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Tag Archives: Arcade Games

 

 

Mountain.

 

 

Christmas. 1990. California.

I was seven.

I spent an entire year asking my parents for a Game Boy.

I didn’t think I’d get one.

Christmas morning and we opened our presents.

And there it was.

I ran out of the room.

I was confused about who bought it. I thought it was my uncle.

I ran into the living room. I tore into the box.

Popped in the batteries. Caressed the system.

I turned it over in my hands. I enjoyed the weight of it.

I enjoyed its thickness. I was in love with its density.

I grabbed the only cart I had: Tetris.

The label was beautiful. The cartridge had a fulfilling proportionality.

It felt more promising and better designed than NES carts had been.

NES game carts were too long and too thick.

There was too much space on them. They had no visual impact.

Their faces were empty.

The Tetris cart was beautiful: Thin. Asymmetrical.

A subtle rectangle.

I slid it into the back.

I turned the system on.

The sound was crisp.

I burned through the options.

I wanted the game.

After a few rounds I thought I understood what it was.

I started at 0 and cleared lines as fast as I could.

The Game Boy was my first portable video game system.

Tetris was my first portable game.

I didn’t understand any of its subtlety.

I didn’t care to seek out its language.

I didn’t see what was so enthralling about its design.

I dropped Tetris.

I chased after Super Mario Land. Kirby’s Dream Land. Ninja Turtles.

I needed environments I could relate to.

I needed an imagined narrative.

Tetris was cold.

It fell away and I moved on.

 

Doughnut.

 

Summer. 1997.

Lebanon and the village is dead.

I gave my cousins my first-gen Game Boy one year earlier.

I now have a Game Boy Pocket.

The electricity is out. The water’s off. The arcade closed.

We revisit Tetris Attack.

It’s the first time I engage with the ‘Tetris’ brand since 1990.

I play through the stages. I enjoy the characters and the dialogue.

Puzzle mode feels more genuine than the original’s ‘B-Type’.

Endless mode is a meditative training ground.

Tetris Attack is Tetris inverted.

The pieces climb up from the bottom.

The cursor can switch two adjacent pieces horizontally.

The game pieces were blocks with symbols on them.

The object isn’t line clears, but matching blocks.

It was a proto-Bejeweled with Yoshi characters.

Tetris Attack was small, but full.

Strategic, but not complicated.

It had the sticky touch of Intelligent Systems.

Tetris Attack wasn’t Tetris.

It released in Japan as Panel de Pon.

Nintendo wanted name recognition in the West.

They wanted the Tetris name. They settled on Tetris Attack.

The Tetris Company cleared it.

And regretted it.

Henk Rogers felt it diluted the brand.

But Tetris Attack was an alternative.

It was a solid, strange experience.

It presented unique tools to rethink the Tetris universe.

Like Majora’s Mask and Zelda: It planted the seeds for the series’ deconstruction.

It brought warmth to the series.

It brought a crooked heart.

 

Hall.

 

Winter. 2015.

I try to consolidate my games.

I look for my Game Boy carts. I find Tetris Attack again.

It holds up. It still has warmth and life in it.

I find Tetris again.

I slide it into my SP.

25 years later and I decide to give it another shot.

I start at level 7.

25 years later and it feels different.

Something clicks and my hands start buzzing.

I begin to see its elegance and the subtleties of its design.

It was never just about line clears.

It was about setups. It was about adapting to flaws.

It was about recovering.

I hear about the AGDQ Tetris run.

I learn about Tetris: The Grand Master.

Developed by Arika and the series only released in arcades.

I loved what they had achieved in the past: The PS2 version of DoDonPachi Daioujou.

I seek out and download the entire TGM series.

And TGM 3 is dark, fun, and beautiful.

TGM 3 is the Daioujou of the Tetris universe.

Its presentation is clean.

Its music is engaging.

It’s difficult, but it doesn’t push the player away.

It dredges up the will to do better.

TGM 3 presents four modes of play with two different rulesets.

Easy teaches the game.

Sakura is a variation on a previous release: Tetris with Cardcaptor Sakura Eternal Heart.

Master is Tetris with speeds that gradually increase over time.

Shirase is Tetris at blinding speeds coupled with odd challenges.

Classic rule maintains the rotation style of the two prior iterations of TGM.

World rule is a set pushed on Arika by The Tetris Company in order to unify newer Tetris games.

The multiple modes and rulesets give TGM 3 a depth not seen in the arcade puzzle genre.

It gives the player the freedom to decide what sort of game they would like to play.

TGM 3 is difficult and obtuse.

It doesn’t explain itself and it doesn’t care.

It only wants to pull the player in as fast as possible.

The entire game is a boss fight: It seems impossible.

In Shirase, you can’t see the pieces fall.

The higher levels in Master require instinctual reaction times.

But it’s these elements that make the game so enjoyable.

In most fighting games, the curve seems vertical.

Inexperienced players become frustrated and turn away.

Fighting games require study. They require a deconstruction of situational behaviors and habits.

They bloom and open as the player’s mind and technique does.

TGM 3 must be approached the same way. It requires study.

It requires the player to focus both on the game and themselves.

It’s no coincidence that the TGM series and fighting games were both born from the arcades.

They both ask that the player be efficient and aware.

The payoff in fighting games is convincing wins against human opponents.

In TGM 3 the payoff is watching yourself calculate, strategize, and play at speeds you never thought you’d ever be capable of.

In 1990 I had no idea what Tetris was.

I dismissed it for having no heart.

I misunderstood it.

2015 and I realize now how much I’ve missed in the last 25 years.

Sometimes you just need the right kind of eyes.

Sometimes the heart is so big that you only catch a small piece of it.

Ignorance has a slow, enduring momentum.

And time isn’t always enough to kill it.

You need something savage and raw to tear through the filters you’ve tied yourself in.

Tetris Attack. Eight years on: It’s joyful and enduring.

Tetris. 25 years later: I wake up.

 

Tetris The Grand Master 3. 2015: My hands tremble, my teeth rip, and my brain is pummeled into the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The PC And The Re-Rise Of The Shoot’em Up.

 

 

RPS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low.

 

 

“Rain woke him, a slow drizzle, his feet tangled in coils of discarded fiberoptics. The arcade’s sea of sound washed over him, receded, returned. Rolling over, he sat up and held his head.

Light from a service hatch at the rear of the arcade showed him broken lengths of damp chipboard and the dripping chassis of a gutted game console. Streamlined Japanese was stenciled across the side of the console in faded pinks and yellows.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer

 

Sub-I:

 

We were in a basement somewhere in Beirut. We were shooting pool.

Mid-90’s summer and there was no air conditioning. Slow fans and fluorescent lights.

The walls were covered in cracks and ripped up, yellowed flyers with pictures of dead men.

‘Martyrs’.

I become bored, I look around for something else to do.

A row of arcade cabinets in the distant corner. I put my cue down. I walk over.

I watch the demo looping bright neon animations.

A puzzle game. A friend comes over.

He watches the demo.

We stare at the flashing pictures of naked Asian women that pop up behind the solved puzzles.

He sits down at one cabinet. He drops in the coins. Tries to play.

He only manages to uncover a woman’s face locked in orgasmic fury.

As he gets up to leave, I lock eyes with one of the dead men hanging above the grimy arcade machine.

He looks determined. He looks ridiculous.

Either nationalism or religion killed him. Electric sex keeps his memory alive.

We step outside into the sticky night. We walk past a bombed out theater.

Lights reflect in the ruin.

It looks ridiculous.

It looks determined.

 

Sub-II:

 

We lived in southern California. 45 minutes outside of LA.

We drove to Vegas once a year for vacation.

90’s Vegas tried to market itself towards families.

Every hotel had massive, expensive arcades my brother and I would bury ourselves in.

A few years ago I went back there with my father for the first time in over a decade.

The arcades died there too: Vegas dropped the family act.

Walking down the strip at sunset, I realize how much I had forgotten about this place in the winter.

I notice how cool the air is, how dark the sky.

Standing at a crosswalk, I hold a cigar to my mouth and look down.

I laugh.

Cards with mostly naked men and women had been cast all over the corner.

I grind my foot into their polished, gutted faces.

So this is what Vegas wants to be now?

Must have lost money betting on the American family.

The 90’s lied to this city the same way it lied to all of us.

I crossed.

I watched the fountain go off in front of the Bellagio.

I felt like a ghost in its towering white light.

I felt like the dead man and his sex machine.

 

Sub-III:

 

 

Someone turned nostalgia into its own virtual world.

I was upset the first time I saw this.

It’s all lifeless.

The player touches everything and experiences nothing.

This isn’t an arcade: It is a funeral pyre.

In a world where digital media is highly consumable, we have forgotten how to act around things of value…

including our memory.

 

III.9: 

 

There was a line around the entire arcade.

Word was out they bought a VR machine.

$20.00 bought you five minutes.

I wait for the line to die down. It takes a few hours.

I walk up to the attendant. Give her the money.

She wraps the giant, plastic headpiece around my eyes.

I am anxious about becoming nauseous.

The game starts.

I look around the room. I am in a warehouse.

Everything is low-poly. Poor framerate.

Things shoot at me and I have no idea what to do.

My five minutes are up. I leave unimpressed.

More than a decade later Oculus Rift gains traction.

Sony announces Project Morpheus.

I download PolyFauna on my phone.

I put on headphones and stand in my living room.

I hold my phone close to my face and turn with it to navigate.

I am in two three-dimensional places at once and this realization shocks and thrills me.

I see a future defined by both cheap and expensive VR.

Bright colors. Dark spaces. Heat. Intimacy. Distance.

Eroticism.

VR’s arcade inheritance.

 

Sub-IV:

 

We were standing by the beach, watching the roaches skitter along the shore.

It was night. Everything was lit up by small shops and looming towers crowding Beirut’s shoreline.

I catch the lights of an enormous tanker parked in the sea.

I daydream about its machinery.

Coffee in hand, I turn to watch the taxis speed by.

A friend of my cousin walks up to us and pulls out his phone.

He asks us if we want to see something funny.

He cycles through the menus. Pulls up a video.

He holds the phone up to our faces.

It’s a video of a naked woman doing illicit things with a lit cigar.

I look up from the video.

I see gutted phones and computers in the window of a repair shop across the street.

I tell my cousin I’ll be right back.

I cross the boulevard.

I watch the guy work by his window.

I notice his limited selection of pirated games and vast quantities of Chinese knockoff consoles.

Lebanon has a strange relationship with technology: Everyone wants it, but only a few understand it.

Years later, the iPhone 4 would sell here for $1400.00 USD.

 

Sub-V:

 

At a bar just outside downtown Madison, WI.

Waiting for a live show to start at a venue down the street.

The bar has one arcade machine and one video poker machine.

I watch the poker demo.

I enjoy the crispness of the cards and their fluid animations.

I enjoy its bright glow.

It reminds me of all the machines in Vegas.

The rows and rows of digital and mechanical vice.

The UI flashes my mind with the basement and its dying porn games.

I never found gambling interesting.

But I enjoy the technology and aesthetics of seductive manipulation.

The running thread beneath it all is to focus the user, to isolate a person without giving them to the space to understand the illusion.

Arcade machines. Virtual Reality. Slot machines. Mobile phones.

My favorite types of mobile games are the ones that capture this illicitness.

Monster Strike. Terra Battle. TNNS. Dice Jockey. Zenonia.

They are inheritors of the arcade as filtered through Vegas.

They are products of and a celebration of vice.

Bright colors. Money. Chance. And the sensuality of being alone with others.

The modern drives as sold through slick, minimal UIs.

The modern drives as the bonfires of the synapse.

 

Pit.

 

“There was a place near an airport, Kowloon, when Hong Kong wasn’t China, but there had been a mistake, a long time ago, and that place, very small, many people, it still belonged to China. So there was no law there. An outlaw place. And more and more people crowded in; they built it up, higher. No rules, just building, just people living. Police wouldn’t go there. Drugs and whores and gambling. But people living, too. Factories, restaurants. A city. No laws.”

—William Gibson, Idoru

 

It is early.

We shamble out of the club.

I am shocked to see the sun.

Red Bull and vodka still coursing through us.

We make our way to the shore.

Beirut is an ugly city in the light of day.

It thrives through the night.

My cousin buys some coffee. He hands me a cup.

I watch the sun hovering just above the mountains.

I wonder about how we’re going to handle the hour-long trek back to the village.

We still had to drop off my cousin’s friends.

They meet up with us.

We walk over to the car and take off.

They both live in the hyper-religious slums of Beirut. Hezbollah territory.

We drop them off and I look around as my cousin says goodbye.

The buildings are close. The streets are narrow.

Sunlight blotted out by a thick, complex spiderweb of black cable.

I think about the infrastructure of access.

I see the faces of martyrs hung up on electrical poles.

I watch a man smoke a cigarette with an AK-47 slung around his back.

This is a place of violence. Of drugs. Of religion. Of money. Of power in the most classical sense.

My uncle once told me that in the city you have to pay for things that should be free for everyone: Access to sunlight and air.

I imagine who might live at the top of all these buildings.

What do they do with all their access?

I look at the cut sky through the dirt on the windshield.

I pull out my phone and check for messages.

Nothing.

I lean my head back. I close my eyes.

I think of Midgar. Of Kowloon. Of Neo-Tokyo.

I think of vice and violence.

And I smile.

And I bask in the mute, dark heat of our hearts.

 

And I drown in the polluted glands of this city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Evolution And Development Of Mech Games.

 

 

RPS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supercar.

 

 

One day, they reorganized the last arcade I went to.

I went there every Friday. It was attached to a cinema.

The House of the Dead was my game: I had every high score on the list, even when the gun broke.

This arcade went through phases.

At first, it was driven by families and birthday parties. People thought of it as a ‘cooler’ Chuck E. Cheese’s.

When that business began to die off, they pivoted focus to bringing in bigger, stranger arcade cabinets.

Dance Dance Revolution. Guitar Freaks. MoCap Boxing. Flash Beats.

F355 Challenge.

Anytime one of the new cabinets came in, I dove into them.

I became most proficient in DDR and Flash Beats as secondary games.

I only played F355 Challenge once.

F355 was designed by Yu Suzuki and released in 1999.

It released in different cabinets, but the true nature of the game emerged purest in its largest iteration.

The game had three screens powered by four NAOMI units: one for each screen, one to link them.

The center screen was the windshield, the two outer screens were the side windows.

It had a realistic H-Shifter and three pedals.

It was considered by many to be the most accurate racing simulation possible at that time.

This arcade managed to pull in the large cabinet.

One day, I came in and everything was moved to make space for F355.

The owner made sure it was visible to everyone.

It was intimidating: Large. Complex. Dark.

It took $4.00 each play.

When I decided to jump in, I didn’t know if I would have fun with it or not.

Getting into the cab felt like you were attending some adult cocktail party full of glances and covered mouths.

The cab had curtains to keep other people away.

When it came time to drive, the formality didn’t dissipate.

This was a cold, raw simulation.

It was confusing and awkward.

In a place where you were primed for hot, fast action: F355 felt muted.

It felt empty. It was boring.

I only played F355 one time.

I moved on.

 

Litre.

 

Coming from Yu Suzuki, F355 was a disappointment.

Suzuki proved himself as an auteur of immersive action games throughout his career.

Super Hang-On. Out Run. After Burner. Space Harrier. Virtua Fighter. Shenmue.

F355 possessed none of the excitement his games typically exploded with.

F355 interpreted attention to detail as love.

This trend of equating detail and adoration began with Gran Turismo.

When the first game released in 1998 (one year before F355), the entire gaming community was floored.

It was a sign that we were now on the cusp of significant technologies, that the world had begun to blur.

Gran Turismo was a technological achievement.

Kazunori Yamauchi and Polyphony Digital had made an affordable, pure racing simulation for the home on a piece of standardized hardware.

Gran Turismo was a crowning achievement for the racing genre then.

Gran Turismo was also the end.

Before GT and F355, the genre was dominated by arcade racers.

They mainly used cars and driving as filters of action and momentum.

A few months before GT, EA released Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit.

I played NFSIII for a year.

Hot Pursuit wasn’t about accuracy or simulation, it was about capturing the thrill of slamming on the accelerator.

It was about laughing at the police as you ram them into a guard rail.

It was about the daydreams people have while stuck in traffic or pulled over on the side of the road, glaring at the officer in the rear-view.

NFSIII was about rediscovering that time you rode your bike down the longest hill you had ever seen and wondering whether you trust yourself to hit the brakes at the right time.

It was wild and honest and young: The original face of racing.

The following year saw Namco‘s best entry in the genre: R4: Ridge Racer Type 4.

Where Hot Pursuit was about aggression and fantasy, where GT was about simulation, R4 was about finesse and exploration.

Vehicles in R4 fell under two general classes: Drift or Grip.

It came down to what you, as the player, wanted.

Drift cars were ‘loose’ and allowed you to powerslide with a slight tap to the brake.

Grip cars were tighter and powersliding was done by balancing brake and gas.

R4 was about style.

Everything from the car selection, to the tracks, to the driving, to the UI: It was all about style.

R4 was about Japan and its love of motorsport.

R4 was bosozoku and Kunimitsu Takahashi.

R4 was Keiichi Tsuchiya drifting every turn of the Tsukuba Circuit.

It asked: ‘What would you like to do? Who do you want to be?’ and let the player run free.

 

Metal.

 

This balance between racing games didn’t last.

Gran Turismo’s dominance in the racing genre went unchallenged for its next four iterations.

It wasn’t until Forza Motorsport appeared in 2005 that GT had any real competition in racing simulation.

Need For Speed kept pushing more aggression, especially after Burnout‘s success with its emphasis on heavy, hard crashes.

This led to Criterion being tasked with developing the latest entries into the NFS franchise, making the last few entries the most aggressive in the history of the series.

Ridge Racer became a parody of itself.

What was once a series defined by a Japanese love of motorsport and style is now flailing in a sea of strange experiments and half-finished ideas.

Ridge Racer’s latest entry, Ridge Racer Unbounded, was never even released in Japan.

It is in this environment that Driveclub released.

It is in this toxic mess the racing genre has become that Driveclub tries to reclaim the identity of the middle and the vast expanse of the margins.

Driveclub has not been well-received.

Most gaming media outlets share similar sentiments that Driveclub has no soul or passion or heat.

Driveclub is compared to Gran Turismo, Forza, NFS and is found to come up short.

And I have never seen the media so inept.

Gran Turismo destroyed the diversity of the racing landscape.

Like some hegemonic amoeba, it devoured the imagination.

It devoured subtlety.

To compete, racing games now either had to be pure math or pure rage.

Either a game competes in the same arena (Forza) or it rejects everything and creates a new paradigm (NFS).

Ridge Racer tried and failed to find some sort of synthesis and has lost its identity in the process.

There is no longer any proper lens through which Driveclub is accurately interpreted.

There is no longer a language for it.

Driveclub is a classic arcade racer.

It has inherited the best traits of R4, NFSIII, and GT.

Driveclub is about finessing through powerslides, healthy aggression, and maintaining driving lines.

Driveclub is about rediscovering the fun and beauty of driving.

The tracks are stunning and inspiring.

The races are exhilarating and frustrating.

Though Driveclub’s greatest success is that it gives the player the space to approach the game how they would like.

It has shown itself to be more malleable than any other racing game ever made.

It can be a simple simulation or an intricate arcade game.

How the player chooses to drive influences its tone.

Drifting on turns and the sheer force of momentum on straightaways is incredible and fricative.

Drafting, precision cornering, and avoiding collisions are fulfilling in ways that Gran Turismo and Forza never were.

It incorporates objective and points-based elements from Project Gotham Racing so that it isn’t just about winning races.

Driveclub is more than a racing game, it is a driving game.

Its focus isn’t just on competition and winning, it’s about appreciating the art of driving.

Driveclub is like sitting at the Musee d’Orsay in the early morning, drinking coffee, and letting your vision blur the steam and the painting in front of you.

It is a warm experience coalescing and exploring the mastery of the past.

It is a confident game.

It has none of the insecurity with which Gran Turismo protects its cars.

It feels no need to subvert the racing genre by making it more extreme.

While Driveclub is currently suffering from technical issues, it has more than enough potential to become one of the best racing games out right now.

Driveclub is what the gaming community and the racing genre needed: A step back. A reexamination and rediscovery of a love that has slipped further and further into schizophrenia.

I missed the world Driveclub emerged from.

I missed its warmth.

And it feels strange going back now, realizing how much has been forgotten.

But while remembrance can be embarrassing, it is liberating, even if its language has been lost…

 

Even if its value is ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artillery.

 

 

When I started playing fighting games seriously, there were things people would tell me.

There were things I didn’t understand.

I didn’t understand the difference between a link system and a chain combo system.

I didn’t understand what DP meant.

I didn’t understand what spacing was.

Someone would always insist that spacing in a fighting game, especially Street Fighter, was important.

It was an ethereal concept to me: What does that mean? What do I do with it?

Because I was usually the most inexperienced person in whatever FGC (Fighting Game Community) I was a part of, I focused on more obvious points.

I practiced combos in training modes. I worked on my blocking technique. I tried to pry open different fighting games’ design philosophies.

I couldn’t understand spacing, so I avoided it. I convinced myself I would get to it later.

It wasn’t obvious.

Capcom keeps their systems hidden. This is part of what led to Capcom’s ascension in the United States over SNK.

Capcom leaves guidance and discovery up to the community. They depend on the FGC to figure things out.

Because of it’s difficulty, Street Fighter mastery is considered one of the pinnacles of success in the FG genre.

SNK, though, enforces the subtle. SNK transforms the subtle into a lesson.

I believe this is why SNK has found success everywhere else in the world.

SNK fighters are lessons.

Every SNK fighting game has a shakiness to it.

From Fatal Fury to The Last Blade to King of Fighters, SNK games tend to either be mechanically broken or make viable only a handful of characters.

But SNK does something that Capcom does not: Force the player to pay attention.

Starting with Fatal Fury 2, SNK implemented an at-will two-plane system, the first of its kind in the genre. This allowed players to jump between the foreground/background of a stage.

With a two-plane system, the player had to be aware of which plane their opponent was on, the best way to move to that plane, and to avoid level hazards.

The Last Blade series had a deflect button. If the player pressed the deflect button just as an opponent attacked, the attack would be parried, leaving them open for a counterattack.

This forces the player to watch their opponent carefully, to read frames carefully. The Last Blade drills players’ focus faster than any other fighter I’ve seen.

Capcom tried to do something similar in Street Fighter III with the introduction of the parry mechanic: The player taps forward when an opponent’s attack connects and the attack is neutralized with no damage taken.

The parry mechanic along with a flood of other innovations led to SFIII becoming one of the most highly regarded fighting games ever made.

But because SFIII was tailored with immense precision, it garnered vast critical approval, but nowhere near the financial success of its predecessor.

When SFIII: Third Strike came around, the game was dead in the United States.

Even the ‘Daigo Parry‘ couldn’t save it.

Capcom tried to out-SNK SNK.

By building a solid, tactical, mechanically coherent fighting game with polish and little brokenness, Capcom suffered.

People didn’t expect that from them. They just wanted another SFII.

It would take Capcom 10 years before they would release another game in the Street Fighter franchise and Street Fighter IV was an exercise in back-tracking.

(Here is the best review of SFIII: Third Strike you will read).

 

Clack.

 

At the same time Capcom released their most complex and technical iteration of Street Fighter, SNK put out its last iteration of the Fatal Fury series: Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

Garou and 3S are often considered companion games.

Both are beautiful. Both innovate on their established franchises. Both are technical.

Garou pushed the limits of what was capable on SNK’s Neo Geo system.

Even though Neo Geo was incapable of semi-transparency and 3D effects, SNK was able to simulate them using complex 2D techniques.

Like SFIII, Garou was a reset.

SNK even altered the signature look of Terry Bogard, the series mascot.

They also eliminated the two-plane system Fatal Fury had introduced and become known for.

With Garou, SNK pruned away all the excess a decade of half-finished ideas left them with.

Fighting games are usually loud. They scream. They affirm their place in the arcades.

In the mid-90’s, you couldn’t walk into an arcade anywhere in the world without being pummeled with SFII audio.

Garou is a quiet game.

Garou is serene.

The introduction shows nothing but Geese Howard‘s death and a small montage of Terry Bogard raising Geese’s son, Rock Howard.

Garou’s music is comprised of low-key, modern jazz and dance tracks. The music keeps the atmosphere light and reinforces the game’s growth.

No loud guitar music. No pop music with nonsense lyrics.

Keeping with this minimal style, SNK also paired back the roster of playable characters from the previous iteration by almost half.

Garou only has 14 characters.

There is a sense of intimacy in Garou’s world. There is a sense that the characters and places are all familiar to each other.

Because of the limited roster, each character has personality. Each character feels important.

The game does a profound job relating both characters and players to places in the world.

Garou’s greatest innovation is the stage introductions.

Before each fight, the stages are presented in short, animated clips.

There is no music. There is only ambient sound from the stage itself.

They are so well-done, so elegant, so subtle: They could be meditation objects.

Garou is a cohesive game.

All the aesthetic innovations are matched by the mechanical.

It introduces the ‘Tactical Offensive Position’ (T.O.P.). TOP is a customizable comeback mechanic.

After selecting a character, the game asks the player to choose a portion of the character’s lifebar (roughly one-third).

The player can choose the beginning, middle, or end.

During the fight, if that portion of the character’s lifebar is reached, they will begin flashing, indicating that TOP has engaged.

TOP grants the player access to a move that isn’t normally available, some health regeneration, and increased damage output.

TOP is a proto-X-Factor over a decade before Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

SNK also introduced a ‘Just Defend’ mechanic similar to the SFIII parry. If the player blocks just before an attack connects, they recover more quickly from block.

All of Garou’s mechanical developments lead to an encouragement of offense.

Many of SNK’s fighting franchises are defensive and tactical.

Garou is a massive divergence from SNK’s traditional formula.

Lifebars disintegrate as fast as they did in SFII and the game’s offense functions on how well a player can use their normal attacks.

With its speed and small levels, Garou reinforces the importance of spacing.

It is a perfect exercise in learning what spacing is.

There is nowhere to run and attacking without thinking is easily punished here.

Garou wants the player to be offensive, but not stupid.

It wants the player to not only think about what attack to use, but about the potential space of that attack.

With Street Fighter III, Capcom sought to slow the game down. They wanted players to take their time and think. They wanted each hit to count.

Defensive players flourished in SFIII’s space.

Garou taught players how to attack. It was the antibody to a generation of SFII button-mashing.

It is by no means a perfect game, but an important one.

It is a game I would encourage anybody to play.

Garou is important as a whole work.

It reinforces FG basics in a soft, clear, beautiful way.

Brandon Sheffield once referred to Garou as being ‘holistic’.

And it is.

This is a game designed with clarity.

This is a game that balances light and seriousness with grace and perspective.

The gaming world has never been as toxic or as melodramatic as it is today.

 

And Garou’s softness, humor, and expectation are both reaffirming and cleansing, 15 years on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scrape.

 

 

In the arcade dark, desperation blazed.

Late 90’s: Everyone knew the trade was dead, that arcades were unsustainable.

That didn’t stop new ones from opening.

Like the euphoric hallucinations of a dying hermit, the hardware was twisting.

It became about size, flash, otherness, heat.

Some cabs grew large, some lit up like Vegas, some flowed with murals.

Arcades became desolate cities, the hardware became the graff and the alleys.

Before this, my passion had settled in the rapid flows of STGs.

As the death knell grew louder, STG cabs stood unchanged.

Smooth and fluid, they understood themselves better than other games.

They were simple to understand, beautiful to look at, exciting to engage with.

Their fundamental design was perfect and exhilarating.

For almost a decade, STGs colored the base of my arcade experience.

As the late 90’s began, as stranger and  more surreal cabs manifested, I celebrated the end by expanding.

I understood what the other genres were. I waded in their ideas enough.

Light gun games, fighting games, racing games, puzzle games.

Arcades gave us multi-game literacy.

Shuffling through the exposed subconscious of the era, I came across a new kind of fighting game.

I messed around with Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat II. I was terrible.

But in this time and place, I had lost the self-consciousness that had driven me away from the fighting genre.

Marvel vs. Capcom was strange, brash, and flashy.

It did not care what you thought about it or yourself.

It had something to say and it celebrated the end like a lone tank crew charging down an enemy battalion.

 

Share.

 

Marvel vs. Capcom was not the first crossover title to combine the two universes.

Capcom released two games prior: X-Men vs Street Fighter (1996) and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter (1997).

None of the arcades I went to had either, making MvC the first crossover fighting game I was exposed to.

MvC1 released in two variations: a large screen format and the standard cab format.

The local arcade had the large cab which lit up like white phosphorous in the dark.

The first thing you notice about MvC is how much it flashes.

How bright it burns.

The colors are simple and bold, searing.

The levels are dynamic and had more verticality than I was used to in a fighting game.

It was a fireworks show lighting up the heart of a dying industry.

When I got a chance to engage with it, I had no understanding of tiers.

With fighting games I had always assumed that the developers gave all the characters asymmetric, but equivalent tools.

I chose my team based on looks.

Strider/Jin.

The assists were chosen at random (sort of).

MvC is a physical game.

The characters have real weight and density, they have honest friction.

The physicality of the game reminded me of SFII.

Its speed and difficulty of Strikers 1945.

While I found some success in the single-player campaign, I failed competitively.

Looking back, I just didn’t know enough about fighting games.

I enjoyed my time in that world.

I enjoyed the end of that time.

 

Deus.

 

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was released two years later.

One of the most anticipated releases in the arcade world.

The large cab was enormous, with a screen that swallowed everyone’s field of vision.

The graphics were improved and the character roster had expanded to levels never before seen in the genre.

With the breadth of character choice, Capcom also expanded from a tag-team fighting system to a full trio.

MvC2 was more explosive, faster, more chaotic than its predecessor.

It suffered for this.

I still had no idea about fighting games so I ended up sticking with my MvC1 team: Strider/Jin.

I put Jill Valentine in the third slot. I loved Resident Evil.

Something was off for me the second my first match started.

Something was lost.

While the art and levels honed the original’s bold, bright aesthetic, it lost its physicality.

The characters felt lighter, faster, less fricative.

This made MvC2 a better game to watch than 1, but not as necessary to play.

It was a social game before the era of mobile internet.

It was a prophecy.

It was a game you stood around and discussed in awe of what you were seeing.

The initial shock value of the game was high. With 56 characters to choose, it seemed like a game of true expression.

Over time, it became evident that along with Capcom not honing the movement, they hadn’t really taken the time to balance it.

In going for a faster game, a more chaotic game, Capcom had only made a handful of teams viable at high-level play.

MvC1 had been broken as well, but proportionally the player had more, real options with less than half the selection of 2 (22 characters).

MvC2 was bright and empty, like the place it was born into.

 

Era.

 

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 wouldn’t come out for another 11 years.

Capcom lost the Marvel license after MvC2.

By the time MvC3 released, the arcades were gone.

Many of the last remaining, best known arcades in the U.S. had either closed or were on the verge of closing.

MvC3 had no understanding of the time that had spawned its predecessors.

MvC3 was more ‘floaty’ than either of the first two games.

There was even less friction, less density than MvC2.

It also lost a lot of the brightness, a lot of the flash.

The art style was altered, creating a dark, murky, muted world.

This was Marvel vs. Capcom for the home generation.

In spite of its poor physics and boring style, Capcom did mange to improve in a few areas.

MvC3 produced more viable teams.

The game doesn’t just boil down to variations on the same team at high-level play.

Almost every year since its release, the meta-game has changed.

This made it even more watchable than MvC2.

Capcom understood the social draw of MvC2 and honed it further.

MvC3 is a fighting game that generates an enormous amount of discussion and collaboration.

It is often touted as being ‘fun to watch’ by the fighting game community even for those who don’t play it.

While the first two games in the MvC series were about chaos and explosiveness, MvC3 was about experimentation.

In the arcades, a person didn’t have the time or money to poke around inside a game.

Either someone was going to challenge you or someone was waiting for you to finish.

There was always a sense of urgency: You had to be able to develop and pick up technique in repeated bursts of play and in carefully watching the competition.

By turning away from the urgency of its arcade roots (there is no Marvel vs. Capcom 3 arcade cabinet for instance), by increasing the viable options available to the player, Capcom transitioned a series which grew out of the brash, colorful dreams of a dying market to a darker, colder era more geared towards experimentation, technicality, and discussion.

I miss the flash and physicality of MvC1.

I miss the chaos and breadth of MvC2.

But in making MvC3 more social and more open to experimentation, Capcom pivoted the game for a new market.

While the changes may have left MvC3 with a less satisfying aesthetic experience overall, the series has adapted and will survive in a new era instead of going down with the place and the time that birthed it.

 

Italy.

 

Watching STGs struggle outside of arcades has been painful.

With all their elegant design and beauty, to see them collapse cuts deep.

Fighting games tend to be slow to adapt: 11 years between MvC2 and 3. 12 years between Street Fighter III and IV.

But they are able to change and yet carry on the seeds of arcade tradition into new futures and technologies.

The collaborative and competitive nature of fighting games is what made the communities around them strong enough to survive the collapse.

Strong enough to celebrate the beginning and the end without weeping at the ruins.

Something has been lost.

That can’t be denied.

The death of the arcade was tragic and infuriating.

It was a slow decline, like watching someone you love whither away from some terminal illness.

But rather than mourn the loss, MvC embraced it.

The series celebrated what was and what was to come.

The FGC did the same:

Not always with grace, but with an endurance that can only come from profound loss and the enigmatic, joyous love of competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fist.

 

 

The first time I saw The House of the Dead was in the summer of 1997: Zahle, Lebanon.

One of the main attractions for children and families in Zahle is a large outdoor arcade set deep in the valley.

Beneath the cool trees and flowing water, you can play anything from bumper cars to fighting games.

In ’97, we were there on a family trip, it was a stopping point. I remember having the distinct feeling of bored animosity.

Walking through the arcade, I couldn’t find anything that drew my attention long enough to warrant dropping coins. Then, out of nowhere a giant THotD cab loomed up, bigger than all the lights around it.

In the U.S., arcades still existed then, but they were few and hard to find.

I had been lucky in that everywhere I lived, there was at least one active arcade nearby, usually attached to a movie theater.

I still hung out a lot in arcades in the late 90’s. Every weekend when my parents would drag us to the mall, my brother and I would hit up the local mall arcade (Pocket Change) and burn through an afternoon.

Somehow, Pocket Change always managed to pull in new, expensive cabs at a time when other arcades were failing. I had no idea how they did it, but I was thankful.

They didn’t have what Zahle had though and the more I watched two kids burrow further into THotD, the more I hoped Pocket Change would catch up.

 

Spring.

 

I was never excited about light gun games in the arcades.

In spite of its popularity, I felt Time Crisis was a boring and hollow experience. I did not enjoy the novelty of its pedal/cover system and I did not enjoy having a timer ticking down through the whole game.

The game felt disconnected.

Time Crisis operated only as a sequence of separate shooting galleries, never as a whole game. It had no fluidity.

At first glance, TC seems interesting: 1) There is a timer counting down through the game in which time is only added by finishing ‘scenes.’ 2) In order to reload and/or avoid getting hit, the player must release the pedal to return to cover, thereby slowing the player down.

Combining these two mechanics (urgency of time and tactical judgment) the game is asking the player to make choices.

However, the mud thrown into this machine of micro-choice is the addition of time through the clearing of sections.

The game has no forward momentum: Time Crisis only jumps from section to section, making it a jarring, unnerving experience.

In 1996, Time Crisis had been out for a year and I was done trying to like it.

Walking away from the ‘House’ cab in Zahle, what stuck with me was how much forward momentum Sega built into the game. THotD’s urgency didn’t come from some cheap mechanic (time), it came from atmosphere, a constant drive forward, and quickness.

I wanted to play it more than any other arcade game of that time.

A month later I left Lebanon and came back to the U.S., I went back to Pocket Change.

They had The House of the Dead. I couldn’t believe it.

I don’t know how they did it, but there it was: the same massive cab I saw in Zahle, next to the doorway, and a line of people that ran through the food court.

A line of people that Time Crisis couldn’t bring in.

 

Span.

 

THotD was one of the most cohesive arcade products I had ever seen.

The story revolved around two AMS agents, Thomas Rogan and G., called to the mansion of a well-known and highly regarded scientist, Roy Curien, after an ominous call from Sophie, Rogan’s fiancée.

Upon arriving at the mansion, the agents are immediately thrown into a grisly, murderous scene where all of Curien’s horrific abominations have been let loose throughout the entire complex. It then becomes the agents’ job to rescue Sophie and find Curien.

THotD’s cohesive process begins with the title font and styling:

 

The House of The Dead Title Screen.

The House of The Dead Title Screen.

 

Not only is the font of the title chosen as a reflection of older pulp horror franchises (See anything made by Hammer Film Productions), there is also the addition of the decaying hand summoning/corrupting/reaching for the person who may either be Rogan, G., or a scientist.

The person represented in the title is covered with scratch marks, signifying both abandonment (cobwebs) and violence (the scratching-out).

The intro cutscene is about a minute and a half long. In that short time, it does an excellent job setting up the premise of hopelessness: Scientists running for their lives, monsters being unleashed everywhere, dead bodies.

All this is set to an ominous intro theme riddled with bells and synth organ:

 

 

After taking in all these passive elements, coins are dropped in. Each coin engages a loud howl, bellowing from the speakers, another homage to older horror films and a reinforcement of isolation.

From the second the game begins, it pushes forward into its world. The player is greeted with a cutscene showing Rogan and G. pulling up to the house at high-speed, running out of the car, and immediately engaging.

The game never loses that momentum.

The world of THotD is a dark one. All the grass and plant life in the mansion courtyard are dead, the sky is dark. The initial interaction in the world is shooting an undead creature trying to kill one of Curien’s assistants.

The mansion itself is in complete disarray as well.

The environment shows how far into his own mind Curien had fallen.

 

Stress.

 

THotD filtered urgency through its cohesiveness and the speed at which its camera moved.

Time Crisis was too disconnected and Virtua Cop was a glorified shooting gallery.

The first House of the Dead perfected the sensation of perpetual motion, a sensation that has since been a staple of the THotD series.

It was a fast, hot game then and it still is now. The way in which the camera twists and turns, the way it bends, is a thing of art. Movement in this game is the final cohesive link in Sega’s vision.

It is unfortunate that THotD is the best of the series. Its sequels consistently suffer from a lack of vision.

I was obsessed with The House of the Dead ever since I first saw it. I played that game any chance I could from 1997 on. Initially, it took me five dollars in quarters and 45 minutes to complete.

In 2012, I had all 20 of the top High Scores at another local arcade. I could beat the game on 25 cents and a little over 25 minutes.

The first time I saw and played THotD 2 was in Las Vegas, at the Luxor in 1999.

It was another of the massive cabs.

My parents dropped my brother and I off early at the arcade before heading to the Casino, around 10 AM.

After having played so much of the original, we couldn’t believe we now had access to the sequel.

It took us a little over an hour and around seven dollars in quarters to complete. The sequel was never as compelling as the original. Something about it was all wrong.

The difficulty was turned up, The action was slower, the camera did less.

There was no propulsion through that world, no urgency. It was lifeless.

The last major game Pocket Change bought before finally closing was THotD 3, which utilized giant plastic shotguns instead of the smaller, standard light gun pistols.

I played it once and walked away.

The shotguns were uncomfortable to hold, awkward to maneuver, and the series’ difficulty was turned up yet again.

With each iteration becoming slower, less dynamic, more difficult (cheap), and less cohesive: The series continually failed to achieve the promise of the original.

The most recent installment in the THotD series, The House of the Dead: Overkill, reworked the series’ aesthetic into comical pulp horror, the seriousness and dramatic effect of the previous games are completely erased.

The House of The Dead revolutionized light gun games. It was incomprehensibly cohesive and faster than any other game of its kind. It was one of the last true arcade games that challenged and engaged the player with seriousness and immersion.

Given the death of the arcade outside of Japan, we will most likely never see another game like it.

We will never have the kind of cohesive immersion THotD presented. An immersion rivaled only by Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram.

The House of the Dead had charisma, it touched on something, attracted people to it.

Exactly what  its successors could never do. It was an excellent game with a strong identity, a strong sense of how it wanted to be.

Action games today can learn so much from studying what The House of the Dead presented: meticulous cohesion, immersion, and perspective.

Afterall, its only fitting that it be remembered in better games than the series it spawned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Print.

 

 

Before I got an iPhone, I had a red LG flip phone.

I enjoyed that phone more than I probably should have because it’s UI felt more intuitive than all the Nokia and Sony cells I had before it. The buttons on the LG were a joy to press, low profile, but very ‘clicky’.

Nokia’s buttons were always very solid, but I felt they had no weight to them. The buttons felt floaty, like pressing on partially-burned marshmallows.

Sony’s problem was a combination of bad quality (the phone would constantly fall apart) and the buttons being too squishy. Sometimes the buttons were so soft that they wouldn’t register presses. The only thing Sony had going for it was a neon-blue backlight that made me feel like I was in the future.

Then I got an iPhone. It wasn’t a choice I made, I was still a skeptic on touchscreens. Someone in my mother’s family had bought one for me as a graduation present. I was more curious than excited.

As I spent time with the phone, I began to enjoy it. I enjoyed the simulation of swiping and the responsiveness of the touchscreen. I liked the idea of having access to apps that would increase the utility of the phone. I enjoyed the solid build quality. It had a nice density.

But I missed the buttons.

Occasionally, I went back to the LG and would just click around to remember the sensation of really great button presses. I was sad at the loss.

When I really dug into the world of the iPhone and Apple, I realized because my phone had been purchased by a relative in Lebanon, it was jailbroken and unlocked. This meant I had access to the Cydia marketplace.

Cydia is a black market app store that bypasses all of Apple’s strict standards. Anyone can put anything on Cydia and I used it to see what people on the margins of this ecosystem were doing.

A few months into this process I came across something called HapticPro. The app claimed that it would create haptic feedback when typing by generating small vibrations with each press of the virtual keyboard.

I downloaded it. I was excited: Maybe this would be just what the iPhone needed to feel right.

After using HapticPro for a while I noticed that my typing was more accurate and fulfilling. The phone had evolved.

Still, though something was missing from the experience: The iPhone lacked tactility, it lacked texture.

Nokia phones always had a wonderful feel. Whether the case was metal or plastic, you could run your finger along all the pits and grooves. The Sony phone I had was encased in a dense, white rubber, I loved its spongey friction. My LG did not have any compelling texture, but the click of the phone opening made up for that.

The iPhone was nothing but cold and slippery, lifeless.

I struck out into midwestern suburbia to solve this.

After searching around, I eventually settled on a thick, black rubber case with small grips on the sides.

Now I had something in my hands that felt alive. It buzzed when I touched it. Its skin was soft.

I have always admired Apple for their minimalist approach to design. However, in their quest for technological purity, their products have misunderstood the sense of touch.

A cell phone is a very personal thing. It needs warmth, warmth through texture.

The iPhone had no warmth.

No blood.

No friction.

 

Esoteric.

 

When The Elder Scrolls V was released in 2011, it was celebrated by both the games industry and media as a grand and amazing work, a shining example of what games can be. It won countless awards including multiple GOTY nominations and wins. It was a phenomenon.

It was also a bad game.

Prior to release, I had been very excited by the idea of a single-player open-world fantasy game that featured first-person hand-to-hand combat. I had just built a very powerful desktop then and I had been looking forward for just this sort of thing to release.

Once I was able to finally sit down with the game and run through the beginning, I realized how unsatisfying the game felt.

None of the characters (including the player) had any weight or density to them. Everything just felt as if it was hovering inches above the ground like a world of balloon animals.

The first-person melee was equally terrible. It all felt vapid and inconsequential, a self-important pillow fight simulator.

The first person to accurately describe how it felt was Tim Rogers.

I wish I could say that this problem is only limited to Skyrim and games like it, but this is actually a big problem for most games today.

Much like cell phones, games are very personal things. The player is trying to inhabit a space, making it their own by virtue of their own personal experiences, and expressing themselves through either strategic thinking or action.

People get lost in their phones, people get lost in their games.

Modern games lack density. They treat movement as a given rather than as a draw. It seems like every game today is built around the idea that no one will notice the lack of physicality.

No texture. No beating heart.

Compare Elder Scrolls V to Gungrave. Movement in Skyrim is light and airy, there is nothing of significance in it, there is no joy in it. In Gungrave, movement is important. Everything has weight, there is a loud, sharp pulse in everything Gungrave does from shooting to jumping to swinging.

I don’t just blame 3D games for this problem, Modern 2D games suffer also. I’ve made the argument over and over again in the Shoryuken forums that the reason Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is the least appealing in the series is due to its  lack of  ‘presence’  in the characters when compared to the previous entries. MvC1 had real weight. MvC2 had friction and texture.

It almost seems as if the games industry has been slowly withdrawing from the physicality of the arcades. Even the worst fighting games (for example) have some of the best density. Sengoku Basara X and Hokuto no Ken have wonderful frictions. The hits have powerful momentum.

But those are broken games.

Even games that are marketed as ‘arcade’-like today never seem to get the density right. In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Raiden’s hits never have any impact, any feedback. Every enemy in the game hits harder/is heavier than Raiden.

There are a few games in the mainstream that seem to occupy a very nice density. Games like Street Fighter, Guilty Gear, Tekken, Gears of War, and Killzone carry their weight well. However, the industry as a whole needs to put more time and thought into a game’s physical presence.

The indie scene is doing this by drawing inspiration from older games where movement and tactility were fine-tuned.

I’m not sure what it would take for the entire industry to follow-suit and change, to focus on the texture of their games, but I am getting tired of just floating around in places I barely occupy.

Fundamentally, the physicality of a game assists in immersion. Speed, force, momentum, velocity, density, friction: These are parts of the machine that absorb the player.

What good is world-building if every interaction with the world is lifeless?

What good is the scope of the game if in exploring it, the player never inhabits it?

In order to be immersed, the player has to feel that they occupy a space, that there is some warmth there.

This is not something that can ever be fixed by money, only heart can fix this.

 

Only pulse can drive this change.

 

 

 

 

 

Bullets.

 


Raiden
was my introduction to STGs.

What hooked me into the game was its clean presentation and great controls. It was the first scrolling shooter that I played with any level of seriousness.

My goal in those years was always to see how far I could get on only one credit. While I never beat Raiden without continuing, I really enjoyed the time I spent with the game.

The Raiden series has grown up since the first game came out in 1990, but it has retained much of what defined that first entry developed by Seibu Kaihatsu.

However, the series has not aged well. Even later entries such as Raiden IV (developed by MOSS, a team of ex-Seibu devs formed after the company went bankrupt) retain much of the early mechanics (direct fire, sparse enemies).

I understand that what makes one series in a genre stand out from another is precisely what the devs define as the series’ core values. In the case of Raiden, those values center around precision. The game wants you to be in the right places firing at the right speed as enemies shoot directly at your ship.

With its insistence on precision, Raiden cannot keep up with the innovations of the genre.

When I first played Strikers 1945 (developed and released by Psikyo in 1995) it felt like something had totally changed.

It was a faster game, it was the kind of game that forced you to focus.

It was the fighting game of shooters.

The enemies would swoop in and fire rapid bullet streams that spread through the screen, forcing the player to weave and counter. Each boss was comprised of nested mini-bosses. The music drove everything.

Strikers was the better game, why? With all its elegance, why couldn’t the Raiden series stand up to this?

Because Strikers had intensity, it was all digital grit where Raiden was the stuff of cold patience.

After Strikers, STGs became mind-melting exercises in intensity.

A movement that was especially driven by Japanese developer Cave.

Cave released DoDonPachi in 1997 after the success of the more mild DonPachi in 1995. DoDonPachi featured swarms of enemies that fired massive bullet curtains, a very intense aesthetic, excellent music, and great animation.

DoDonPachi took everything that made Strikers great and pushed things even further. DDP is as close to an ideal arcade game as any company could get at the time. It never felt ‘cheap’, it was very much a game of skill, and it was visually captivating.

After DoDonPachi, shooters have only become more intense. Games like Mushihimesama Futari 1.5 (also developed by Cave) have bullet patterns that look like ocean waves.

The DonPachi series itself has remained fairly close to its roots throughout the years. DoDonPachi DaiOuJou (the fourth game in the series, released in 2002) is arguably the best STG ever made (more on that later).

 

Watercolor.

 

There are two schools of thought in the world of scrolling shooters:

1) The genre won’t continue to exist unless new gameplay mechanics are added.

2) The genre will always thrive if it stays true to its roots.

In the first school, we see games like Sine Mora (developed by Digital Reality and Grasshopper, released in 2012) which features a strong plot and a unique time-manipulation mechanic. Time is important in Sine More because it is the measure by which you succeed or fail.

However, the best game to come out of this school is Ikaruga (developed by G.Rev and Treasure, released in 2002).

Ikaruga has reached legendary status not only among STG enthusiasts, but among the gaming community as a whole. It has been ported to system after system through each console generation and was recently released in February 2014 on Steam.

It is an icon.

Ikaruga’s attraction lies in the innovations it makes in the three core game elements present in any STG: Aesthetics, shooting mechanics, and music.

The game has fantastic art. The environments are well-defined and deep, your ship is asymmetrical and beautiful, the enemies (especially the bosses) are extremely detailed and fluid. The whole game is amazingly cohesive. The hook in Ikaruga is that you don’t simply dodge bullets, you transform your ship to absorb one of two kinds of bullets.

The game has two enemy types: light and dark. Each enemy type fires either light or dark bullets. The player’s ship can switch between light and dark, whatever color the ship is, is whatever color you can absorb. This has made Ikaruga a favorite for players looking for High Score challenges.

What makes Ikaruga’s soundtrack so unique in the genre, is that it is voluminous. Most arcade STGs rely on electronic thumping and grinding to push their games forward. Ikaruga’s music is very orchestral and does an excellent job at conveying a sense of loss.

If Ikaruga is the best game of the innovative shooter school, which game is the best of  the second, more traditional school?

DoDonPachi DaiOuJou.

 

Dollhouse.

 

In spite of all the innovations and the high-level coherence Ikaruga displays, it feels like a puzzle game.

Ikaruga is less Raiden and more Tetris: Maneuver the ship to fit into the bullet patterns.

I admire the game for what it does. I admire the devs behind Ikaruga for making a shooter that takes itself seriously, that is somber and heroic.

But there are times when the gloss tears, that you cannot help but feel that the game is a series of novelties, the game plays with itself and its own mechanics. After playing Ikaruga long enough, it gets a little boring.

The strange part is that the game starts out so strong, it throws you right into the action, but with its constant referencing to a single mechanic (switching colors), both by enemies and by the environments, it wears on you.

This is where DaiOuJou wins.

DOJ lacks all of the finesse that defines Ikaruga. Its music is brash and loud. The environments are dark, synthetic, and alive.

DaiOuJou is all about force: Gunning through the swarm.

The title of the game is roughly translated as “Blissful Death.” It has no illusions about itself. It asks a lot of the player.

I recently described DaiOuJou as a ‘cyberpunk samurai death poem.’

It is an ode to the extreme focus and insight demanded of the player in occupying a beautiful and uncomfortable place. It is a process of celebrating your mistakes and being reborn.

The action in DOJ is intense. Enemies explode, multi-colored bullet spreads cover the screen, you scrape by in pixels.

This is a vast departure from what Ikaruga offers.

For a non-traditional game, Ikaruga can almost be seen as an extension of Raiden’s elegance. Ikaruga and Raiden are both quiet, cool, thoroughly-designed games.

On the other hand: DaiOuJou is the diary of a medieval battle-axe.

For all the credit that Ikaruga has received over the years, DOJ never quite got the attention it deserved.

I understand that a lot of this has to do with taste, but as an avid fan of shooters, it is very difficult for me not to see the amount of thought that went into crafting and honing DaiOuJou from a team of arcade purists that almost single-handedly drive the genre today.

It is Ikaruga’s mechanical novelty that fundamentally propels it as a phenomenon. DoDonPachi DaiOuJou, though, is driven by the purity of its action.

It is a rapid-fire exploration of the significance of moments.

DaiOuJou is a celebration of beauty and decay.

It deserves a second look.

 

It is the better game.