The only type of game I’m playing somewhat regularly on the PC is the shoot ’em up – of the sideways or vertically scrolling 2D kind. Most of these games are played on MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, some on other emulators (SNES, Sega Megadrive/Genesis, mostly) and some are modern freeware, mostly from Japan (see ABA Games for free goodies). I’m by no means a shmup wizard, but I do like my shooters.
So getting Ikaruga (cool fan site here) for the Gamecube was a no-brainer. Indeed, it was my primary reason for getting a Gamecube in the first place. It did take some time tracking down a copy for an agreeable price, though, because the game was never manufactured in large numbers and I only got a Gamecube a few months back.
I’ve now played it for around four hours – I don’t know how long exactly, because I didn’t realize the autosave wasn’t on by default, so I lost the records of my first few sittings. (Duh.) It is sweet. I can get to halfway of the fourth level (there are five), but the third level’s boss really makes it clear that if you’re not after a challenge, you need not apply. It’s just brutal. But never really unfair, you can always see where you made a mistake.
And boy, I’ve missed a challenge. I grew up playing games with largely mythical endings: in the 8-bit days, games used to be so hard that completing a game was really an event, something we used to talked about for rather long times. I was very disappointed to see that nobody was making old-school shmups with the power of today, save for the few Japanese amateur artists. There are some quality shmups released on the PS2, but that’s about it. It’s a shame. The shmup is definitely not for everyone and the kids of today are likely baffled by the difficulty level, but that’s just the point. It feels so much better when you’ve had to work for it.
Make no mistake, I do grow frustrated with difficult games. But this is because today’s games tend to be difficult because they’re designed badly, not because they’re challenging by design.
Now, I can see myself completing Ikaruga on “easy”, but the “normal” difficulty (let alone “hard”) seems such a challenge that I have my work cut out for me for years to come, knowing that I won’t be practicing every day. Considering this, it does feel perfectly fine that the game can be completed in something like 20 minutes, once you’re good enough. But can you do it with just one credit? There’s actually an endearing shmup term for this, “to 1CC a game”. To 1CC means you’ve mastered it, and that is my goal with Ikaruga. The art of shooting, truly.
Edit: I’ve now clocked in about three hours plus the initial couple of evenings’ worth and can get to the last level, which is insane. The chaining system really does keep things interesting. I’ve so far managed to chain only 24 in the first chapter. Things get real hairy real fast in the beginning of the second chapter, chaining-wise… I can get to chapter three’s boss on one credit and generally don’t die before chapter three anymore.
In other gaming news, Tony Hawk’s Underground’s last objective (beat Eric) is rock hard. And I’ve been playing on “easy”. I really miss a highscore mode in the game. It’s still fun on two-player, but there doesn’t seem to be anything much to do in single player besides the disposable campaign. It’s the only Tony Hawk I’ve played since the original on Playstation and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2’s demo on the PC, which I played way more than this full-blown game on the Gamecube. Shame, really.