Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Porkin' That Sweet Pink

Yeah, I know, right?

Using words from a game title like that is truly sophomoric, but I’m sure half the game’s purchasers have already made a similar joke themselves. Muchi Muchi Pork & Pink Sweets, is the name of the recent double-pack of manic shooters from Cave for the Xbox 360. Hell, Cave had to know what fodder for dirty phrasing they had when they decided to put the games together!

Okay, I’m only making it worse by putting the artwork for the protagonists in Pink Sweets, the Rose Sisters, up at the top there. I’ll put an in-game shot in here somewhere too… to prove it ain’t THAT kind of game.

Originally MMP and PS were NOT together. The disc is based on arcade games put out back in 2007 and 2006 respectively. Home versions of the arcade originals are 1.00 in the package, and they are accompanied by tweaked versions 1.01 that reduce the brutality somewhat, along with Cave’s usual assortment of so-called arrange modes. Also there’s a really neat ‘matsuri version’ (as DLC) that drops the Pink Sweets bosses into a version of the MMP game.

No HD-friendly upgrading has been done to the visuals. There are a variety of options for resizing the play area to fit your screen, and there is the typical smoothing filter that can be toggled. Players can also change between arcade and arrange soundtracks for each stage of both games. Some of the alternate tracks didn’t sound like different musical arrangements at all, but wholly different compositions. In general I prefer the originals, they seem to fit the themes of the games better.

And the games have VERY distinct themes. I used the word brutality earlier in the post, but looking at these games artwork, ‘brutal’ might not be a word that’d come to mind. Both games are cute and comedic, with Pink Sweets going heavy on the cuteness-- bright rainbow colors and toy-like enemies, and Muchi Muchi Pork leaning toward comedy with everything being pig-themed and slapstick. Despite the pixellated nature of the graphics, the art styles really shine through. Muchi Muchi Pork in particular has a ton of variety to the backgrounds and enemies and really cool drawn inserts to further the story, with awesome little frames of animated robots every time you launch a bomb.

Pink Sweets

But yuks and sweetness aside, the games are monsters on the difficulty… bordering on abusive. Danmaku (curtain fire, manic, or bullet hell, take your pick) shooters, as all of Cave’s shooter output is, these games bear the stamp of lead programmer Shinobu Yagawa. If you’ve played Battle Garegga or Battle Bakraid, then you’ll have some idea, mechanically, about what you can expect from these games. Tons of enemies coming at you from all directions, gobs of stuff you have to collect (including bomb fragments in MMP), and rank, rank, rank… the difficulty increase leveraged in-game if a player is doing well. It is typical for expert players of Yagawa-made games to have all sorts of strategies for avoiding powerups, and reducing stocks of extra ships and bombs, all towards inducing the game to keep the rank low. Conversely, experts playing for score might do everything they can do jack the rank up high, at least at certain points, to force out as many enemies or bullets (if there’s a bullet canceling aspect) as possible. As I understand it, by reputation MMP’s rank is manageable and not much of a concern to good players until near the end of the game. But Pink Sweets has a rep for being perhaps the most punishing Cave game of all. With all the attention and notoriety that rank has in these games, this home version set comes with visible ‘rank meters’ (called ‘difficulty gage’) that you can display to show you how your play strategies and skills are affecting the abuse level.

Having played both of them now, I have to say they are both good games, but far beyond my ability to play well at this point. Pink Sweets is understandable. It is hard, ranks up quickly, and has bomb and powerup mechanics that are really different than any other Cave game. Certain enemy bullet types can be destroyed by your own shot and I’m sure learning these is a necessary part of progressing and will come with time. Interestingly, I’ve found the bosses to be much easier than the actual levels, which I’ve only felt with Ketsui before this. Muchi Muchi Pork is a different story entirely.

Muchi Muchi Pork

I’m not sure what is giving me trouble with the Pig Girls. Rank never even gets a chance to enter into it because I can’t last long enough for it to get very high. There are not an unbelievable amount of enemies in the early going. The enemy bullets are highly visible. The amount of firepower the game gives the player is extremely high and most enemies do not last long under it. There would seem to be no reason why I can’t progress just as well with this game as most any other shooter.

But I am just stumbling along at it. I know the sheer number of item drops is causing me to approach this a little differently… and maybe cause some screen confusion. I can’t tell. I just see myself having simple, avoidable deaths over and over again. And my REAL sticking point is the boss of the second stage. Holy shit. Rarely do I get past it without using a continue, and if I do continue and play on, the rest of the game, though difficult, doesn’t cause me nearly as much trouble relatively speaking. I mean the 4th and 5th levels are really tough, but they are about what you’d expect. I don’t expect to get totally hung up on the gosh damn second level boss… but there’s something about the guy, and the game in general, that just makes me panic and act like I’m playing with my feet. I can breeze through the first level boss NOW but it took forever to learn it. I’m just intimidated or something. Pink Sweets is a harder game, but I can get further in it. The 2nd level boss in MMP fires his bullets REALLY close to the player, and he has a lot of different fire types. I just don’t have the order and locations memorized yet… though I damn well should, I’ve played it enough times.

Kind of a drag because I really like the game. It is REALLY different from every other Cave game, just as Pink Sweets is. I’m not going to stop playing it, I just have to sigh and resign myself to fighting and struggling for every scrap of progress I’m going to make (or not make) in it.

My experience shouldn't discourage anyone else from checking this release out. Most bullet hell shooter fans will not have my bizarre hangup! The package is awesome. It was a good idea for Cave to pair up their two oddball cute but funny games (with weird mechanics), and offer them for a package price. AND they’re region-free. So you don’t have to own a JPN Xbox 360 to play ‘em. Don’t be put off by the visuals not being modified for HDTVs (some Cave releases were, ie Daifukkatsu). The graphics are still outstanding.

They’re not going to set most American gamers’ hearts afire, because hey, the whole anime cutesy-humor thing doesn’t play to the masses here, but these are explosive rock-hard shooters under all the boobs and batted eyelashes. And pork. There’s a lot of pork.
(pics stolen from Adriasang)

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