Noitu Love Review

Here is a game that many indie gamers will have played or at least known of, but since I plan of featuring some of Konjak's games Noitu Love (Evolution spelt backwards) is the best place to start. Although Joakim Sandberg aka Konjak is not as well known outside the hardcore indie gamer circles as say Cave Story's Pixel or Cactus the man behind Clean Asia, he has more then earned his place among the kings of indie freeware developers with his the novel mouse based shooter Chalk and of cause Noitu Love 1 and 2 (NL2 is commercial). What really makes his games stand out is that although they are fun to play.Similer to Pixel, Konjak's games have the same level of polish as commercial indie games which is different from most freeware developers who will just create a rough diamond with simple graphics and game play, Once they have the core of the game made they will then quickly move onto creating another game. Because of this Konjak doesn't have that many titles under his belt compared to Cactus and Kento Cho.

Now onto the game, Noitu Love is a fun title that fans of the old Mega Man NES games will instantly recognise. Instead of shooting though Noitu uses short range attacks that makes at more akin to a 2D beat'em up instead of a run 'n gunner. Noitu makes his way across the stage beating up waves of enemies. To mix up the gameplay, you can change into different forms at special 'evomatic machines'. The forms are a monkey who can jump high but has no attack, advanced human who can blast objects with is mind and lately a bird who like the monkey has no attacks but can fly to inaccessible places the other forms cant. Thia gameplay mechanic is no just a gimmick but is very well implemented due to the good level design that need you to use the different forms to progress.

There are 6 stages in total although the last stage is only the boss battle. With each stage quite unique from the other stages especially stage 4 which has you riding a rocket in a vertical shoot em up eske style. I found the game to be of medium difficulty, where I needed a couple of play throughs to complete where I had difficulty getting passed certain bosses. There are higher levels of difficulty to make the game harder but all it does is add more heath to the baddies so they need more hits to kill. The hardest settings (hardest mode has to be unlocked) I found the baddies needing so many hits to kill that the game became too tedious for my tastes. While I'm on the subject of negative points, thee game is keyboard only which I found to be a pain when I played the game over a year ago. Since then I've discovered the brilliant keyboard to joystick profiller that is Xpadder (it's really quick and easy to setup) Another basic thing NL is lacking is a in game way to change the game from the default small windowed mode to fullscreen. Luckily all you need to press is alt and enter but allot of people don't know that trick and will be annoyed due to the window been in such a small resolution.

The things I do like which putting the game into context, that of it been a freeware is a heck of allot more then points I hate about Noitu Love. The first is the graphics which maybe basic have that lovely retro NES look and charm to them. The sprites are all small which is what I prefer as that enhances the gameplay in my opinion (just think of more playable megaman on the NES compaired to the larger SNES sprites). The music is all nicely done and very fitting with the retro graphics although the volume is very loud (I have to go into control panels volume control and turn down the wave balance since the lowest master volume setting is still to loud). The controls are ok with the normal form noitu having 3 attacks; a fire punch, a uppercut (that sends enemies flying into the air) and a sort of a spinning jump kick (useful for crowd control).By far the best aspect of NL is the boss fights that you will have mid stage and at the end of each level. The bosses are very nicely designed in that you have to find out a certain method to kill them. For example the end of level 2 boss where you have to change into the monkey form unable the jump on a button situated at the top of the boss, then change back into your normal form so you can damage him. These boss fights are what makes NL such a polished game that harks back to the 8/16 bit era of boss fights like Sonic and Sparkstar.

Noitu Love been freeware is a gift to us all and would be a shame not to play as it is by far one of the best freeware games out there. Just make sure you download Xpadder aswell. 4.2 out of 5.


Summer Carnival 92 Recca - Famicon

I thought I would make a slight change to just writing about PC shmups as there are a hell of allot of great console and arcade titles that can be played on the PC using an emulator. Although I will only consider featuring a game on the site if the emulation is as good as the original or near enough to not matter. There are so many games out there which are full of glitches that in my opinion it's better to stay well away from and wait until it is sorted out or risk ruining the experience of playing a game that should be fun to play. Many of the recent shmups on Mame fall into this category and like I said you should not play them since there are so many other playable shmups for the PC or older emulated console systems like this game for the Japanese NES, Summer Carnival 92 Recca.

Here is a quick history; Back in the early nineties shoot'em up tournaments were all the rage in Japan with games created specially for it, these shmups where called the Caravan Shooter, where players had to score as much points within a certain time limit. Caravan games had this time attack feature and the game would automatically stop after a set amount of time. Hudson had their own tournament held every year with the ever popular Star Soldier series. Among other companies competing with their own tournaments was Nexat Soft with their Summer Carnival Tournament. In 91 they used Spriggan on the 16bit PC Engine. For 92 they choose a game for the much slower 8bit Famicom system. For those of you who don’t know the Famicom is the Japanese NES which was the most popular console in Japan until the 16bit PC Engine aka the Turbo Grafix 16 by NEC and Hudson Soft. Back to Recca, with the game been released at the end of the Famicom’s life not that many copies of it were ever produced and the idea of a NES version for the west totally out of the question. With only a small number of cartridges in circulation Recca is one of the most costly Famicom games to buy, with prices on EBay ranging from £100 and up for just the cart alone and no box most people will experience the game through a emulator.

If you thought Recca is a slow game because it’s on an 8bit console you are so wrong. Recca is almost too fast with the screen filled with enemies all quickly flying past your screen. The graphics while not the best on the Famicom/NES are still very good and if you take into consideration the speed it runs at it’s a minor miracle that the games programmers have achieved to make a game to run almost perfectly with no slow down or major clipping of the graphics. There are very small amounts of clipping usually fighting the large bosses but it in no way spoils the game due to how little it happens. Complimenting Recca’s fast pace is an equally fast music score to boot. These are pumping techno tunes which fill you with a sense of urgency when playing the game. Composed by Nobuyuki Shioda Recca’s music is the closest to real techno I've ever heard on an 8bit system, more so then what the 8bit chip-tune demo scene is able to make, True masterpieces. Other people must of thought so aswell, as in 2005 a soundtrack CD was released with Recca’s music along with a few remixes which are all really good to listen to. And to compliment the game’s high price in the 2nd hand market the soundtrack CD also sells for silly amounts on EBay £60 to £100. There is no way in hell I'm paying that kind on money for a OST CD, i'll just listen to it on certain sites on the net like You Tube for free.

The music is so good a OST CD was released 13 years later

Recca has 3 modes of play, plus 2 modes that are hidden and only accessed through a cheat, The standard 3 modes are:-
Normal Mode; The meat and potatoes of the game, 4 standard levels once that has been completed an extra 4 arranged levels that are allot harder and manic can be played by a soft reset.
Score Attack Mode; In the special caravan stage try to get the highest possible score in 2 minutes.
Time Attack Mode; Again you are in the special caravan stage, here you must score 1,000,000 in the shortest time possible, if you go over 5 minutes it is automatically game over.
The other 2 hidden mode that can be accessed from the cheat menu are:-
Hard Mode; A harder version of normal, I haven't played it myself but I gather that you have to play through the first 4 stages along with the much harder arranged stages aswell, no soft reset required.
Zanki Mode; Play through the standard 4 stages with 50 lives to begin with. For every small enemy destroyed 4 bullets are sprayed out in random directions, larger enemies spray more bullets. A extremely manic mode.

Most people will stick to normal mode most of the time in hopes of a 1CC so that what ill mainly write about. As I've said normal has 4 stages, the first 3 stages are all standard with 1 or 2 mid level bosses and a end of level boss to fight. Stage 4 is different where you will face all the bosses you fought previously with a couple of bosses to fight that are special to stage 4 including the last boss. Through stage 4 you will also fight a small amount of normal enemies just to provide the player with a power-up or two. If you managed to finish stage 4 you will be rewarded with a end of game cut-scene along with credit roll and lastly a screen showing a boss that you haven’t seen before telling you ‘to be continued’ whether this boss was meant to be in a sequel or a last true boss (both of which were never made) is unknown but you won’t face him if you play through the arranged stages which can be accessed if you do a soft reset when the ‘to be continued’ end screen shows.

Most of the bosses are very large for a 8bit game.

If you thought the first 4 stages were hard then you’ll be in for a beating when you play the extra 4 stages. The stages are extremely hard bordering on the Masochist for any gamer wanting to complete it. Remember Recca does’t let the player use continues, once you run out of lives its game over play again. It is because of this that I find 4 stages (excluding the extra arranged stages) just right when trying to 1CC/ beat the game. A feat which is hard especially for a relatively new shmupper as myself but not impossible if I perciveir and replay over and over again remembering each stages little quirks. I find Stage 4 Tobe a biatch and I need to amass as many lives as possible in stages 1 to 3 just to get through it. (you can have 8 lives maximum.

The gameplay mechanics in Recca are some of the best if not the best I’ve ever come across in a shmup, which if you remember I am talking about a game released in 1992 and you see why Recca remains as a favorite of many hardcore shmuppers who frequent the shmups11.org forum. You have a main weapon and a secondary weapon for both of which there are 5 different weapon types. My favorites are the laser and five-way which are both good for clearing the screen of enemies. Also for each of the main weapons there are 3 levels of power with added strength, bullets or formations for every level added. The laser at level 3 even has a homing ability that makes it my favorite weapon of choice in most situations. On to the secondary weapon, which I will be calling pods of which you can have 2 of them, both of the same type and there are no levels like the main weapon. Same as the primary weapon there are 5 different pod types ranging from the pretty useless rotating pod which rotates around your ship randomly shooting bullets that you have no control over. The other pod types are all useful with the Smart Pods been the best to use 99% of the time as these weapons will automatically shoot at enemies like homing missiles in other shmups. All these weapon upgrades are activated by shooting enemies for every 16 baddies you kill a power up or score medal is awarded with some enemies automatically giving power ups when shot. What type of power up will be dropped will cycle between the differing types. A 1up is also rarely awarded this way aswell. This mechanic makes shooting as many enemies as possible not just a good thing for score but a necessity for quickly powering up your ship. That makes some parts of stages that don’t have that many small enemies very hard if you die and need to quickly power up. I recommend the five-way shot useful for quickly getting back on your feet until you get 2 smart pods and then you can power up you main to the level 3 homing laser.

There is another weapon at the players desposol that I havn’t mentioned yet and that is the charge bomb a feature that was unique to Recca until Cave’s Shooter Pink Sweets was released in 2006 in the arcades. Unlike the bombs of other shooters where you get a small number of them to use, Recca charge bomb can be used as many times as you like as long as you can survive the onslaught while it powers up as you can use your main weapons, this is where your smart pods come in handy as protection while you charge up. To use your charge bomb just stop firing you main weapon and it will start charging up in front of your ship getting bigger and bigger. If you press fire before its fully charged the bomb will be waisted. (there is a energy meter at the bottom of the screen to tell you along with a sound that raises in pitch.) If fully charged you can let the bomb off whenever you want and it will destroy all the enemies and their bullets in the immediate area. The bomb is not as powerful as other shmups but given its unlimited usage it more then makes up for it. Another added bonus of the charge bomb is the the ball in front of the player ship absorbs bullets making it a great defencive weapon especially useful while fighting bosses, although it will stop bullets the charge bomb wont stop everything shot towards you like laser beams so you will still have to use your dodging skills to stay alive.

It is this combination of weapons that make for such a enjoyable game because you will be thinking which main weapon will be best for the boss your currently fighting or in which situation you will need to fire your main weapons or can you just rely on your smart pods and use your charge bomb for added defence only firing off the bomb when the need arises. And there will be plenty of places where you will be thinking like this due to how cunningly the design of the stages are along with the bosses which all have strategies you can use to defeat them. Another great addition to Recca is that by pressing select you can alter your ships speed. A very useful if you need a lot of accuracy to dodge a bosses laser beams, or go super fast while shooting lots of small enemies. Whoever said shoot’em ups whern’t a thinking mans game have obviously never played Recca. The score mechanic enforces this playstyle aswell due to the fact you will attain points for absorbing bullets and keeping the charge bomb active. Although playing for score is severely broken in the normal and hard modes due to the fact that many of the bosses can be milked almost indefinitely by using the charge bomb to absorb bullets. The worst offender of this is the stage 1 mid boss where you can place your ship at a bottom corner and leave the game running by itself while you stack up the points. Another spoiler for scorers is the low maximum score easily attainable in Hard mode.

Many gamers don't realise how usefull the charge bomb is

Considering the other 2 caravan modes especially made for scorers then many scorers wont be really bothered that the other modes are broken. Although the fact that each of the modes only last less then a few minutes. Some will wish they could of played competitively in a full length game. But still there's no stopping someone from playing the normal mode and not bother to do and milking. For those scorers playing the caravan modes there is a high score table at the shmups11.org forums. It’s listed along with other caravan shooters under the heading Caravan Games. Also at the same forum the ever talented Shiftace who is at the top of many a highscore table has kindly created a totally excellent strategy guide / faq, I highly recommend anybody whose playing Recca to have a look at it. I made the game for me allot easier to play without getting my arse handed to me all the time. Also on the same page there are the cheats you will need to use to play in Hard or Zanki modes along with the level select for the normal game. For those you hate entering cheat codes Silver X has hacked the game and created a patch which makes it so you no longer need to enter the code and the extra modes are on the title screen. This can also be found through the faq page.

Here is the start screen of the hacked version

Recca is a fantastic game considering how old it is and the fact it is on a 8bit console! The programmer should have statues made out of gold for the achievement they made. The games designer Shinobu Yagawa is well known in shmupping circles as the man responsible for some of the greatest shmups ever made: Armed Police Batrider, Battle Bakraid, Ibara, Ibara Pink Sweets and his greatest game Battle Garegga which is the grand daddy of the danmaku / bullet hell games later made popular by Cave. Even though Pink Sweets does take some aspects of the game it is a shame that no true sequel was ever made, one that fixes Recca’s shortcomings with it’s scoring system and stays faithful to the look and feel of the game. No bloody cute lolis aswell, While I like Touhou and many other cute’em ups as the next man. They do seem to be on way to many games nowadays. Sometimes I just wanna play a shmup with proper space ships while listening to a pumping electro soundtrack without no high pitched Japanese girl voice actress screaming out of my speakers that make my ears bleed. Even though it’s an old game Recca does that.

4.9/5 It would of made a 5/5 if it did’t have a broken scoring system in normal/hard mode. Its as close to perfection as any 8bit game can get.


My new love of Shoot'em ups

When I rediscovered shmups (shoot 'em ups) I was totally amazed by how playable they are, I downloaded the freeware Blue Wish Resurrection by X.X Games (I have it linked on this site). BWR is a bullet hell shmup that is inspired by the professional shmup developer Cave who are considered the best makers of shooters along with the famous Treasure who have created many well known games through the years including Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Heady for the Mega Drive. Playing shmups I rediscovered something that I had lost when I was a kid was that I really revelled in the difficulty of these Japanese shooters. Having to work hard to slightly improve my gameplay and feeling very rewarded when I reached a goal. Many of these self imposed goals are totally exclusive to the shooters and partly the arcade genre. That is that to be consider to of beated (clocked) a game you must of used only 1 credit. Known as the 1CC (1 credit clear) and to proper 1CC a shmup it must be done using the default settings, so no going into the options menu and selecting 8 lives per credit and easy unless that is the default setting. What default setting a game is can be sometimes confusing due to many shmups arcade and console shmups made in Japan (where all the best shooters are made) are then localised for USA and Europe have the difficulty turned down from normal in Japan to easy settings for us in the west.

Other goals to try for is to no miss a whole stage which means not to lose a life during a stage and usually you’ll be awarded with extra points by the game as well. This is usually the easiest and first goal a player will aim for. No miss is not to be confused with finishing the game without losing a life, this is known as 1LC or 1 life clear in shmup circles. The difficulty can be raised even high by getting a 1CC etc in harder difficulty settings but not many ppl will ever achieve a 1LC on hardest with a challenging Jap shmup. The best of the best can even play a 2 player game alone like this guy who has released a vid on You Tube playing Ikaruga widely thought of as one of the most complex and challenging shmups to play perfectly. Ikaruga superplay

As you might of guessed the whole ethos is to challenge yourself no mater how good you are just set those goals in whatever difficulty level you can play at and as time goes by your skills will improve and hopefully you will be able to complete this Cave game Mushihimesama Futai Black Label in god mode, here is a vid of someone up against the last true boss The hardest boss ever And no he isn't cheating bullet hell games have very small hit boxes on the players ships and bullets. My current favourite freeware game Blue Wish Resurrection is a bullet hell game as well, just nowhere as hard, in fact it's very noob friendly especially the plus version remake. Once you have hit some of those goals (most ppl just aim for 1CC) allot of ppl will then start to play for score. This is where a good Japanese shmup really shines over many shmups made in the west which are usually given the term euro shmup, usually thought of as having a really poor scoring system or design. Many Jap shmups will have intricate scoring systems with many routes through a level without dieing. The goal then is to try out different routes and ways of playing to try and get the best score possible. You can watch vids on the net called super plays and get tips from them if you can’t be bothered working out a system yourself.

Before I go I’ll leave you with a link for the Shmups.com forums where there is a glossary detailing the multitude of shmup speak you'll notice ill start to use in my blogs (at least the more common terms). Shmups.system11.org Glossary This is the main forum for the English speaking shmup community and well worth joining if you intend to play shmups especially games from Japan doujin or commercial. There is also a highscore section if you fancy going up against other ppl or atleast get a idea of how much of a high score is achievable in a game, you’ll probably be shocked.