End Gen Dreamcast (2)

Karous

Karous was released in February 2007. I found this game on my latest trek back to Japan in my local new/used gaming store. They actually had a couple copies of the game, and one copy used for $45. I did think it over long and hard whether i should buy this game.. It is developed and self-published by Milestone, who also made Radilgy and Chaos Field. Chaos Field was actually a rather fun game, and Radilgy looked pretty crazy.. so, by association, i laid down my 4500 yen.

Karous is a very minimalist styled shooter through and through. The graphics are cell-shaded and drenched in deep dark blues, greens and greys, but complemented with other over-used bright white. It probably looked like a good idea on paper, but in execution looks very unfinished. When you use cell-shading, you must be very aware of shapes and forms and how shadows well bring out the simplistic complexity of your subject. I think cell-shading is a horrible medium for shooters because you have no time to soak in the subtleties and models are going to be too tiny to see any detail.

Unfortunately they carry this throughout each level like a dead horse. I don't know if they re-use the same environments, but each stage looks exactly the same.. I really can't tell the difference. All the enemies have the same grayscaled colors, so the bosses really can't be distinguished from each other easily.

The game does not scale very well either. I can hardly see what the hell is going on with the game on my TV. In Yoko mode, you can't even see what level your weapons are at. Tate mode really isn't all that much better either. Aliasing abound!

Anyways, the minimalistic theme continues into the music. The soundtrack features plenty of broken drumming, chimes, and lack of melody that produces very experimental sounds. It's a very different approach to a shooter OST and i'm not really sure that it works out for them. You have no sense of suspense or thrill when playing levels.. It really ends up bothering me more than pulling me in.

The gameplay works very similar to Chaos Field. You have 3 buttons.. One for shoot, one for bombs, and one for sword. Also, when you stop shooting you have a shield which is automatically deployed. Each of these attacks have a separate color. (Green for sword, Blue for shot, Red for bomb, and Yellow for Shield.) When you hit an enemies, they'll shimmer in the color of which weapon they are weakest against. Most shimmer in Red, but you'll get the occasional green or yellow.

Each of your weapons can be powered up through use or grabbing power-ups. These power-ups usually come from drones of like enemies, or big ass enemies. You'll usually get a little blue triangle which you can smack a couple times with your sword to power-up. Also, i think just general firing and killing powers up your bomb.

Overall, this game is challenging, but i'd only recommend it as a last resort. The graphics are actually pretty bad, and the music doesn't complement the gameplay well. It's actually kind of annoying to play.. I guess i now know the reason why Tom Sawyer had so many copies of the game.. Oh well... the gameplay does have some redeeming qualities.

Trigger Heart Exelica

Exelica is the most recent Dreamcast game which came up March 2007. Purple Godzilla in Seattle, WA showcased this game at Sakura-Con and had it for a very fair price of $65, considering it was nearly identical to the Japanese price of 6500 yen. I had seen Exelica in Japanese arcades before, and #five actually played a bit too. The gameplay looked very different than your normal shmup, so i figured, hell, i'd give it a shot.

In Trigger Heart Exelica, you play Exelica or Crueltear, two anime girls out to save or defeat their friend or foe. You wage war against an onslaught of futuristic space ships in your flying power armor. The game reminds me a lot of Shikigami no Shiro for some reason, even though the two games are completely different. Massive points are obtained through collecting gold pieces from destroyed enemies and fire.

You have 3 attacks: normal fire, bombs and grapple. Exelica and Crueltear have different shoot waves.. Exelica is rather spread out, while Crueltear's is straight on. Bombs are as standard as ever.

The grapple technique is what makes this game so unique. You can grapple nearly any enemy on the screen. Bigger enemies will take a little longer.. Once you've captured them, they will shield you from oncoming bullets, and you can also smash them into enemies for massive points and damage. When you move back and forth while holding an enemy, you'll swing back and forth.. swinging the enemy all the way around you will put you into a spin that'll almost shield you completely against enemy fire. When you let go, the enemy goes flying and it's explosion destroys everything in the immediate area.

This makes some impossible to dodge areas essential for using the grapple technique. There's one particular part in Stage 3 where the entire screen is jam packed with enemies.. you can't even get around them. Not to mention hundreds upon hundreds of bullets.. Grappling one enemy and tossing him in the center of all that mess will clean out a lot of your obstacles.

The graphics are pretty decent. They aren't crazy mind blowing graphics, but they are certainly don't suck. The music also compliments the game quite well. Unfortunately the sounds could use a lot more bass. Blowing up things is MUCH more satisfying with a sound that you can feel in your body.

Overall, this game is pretty fun, albeit spinning around while grappling an enemy can be difficult to get the hang of. A little nick picky thing that i don't really like is that you start off with infinite credits, rather than eventually unlocking more over time. Starting off with only a set amount of credits will inspire you to get better at the game, and eventually push yourself to greatness. Having the whole game laid out to you on your first sitting is very unrewarding.

$65 is a very steep price for this game though. That money would be better spent on Under Defeat. If you came across this game in an arcade, i'd definitely recommend a few coins of play to see if you like it.

The tears of the ages...

Unfortunately, this is the end of the Dreamcast. As of February this year, Sega has officially stopped all production of the GD-Rom medium, and 2 week ago, declared that on September 28th, 2007, Dreamcast Repair Services will cease completely. The Dreamcast lasted nearly 9 years in the marketplace... not too many consoles can say that. Of course, those companies have bigger better projects to focus on.

This doesn't spell demise for the Naomi boards.. In fact, Triangle Service is currently developing their latest shmup, Exzeal, for the Naomi cabinets and set to be released this year. Triangle Service had previous released Trizeal in 2005 for the Dreamcast. This doesn't guarantee a Dreamcast release though.. Trizeal has been ported over to Ps2 for a wider audience.

G.rev's most recent game, Senko no Ronde, was also Naomi GD-Rom, but was remade and updated for home release on the Xbox 360, which is coming to the US next month thanks to Ubi Soft. Senko no Ronde is shmup fighter hybrid type game.

Since Naomi

Though Naomi development still goes on with 3rd party Arcade developers, Sega has moved on. Not that long after Naomi originally debuted, Sega released the Naomi 2 in 2000. Naomi 2 was a beefed up Naomi board with more better everything. Though, with the pending death of the Dreamcast, Sega began focusing on other hardware.

Namco had already taken a cue from Sega, and had partnered with Sony to release Playstation-like hardware in the Arcades.. With console sales heading the gaming industry, Sega looked to the other consoles for Arcade hardware.

In 2002, Sega released the Chihiro hardware based on the Xbox. Sega made a few changes though by scrapping the DVD-Rom drive for a GD-Rom drive, and make the RAM expandable for upgrades. They also made full use of the communication capabilities of the Xbox and developed a slew of networkable titles. These games you could play against anyone else in an Arcade across Japan.

Sega continued with their idea of making porting games easy from Arcade to Xbox and Xbox to Arcade.. Unfortunately, the Memory upgrades were used heavily in the Arcade which made scaling games to the home unit difficult. Wikipedia points out that Outrun 2 used 512mb memory in the arcade, while the Xbox had only 64mb to work with.

Also in 2002, Sega has teamed up with Namco and Nintendo to release the Triforce Arcade hardware. Partnership and development centered around the Nintendo Gamecube hardware and the release of F-Zero AX/GX, one of my favorite games of all time. This was also a good opportunity for Nintendo to get some market share in the Arcades again.. Aside from F-Zero, Mario Kart GP is the other notable release for this hardware. Mario Kart 2 was released early this year.

I guess the Sega, Namco, Nintendo Triforce partership was the middle ground for all big-name console and arcade hardware developers.. Sega w/ Microsoft, Namco w/ Sony, and Sega/Namco in the middle with Nintendo.

Turning to the future, PC in 2004

In 2004, Sega released their current Arcade hardware, the Lindbergh. It was originally going to be based on the Xbox 360, but eventually became PC based instead. In fact, also in 2004, Taito released their current arcade hardware which is also PC based.. PC based machines offered far more extensibility for upgrades and stacking processors..

That's kind of the same direction the shmup community has been going as well. Independently developed PC shmups have really caught the eyes of many circles. Especially the Toho Project, responsible for Perfect Cherry Blossom and Imperishable Night. I haven't played any of these though, unfortunately.

Anywho.. i guess we'll see where Shmups will find their home in this new generation. Senko no Ronde is on the 360, Gradius VI is coming out on PS3.. all while the Wii might be the best home with low publishing costs and a very retro community fanbase. Most shmups these past years have found themselves on the PS2 because of how popular it is, rather than how identical the hardware is to its' original. I'm sure that'll be the same in the coming years.

Upcoming American Shmup Releases

April 17th. Raiden III on Playstation 2 for $30
April 27th. Radilgy (Radio Allergy) on Gamecube for $30
May 22nd. Senko no Ronde (WarTech) on Xbox 360 for $60 ... ugh :/
Soon. Ikaruga on Xbox Live Marketplace.

... and probably some other ones too.




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