Tag Archives: Bullet Hell

Have Bullets, Will ‘Pester’

Terrible article names and wordplay aside, I rarely find a Bullet Hell I can’t get behind. Flump Studios‘ latest looks to continue that streak, with randomized shot patterns and enemy placement. Like their previous release this summer, the overlooked and Math-centric Super Killer Hornet, Pester gets its inspiration in vertical shooters from Japan, influenced particularly by revered developer CAVE. I have no objections to that.

The game breaks the bank by offering ten (!) play modes, including Classic, Reverse, Old School and Tempus (sounds time-based) settings. ‘Duo’ mode, which will force you to control two ships on one controller, reads as being equally promising and troubling. Suffice it to say that Pester should wind up having a little something for everyone.

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Pester will see release sometime in January, and will cost 80 MSP.

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REVIEW: Aeternum

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.

Aeternum - Screen

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.    

REVIEW: Snops Attack! Zombie Defense

Snops Attack! (240 MSP) is a vertical-scrolling bullet hell that finds the United States facing its toughest and most-unusual adversary to date; a two-pronged invasion in the form of zombified cats (!) and their alien overlords, disrupting reality television and nuking the west coast into dust. Naturally, our only chance for salvation and getting those reality shows back on-air lies with a jet-piloting dog, Lt. Snops.

Oh, and yes, Snops Attack! looks spectacular, in case you hadn’t noticed. Screenshots can’t do it justice. In motion, it animates fluidly even with a thousand bullets on-screen, and it’s beautiful chaos every time. You could literally build an arcade cabinet around your TV, hang a sign outside your door, something classy like ‘Hurley’s Emporium of Awesome’, and charge a quarter per play (put it on ‘Insane’ difficulty and watch as you really rake in the coins). The point is, they’d be happy to pay, none the wiser that they were playing an indie game.

It has all the familiar shooter trappings; a spread shot as your default gun, or a magma-like, focused fire option for the bigger / tougher enemies and mini-boss battles, as well as the awesome (but under-utilized, in my opinion) ability to fire behind you. You can upgrade the range and effectiveness of your main guns up to seven times. You can amplify that further by swapping out for various ‘buddies’, special subweapons that pop up in the levels that can give you additional firepower options or allot you some extra shielding, via bullet-sponging pigs. These subweapons, like your main guns, can be upgraded (three levels), if you collect three alike.

There’s also bombs and ‘hyper attacks’, the latter of which is available after you’ve filled the meter in the top middle of your screen by collecting crystal skulls from your foes. Both these attacks and the aforementioned bombs ‘wipe out’ enemy fire in your vicinity. I found these tactics especially life-saving against large groups and boss battles where my bad decisions and posturing left me cornered.

And outside of a few sections that let you catch your breath, the action never lets up across the game’s six stages (each culminating in a boss fight) and four difficulty settings, ranging from ‘walk in the park, here to check out the art’, to ‘one ship, make it happen, dog’. Yeah, those are my annotations. Once you’ve reached the end though (under an hour), you’ve really reached the end, with not much incentive to stick around. I wish the game had an extra mode or two to keep me going, leaderboards would be nice as well, but the lack of either doesn’t drag the game down or lessen the fun you’ve just had.

There isn’t any other downside here. It’s one of the (if not the) most visually-impressive shooters available on the XBLIG channel. The looks would start a conversation but go for naught if the gameplay didn’t back it up. Snops Attack! delivers on that account and handles like a dream once the action takes off. That dream is, sadly, over too soon, yet the pure professionalism of its construction and mechanics ensures you aren’t left feeling empty. Give it a buy.

First Look at ‘Aeternum’

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.

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For more on Aeternum, visit the game’s Information page

REVIEW: Overdriven

Shooters of any vein have typically been my bread & butter, so in watching the Dream.Build.Play trailer for Overdriven (80 MSP), I couldn’t help but take notice. It looked fantastic, for one, and all the not-too-picky elements I look for were present; one ship shooting a bunch of other ships in different and interesting ways. See, easy to please.

Overdriven takes on the vertical shmup across seven levels, using the shooter-standard ‘unknown alien invasion’ premise, ‘last human hope’ etc. etc for a setup. Sine Mora it is not. What Overdriven (the ship / pilot, not the title) does get is a pair of lovely ladies whispering sweet nothings into his / its ear, and by that I mean pertinent information about the current stage and twenty variations of ‘watch out!’.

The game’s big sell and namesake mechanic is a beam shot that slows your ship’s movement but makes for a stronger, concentrated fire. Health is also sacrificed while ‘overdriven’, dropping your ship to within an inch of its life. It creates a tense trade-off once the screen gets lively and comes in handy for the bigger baddies and end-level bosses.

In a twist, stages aren’t unlocked simply by beating the previous. Beyond the first three, you’ll have to find a set amount of ‘alien artifacts’ scattered around town or dropped by enemies (5 per stage) to earn the right to advance. I found (more like stumbled onto, all dumb luck-like) the majority the first time through, though there are some cleverly-hidden ones. For collectors, there’s plenty of said artifacts and oddities (hidden cows?) to find, set to excellent music throughout. Also seven level-specific challenges that play out like self-contained mingames, with Awardments to pin to your digital chest for bragging afterwards, do well to invite extra playtime after clearing the story.

Minor quirks abound. The game suffers from the same ‘bullet recognition’ problems as other shooters, with enemy fire hidden in your own leading to some cheap hits. The bosses don’t vary much (except in name) from stage to stage, and bits of the art recycle. In fact, Overdriven‘s only serious problem is its art, pretty as it is. Especially in darker stages and during a firefight, it becomes almost impossible to tell your foreground from background, leading to health-sucking grinds along barriers and / or deaths. Repeated runs through the level will commit these segments to memory, but it’s a mentionable annoyance that could be an issue for players on higher difficulties.

Otherwise, it’s reliable. The controls feel solid, shot patterns are tough but navigable, and it forgives almost as much as it forgets. Overdriven slips comfortably into its Bullet Hell suit, and posits a good challenge for both ends of the shooter skill set. It doesn’t do anything extraordinary with its shmup license, but it’s fast, fun, and assembled the right way. Competence is a compliment here.