capable of doing something even IT's not capable of doing.* But I wouldn't be complaining about it if it didn't get worse... but it does. It totally ignores the Foxtrot 813 sub-plot, it adds emotion and sympathy to a character who previously had none seconds before killing him and it adds a sad and weepy back story to characters the player has never given a $#!T about!

FEAR 3 has a few decent things going for it with some decent cover-fire mechanics, level variety and interesting enemies... but I don't care. This is about as big a sequel to FEAR as Shattered Memories was a Silent Hill game. I think the funniest part was that epilogue video flashback; I think after one soldier, you'd think the rest of the guys would stop entering the room.

*: Unless Walter Sullivan's brain was being kept alive in a jar, there's no way we'd be able to explore those places.

So This is Strania, huh? They can keep it.

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Okay, I know it's been awhile since I posted here and I know my activity here has been limited, but I need to get this off my chest.

Every now and again, one Shoot em' Up comes along that manages to irritate me beyond all known previous levels of tolerance. It has been awhile since a Shooter has come along and broken my will to play a game genre I genuinely love. I think the last game to come around and do that had to have been Nanostray, a game that was so set on being difficulty and challenging and trying to maintain 'old school' status, that it threw all logic and the simplest of narrative out the window (seriously, your ship could be destroyed by steam in that game). Sometimes there are over-hyped Shmups out there that manage to irritate me, but mostly in ways that I expected. Take for example Ikaruga, a game strengthened by the immediate praise of its fan-ship who worship its sense of innovation over everything else that's supposed to matter. I played Ikaruga going into it expecting it to be all flash no substance and while the game threw some unexpected anal gameplay expectations a la Gradius in there, I cam out of it with the same feeling.

Strania on the other hand is a SHMUP on XBLA that came out of nowhere and delivered so many unexpected blows to me that I feel like I got hit by a truck. Strania is a vertical scrolling Einhander with a MUSHA skin made by ex-Taito developers G.Rev, known mostly for Japan only Shmups like Border Down and their occasional graphics department that worked on Gradius V and, wouldn't you know it, Ikaruga. The game is about the mechanical forces of Vower who have been watching planet Strania a long time and have finally decided to attack. Yeah, it's also got some Imperium in there, too. There seems to be more to it than that, the Vower seem to be just as human as the Stranians (who by the way have Earthling names), but I could care less about it all.

What irritates me about this game for starters is the weapon system. I've played Shmups with Equipped Weapon Systems before like Einhander and Sol-Deace, but with those games the weapon placements were seldom, the areas to put the weapon on your were distinct and overall were useful. Strania on the other hand makes your weapon placements so small that its sometimes hard to tell just how close to the weapon you have to be in order to equip the weapon. That's made annoying when you can accidentally equip your back-up weapon if you happen to over steer into the weapon pick-up. THAT's made infuriating when you realize that the game throws weapon pick-ups at you every goddamn second. THAT aspect is made insulting when you discover that a lot of the weapons suck or are inappropriate to the situation!

Also, you know how some Shooters like to give you a rival mech to fight throughout the game as a mini-boss like Soldier Blade or MUSHA? Strania takes that staple and wears it down so hard it'll make you hate mechs for the rest of your life. One every even-numbered stage, you fight this pilot who keeps upgrading the size and strength of their mecha. The problem is that this mecha seems to be the only plausible threat to the planet. By the end of the game, you attack the Vower HQ and you have absoluetley no mission other than to fly in and destroy this giant robot. So what it's Shienryu, now? That can't be true, because at least Shienryu had a weapon capable of destroying a country; by the end of the game, the rival mach couldn't even destroy half a city.

Its through this mech that the game throws the biggest dick-moves I've seen on a boss mech in a Shmup since Thunder Force V: If you try to beat this game on Normal, you won't get an ending so you have to beat it on Hard. Everything that keeps you from doing that adheres to this cheap mech. There's an escape sequence (again, Imperium) and a final showdown between you and the mech. If you lose all your health on the escape sequence, you have to fight the mech over again but with none of your previous weapons! Yeah, this game has a checkpoint system in it, but only serves to make the bosses harder than they all ready are. But even if you survive the escape sequence, you have the final show down. At this point you only have a few hit points left, you're down to one crappy weapon and the final boss requires several hits to kill, but you'll have at least three or four lives left, so the final show down should be a piece of cake. It should be, only the developers thought it would be a swell idea if you had no continues during the final showdown.

That's right: Once the final show down begins, you instantly lose all of your previous Credits and if you die on the final encounter, it's GAME OVER. There's no Taito-esque last minute bad ending, just plain Game Over. G.Rev took a dump on my ice cream and ignored the courtesy of calling it fudge. In any situation like this, I'd just milk the game for a few Achievements and just let it collect dust, but that's when the final straw came. I aimed at the Beat Normal w/o Continuing and Court Martial Achievements. I failed both Destroy and Escort Missions and successfully beat the game on Normal with credits and health set as they previously were when I got previous achievements... and nothing happened; the game wouldn't even give me a measly 10 points.

I'll be posting a review of this game when I let my anger truly settle; I want to let the Shmup community out there I'm miffed.