Sunday, November 27, 2011

Viewpoint (Neo Geo)

Isometric
Checkpoints ON
5 Difficulty levels
6 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Sammy
Published by Sammy in 1992


On the matter of unique shooters, Viewpoint certainly deserves a nod as one of the most interesting ever developed. Bearing a striking resemblance with Sega’s classic Zaxxon, it makes things more simple by restricting the playing field to a 2D plane only, presenting itself as a genuinely “tilted” top-down shooter. Whereas Zaxxon allowed full displacement in three axes, in Viewpoint the gameplay remains strictly two-dimensional, as if you took your regular vertical shmup and bent it in order to achieve a pseudo 3D feel to everything. Probably the most famous isometric shooter besides Zaxxon, Viewpoint was originally conceived for the Neo Geo hardware, but it also received a good number of ports in other systems, such as the Mega Drive, the FM Towns, the Playstation and the Sharp X68000.

Of course the Neo Geo AES version is the arcade experience at home, and my first choice to try this much anticipated classic. I have fond memories of staring at game magazines back in 1992 and wondering when such an awesome-looking game would grace my eyes for real. The time has finally come, and in my opinion it totally lives up to its hype. After all, it’s got fascinating design, an excellent challenge level and spot-on controls – the aspect I feared the most before actually playing the game. I always thought it would be tricky to control the ship in such an unusual perspective, but I was actually surprised at how good the Neo Geo stock controller performed. It worked like a charm, absolutely no autofire needed.

This is isometric shooting action at its best

Hovering just a little bit above the ground and gliding along surfaces with the most varied textures, the ship in Viewpoint faces all sorts of enemies. In fact, the enemy gallery in this game embraces all kinds of weird design choices, contributing to deliver a rather trippy ride through all six stages. Popcorn stuff comes in wave formations and consist of spinning discs, little insects, tiny blocks, destructible rocks, small planes, etc. Then there are the larger creatures, such as weird propellers, giant wheels, spring toys, big fish, snakes, turtles, maggots, insects, tanks, mechanical walkers, etc. Several types of turrets will also materialize all over the place. Bosses are always huge and mostly comprised of several forms: there’s a worm, a crab, a moth, a large hovercraft, an evil skull and an undescribable creature as the ultimate enemy. There’s always one weak spot that should be exploited when fighting bosses, and that’s the first indication of the advantage related to using the charge shot.

The only upgrade available for the main weapon supplies the ship with a pair of side pods/options that fire two auxiliary shots and have the ability to block bullets and damage enemies. It’s always the first item to appear from the one of the carrier circles. Holding down the fire button for a brief while and releasing it produces a charge shot that besides inflicting more damage is also capable of destroying several smaller enemies in a row. There are instances where tapping the button for regular fire is better, normally against a flock of enemies arriving from different directions, but using the charge shot wisely is the key for better results and faster kills.

Special weapons come in three forms: the fire wall (F - red), the shock wave (W - blue) and the homing missiles (H - green). You can stock three of them, and if the stock is full the next special weapon will replace the oldest one. They’re all equally useful, and since there’s no special bonus whatsoever for life/weapon stock, there’s no need to be stingy with them. Remaining items released by carrier circles can be a shield and a star. The shield changes its color as the player gets hit, protecting the ship against two bullets (enemy contact is always fatal regardless). Stars are the secret to score higher, and collecting them without dying makes their value increase up to 81.560 points each (500 > 1.000 > 3.310 > 5.000 > 10.000 > 33.100 > 50.000 > 81.560). Most stars appear by killing specific enemies or full enemy waves, and some of these waves can be triggered by fulfilling certain actions. The best example is the rotating blockade in the middle of the first stage: destroy it and an extra popcorn wave will appear to the left, for which a star will be won if you don’t let any of them escape. Enemy waves may also release special weapons in certain parts of the game.

Though it’s possible to milk bosses for their cannon fodder, this is highly discouraged because these beasts are quite nasty in their patterns, there’s no such thing as safe spots and the star bonuses are much more attractive. Extends are given with 50.000 and 80.000 points only, with a single 1UP to be grabbed in the last stage (the golden sphere amidst the lightning poles).


Montage with Viewpoint's automatic demonstration sequences
(courtesy of YouTube user narox)

I enjoy the visuals in this game a lot. I can definitely see an overall emphasis in an insect theme, even though I can’t say that would be the main design motif. The music in Viewpoint is a chapter of its own, with a remarkably groovy, funky, offbeat soundtrack that’s both relaxing and awesome at the same time (baby!). Regarding the gameplay, there’s actually a reason why the ship seems to be a tad slow. With the exception of the bullet spreads from larger foes, all enemy bullets are aimed. Constant movement is paramount for survival, and combined with well placed charge shots and a few intense albeit short tapping bursts it makes for a nice approach towards the apparently daunting difficulty of the game. There is no rank, so every enemy pattern will always be the same. One thing I noticed is that it’s always better to escape enemies that chase you by doing lateral moves instead of forward/backward evasions (the centipedes, the fireballs from the third boss, the flame rings from the last boss).

Besides the design excellence, Viewpoint has flawless hit detection (nobody can blame the perspective for dying), an outstanding lack of flicker and only brief spells of slowdown when the screen gets too cluttered with moving sprites. It's a mandatory title for every serious shmupper out there, and deserves a place of honor as one of the defining games in the Neo Geo library. From the videos I've checked the Neo Geo CD iteration is basically the same as the cartridge, except for the loading times and seemingly more slowdown. Contrary to what one would expect, the music is no step up from the original though.

In the high score below I died before the 5th boss, playing in the MVS difficulty setting without autofire. I guess some of the star bonuses I lost were compensated by a few failed attempts at defeating the final boss, but I'm satisfied with this score for now.

11 comments:

  1. Congratulations to you for 1CCed this game.

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  2. Oh wow, that is impressive! If I may ask, how much time did you need to put into this game to get the 1CC? Of course I understand that you are a pro at shmups. I'm just curious because when I was trying my hand at this game some years ago, I gave up due to frustration and never even made it past the first boss. :(

    Not only is Viewpoint tough as nails all by itself, the fact that you start at a predetermined spot after losing a ship makes it even more difficult.

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  3. Thanks for the pro part, Nick, I prefer to think I'm just dedicated though :)
    To answer your question: in total I spent 2 weeks to clear Viewpoint. After getting used to the game, I fired it up on MAME to practice bosses 3, 4 and 6. Then I got back to the AES and played whenever I could during the evening.

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  4. Thanks for the elaboration, and also for mentioning how you practice. There was a time in my life when I thought that using save states to practice difficult parts was "cheating". Maybe you want to write up a short article on how you tackle Shmups. I think you'd have a lot to say about it.

    Do you actually rate Viewpoint as significantly more difficult than other shooters of that era? I had the impression that in the press it was described of being an unusually hard game.

    Also, just because I am curious, how many hours do you think you have spent on Viewpoint in those two weeks? Would a guesstimate of 20 be somewhat close to the truth?

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  5. Tricky questions, Nick...
    Keeping it restricted to checkpoint-based shooters, I guess I could put Viewpoint above Gradius, Gleylancer, Parodius Da... To be honest, I think Viewpoint's alleged difficulty is overrated: there are several special weapons to help, several shields available, not many game "traps", no rank, etc. On the other hand, I consider stuff such as Einhänder, Gradius II, Raiden and practically all Toaplan games tougher. Ironclad on the Neo Geo was considerably harder than Viewpoint, even though I beat it with no MAME practice. And R-Type might be older, but IMO it still wipes the floor with Viewpoint as far as difficulty goes.

    In total I think I spent ~15 hours to clear Viewpoint. 2 initial hours + 4 hours of practice + 7~9 hours of late night play. Setting up the AES takes up space and hardware arrangements, so I mainly did it during the weekend.

    Your suggestion of writing about how I approach shmups is nice, I'm planning to do it soon in a celebrating post. I enjoy reading about the modus operandi of other shmuppers as well, so I will try to come up with something useful. Meanwhile you can check fellow Prometheus' guide "The Full Extent of the Jam" (check my links), which is an awesome read regardless of skill level. :)

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  6. Thanks for your elaborations! I really look forward to that post. Especially since your modus operandi is different from shmuppers like Prometheus, it will definitely be a very interesting read! Prometheus focuses on a handful of games, and mainly just on one. Other guys, like Icarus, if I recall correctly, and of course you, too, want the 1CC.

    My stance is like a toned-down version. I am happy to beat a game with all the credits it provides, and on regular difficulty levels. The console shooters I've played (I'm a 16 bit fanboy) all had just thee or four credits, and I'm very happy to just beat the game (any action genre is fine with me). But when I think the designers were deliberately trying to mess with me, then I have no guilty conscience firing up an emulator and beating it with save states. I certainly won't replay a level 100 times because the second reincarnation of the final boss is ridiculously overpowered. (I'm writing this one day after beating Mega Man X2 on the SNES and having gotten severely annoyed with the boss battles.)

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  7. I have spent a few credits with this on a shmupmeet and liked it a lot. Like you I don't really understand how there are so few scoreposts for Viepoint on the forums.

    I may have a weak spot for isometric games in general, I just haven't discovered it enough or whatever. But I downright loved Snake Rattle 'n Roll on the NES once I got used to the shifted controls.

    Sorry for the same question again... ;)
    How are Viewpoint's Mega Drive and Playstation ports? From a wild guess I think the MD wouldn't be my first choice, I'll probably rather play it in MAME. A Neo Geo is out of the question thus far.

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  8. @ 'toad Same question? I haven't done it yet, but I do want to tackle the other ports of Viewpoint some time in the future. They're all a bit downgraded, but from what I've seen so far they're at least decent in gameplay. People shit on the PS1 port because it adds a few changes, but i'm no purist on this subject at all.
    If you want the best experience I suggest you go for MAME, it's exactly like the Neo Geo. Or is it the other way around? Don't really know... :)
    By the way, I just checked and saw that Snake Rattle 'n Roll is from Rare. Besides Battletoads and Solar Jetman, they also did the isometric "boat shmup" Cobra Command on the NES. Have you seen it?

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  9. * oops, I meant to say Cobra Triangle, not Cobra Command! :S

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  10. No I haven't heard of it before... looks interesting. The level with the logs and whirls seems like a straight rip-off from the surf stage in Battletoads. xD
    Or the other way around? Anyway, I'll give it a try, thanks for the hint.

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