Tag Archives: shmup

On July’s Game of the Month

For those of you who haven’t listened to the podcast yet, the Game of the Month for July is Astebreed. It’s a Bullet Hell shooter available on PC on a number of services, and recently, also on PS4. I didn’t honestly think I was going to get the members of our podcast to play this game, and I’m still not sure if they’ll like it, but it should be interesting talking about it. Even if you haven’t played a Bullet Hell game before, I think this is a pretty good starting point. I had screenshots of me playing this at one point, but you’ll have to settle for screenshots from Steam for now.

title screen

The Game

All I really need to say here is that Astebreed has you controlling a giant robot with lots of guns and a big sword. It’s predominantly a side-scrolling shooter, but there are also times where it plays more like a corridor shooter (i.e. StarFox). As expected from this type of game, you have a significant amount of firepower, as do enemies. In addition to a standard shot, you also have a lock-on shot and a large sword. It’s this last element that changes things up, as the scoring system encourages slicing enemies in half, and swinging your sword can destroy enemy shots. Also unlike a lot of traditional scrolling shooters, you don’t die in one hit, you have a health bar that is somewhat generous, and even regenerates if you go a while without getting hit.


The Presentation

Astebreed is the spiritual successor to a game I’ve never played, Ether Vapor. It has a self-contained story that reuses some characters from the previous game, and pays a lot more attention to story than I’d expect from a shooter. For starters, it has Actual Characters and an ending that isn’t just “Congrats, you blew up the bad guys”. There is voice acting, but none of it is in English. Cutscenes exist between levels to develop the plot.


The Choice

I almost made the Game of the Month for July the Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta. Kodra even suggested that I should, so we could talk about Final Fantasy (like we don’t do that enough). I went with Astebreed because I wanted us to play something a bit different. We’ve mostly had games of the month that have been a bit methodical, between RPGs, strategy, and puzzle games. We haven’t had any actual action games, and this seems like a good candidate.
I did mention another game, however: Jigoku Kisetsukan is free on steam, and is a “tribute” to the Touhou series. I bring this up because it’s nice to have a comparison to a different style of Bullet Hell, and this is actually a very good example (it’s a better game than a lot of shooters on Steam that are not free). That said, the difficulty curve in this game is more like a brick wall than any actual curve, and the graphics aren’t entirely cohesive. I recommend giving this a shot if you make it through Astebreed before the end of the month, as Astebreed is a very short game.

Jigoku Kisetsukan: boss4
Sadly, you don’t have a sword to cut through this mess.

On Crimzon Clover

I mentioned it a bit when I was talking about other shooters, but I feel like I should give Crimzon Clover a good writeup. It’s made me interested in the Japanese indie scene again, when previously I ignored every part of it that wasn’t Touhou.

The Basics

If there’s a story, I don’t know it. You fly through 5 levels firing massive amounts of bullets at things that fire almost as many back at you. In this context there are 4 modes and two difficulty levels, although two of the modes are only available on “arcade” difficulty. (One of the modes, Unlimited, is just standard with everything turned up to 11, with a few special rules that allow you to theoretically survive everything being turned up to 11.) You have your choice of three ships at the start, with a 4th unlockable. The Type-I is the balanced ship, with a wide spread primary attack and homing lasers for a lock-on attack, The Type-III (my personal favorite) is much faster but has a narrower primary fire and a slower-charging lock-on attack. The Type-II is somewhere in the middle, with the fire spread being determined by how you position the Gradius-style options. The final ship, the Type-Z, is better than the others in almost every way, and you can consider it your reward for playing the game for long enough to unlock it.

Seriously, this ship is broken.
Seriously, this ship is broken.

Standard Mode

A key feature of the game is the Break Gauge in the upper right. If this meter is over the small line, you can use a bomb (although using one will cause the bomb line to move further to the right, making it take longer to earn the next one). Using a bomb destroys all shots and most small enemies on-screen and gives you temporary invincibility, so it’s a good way to get out of trouble. If the gauge is full, using the bomb button instead enters break mode, causing your firepower and max number of lock-ons to go up, as well as doubling the score multiplier (This still clears the screen of bullets and grants temporary invincibility). This lasts for a certain duration or until you use a bomb. If you manage to fill the gauge again while in break mode, you can enter double break mode for screen-filling ridiculousness in your firepower and doubling the score multiplier again. The downside to this is that your break gauge completely empties when this ends and you can’t use a bomb during it.

Other than this upgrade to the bomb button, this mode is fairly standard. The difficulty ramps up as you move through the stages and beat the bosses, with an EX-boss available if you can beat the normal boss of Stage 5 without using a continue. (Despite calling the easier difficulty “novice”, this is not any easy task in any sense.) Beat the EX boss to see the credits and beat the game (and join about 11% of the players on Steam).


Boost Mode

Boost mode works a little differently. Instead of being able to activate break mode, it activates automatically when the gauge is full and lasts until you either use a bomb or die. Instead, the UI element that normally counts down break duration has a timer that counts up, and enemies and bullets speed up based on how high it gets. Many attack patterns are slightly (or in some cases significantly) easier in boost mode to compensate for this. Dropping out of boost mode will reduce things to a normal speed, but it will go back up to full speed when you fill the gauge again, something that’s certainly going to happen eventually.

If you’re not playing for score, I think Boost Mode is easier, as you can bomb to slow things down and if you don’t need to do that, you have the increased firepower of Break Mode all of the time. I like it better, but that might just be because I’m better at it. If you have any interest in shmups at all, you should give Crimzon Clover a shot. It’s on Steam and is supposedly coimg to GoG soon, so it’s much easier to get than many other games in the genre out of Japan.

For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative.

On RefleX

I got this game as a gift during the most recent steam sale, and I was asked about it elsewhere recently. I like bullet hell and someone told me that this game was good, so I figured it was worth a try. I attempted to get screenshots for this, but the game doesn’t play well with the Steam overlay (or any alternate method of taking screenshots I tried), so you’ll have to make do with the few I did take.


RefleX is a vertical scrolling shooter (I don’t think I would actually call it a bullet hell for reasons I’ll get to later) with a bit of a twist. Instead of bombs, your ship has a reflective shield that slowly recharges. Enemy shots are color-coded: blue ones will be reflected, red ones will be destroyed, and purple ones can be destroyed by the ship’s fire (they will also be destroyed on the shield). Instead of lives, your ship has a durability meter. When it runs out, it’s game over, there are no extra lives. In context, what this means is that after making a mistake, you don’t get a life lost and screen clear to recover, and it’s possible to lose multiple hits in quick succession.



Playing this game feels very different from other similar games, in that it feels like it tests your reaction time more than anything else. Unlike most bullet hell games where the difficulty comes from trying to find your way through the pattern, this one throws things at you too fast for there to usually be a pattern. (Some principles still apply, like streaming when there’s a line of bullets aimed at you.) The biggest offenders here are homing lasers that are fast enough that if you aren’t moving when they’re fired, you’ll take damage if not shielding.

Combined with the lack of screen clearing and invulnerability when you do get hit, death feels incredibly sudden and quite cheap. As with most shooters, a degree of memorization is required to know attack patterns and when you need to move in order to not get murdered, but attack patterns here are long enough that this is difficult. I prefer to know what I died to in games like this, and it’s quite difficult in RefleX. I don’t like it much as a result.


For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust initiative.

On Current Shooters

I’ve been caught up in WildStar, graduations, and other things, so I haven’t gotten a chance to play most of the various shmups (or STGs, as they’re sometimes known) that have released on Steam in some fashion recently. I made a quick attempt at a few of them recently, so here are some impressions.


Crimsonland is a top-down shooter reminiscent of Smash TV, or Robotron. Many different weapon types are used to kill hordes of zombie-like aliens, and there’s some progression that involves unlocking different weapons (which vary in terms of accuracy, fire rate, secondary effect, reload time, etc.) and perks (if these did anything at all I didn’t notice). It’s apparently a remake of a game that released for PC eleven years ago, but I didn’t know that going in. Of the games mentioned here, I think I enjoyed this one the least. The player’s movement feels incredibly slow (although there are speed powerups you can find in the levels) and the weapons just aren’t that interesting.

crimsonland_1 crimsonland_2 crimsonland_results


An Early Access game, this one’s more like Geometry Wars or Super Stardust. You fly around as an odd dragon-thing and use customizable weapons to shoot down flying saws. I almost wish I was making that part up. I got this one because it has co-op, but I tried with Belghast last night and couldn’t get it to work. The weapon customization is interesting, but I think this is one of those games that would be much more interesting in multiplayer. It’s a bit basic without, or at least it starts that way.

2014-06-21_00009 2014-06-21_00006 2014-06-21_00019


The “sequel” of sorts to Ether Vapor Remaster, Astebreed puts you in control of a flying mech with a giant sword. This (mostly) side-scrolling shooter is full of enemies and bullets, but has some additional mechanics, namely the lock-on and the sword. You can hold the fire button(s) to lock onto enemies and fire on them, but this reduces your ability to fire normally while it’s going on. The sword allows you to both make invincible dashes across the screen and to deal damage/destroy enemy attacks in a small area in front of you. The sword is a lot of fun to play around with, and it’s also quite useful and factors heavily into the scoring system. This one’s a little more expensive than the others on the list, but it carries correspondingly higher production values, graphics, and an actual story. (It’s crazy and Japanese, but it’s there.) If you have any interest in the genre, Astebreed is highly recommended.

astebreed_chaos astebreed_cutscene astebreed_results


A port of an arcade game which was ported from a Japanese indie (or Doujin) PC game, Crimzon Clover replaces Jamestown for me as the best scrolling shooter on Steam. Sitting squarely in the Bullet Hell category, Crimzon clover has more traditional aesthetics than the other games here, featuring a spaceship firing many bullets at other spaceships, as well as a “bomb” button (more on this in a bit). As a bullet hell game, you have a tiny hitbox, the screen is filled with bullets (both yours and the enemies), and the difficulty is through the roof (even on Novice). Instead of having a stock of bombs to deal with the swarm, there’s a “break gauge” that governs bomb usage. When over a certain point, pressing the bomb button uses a bomb, which clears the screen of bullets and damages all enemies on screen. If it’s full, you instead enter “Break Mode”, which massively increases firepower. If filled again while in break mode, you can enter Double Break Mode for further bonuses. This is extremely satisfying, and the resulting spray of stars and colors looks awesome. I have a hard time recommending this game to anyone unfamiliar with the genre (Jamestown is my recommendation for getting into it), but I think this might be the best shooter on steam right now.

cc_ship_selection cc_break_mode cc_continue

One final Note…

Yesterday, Rae completed a Blue Mage Ashgar chibi, which is now found both here and in the site’s header. I think it’s awesome, and you should check out her site for more.

On 弾幕

Once upon a time, there was a game called Overkill. It was a vertical-scrolling shooter for DOS, and it’s the first (non-educational) game I can remember owning and playing. It’s now freeware, so you can download it right here, and it started me on a journey to discovering other games in the genre. Overkill actually isn’t anything special as far as shooters go. Tyrian is from the same era, and most people I’ve talked to consider it a better game. I can’t adjust to either one now, as they feel a bit slow and outdated.

Humble beginnings
Humble beginnings

Fast forward a few years, to when I got my first video game console, a Playstation, and with it, G-Darius. I didn’t know it at the time, but G-Darius is the last in a series of shooters in which you fight giant fish. Despite a sometimes annoying power up system, this is the game that introduced me to what would become my favorite part about shooters: cool bosses. Despite the “fish” theme, they did really creative things with it, like a boss that goes through dimensional portals to attack you, and a boss based on a sea angel. After this, I discovered some of the things I missed on the super Nintendo via the power of emulators. This was my first exposure to things like Gradius and R-type. I later got pretty good at Gradius V. I was never actually any good at G-Darius.

Seriously, most of the bosses are fish.

Fast forward a few more years, and we hit a game called Ikaruga. This one’s on Steam, if you want to experience it for yourself. This rather unique game was my introduction to “Bullet Hell” shooters, and pretty much brings us into the present day (or at least the point of this post). In the last two podcasts, I’ve mentioned a bullet hell game of some sort as something I’ve been playing recently. The Touhou games, while fun, are only available as Japanese imports and are somewhat inaccessible to beginners. Danmaku Unlimited 2 is $5 on Steam, and can serve as an introduction to the genre. It’s quite good, has an awesome soundtrack, and Bel played it for Steampowered Sunday a week ago (on my recommendation).

Hard difficulty is hard.

There’s a bit of a recent resurgence, but games in this genre have gotten rarer as time goes by. I suspect part of this is because as the games attempt to cater toward fans of the genre, they become increasingly difficult to get into for people who aren’t fans of the genre. Hopefully Ikaruga coming to Steam is a sign that there’s interest, and we’ll see more soon.

A final note in closing: I’d like to think I’m pretty good, but I’m sure that since this is the internet, someone can do better. I’ll be waiting.