Wasted Brilliance‘s enjoyable bullet hell (seriously, it is many, many bullets) Aeternum (review) has received some shiny new goodies, primarily the missing ‘5th Stage’ that closes off the first chapter of the game’s story. It brings a new boss fight against ‘Winter’, which has been guaranteed by creator Brooks Bishop to be one of the most challenging things you will ever do in this life. Lucky for you, the art (specifically, the bullets) has been color-adjusted to make it easier to see that wall of assured death coming towards you. Two new songs have also been added, rounding out an already great soundtrack.
The (potentially) bad news to all this otherwise good news? The price for the game on XBLIG is now $2.99. If you were a non-believer and shrugged off my earlier review, you will now literally pay for your insolence in dollars and (fictional) deaths.
For a full list of changes, check out WB’s rundown here. Otherwise, the update is live. Load up the game and take this new punishment like a man.
Bullet Hells and I have a rocky history. I generally enjoy them and the challenge they represent, the attention to shot patterns and the repeated deaths that are a rite of passage. Aeternum (240 MSP) encapsulates that hard truth with scary efficiency, crushing egos of any and every size (on normal difficulty!). Sometimes you have to be put in your place, and here it’s done with hundreds of bullets, knowingly humorous dialogue, nice tunes, and an enjoyable cast of witches and many cats.
The game has four levels, split into two sections each, with a mid-level boss and end boss that come in multiple forms, all preceded and followed by dialogue bits that fill in and animate the surrounding storyline, win or lose. Gameplay flows accordingly to the shooter blueprint and it’s easy enough to figure out, but take two minutes and play the tutorial. The controls are solid and don’t let you down, at regular or half-speed (a slow-down move that focuses fire and exposes your heart / hit-box in order to navigate near-impossible shot streams), and you’ll learn what makes it all tick, in terms of Panics, Power, and Grazes.
Grazes work as simple score multipliers, earned by avoiding close calls. Enemies and bosses drop ‘power’ orbs when defeated. That ‘power’ is nuanced, and works as a health bar and a currency for shields (50 orbs a pop). Pull off an impressive stretch without getting hit or using those orbs, and you’ll instead build towards an additional ‘panic’ shield, which is freely and automatically-administered in the event you’re hit. You can start with varying amounts, depending on the difficulty chosen. The ‘panic’ shields are by far the most important stockpile you can own. Whenever possible, sacrifice orbs for shields instead of wasting a ‘panic’.
The concept of ‘power’ and having it is similar to Sonic’s nearly-narcotic dependence on ‘rings’; keeping some in your possession at all times amounts to life. Get hit, and you’ll lose power (some or all, according to how much you had), with the chance to pick up some of that scattering life to prolong your game. It’s an interesting tactic and trade-off that will reward skilled players with extra ‘panic’ saves, while at the same time giving some much-needed breathing room to those of us that are less-fortunate in the face of so much adversity. And it’s less torture than you might think. Looking at my first ten run-throughs, both my score and distance-traveled went up at each attempt. Believe me, I still worked to reach the third stage. A small victory.
Unfortunately, there are no continues in Aeternum (EDIT: The first post-release patch adds continues, at the cost of resetting your score). That both hurts and helps, forcing you to replay (but improve at) the earlier stages and bosses, either in ‘practice’ mode or the surprisingly-helpful ‘pacifist’ setting. Everyone’s patience level is different, however, making the game’s brutal difficulty a question of taste. I stuck with it, and while I’ve failed (thus far) to reach the credit roll, the route getting there is now considerably less-bumpy. That said, I can’t even fathom the skill I’d need to move up to a higher tier of difficulty.
One of the easier fights, actually.
In the end result, Aeternum is a bullet hell with personality, and aptly labeled as such. It’s a scant four stages deep, but it requires the sacrifice of your pride and more than a few hours to considerably build a tolerance to its difficulty. Therein lies the reward, of course, so long as you do not approach it lightly or with any expectations of besting it right away. Instead, adherents will find a complex ballet to dance around and a worthy shooter to add to their collections.
News of an up-and-coming shooter headed to XBLIG isn’t exactly the most original thing you’ll read. It’s an incredibly crowded field already. Unless your hero pisses bullets and has grenades for hands, with a storyline involving reanimated, cybernetic poultry with a taste for classical music (back off world! my idea!), you’ve got a climb ahead of you. Aeternum may or may not have an uphill battle upon release, but it holds promise to me, seeing as I happen to actually know the guys behind its development and what they’re capable of. Well, somewhat.
Brooks Bishop is 1/2 of Two Fedoras, a website dedicated to all things Indie. While the site is on hiatus, he’s slid easily into his side career of game development. Aeternum is his first project, a Bullet Hell shmup a few years in the making, coming under the studio moniker of Wasted Brilliance. He’s taken on a writing partner for Aeternum‘s story, one of my personal heroes, but also a man with seriously sexy hair and 1/4 of Gear-Fish, Nate Graves. Friend of the pair Jesse Bishop rounds out the group, and is on board to handle Soundtrack duties.
And now, the premise:
Ellica is a Demonic Magic Studies student at one of the most prestigious schools in the realm, Aeternum Academy. But her schoolwork has to take a back seat one day when she discovers her best friend Macy is missing!
Help Ellica brave the crazed groundskeeper, an overzealous hall monitor and waves upon waves of wayward flying cats in the adventure of a lifetime… or maybe just the adventure of this week.
While story and dialogue will have a role, it looks to be a light-hearted affair. Any mention of cats is always good. For shooting purists, the option to turn off dialogue is available. There’s an interview with Nate up at the developer’s blog, which highlights some of the challenges involved with storytelling in shooters, as well as a little more insight into Aeternum‘s world and characters. The game promises four stages in total, with boss fights based on pattern. It’s also going to be very hard. With four selectable difficulties, including an ‘insane’ mode that even bests the developer, this will undoubtedly get tagged ‘There Will Be Bullets’.
Brooks pegs the script’s progress at about 60%, with all the principal assets and most of the stage work completed, just additional art and polish and odds and ends to go. I can’t lock down anything more than Winter 2012 for a release (XBLIG, with PC likely to follow), but with any luck, we won’t be waiting too long to give it a try. Shooters run through my veins as equally as blood, and with these fine gents behind the game, it should be something special.