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All posts for the month June, 2009
Posted by WildcatJF on June 29, 2009
In celebration of Mega Man 3′s Virtual Console arrival, I am pleased to present my Tactics to the game’s Robot Masters, the Dr. Robot bosses, and Dr. Wily’s boss battles, as well as provide some passwords and secrets! I hope this helps you get through one of my favorite games of all time!
The Robot Masters
Top Man is my recommended first Robot Master for one key reason – his pattern is easy to pick apart after a few moments. His first attack, which he sends 3 tops in the air, which he will send them to convene on your present location, can be dodged by a quick slide. His second attack, when he spins on his skates for a few moments and then rushes across the screen, is also a simple matter of leaping over him as he dashes forward. A quick note – Top Man’s first self-spin is much faster than his subsequent ones. He will then repeat this pattern. Top Man is open to attack any time where he is not spinning. So barrage him with Mega Buster shots during the 3 top phase, be ready to leap over him as he spins at you, and repeat until he’s destroyed. His usual weakness is the Hard Knuckle, which will crush him in 4 shots.
Reward – Top Spin
2. Shadow Man
Shadow Man normally is one of the game’s most daunting Masters – his insane speed and random movements can make him very unpredictable and dangerous. Thankfully, the Top Spin will subdue him in 4 spins. However, there are two downsides: the first is that you will take damage per Top Spin, and there is a grim possibility that you will accidentally burn your entire Top Spin meter on any attack upon Shadow Man, forcing you to switch back to the Mega Buster and hoping that his spastic leaps will strike your weak bursts. Outside of leaping around a lot, Shadow Man will slide across the floor REALLY fast or sling two speedy Shadow Blades at once (one straight forward, the other at an upward-diagonal slant).
Reward – Shadow Blade and Rush Marine
3. Spark Man
Before I begin, you could go one of two ways here. I usually tackle Spark Man, since his stage is among the trickiest and getting it over with is rewarding, but you could also tackle Magnet Man at this point as well. Magnet Man has the unusual property of being weak to two different weapons – the Spark Shock and the Shadow Blade. But, for the sake of following my usual pattern, we’ll discuss Spark Man.
Spark Man’s room isn’t flat like most of the other Masters – it features a pyramid like formation. He’ll leap around from platform to platform, and usually stop at some point (usually he’ll be on the far side of the stage or on the tall centerpiece, but he can attack from the other platforms as well) to unleash two spark attacks. His first is a cluster of small sparks that fly out in 8 directions. His second is to charge up a huge spark and then throw it at your present position. Considering the various heights this room contains, the Shadow Blade is a godsend. Its ability to be thrown diagonally or straight up will be very useful for many parts of the game, and this fight is no exception. It’ll take 7 blades to defeat Spark Man. Take advantage of his attack pauses to drill him with blades.
Reward – Spark Shock
4. Magnet Man
Magnet Man’s dual weakness, as mentioned above, makes this somewhat tricky fight a cakewalk at this point. Either weapon will knock out 1/4 of his life meter. I recommend the Shadow Blade mainly for its ability to be thrown in more directions than the Spark Shock, but in the later Wily Boss Battle Rematch, the Spark Shock will probably make more sense for ammo conservation.
As for Magnet Man, he has two attacks. He’ll either create a magnetic barrier, which will pull you closer to him. This also renders him invulnerable, so don’t waste ammo while he’s performing it. His second attack is a barrage of Magnet Missiles thrown in the air. He’ll fire three of them, which will home in to your present position. In between attacks, he’ll jump once to cover about a 1/3 of the screen, then will leap the rest of the way to the room’s wall. He’s most open when he’s firing off missiles, so use the Shadow Blade’s upward throws to subdue him quickly. In the Wily rematch, use the Spark Shock as he bounds across the room or falls after unleashing his missiles.
Reward – Magnet Missile
5. Hard Man
Hard Man, despite his slow speed, can be a major headache to battle. Thankfully, Magnet Missiles stick to him like glue, and 7 will be enough to conquer him. The Missile’s homing ability will prove to be quite handy here. Hard Man’s two methods of attack are the firing of two Hard Knuckles, which, in his case, have the ability to turn around and come back at you, or he will leap into the air and smash his mass into the ground, which will freeze the action temporarily. He also usually follows his head stomp with Hard Knuckles, so keep that in mind. Sliding is a good tactic to avoid the Hard Knuckle barrages. Pressure him at any opportunity with Missile launches, and the match should be yours.
Reward – Hard Knuckle
6. Gemini Man
Here’s where things get a bit screwy. Capcom set up the Robot Master weaknesses in two sets, with the first five bosses I’ve discussed thus far being weak to each other, and then Gemini Man, Needle Man and Snake Man being weak to each other’s weaponry. It does make choosing the next stage to battle a little more complicated. I find Needle Man to be the toughest standard Robot Master in the game, and Snake Man’s stage geography making his battle tougher than it would be without the elevation switches, so I go with Gemini Man first in this set.
Without the Search Snake, Gemini Man will take longer than usual to go down. He’s quite difficult, as well. However, Gemini Man has the unique attribute of firing small bursts upon you when you tap the fire button. Keep that in mind as you take down his clone with Shadow Blades (again proving their worth) or with the Mega Buster. If you do not attack, the two clones will simply leap across the stage and then dash back to the right wall very rapidly. After his clone goes down, he’ll jump when you press fire, so use that knowledge to your advantage. He’ll fire off his Gemini Laser randomly at this point, which will bounce off the stage’s walls for a while before breaking apart. It’ll be a tough fight, but patience will be rewarded.
Reward – Gemini Laser
7. Needle Man
Needle Man is a spaz. Even more so than Shadow Man is. Despite the bulky armor, he is very mobile and very dangerous. Thankfully, the Gemini Laser will cut him down in 4 hits. Disabling him is easier said than done, though, thanks to his random leaps and his speed. Try to aim the laser as he’s grounded, leaping up slightly to fire it. It’ll double your chances of a clean strike, since he’s in the air more than he’s on the ground. If you miss, try to avoid his two attacks, which are firing needles from the air and launching his pointy head plate at you from the floor (which has a long reach!) and hope that the beam’s reflections will work out in your favor. You can’t fire more than one laser at a time, so the tension will raise thanks to the slow pace of the beam’s bounces.
Reward – Needle Cannon and Rush Jet
8. Snake Man
The Needle Cannon helps make Snake Man a pretty easy fight. Snake Man slithers around the room, and will occasionally leap up and fire off Search Snakes, which crawl along the floor and disappear when they reach the ceiling. He isn’t difficult on his own, thanks to his slow speed and his attack being so straightforward, but the stage’s layout will be the tricky part. Thanks to the various elevations, Snake Man is very hard to get around as he paces about his lair, and the Search Snakes move much faster than he does, and he’s coming at you as you’re trying to weave around them. Rail him when he’s not flashing, and the fight will be over quickly. It takes 7 hits from the needles to win this fight, so keep the pressure on him.
Reward – Search Snake
Dr. Robot…is a Gutsman wannabe, merging with the powers of MM2′s Robot Masters. *shrugs* These stages are among the hardest in the game, mainly because you’ll have to defeat two Dr. Robots in one stage to pass!
Spark Man Redux – Metal Man, Quick Man
Metal Man can be tough, but quickly belt him with Magnet Missiles while avoiding the constant Metal Blade carnage he slings at you by timing slides or jumps to his attacks. Other than jumping, he remains stationary, so he’s pretty easy compared to some of the other MM2 bosses. Spark Shocks also work well, but the Magnet Missiles can home in on Metal Man, so I prefer to use those.
Quick Man’s speed is insane, and he loves to leap over your head and pester you with Quick Boomerangs. 4 Gemini Lasers will take him down, but it’ll be a tough fight.
Needle Man Redux – Air Man, Clash Man
I find Air Man to be one of the toughest boss fights in the game. His Air Shooter peppers the stage with mini tornadoes, and when they blow off the stage, it’ll drag Mega Man with it. On top of that, your attacks will reflect off of the tornadoes, making this a difficult battle. Magnet Missiles are quite effective, but the Spark Shock will also work as well.
Clash Man will not fire off a Clash Bomb until you attack him, so be cautious when you use your Hard Knuckles to defeat him. He’ll leap and fire off a bomb when you tap the fire button, so keep that in mind. 4 Knuckles will be enough to defeat him.
Shadow Man Redux – Wood Man, Heat Man
Wood Man is a tricky boss to defeat. His Leaf Shield will repel any attack, and the time he’s open to attack is thin and filled with other obstacles to avoid. Use the Needle Cannon to wear him out.
Heat Man can be very hard until you grasp his pattern. He’ll launch fire walls until he’s struck, then he will ignite and fly across the room to where you were standing (and he’s invincible during this phase). To add to the aggravation, his fire walls can reflect bullets. The Hard Knuckle and Shadow Blade work well against him.
Gemini Man Redux – Flash Man, Bubble Man
Flash Man’s ability to stop time will make this a harder fight than you’d think, and the pyramid structure of his boss lair doesn’t help. Use the Needle Cannon to deliver the maximum amount of damage to him.
Bubble Man’s lair is submerged, and the ceiling is loaded with spikes. Watch your jumps as you bob around his Bubble Leads and fire off Spark Shocks or Shadow Blades to defeat him.
Break Man is an enigma in the classic MM plotline…he only appears in MM3, and despite looking exactly like Protoman with a mouth plate, Protoman never again uses that plate for the rest of the MM series. I’d like to think of him as a separate character, despite arguments that it was merely a disguise for Protoman…but I digress.
Break Man can only take damage from the Mega Buster, so save your other weapon ammo. Do your best to avoid his blasts and from bumping into him until he finally warps out from your attacks.
Dr. Wily’s Castle
This fight is quite simple – equip the Top Spin and hit each turtle as it appears. You ought to be able to get through this battle without taking any damage, if you time it right. If the Top Spin drains on you, use the Shadow Blade in its place.
This gigantic pain returns from the original Mega Man, and he’s tough. Hard Knuckles are very effective against him, but his only weak point is his eye, and it’s rarely there. The battle will begin with small blocks flying in from the right of the stage that you will have to dodge. Slide or jump through the problematic ones, and be ready to launch Hard Knuckles at him when he finally unites. I find that leaping in the middle of the room and aiming the Knuckles upward to be the best way to battle him safely. When he solidifies, he’ll fire small blasts at you from his eye, then will proceed to break down into 5 bouncing blocks and will go over to the right wall. Then he’ll fire some more blasts, and the cycle repeats, with him breaking apart and heading left again in small parts. It takes about 7 Hard Knuckles to conquer him. Make sure you save some of them for the next area though, as there will be some barriers to bust through!
Mega Man Hologram
Wily loves duplicating Mega Man. Three tiers of platforms, each with a MM clone, is the lair’s setup, and you can only damage one of the three doppelgangers. While the Top Spin is most effective, I prefer to use the Shadow Blade here for two reasons – one is that the Top Spin will make the final boss fight (and the upcoming Shadow Man rematch) much easier, and that the Shadow Blade can attack above Mega Man, while you would have to figure out the right clone to use the Top Spin on before he teleports to a new position, which is frustrating. Once you find the right clone, drill him with blades until he teleports, then find him again and continue attacking.
The Dr. Wily Robot Master Rematch Circus!
Here, 8 teleporters await to take you to the recently rebuilt MM3 masters you’ve battled earlier! Capcom seems to get extreme pleasure in rehashing boss fights. Anyway…here’s a summary of what each Robot Master is weak to, and how many of them it’ll take to beat them:
Magnet Man – Shadow Blade or Spark Shock (4)
Hard Man – Magnet Missile (7)
Spark Man – Shadow Blade (7)
Snake Man – Needle Cannon (7)
Top Man – Hard Knuckle (4)
Shadow Man – Top Spin (4)
Needle Man – Gemini Laser (4)
Gemini Man – Search Snake (7)
Dr. Wily Fake
Charge up the Search Snake and Rush Jet at the beginning of the stage. After the left leg creeps in, sneak in under it and fire Search Snakes at the turret when it appears. Spark Shocks or Hard Knuckles also work well here. When it explodes, get back out from under the robot and consider using the Rush Jet to fire Mega Buster bursts at Wily. You won’t be needing the Jet after this point, so don’t be afraid if it gets low. If you run out, you can always sling Shadow Blades at Wily. One more battle to go…
Make sure the Hard Knuckle and Top Spin are full before battling Gamma. Climb up to the top right platform and get as far right as you can get, then stand and fire Hard Knuckles at the blue part of Gamma’s head by steering them upwards. After a few blows, it’ll explode, and Wily will fall in with the true headpiece of Gamma.
Equip the Top Spin and strike him fast. You’ll take damage, but try to spin again. You may be able to defeat him in one assault if you time it well. If, for some crazy reason, the Top Spin empties on you, the Search Snake is also effective. Once Wily’s ejected from Gamma, you’ve done it! Congrats!
You can fire 2 Search Snakes at a time. They will proceed to quickly crawl along the floor and can also scale walls. They disappear when they reach the ceiling. They are fairly heavy, making them fall to the floor like rocks when shot.
The Spark Shock can be fired one at a time at a fairly quick pace. It has the handy ability to stun normal enemies, but it also restricts your ability to pause to switch weapons or to fire additional shocks while the enemy is stunned.
The Gemini Laser can be fired one at a time. It can bounce off of the stage’s walls and ceilings until it strikes an enemy or breaks apart after a few bounces. It is very slow, so use it cautiously.
The Needle Cannon is a rapid-fire Mega Buster, in my opinion. It shoots out Needles three at a time at a very fast clip. However, it drains the meter faster than any other weapon in the game (outside of the quirky Top Spin).
Magnet Missiles can be fired two at a time. They home in on enemies by changing direction once, either upwards or downwards, when they cross its path. Because of that, sometimes you can easily burn Magnet Missile ammo unintentionally on enemies that move quickly.
Two Shadow Blades can be flung at a time. They can be thrown in three directions – straight ahead, straight above, or at a diagonal slant. The only downside is their somewhat short range.
The Hard Knuckle can be fired one at a time. This powerful Knuckle can be steered slightly after firing it by pressing up and down. It can also destroy barriers in Wily’s Castle that other weapons can not. It is very slow, though.
The Top Spin can only be performed when Mega Man is in the air. Press the fire button and Mega Man will spin. This tears a lot of normal enemies apart with one strike. However, Mega Man usually trades hits with his enemies performing this move (some will just explode with no consequence), and it also has a nasty habit of draining a ton of its weapon meter randomly.
* Need some Energy Tanks? Go to the password screen and put a red dot on A6. When you start, you’ll have 9 energy tanks in your inventory, the maximum you can carry!
* If you have a second controller, you can perform two special cheats, one that (with some effort) can make you invincible for the duration of the stage! (Note – this was removed from the PS2/GC/Xbox Mega Man Anniversary Collection, but the Virtual Console version works the same as its NES counterpart).
- Hold up to make the game’s sprites slow down. The animation will be heavily reduced, to the point that they’re hardly moving. This slows down attacks a bit as well, and increases Mega Man’s invulnerable phase when he’s hit. However, it also slows down Mega Man’s bullets, so he won’t fire as fast as he normally could.
- Hold right to unleash Super Jumps, which make Mega Man leap like he used the Rush Coil (and then some)! However, this trick also can let you survive falling into pits, as long as you tap it before a certain point. You must hold the direction to remain safe in pits.
* Using the Super Jump trick, you can “fool” the game into making you invincible! Fall into a pit and hold right. Walk Mega Man under enemies above you, and he’ll usually take damage. When the life meter depletes, he won’t explode like he usually would, since the game considers Mega Man dead for being in the pit already. Leap out and you’ll find that enemies can still strike you, but it will not kill you! There are four drawbacks to this, though:
1) Spikes will still kill you, as will pits (if you fail to use or hold the Super Jump)
2) The Mega Buster will not work anymore. You’ll need to switch to a Rush Adapter to fire standard shots (the Rush Marine works best for this, although the drawback is you can only fire two bullets instead of three at a time). Your Robot Master weaponry will still work, though.
3) Picking up a life capsule or using an Energy Tank will render your invincibility null, as it will refill your life meter and undo the cheat.
4) The stage music stops…which is a shame, since the music is so good!
* In Snake Man’s stage, if you are unsatisfied with the results of the ? Tanks, you can reset them by climbing back down the ladder and heading back up. The tanks will be restored, and you can fire on them until you get 1-Ups or Energy Tanks.
(Note – C5 Red stands for no energy tanks, so you can replace it with A6 Red to get 9 reserve tanks!)
Top Man (alone) – A3 Red, C5 Red
Shadow Man (alone) – D6 Red, C5 Red
Magnet Man (alone) – F5 Red, C5 Red
Needle Man (alone) – D3 Red, C5 Red
Hard Man (alone) – C4 Red, C5 Red
Gemini Man (alone) – B5 Red, C5 Red
Spark Man (alone) – F4 Red, C5 Red
Snake Man (alone) – F6 Red, C5 Red
Dr. Robot (all 8 Masters defeated) – A3 Blue (Top Man and Snake Man), B5 Blue (Gemini Man and Hard Man), D3 Blue (Needle Man and Magnet Man), F4 Blue (Spark Man and Shadow Man), C5 Red
(Note – If, for some reason, you want to take down only a few bosses at a time, I’ve noted what the blue dots signify in terms of what bosses they are. So, if you wanted to have the Needle Cannon, Magnet Missiles and Search Snake at first, you would put down F6 Red for Snake Man, and D3 Blue for Magnet Man and Needle Man. Putting the red dots for bosses that cross like this will not work!)
Break Man (all Dr. Robot stages completed) – A1 Blue, A3 Blue, B2 Blue, B5 Blue, C5 Red, D3 Blue, F4 Blue
Dr. Wily’s Castle – A1 Blue, A3 Blue, B2 Blue, B5 Blue, C5 Red, D3 Blue, E1 Red, F4 Blue
(Note – There are no passwords beyond Stage 1 of Wily’s Castle, so you’ll have to march through the whole thing)
Most of the art for this feature came from The Mega Man Network. Thanks!
Posted by WildcatJF on June 27, 2009
Posted by WildcatJF on June 26, 2009
Posted by WildcatJF on June 25, 2009
Castlevania: Wicked Child - Level 3 (NES, Konami, Kinuyo Yamashita)
Man, how I do love me some Wicked Child. Definitely one of the finest NES compositions, this tune captures the frantic pace of the third section of the game perfectly. With its tough foes (especially the Fleamen, whose random hops manage to tie into this tune very well), high amount of pits, and the ambient scenery of scaling the castle’s walls and towers, this is a lovely example of how to properly set up a tense mood with your gaming music. I wonder why Konami hasn’t brought back this classic into the modern Castlevanias…scared of living up to the awesomeness of the original, perhaps? I have to also add that both the Advantage and the Minibosses have covered this song with much success.
Super Metroid: Brinstar – Plant (SNES, Nintendo, Kenji Yamamoto)
Here’s a song I’ve meant to write about for a while, but somehow I kept forgetting to. But not any more! Another great example of using music to set up a great atmosphere, Brinstar (Plant) feels the most “alive” out of all the music in Super Metroid, which fits its location in the game (the organic section of Brinstar, which is teeming with plant life). It also sounds a little menacing, as if this section doesn’t want Samus to be there exploring its dark depths. Fantastic.
Tales of Symphonia: Dry Trail – Latheon Gorge (GC. Namco, Motoi Sakuraba, Shinji Tamura)
This slow, mellow tune is among my favorites in Tales of Symphonia. Dry Trail syncs up with its beautiful cliffside locale wonderfully well. As Lloyd and his allies resurrect wilted plants to use their strong gusts to float their way across the gorge’s many ledges, this tranquil music floats along with you, fitting right in with the action. The addition of waterfalls and fruit bearing trees in the background helps give this place a rich feeling of life, and this song encompasses all of that into its delightful melody.
Posted by WildcatJF on June 25, 2009
So, this summer I’m going to try to draw 64 fan arts. The link will take you to my list of planned sketches. I’m looking forward to this project – a lot of these characters I haven’t drawn before, and some haven’t been done for quite some time. There’s some I’ve hosted on here already, but I’m waiting to take a different approach to them than I did before. Below is my first sketch of the 64, Samus Aran.
Clicking Samus will take you to my DeviantArt page for this pic, so you can look at it closer.
Posted by WildcatJF on June 25, 2009
Beyond Good & Evil: Home Sweet Home – Outside the Lighthouse (GC/PS2/Xbox/PC, UBI Soft, Christophe Heral)
This is a perfect track to begin a game with. After Jade’s initial battle with the DOMZ, you can freely roam around the Lighthouse, and then this tune starts, and it’s majestic. What Christopher Heral crafted here captures the solace the Lighthouse represents to Jade marvelously. It’s a spot to meditate, to ponder, to feel at one with the world and the kids she watches over. Just a beautiful song, and easily one of my favorite slow pieces to listen to. When I put it on, I as well can relax and feel soothed. Awesome stuff.
Super Mario 64: Dire Dire Docks/Jolly Roger Bay (N64, Nintendo, Koji Kondo)
Super Mario 64 took the basic tunes that Koji Kondo first crafted in the 2D Marios and pushed many of them into new frontiers, but Kondo’s finest reinvention is easily the haunting music that backs the game’s water stages. The music is ideal for swimming around vast, open environments, and its melody blends with the caverns, secret bases and deserted villages that these stages represent. Just a beautiful piece all the way around, and one of my favorite tunes in all of gaming, easily.
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Midna’s Lament – When Midna is Gravely Injured by Zant, and Must be Escorted to Zelda (GC/Wii, Nintendo, Toru Minegishi, Asuka Ōhta, Koji Kondo)
Out of all of my picks this time, this is the most ominous. A pounding piano begins the song, while a second adds in a more touching, but still tense, melody. Strings come in later on, adding to the feeling of desperation. As you hear this, Midna is slowly dying, and as Wolf Link, you have to rush her to Princess Zelda in an attempt to save her life. The tension it created while scrambling around the Twilight Realm was incredible, and this scene is the one I remember most from Twilight Princess. It captures sadness, but also has a hint of some hope in it. A masterful song, and a highlight from Zelda’s long line of musical greatness.
Note – The clip’s from Smash Bros. Brawl, but it’s the same song.
Posted by WildcatJF on June 24, 2009
Mega Man 3: Credit Roll #1/Protoman’s Whistle Concert (NES, Capcom, Yasuaki Fujita [BUNBUN])
To kick off this feature, I may as well put in my absolute favorite gaming song of all time. When I first heard Protoman’s whistle in game, I loved the way it sounded. When I finally beat the game, my happiness kicked into overdrive. Protoman’s Whistle Concert is beautiful. It captures the mystique of Protoman’s character perfectly. It stands tall among the NES compositions, to me easily at the top. But ultimately, the song is just well composed. It fits the mood following MM3′s conclusion. It helped me love the character of Protoman. It’s one reason I love MM3 in general. And it’s just a great, great song. It cuts a little short in the game, but you can find the complete tune over at Flying Omelette’s site (as well as many more!), or merely listen to the Youtube clip.
Silent Hill 3: You Are Not Here – Intro Music #2 (PS2, Konami, Akira Yamaoka, Melissa Williamson)
Note – Sony Music Entertainment has tightened its grip on the Silent Hill 3 soundtrack (among others), so you’ll have to click through to listen to it. Sorry!
Silent Hill games have some very interesting music in them. In terms of the survival horror genre, I don’t think any game can top the aural frights that Akira Yamaoka can provide (or any game of any genre, really, to be honest). But this song is not all that creepy. :p I love the melodic guitar work, the pounding drums, and the excellent singing that Melissa Williamson (aka Mary Elizabeth McGlynn)pours into the pulsing intro to Silent Hill 3. It quickly gives you a bit of a peek into Heather’s mind with its lyrics and imagery, and the disturbing images the intro slides in between appearances of Heather is a bit of a contrast to the upbeat feel of the music. The lyrics also combat the music, repeating “I feel your stress” over the beating guitar/bass/drums. It’s a blend of pleasant and unpleasant; pleasant to listen to, yet unpleasant to truly comprehend its somewhat depressing message. And that’s what Silent Hill games do so well. Balancing the good and the bad in some sort of twisted teeter-totter, from the beginning to its end, letting players find out which side is the heavier weight on the character they control. And it’s quite clever that this balancing act can be found in the musical score itself, too. Awesome song that I loved from when I first heard it.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin – Jail of Jewels (DS, Konami, Michiru Yamane, Yuzo Koshiro)
It was a great idea to bring in Yuzo Koshiro to aid Michiru Yamane on Portrait of Ruin. It resulted in the best overall CV soundtrack I’ve heard yet. I don’t know who wrote this track, but it fits Castlevania like a glove. I loved going through this section of the game just to hear the pulsing intro, and as I wandered through its passages, I continued to connect with it. Slaying monsters to this track is incredibly satisfying. It almost makes me feel like it’s giving my heroes extra strength somehow…which is goofy, but it’s a perfect theme for this type of gameplay. It has a sense of urgency to it, which I really enjoy. I just love it.
Posted by WildcatJF on June 23, 2009
They’re easy to understand, but difficult to master. Shoot-‘em-ups — sometimes simply called “shooters,” or abbreviated affectionately as “shmups” — are an undeniably important part of video game history. They’re one of the oldest genres of the medium, and they explored groundbreaking technology. They challenged players both in the arcade and at home, and helped pave the way for the industry’s success.
And yet, it’s a genre that often goes overlooked. Perhaps the games are seen as too old and archaic. Maybe their straightforward gameplay leads players to think that they’re boring. Some players may even simply find them too difficult. But hiding behind the deceptively basic exterior lies a rich legacy that helped shape the video game industry that we know today.
Now, on a personal note, I’m not really a hardcore fan of the genre. However, it’s one that I have a lot of respect for, and I do like to play them occasionally. I wrote this article hoping to share that respect, and maybe even turn a few people on to them.
This is not intended to be a comprehensive article, so if you think I’ve left out something important, I apologize, but don’t sweat it. It’s just an overview, and there are a great many more notable shmups that are worth further exploration. But feel free to leave a comment about your favorite shmup!
Also, as with many game genres, there really isn’t a single accepted definition of what constitutes a shoot-‘em-up. For this article, I’m simply going to use my own judgment, so if you disagree, again, don’t sweat it. It’s just my perspective.
At the Dawn of Computer Games…
In 1961, a student at MIT named Steve Russell came up with an idea for a new project that he and fellow members of the Tech Model Railroad Club would implement on the university’s PDP-1 mainframe computer. However, this would be no ordinary computer program. Russell decided to use the $120,000 machine for a rather trivial task: playing a game.
In 1962, the game was finished. It was a simple game that involved two rockets flying around the screen trying to shoot each other. The game contained some simulated physics in the form of inertia for the rockets and a gravitational pull from a “sun” in the middle of the screen. It was strictly a two-player affair since the PDP-1 wasn’t sophisticated enough to implement a computer controlled opponent. Russell named his game Spacewar!
While Spacewar! was technically not the first video game ever created, it is arguably the first game in the modern sense, as we recognize them today. The simple shooting game went on to be a major influence in the development of video games over the next two decades.
In the mid 60’s, a student at the University of Utah named Nolan Bushnell got hooked on Russell’s creation. After graduating, he eventually decided to create a consumer version of Spacewar!. He personally engineered custom hardware to run the game, and in 1971, it was released through a company called Nutting Associates under the name Computer Space. Although Computer Space flopped due to being too complex for the mainstream market, it was the very first modern video arcade game. In 1977, another version of the game, published by Cinemetronics and titled Space Wars, became the first arcade game ever to use vector graphics.
Bushnell, of course, wasn’t finished with coin-operated video games. He founded the company Atari, and through it, he released his second game, Pong, based on a tennis game that Ralph Baer had implemented in his Odyssey game console. The game was a huge success, and Atari went on to be a pioneer in the home and arcade video game markets.
In 1979, the vice president of the coin-op division, Lyle Rains, came up with the idea for a game similar to Spacewar!, but instead of two ships shooting at each other, only one ship would fly around the screen and shoot at rocks. Rains fleshed out his idea with programmer Ed Logg, and they ended up with Asteroids. The gameplay was built on the same basic mechanics of Spacewar!, even including a “hyperspace” button. The game was a major success, and Ed Logg went on to work on other hugely successful arcade games, including Centipede (1980), Gauntlet (1985), and San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing (1996).
From the pet project of a group of college students to the ambitions of an entrepreneur, the video game industry had only just begun. While the arcade industry, as well as the home market, would ultimately suffer through difficult times in the mid 80’s, shoot-‘em-ups would go on to play a pivotal roll in its rapid development.
The Invasion Begins
Video games were little more than a novelty up until 1978 when Japanese game company Taito reluctantly released a game called Space Invaders in Japan. After a slow start, the game caught on a big way, with entire arcades being devoted to just that one game, and it eventually caused a national 100-yen coin shortage. The game was licensed to Midway for distribution in the U.S., and it instantly repeated its phenomenal success. Atari licensed the game to create its own port for the Atari VCS/2600 (the first time that had ever been done), and the console began flying off store shelves.
The game could be seen as a precursor to vertically scrolling shooters, and it popularized the goal of achieving high scores. It was also the first game to feature “intermissions” between levels.
Space Invaders quickly influenced many other classic arcade games, perhaps most notably Namco’s Galaxian/Galaga series. Galaxian, released in 1979, was the first arcade game ever to use full RGB color graphics.
In 1981, Atari programmer Dave Theurer began work on a first-person version of Space Invaders. After a lukewarm response from other Atari employees, Theurer decided to take the game in a different direction and ended up with Tempest. Tempest was the first of a sub-genre known as “tube shooters,” which could be considered a precursor to rail shooters.
Tempest presented a lot of “firsts” for video games. It was one of the first games (along with Space Duel) to use color vector graphics. It was the first to have different level layouts, rather than having one level that simply repeated over and over. It was also the first game to allow the player to choose his starting level, based on how far he got in the previous game. (In this way, it was also the first game ever to let the player “continue.”)
Although Space Invaders influenced many shoot-‘em-ups in proceeding years, and small advancements were being made here and there, one game managed to stand out far above the rest, and set the modern template for vertically oriented shooters. That game was Xevious, designed by Masanobu Endoh and released by Namco in 1982.
Xevious was one of the first scrolling shooters, featuring varied terrain in a South American, which was unique compared to the outer space setting of other shooters. The background wasn’t just for show, either. It was used for a dual-plane combat system in which you fired standard shots at airborne enemies and dropped bombs to attack ground targets.
The graphics in Xevious were stunning for their time, being the first game to use shading techniques to give objects a 3D look. The artificial intelligence was also a major step forward, since enemies didn’t simply fly mindlessly across the screen, but actively attempted to avoid the player’s attacks. The game also detected the player’s skill level, and adjusted its difficulty to accommodate.
Xevious contained secret items that players could discover if they fired or dropped bombs in the right spot. It also included boss fights. While both of these features are taken for granted today, they were highly innovative at the time. The game also bares the honor of being one of the first video games ever to be advertised on television.
When famed game designer Eugene Jarvis joined Williams Electronics in 1980, his first project was to create a sci-fi action game with a twist. Rather than simply blasting away at aliens just for the sake of it, he would justify the aggression by providing something for the player to defend. After unsuccessful attempts at imitating Space Invaders and Asteroids, Jarvis created a play field that scrolled horizontally. Small astronauts wandered across the game’s landscape, which were under constant threat from descending aliens. Thus was born Defender.
Defender still carried traces of its root material, including naming the aliens “Invaders” and having a Hyperspace button. It was also built on fairly sophisticated hardware for its time, allowing every on-screen pixel to be one of a whopping 16 colors. As one of the first games to have a play field larger than the screen, the scrolling mechanic predated even Xevious.
Despite highly complex controls and an unforgiving difficulty level, Defender has gone on to become (along with Pac-man) one of the highest grossing video games of all time, with revenues over one billion dollars. It also spawned two arcade sequels, Stargate (later renamed Defender II for copyright reasons) in 1981, and Strike Force in 1991.
In 1981, Konami created its own simple horizontally scrolling shooter called Scramble. Unlike Defender, the screen scrolled automatically, taking the player to distinctly different levels. Because of this, it’s sometimes considered to be the first “multi-level” shoot-‘em-up.
That same year, a little known game company called SNK created its first major hit arcade game with Vanguard. While it’s unclear if it was released before or after Scramble, Vanguard was a very similar game. What stood out, however, is that its levels not only scrolled horizontally, but also vertically and diagonally. This was five years before Konami’s Salamander implemented a similar level progression. (Vanguard also blatantly ripped-off music from the movies Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Flash Gordon.)
Both of these games served as a precursor to Konami’s Gradius, a landmark game released in 1985. Just as Xevious had created the template for vertical shmups, Gradius did the same for horizontal shmups. Perhaps its most notable aspect, however, was its power-up system, which allowed players to choose which parts of their arsenal to activate next. (And as an interesting side note, the game’s NES port was the origin of the most famous secret code in the history of video games: the Konami Code. It was used to instantly power up all weapons.)
Two years later in 1987, Irem released R-Type, a game that built off of, but was no less influential than, Konami’s classic. The most immediately recognizable feature of R-Type was its graphics. Like other games of the time, the art direction was heavily influenced by the H.R. Giger style of the movie Aliens. The highly detailed environments and characters motivated the player to progress through the game, despite its extreme difficulty and trial-and-error style of gameplay.
Vertically and horizontally scrolling shmups formed the core of the genre, and it’s often characterized by the two formats. However, as we’ve already seen, shoot-‘em-ups can encompass a variety of styles, and many offshoots (no pun intended) have emerged over the years.
More Battle Scenes Available
“Multidirectional shooters” allow the player to shoot in any direction, as in Asteroids. A sub-genre called “arena shooters” emerged in 1980 with Berzerk. Designed by Alan McNeil, Berzerk featured a character running through a maze and shooting robots. It was one of the first games to use digitized speech. Despite the technology being enormously expensive for the time, the game’s manufacturer, Stern Electronics, went all out and even created multi-lingual versions of the game.
Berzerk influenced a number of other games. Aside from a sequel in 1982 called Frenzy, it inspired a 1981 game called Castle Wolfenstein by Muse Software. Castle Wolfenstein could not only be considered the very first stealth-action game, but itself went on to inspire id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D (1992), considered the first modern first-person shooter. Eugene Jarvis also took a cue from Berzerk and created Robotron: 2084 in 1982, which popularized the dual-joystick control scheme.
Berzerk also carries the unfortunate footnote of being the first game to be directly associated with death. Two players in the early 80’s were known to have died of heart attacks mere minutes after playing the game.
Also in 1982, Sega released a shmup with an isometric perspective called Zaxxon. It allowed freedom of movement along all three axes. While it was a hit in arcades at the time, subsequent attempts at creating shooters of this type weren’t as successful. This was probably because the perspective made it difficult to accurately estimate the player’s on-screen position.
“Rail shooters,” which give the player a 3D forward-scrolling perspective, were possibly an evolution of tube shooters like Tempest and Gyruss. Amazingly, the first game to attempt this style came out in 1983, and was yet another brainchild of Eugene Jarvis. Blaster played from a first-person perspective, and since graphical scaling technology was not yet available, the effect of objects moving towards the screen was done entirely and painstakingly by hand. Unfortunately, the game did not become a success, due in no small part to the crash of the industry that year.
When scaling technology did become available, Sega’s Yu Suzuki put it to good use in 1985’s Space Harrier, as well as After Burner two years later. Both games were major successes.
Perhaps the most distinct branch of shoot-‘em-ups is the “run and gun,” often recognized as a genre all its own. Run-and-guns generally come in two flavors: overhead and side scrolling.
Technically, arena shooters are a type of run-and-gun, since the main character is often depicted running along the ground. The difference between an arena shooter and an overhead run-and-gun is a fine line that I don’t intend to draw. But it seems to be the case that an overheard run-and-gun takes place on a playfield larger than a single screen, and it scrolls as the player moves.
Capcom’s Commando, released in 1985, set the modern standards for overhead run-and-guns. Designed by Tokuro Fujiwara, Commando had a high difficulty level and a setting based on old war movies. It was followed by two sequels: Mercs in 1990, and Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 in 2008.
Side-scrolling run-and-guns are essentially a hybrid of shmups and platform games. Konami’s Contra, released in 1987, was the trendsetter in this regard. As with most arcade games from this era, it was heavily influenced by sci-fi action movies such as Predator and Aliens. Contra has continued as a series ever since.
After the 80’s, the popularity of shmups began to wane. Regardless, they managed to survive over the next decade. Attempting to adapt to new technology and inject new ideas into the basic concept, the genre made efforts not only to satisfy fans, but also to attract new players.
In the early 90’s, a British software developer named Argonaut experimented with creating true 3D polygonal graphics on the NES and SNES consoles. Not satisfied with his results, the company’s founder, Jez San, received permission from Nintendo to develop custom hardware that could be implemented within the game cartridge itself. The result was the Super FX microchip, recognized by some as the world’s first 3D graphics accelerator.
Under the supervision of Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto, Argonaut’s demos were transformed into a rail shooter called Star Fox, released on the SNES in 1993. It was the first fully 3D polygon-based game ever made for a home console, and it predated the first 32-bit console, the 3DO Multiplayer, by several months.
Also in 1993, a Japanese developer known for its 2D shoot-‘em-ups called Toaplan took a different approach. Keeping their designs in two dimensions, they created a game with hundreds of moving objects on screen at once. The result was Batsugun, which is often considered to be the first in a hardcore sub-genre known as “manic shooters” or “bullet hell shooters.”
Manic shooters are characterized not only in the number of bullets on-screen at once, but also in their behavior, often forming complex patterns or mazes that the player must precisely maneuver his/her character through. This is balanced by giving the player a wide margin of error in the form of a small “hit box,” which makes it easier to squeeze through tight spaces.
Treasure, an independent developer known for creating games around innovative gimmicks, made its first straightforward shmup with Radiant Silvergun, released into Japanese arcades in 1998. Among its notable features were its unique weapon system, level progression, and a scoring method known as “chaining.” By shooting three enemies of the same color in a row, the player earned score multipliers. It all added up to what many consider to be one of the greatest shoot-‘em-ups of all time. Yet ironically, the game received only one home console port to the Sega Saturn, and neither it or the arcade version was released outside of Japan.
Treasure followed up Radiant Silvergun in 2001 with a spiritual sequel, Ikaruga. It explored the idea of chaining even further with a polarity system that allowed the player to change the color of his/her ship and bullets. This allowed the player to absorb enemy bullets of the same color. The game was designed so intensely around this concept that some people consider it to be more like a puzzle game than a shmup.
Ikaruga managed to see an international release through its port to the GameCube in 2003. It also hit Xbox Live Arcade in 2008. Alongside its predecessor, the game is considered among the best of its genre.
None of this was enough to re-ignite widespread interest in shoot-‘em-ups, however. Without hope of mainstream success, the few developers that still created 2D shmups aimed them directly at the niche market, which only served to alienate the mainstream even more.
Sequels to popular long-time franchises were few and far between, and the ones that did emerge were often considered sub-par. Some franchises were even ended entirely, as Irem did in 2003 with R-Type Final.
The classic 2D shoot-‘em-up, which was so popular and pioneering in the early years of the industry, seemed destined for obscurity.
The Legacy Continues
Online console gaming had been little more than a novelty until Microsoft introduced the Xbox Live service for its Xbox console in November 2002. A year later, they added a service called Xbox Live Arcade that allowed players to purchase and download games online. This form of digital distribution would become extremely important for the future of shoot-‘em-ups.
Born out of an unlockable mini-game in Bizarre Creations’ Project Gotham Racing 2, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was one of the first games available for Microsoft’s new service in November 2003. It was a basic multidirectional shooter that had the look and feel of an early arcade game, featuring stylized vector-like wire-frame graphics reminiscent of Asteroids and Tempest. The gameplay featured dual-joystick control, like Robotron: 2084. The simple, yet addictive challenge of achieving a high score quickly made it the most downloaded game on the service.
It was so popular that a retail version was eventually created for the Wii and DS systems in 2007 called Geometry Wars: Galaxies; and a sequel, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, was released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2008.
The game was part of a retro gaming revival that was popularized through digital distribution, and with it, shooters were regaining some attention from the mainstream audience. Many classics were being rediscovered through Xbox Live Arcade, as well as Nintendo’s Wii Virtual Console. Brand new games were also produced, such as Everyday Shooter on Sony’s PlayStation Network. New retail games also continued to appear, such as Castle of Shikigami III for the Wii.
Not to be forgotten, many classic franchises were revived through sequels and remakes. Konami returned to the Gradius series in 2004 with the Treasure-developed Gradius V, arguably the best in the series. Both Taito’s Space Invaders and Namco’s Galaga returned in 2008 with Space Invaders Extreme for the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, and Galaga Legions on Xbox Live Arcade. Irem even revisited the R-Type series in 2009 with R-Type Dimensions, a compilation of the first two games in the series with brand new 3D graphics.
And the genre lives on, surviving through a hailstorm of bullets and big, bad bosses. It thrives on the support of its fans, both as players and developers, who are some of the most passionate and dedicated of any in the gaming community. As one of the oldest gaming genres, it has had a vast influence on the history of video games. While shmups may never achieve the same levels of success they once enjoyed, they are an enduring thread through the history of video games that are sure to be around for a long time to come.
The Ultimate History of Video Games (Steven L. Kent, Three Rivers Press, 2001)
Posted by Nester on June 23, 2009
Welcome to Overrated Vs. Underappreciated…what will probably be one of the more controversial gaming topics I’ll be posting. Here I’ll discuss games I’ve played that did little to nothing for me, yet seem to be quite popular for reasons unknown to me. Also, I’ll highlight a game that was largely ignored by the gaming populace that I think deserves the attention and fandom the more popular game receives. Of course, this is merely my humble opinion, and I’ll be more than happy to further discuss these in the Comments in a rational manner. ^_^
OVERRATED – Odin Sphere (PS2)
Yes, I highlighted my personal issues with Odin Sphere in the Opinion section already, but when I was thinking of setting up a new ORvUA article, Odin Sphere quickly popped into my brain as one that a ton of game reviewers hailed as fantastic, and honesty, I really don’t know why they did so. I can say this – the game was gorgeous, the character designs were cool, and the music is excellent. However, I have to really ponder if any of the reviewers who plastered it with so much praise actually played through the same game that I did (I wonder that a lot, it seems). Did they get more diverse enemies to battle? Maybe they were less cheap and crushing than the retail release? Perhaps slimes took normal damage without having to concoct some sort of potion the game failed to warn you about? I don’t know.
All I know is that I read so many gleaming reviews about this game, and when I sat down and played it myself, my initial response of “hey, this is pretty cool” mellowed out, and eventually I found no enjoyment thanks to its broken combat and its poor decisions on certain aspects of the gameplay. Did we really need 5 different forms of currency? Why must I get juggled when the enemies don’t? How come I stop attacking when I’m struck while my enemies shrug my blows off and resume wailing me? There’s way too many nagging issues for this game to be hyped so heavily, and I have to think they were too star struck with the pretty spritework (which, no matter how pretty it is, gets very old when you revisit each level as often as this game forces you to), coughing up B-range scores to a game that really didn’t deserve them.
UNDERAPPRECIATED – Elevator Action II/Returns (Arcade, Saturn [JP], PS2/PC through Taito Legends 2)
Now this is how one ought to revitalize a classic!
The simplistic gameplay of Elevator Action was carefully rebuilt into a topnotch action game loaded with excellent graphics (especially for the size of the sprites!), extra responsive controls and plenty of challenge. The addition of explosive barrels and interactive objects adds a ton of depth into the enemy battling, and the game’s six stages are varied enough to all feel fresh. This is a game that deserved to be better recognized as a true classic, but alas, the game’s lack of a domestic console release until the PS2 Taito Legends 2 comp has heavily hampered its legacy (unless you were lucky enough to find the arcade cabinet or imported the ultra-rare Saturn port). Overall, I was completely blown away with the quality Taito poured into this game, and I recommend tracking this game down so you can play it.
Taito Legends 2 is ultra cheap – $15 or less snags you a hefty 38 games. Can’t go wrong, there. Hardcore Gamer 101 mentions that a touch of slowdown and a nerfed machine gun are in the PS2 EAII port, but I didn’t think it hurt the quality of the game at all (the machine gun is a bit pointless, and the slowdown only gets to a slight annoyance during the final stage). Go give it a shot!
Posted by WildcatJF on June 19, 2009