Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From Lords to Borders

I finally got to the end Lords of Thunder a few days ago. Cripes. Good game, but as I said in an earlier post, way more work than it should have been. And now I look back at it, and I’m still not sure why that was so hard. When I finally got to the end, I didn’t quite 1CC it but I was pretty close. The game defaults to three continues, and I had three left after purchasing one. It’s all in the knowing with these games sometimes. Once you’ve got the secret or (or sometimes the confidence) subsequent plays often become a cakewalk. That isn’t a problem. I often enjoy the visuals even if I know I’m going to crush a game OR I may play for score which can be a whole new level of pain from playing for survival.

When I play a game with limited continues, I count it as the first ‘win’ to be able to finish the game with the continues given. Then if my interest in it was high enough I’ll probably continue to play it in an effort to get the continues-used count down to a 1CC (one credit clear). Some games don’t warrant the continued play or time available may be a factor. Other games I enjoy playing but may be too hard for me to try to get down to a 1CC… again there’s a time factor there. Too many games out there and too little time.

It has become something of a regular feature for modern shooters to start with little or no continues and grant them over time (Mars Matrix has you buy the with credits earned through scoring). After a certain amount of playing time these things roll over to ‘free play’ or unlimited continues. For me, its not really a victory over a game to just credit feed ‘til the end. Oh, I’ll do it if I like the game and really want to see how it goes, but I always hope I’ll like it well enough to work on completing a game without credit feeding—at least trying to win on default continues if not a 1CC.

With Lords of Thunder, I just sort of changed up my approach and started making better progress. Originally, I just picked the earth armor (strongest additional shot) and took the stages in the shown order, because it seemed plain that was the best way, even though they can be chosen in any sequence. As it turns out, that isn’t really the best way for me. And I don’t know why I just adhered to that for so long. Duh. As it turns out, alternating between one ‘easy’ stage and one ‘difficult’ stage turns out to be the best method, earning the credits from the former, then buying better weapons and life to take on the latter, then doing it again—mostly alternating between earth and water armor, but using wind on the ice stage. The ice stage was something of a consistent problem for me. I had really good luck using water armor all the way through and then when I’d get to the boss the armor was useless. I’d lose, use a continue and then restart the boss wearing the earth armor which hosed him. Every time this spot in the game would cost me a continue. FINALLY, I thought maybe one of the other ‘weaker’ armors would be of some benefit. Turns out the wind armor is just strong/versatile enough to get you through the stage AND it is relatively effective on the boss. A compromise. Gaining that continue back allowed me to do the one thing I needed to do to finish the game, save enough score credits to buy a lifesaving elixir for the final boss. Even though I’d been able to get to the final boss a number of times, I’d gone through such a gauntlet of faux-final bosses I’d never have enough life left to survive him.

Will I go back and play for the 1CC? Probably. But I need to give that game a rest. It might have been my own stubbornness or narrow viewpoint that made that game so hard, but I still need a break from it.

I got Border Down for Christmas and it is the cat’s ass. So I’m spending most of my time on that. Pretty cool game. Most reviewers and fan’s point out how much gameplay and lineage this thing has in common with the Darius series, but I’m not feeling that so much. I see the similarities no doubt, but I never really got into Darius. I started on one of the early three-screen versions and after I’d gotten over the initial awe of that giant playfield the game just sorta lost me. The similarities to ‘Ray’ series (Rayforce, Raystorm, Raycrisis) are more what have me interested. Mostly that extends to music and graphic style, but the pace of the game seems a bit more hurried than Darius too.

This game is hard. And like Lords of Thunder it has an unconventional level setup. But I’m finding myself making much better progress in learning and finishing the game. It is probably the only shooter I’ve ever played that actually offers a reasonable explanation as to why you have three or more ‘lives’. In Border Down they are actually different ships approaching the same stages differently. So if you die, you switch ‘borders’ and become the pilot of a different craft ultimately making for the same goal as your original ship. Frequently you are actually on a different route making a stage play quite differently. All these stage variations give a six-level game a lot of variety and complexity. But so far it isn’t a chore, its really fun.

Being one of the last Dreamcast games (actually released after the death of the console) and pressed in limited numbers this game commands absurd prices on the internet. I don’t know if it is actually worth the dollars when you can get other STGs for a lot less, but its worth it to me. I always did love my Dreamcast, and this is a really good game for it.

Its interesting how much STGs actually tend to cost in the so-called secondary market now. If you have a Wii you can save a lot (doing without the cool packaging of course) by downloading older console shooters. I’m sure there are some XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade) titles too, I know Ikaruga and Triggerheart Excelica are both on there… originally Dreamcast titles both. But some consoles, notably the Sega Saturn, have a LOT of shooters that command just outrageous prices… and there doesn’t appear to be any relief from a download service. The Wii Virtual Console isn’t equipped to handle games the size of the Saturn’s generation (PS1 fits there too), and they are too old-fashioned for Microsoft to encourage them on their service with out significant overhauls (leading Treasure, for instance, to pretty much shelve bringing the highly sought-after Saturn game Radiant Silvergun to XBLA).
I have tons of shooters on my old consoles, but there’s always more to buy. With some of these prices— I already have Radiant Silvergun from way back, but check out Blast Wind, or Battle Garegga for Saturn, Harmful Park for PS1, Under Defeat for DC, or Mushihimesama for PS2—man, you gotta budget for that shit!

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