Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Accidently Awesome

Yesterday after work I was utterly exhausted. I went home and just fell asleep, not waking up for almost three hours. After grabbing some dinner, I still felt out of it. But I sat down to my Xbox 360 expecting to just dork around with the odd game and not really accomplish anything.

I had downloaded the demo of the indie title Vorpal, a game of one-on-one bullet hell battles, sort of like Senko No Ronde except you are always oriented facing straight up as if it were a scrolling shooter. As much experience as I have with shooters, this demo had been giving me trouble. The demo only includes the first level/fight and I couldn't even get past that before. I don't know if my tiredness allowed me to slip into 'the zone' or what, but I managed to finally clear the demo. I'm still unsure I like the game well enough to download the complete version. The soundtrack is pretty cool though and got a little stuck in my head.

So I then have a go at the demo for another indie game, Revolver 360. This game has a pretty unique mechanic allowing you to rotate the axis on which your ship is hurtling, adding an extra dimension to the dodging aspect. It has REALLY great graphics and sound for an indie game, though the enemy designs are simplistic, being just basic geometric shapes. Again, REALLY kicking soundtrack... like Vorpal's tunes, a beat-heavy electronic score that doesn't quite veer into EBM or industrial dance floor stuff.

But it got me inspired to put Rotersand's album Random Is Resistance on the surround system. Much of the stuff on this record is dark, stomping music. I then fired up Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu 1.5 (translation: Angry Bee Boss Great Resurrection 1.5) listening to Rotersand instead of the in-game music. DDF1.5 is a full release game (not a download) I got over Christmas. It is arguably the flashiest, most spectacular STG (ShooTing Game) ever made.

Something about being tired or relaxed and not giving a crap about doing well, coupled with the rhythm of the music, made some magic happen. I like Cave's 'pachi' series, but I'm not a slave to playing them for score. I usually just play them for survival, which is tough enough. I don't have time available in my life to learn and practice all the ins and outs of the pachis strict scoring systems, which involve mainting successive hits (chains) throughout the levels as much as possible. If you go too long between hitting enemies your 'chain' drops and your scoring suffers. Super players basically know patterns to maintain their chains undropped through the whole game. I'll never play at that level though the new game, Daifukkatsu, IS less strict about how much time you get before your chain ends.

As noted I was tired and really just messing around. I figured I'd just play informally, as it were, and go for a simple goal instead of trying hard to survive the game on as few credits as possible. Daifukkatsu has two routes through each level, the regular path and a hidden (ura) path. If you fulfill certain requirements, the game warps you over to the ura path, swapping out the midboss for an end boss from a previous game in the pachi series, Dodonpachi. After each mid-boss battle the rest of the ura path includes more enemies and an extra pair of bee items to be found before the level terminates at its boss. My goal was simply to recover as many bees as I could and hop over to the ura path on each stage. I'd done it here and there on previous runs, but I wasn't sure I'd seen all of them. Really? I just wanted to see the 'old' bosses, who I know from their lower resolution Saturn incarnations, done up in new HD-friendly graphics.

So I'm playing and the rhythm of the music I've put on is really suitable to the onscreen action. I'm uncovering and grabbing bees and being largely successful at moving onto the ura paths. The Xbox throws an achievement notification up onscreen periodically that I've hit an ura boss that I hadn't before, so I'm managing my modest goal.

Then it throws up a new notification. 'Achievement 5000 hit chain'. Total surprise. A goal I've never really tried for, not knowing if it'd be particularly difficult to achieve. The next 'chaining' achievement is awarded for a 10,000 hit chain. So when I finally die, I restart the game and figure what the hell, let's see if I can get the 10K chain. I'll pick up bees (they can fuel your extra strong Hyper fire), but I won't be as religious about it as I was trying to get the ura paths and bosses. Just grab whatever you can while looping around to maintain the hits. I didn't accomplish my goal though I got very close several times during the run.

Here's what DID happen: In hitting my stride and trying to cack every enemy in a logical sequence I 'accidentally' got through the entire first loop with only one life lost. And somehow managed to pick up almost all the bees. I sort of woke up out the zone when I saw I was fighting the level five boss. I hadn't noticed the progress up to that point. That's also when I realised I hadn't died getting there. Then a mere 60 hits from getting the 10,000 chain the level five boss DID kill me, ending my chain and squashing my goal. BUT. After she got dusted by my second ship a minute later... I was crossing my fingers that in my dazed play I had managed to collect enough bees to actually enter the second loop. Then when the common 'poor' ending would've started, the screen asked me if I wanted to move forward yes or no. Of course I selected 'yes' and then entered Daifukkatsu's 'tsuujou' second loop.

I somehow managed to keep my nerves in order and battle my way nearly to the end of the third stage before finally succumbing and having to use my first continue. But I was pretty happy. I had 1-ALLed Daifukkatsu before, but not well enough to enter the second loop. And the coolness didn't stop there. After having to credit feed twice, and after killing the level five boss again, where the ending sequence would then play, my ship carrier (a sort of flying HQ) suddenly went down in flames and I was left to face the almost-TLB (True Last Boss) Taisabachi. If a player manages to play better through the first loop than I did they can reach the ura (as opposed to tsuujou) version of the second loop and face Taisabachi first, then the TLB of all the pachi games, Hibachi.

Finding and then fighting Taisabachi was exhilirating. Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu is not Cave's most difficult game. The requirments for getting to Taisabachi are not ridiculously demanding (for experienced shooter players). I didn't play anything near world class levels. But it was awesome FOR ME. And even moreso because it totally caught me off guard. You better believe I'm going to try (to no avail probably) to duplicate the mindset under which I did this well.

I'm not bad at shooters, but I'm rarely able to put in the kind of time to learn details and patterns to be *truly* good. Getting a 1CC (One Credit Clear) or a 1-ALL (one loop cleared one credit) is a kind of triumphant moment that trumps almost any other video game victory. It isn't just 'finishing' a game like you'd do with an RPG, or an FPS. You've made the game your bitch. This felt even better than that. The game handed me my ass near the end, but it was still so much more awesome because there was more to do having played that well. I've had a fair number of 1CCs in my time, but this was one for my books... and I can't even imagine how awesome a 2-ALL (both loops cleared one credit). It almost seems goshdamn do-able on this game now. I'd probably go jump off a tall building moments after a Cave 2-ALL just so the high was savored through my last moments of life.

Okay. Not really.

Even if I hadn't done so well... and please video game Jesus, please don't let that hour in the zone have been a fluke... I'd still heartily recommend this game. The scoring is complicated, but I think it is a damn fine time even played for survival. A more spectacular, eye-searing shooter you will not find... though it may not be for folks with absolutely no STG experience... I'd probably recommend the equally great Deathsmiles or Mushihmesama Futari as entry level Cave games because of the easier modes and level choices they offer.

I'm almost afraid to play the damn thing again now because of the almost-certainty I will be unable to match that last game!

(pic cribbed from the Shmups! forum)

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