Despite trying to work through a rather large PS3 backlog, my time has been taken up by three extremely excellent free 2D shmups of late (well, one excellent, one very good and one OK shmup)– read on for links and boobs!
The only real criticism I had with the recent EGM relaunch issue is its lack of obscure Japanese coverage, and lack of indie/doujin coverage. Indie games have never really been properly covered in the mainstream press, because whether they are entirely free or charge a small fee, none of them generate PR freebies or advertising revenue from publishers. And this stoic lack of coverage is a travesty because it means the public won’t hear about great games, such as Hydorah, unless they trawl forums and obscure blogs for snippets of info.
Does anyone else have the uncomfortable feeling that they’re missing out on hundreds of wildly awesome and free indie/doujin games, simply because no one talks about them? Yeah, me too.
A tremendous labour of love, Hydorah took Locomalito three years to develop (with help for music). Nearing Cave Story-levels of time and dedication, the effort put into this shows. The production values are some of the highest I’ve seen for a free game – the level of detail in the pixel art (which is a dying art in the commercial world) and animation of sprites is astounding. Ignore those who say the art style is boring – later levels’ bio-mechanical armada is stunning. The few screens shown here don’t even remotely convey the beauty of the game in motion. Furthermore, the soundtrack by Gryzor87 is pretty-damn catchy in places, with some really cool 1980s-style synth. Plus there’s the insanely awesome vocalised music tracks (in what I presume is Spanish), and voiced power-ups! Special mention must go to the brief snippets of voice acting, which have Spanish accents. I love the idea that Spain would amass a giant space armada to defend the human race – it’s a refreshing change from the America/Japan centric story many shooters have.
I’ve always felt that hori-shmups, as opposed to overhead, are a little underrepresented in the overall shooter genre, so it’s nice to see Hydorah take a side-on approach. It’s very much a throwback to older-style shmups like Gradius, Axelay, Keio’s Flying Squadron, and so on, before hardware started allowing for near-infinite projectiles and increasing numbers of shooters adopted the danmaku (bullet curtain) approach. Someone on another forum aptly described Hydorah as an adventure – there are 16 stages laid out on a map with branching pathways (not quite Darius, but an appreciated effort) with 30 bosses of which I’ve only seen a fraction. This is coupled with a selectable weapons system where new weapons are unlocked in each stage, and all require levelling-up RPG fashion. Each stage has its own story and architecture to navigate, plus numerous clever ideas (even if some are borrowed), and overall it does an excellent job of balancing good shooting mechanics with ambience and story.
So many shooters in recent generations have had rather banal designs, focusing on complex patterns and score mechanics, but totally lacking that sense of exploration you feel, for example, when first penetrating the Bydo ship in R-Type. There are some great moments in Hydorah, such as flying above a planet surface during a sandstorm, which affects control, before delving deep into a forgotten enemy factory, or traversing a space graveyard populated by flesh-eating insects.
What I especially like is that Hydorah only has one difficulty level, ensuring that everyone has the same experience and that people’s skill with the game is easily compared (as opposed to discussing one’s ability spread over 3+ difficulty levels like most shups). This presents Hydorah as a singular, unified experience. I’ve heard that the difficulty actually augments itself depending on how well you’re playing, but I’ve faced bosses both fully powered and without anything, and their attack patterns seemed the same to me! Please correct if I’m wrong in this assumption.
In years to come I’d like to think that Hydorah will be a regular placement on those “essentials” lists for indie PC games that crop up on forums, alongside titles like Cave Story and Spelunky. It’s not as easy, but it’s an essential file to download. My only disappointment is that some areas of the internet have made trivial sniping criticisms about both the game’s art style and mechanics, all of which are unwarranted. There is a growing internet culture to criticise good things, especially when given away freely. Considering this cost me nothing to experience, I’m going to evaluate it in a totally different frame of mind to something which does cost money. Sincere creative love was put into this game, and despite being a very strongly and obviously influenced homage, there are moments of genuine, original genius.
Check out it out here
Super Metroid meets Dropzone in duotone is the simple analogy for this one. You’re tasked with exploring a maze inside a giant asteroid filled with bio-mechanical enemies in order to stop an immortal war machine. The plot is pretty damn awesome, and pleasantly melancholy in the end. Increased map exploration is facilitated by acquiring ability-boosting items from defeated bosses. Lesser enemies are merely a hindrance and should be ignored, making it something of a boss-rush with added corridors to navigate.
What’s really awesome about this is that the different difficulty levels actually present different level structures, encouraging repeat playthroughs. As the author states:
“The Normal difficulty is about as tough as the first Hero, while Hard features a different game world and enemy patterns that will tax even the veterans.”
The minimalist graphics and super catchy chiptune audio all add up to a very retro-feeling shooter which is also tremendously fun. Plus it’s free! What more could you want?
Get it here.
While listening to the entire back-catalogue of the uncomfortably excellent Warning! A Huge Podcast series, Shidoshi mentioned a Strike Witches game for the 360 and, seeing as I had been taking notes to later look things up, went Googling for more info. Turns out there were a lot of Strike Witches games either released, or in development. I also stumbled across a very old post on Sankaku Complex (definitely NSFW) detailing two doujin releases of SW for PC. The Hori shmup is too crudely made to interest me, but the vertical one has reasonably high production values.
The plethora of characters are mostly redundant, the game is extremely easy if you exploit the weapons and shields available, and the scoring system is impenetrable – I also still haven’t fully worked out the controls. But it reminds me of Axelay and has an awesome distortion effect. It’s also a lot of fun - especially if you have a biased predilection for anything shmup-based - with several neat ideas.
Get it here (be warned, site contains NSFW images)
You’ll need to click on the download link on the far left (second from the top).
Controls taken from elsewhere:
A - Shoot
B - Magic Shield (usable with the gauge at max, replenishes naturally, faster when not firing).
L - Speed up while button is pressed.
R - Speed down.
There’s also a button to activate some kind of score multiplier thing, but I’ve not used it much.
I just wanted to throw this out there because I’m sure it was mostly overlooked and is now forgotten amongst the THOUSANDS of free PC games available. It could probably do with an article, looking at the entire Strike Witches franchise (chicks as anthropomorphised battle planes, eh? Kinky!), but I’ll damned if I’m not too lazy to do it.