|Mischief Maker 12/21/2010 |
Sometimes it’s exhausting living in this ironic postmodern world we’ve created for ourselves. Sometimes you want to leave the vintage “Xanadu” T-Shirt in the closet. Sometimes you just want to enjoy something without hating it.
|The sad thing is, probably none of these people actually play the games.|
Here's my theory about the Touhou fad that has the Japanese indie scene by the throat. Easter Eggs and Game Genie codes in older professional 2D games sometimes reveal placeholder sprites used by the dev team while they were waiting for the game’s final sprites to be finished. Sometimes the devs had a sense of humor and used placeholders that were wildly different than the planned final product. Until the sprites for the Murdertron 3000 are complete, it will be Little Bo Peep laying waste to Tokyo.
So professional developers making indie games in their spare time, like Zun, started releasing full shmups using the silly placeholder sprites as an inside joke. Unfortunately, many people decided to embrace the little girls in frilly dresses at face value and, like a Japanese “Beavis and Butthead,” the Shrine Maiden Project became a huge success beloved and reviled for all the wrong reasons by people who missed the joke. Success breeds copycats and now it’s nearly impossible to find a Japanese indie shmup, fighting game, or whatever that doesn’t feature little girls dressed in their tea party best.
Sometimes you just pine for your beloved lost Murdertron 3000. Sometimes you want to fly a spaceship blasting white-hot electric death at gigantic robot-tanks instead of a fat little girl exploding fairies by tossing prayer cards at machinegun speeds. Sometimes you want to play a videogame that only the most grimly determined pervert could use as jerk material.
Siter Skain to the rescue!
“The Tale of Alltynex” is a trilogy of shmups by Japanese Indie developer Siter Skain un-ironically devoted to the practice of blowing shit up good. “Epic” is the adjective most often used to describe this series. You’ll be laying waste to armies of enemies as they erupt into satisfying chunky explosions all around you, battle huge bosses with multiple forms and varied attacks, fly through incredible set pieces, like having whole city blocks annihilated around you as a giant satellite laser tries to pin you down from orbit, all the while backed up by a soundtrack that’s not shy about using the synth organ.
In spite of the huge scope, these games are very friendly to shmup newbies. The number of projectiles never reach bullet hell levels, and each game gives you some kind of bullet-neutralizing weapon in your arsenal. Facing the full wrath of bosses is optional, as you often have the choice of going straight for the jugular to speed-kill them, or take them apart piece-by-piece for score. On top of all that, the games give you way more than the standard 3 lives.
|Mecha-Spider will fuck you UP.|
The first game in the trilogy, Kamui, is a tribute to Rayforce series of multi-layer shmups first published in 1999. Your ship comes equipped with 3 weapons: button 1 fires a vulcan cannon that can upgrade to a spread shot. It’s good for clearing out popcorn enemies, missiles, and not much else. Button 2 charges and fires a burst of powerful lightning that homes in on multiple targets in the lower layer. Pressing buttons 1 and 2 together combines your shots into a super-beam that does huge damage and neutralizes enemy bullets for the few seconds it lasts at the cost of overheating the lightning gauge. Destroying enemies with the lightning gives you a score multiplier based on the lightning gauge, with a maximum of 16x at full charge.
Kamui is easily my favorite of the series. The scoring system and the juggling it encourages between the lightning and the super-beam keeps the action nonstop. The stage design is a cavalcade of creativity, with a giant tank airlifted to intercept you one minute, a dogfight against rival Kamui fighters the next. There are only two strikes against the game: its aged low-res chunky graphics, and the fact that the options menu is entirely in Japanese, (you’d be surprised how often they’re in English or at least have pictograms). Protip: the top option is difficulty, far left is Easy, far right is Hard.
Originally called Project Reflection, RefleX is a game that took over 10 years to complete; started, stopped, abandoned, resurrected, and finally released in 2008. Your ship has 2 weapons: button 1 fires a vulcan cannon that’s mostly a defensive weapon against missiles, purple bullets, and popcorn enemies, as it barely scratches bosses. Button 2 activates a rechargeable shield that neutralizes red and purple bullets, but reflects blue bullets. These reflected bullets do heavy damage and rapid successive hits build up a score multiplier up to 64x.
RefleX is the black sheep of the trilogy. Its long and rocky development history resulted in a very inconsistent game. When it’s good, it features the best-looking, best-playing moments in the trilogy, like its signature battle against the boss Scorpio while ascending a giant space elevator. When it’s merely decent, it pulls an “Ikaruga” and has static boss sprites spray clouds of bullets at you that would be totally intimidating if you didn’t happen to have the bullet-neutralizing super-shield. Still, it manages to end on a high note with a wow and a bang and a” WTF?” I recommend it.
Despite being released in August of 2010, Alltynex 2nd has a history that goes back even further than RefleX, since it’s a remake of the game Alltynex for the FM Towns computer (a less successful competitor to the NEC). You have a transforming ship in this game. Button 1 puts you into ship mode and fires the usual vulcan cannon. Pressing both buttons in ship mode fires tracking auto-tracking lasers at the cost of weapons power. Button 2 puts you in robot mode and swings a super-powerful bullet-neutralizing sword attack that auto-aims at the closest enemy. Pushing both buttons in robot mode fires an auto-aiming version of Kamui’s super beam at the cost of weapon energy. Killed enemies and neutralized bullets drop tiny energon cubes that restore weapon power. Scoring is based around quickly destroying popcorn enemies with the vulcan cannon and tracking lasers to build up the multiplier, then speed killing mid-bosses with the sword and super-beam before the multiplier drains. Bosses you get extra points by taking them apart piece-by-piece.
Let me preface my thoughts by saying this is an incredible game that I would totally recommend over the likes of Gradius V any day. That said, I consider it the least-impressive title in the trilogy. I blame this on 2 things: the fact that they shackled themselves to the original game, (including its shorter stages and lame tracking laser), and the fact that they made the switch to 3D. In RefleX, Siter Skain was using sprites and parallax as well and sometimes better than professional-quality 2D games. In Alltynex 2nd, they’re newcomers to 3D graphics and it shows, even compared to other 3D indie shmups like Ether Vapor. I’m also disappointed that in the original Alltynex you transformed from a space ship into a humanoid robot to use the sword and super-beam. In this game you change from a space ship into… a slightly different shaped spaceship! It’s a consistently great game, just not as glorious as its predecessors.
Where to get them?
Here are direct-links to the demos for Kamui, RefleX, and Alltynex 2nd. The Siter Skain games are a lot less fussy about running on English Windows than Sora, all you need is the East Asian language pack installed at Control Panel > Regional and Language Options > Languages. Other than the additional HD space, it will have no effect on running English Windows normally. If, for some reason, the language pack is not an option, you can always use Applocale, (Japanese is the language at the bottom of the list).
As far as I know, Siter Skain has not made any of its games available for direct-download, so to get the full games you'll need to buy the CDs from an importer.
Give the Rocky Horror Picture Show a pass this week and embrace the un-ironic pleasures in life! The Tale of Alltynex trilogy are among the best shmups out there, indie or otherwise, and come with my highest recommendation.