2 Difficulty levels
3 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
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Developed by Capcom
Published by Digital Eclipse in 2005
Another first from another important developer, let's go!
Yes, every company has to start somewhere. I'm not saying that Vulgus was the first game designed by Capcom. It was however their first shmup, and as such deserves at least a bolded footnote in the history of the genre. Many would argue with that, and even more people simply ignore it because it was soon overshadowed by the games that followed. Fortunately Vulgus wasn't (and shouldn't be) forgotten, seeing that it was included in all of those compilations backed up by Capcom ever since the 32-bit generation hit the gaming world.
That said, It's possible to play Vulgus on the Playstation 2 by means of the Capcom Classics Collection. Unfortunately this compilation does not offer any option to play it in TATE, but that isn't that much of a loss if you've got a decently sized TV/monitor. The game's primitive mechanics don't require much as you're invited to attend the coming out party thrown by giant insect mutants from a planet callled... Vulgus. Basically it's just a relentless series of enemy waves attacking the player in random formations throughout three ever-looping ground levels separated by outer space intermissions.
Starting the fun with Vulgus on the Capcom Classics Collection
(courtesy of YouTube user VideoGaming4U)
(courtesy of YouTube user VideoGaming4U)
In the world of Vulgus your tiny round spaceship is equipped with a regular shot and a more powerful and limited attack akin to a cannon, missile or torpedo. It drills straightly forward destroying all minor enemies, only stopping against those bigger bugs that cross the screen from time to time. It's mostly indicated against enemies that appear and enter into line formations after a brief while, kinda like those classic patterns first seen in Galaga. The difference here is that you also have other enemies flying around everywhere, which sometimes makes it difficult or impossible to aim the torpedo and kill complete enemy formations to get more points (the more you kill with a single blow the higher the bonus).
Another visual influence here is Xevious, particularly during the forest planet of the second level thanks to the simliar terrain and the appearance of revolving blocks that become invincible and scroll downwards if you fail to destroy them. The difficulty picks up accordingly from the crater planet of the first stage, quickly peaking as soon as you enter the icy planet in the third stage. Enemy movement patterns get more and more complicated, and since their shots are all directly aimed at the player it soon becomes clear that you absolutely can't stay put. Does this sound familiar? Of course it does, after all this is the same gameplay behavior seen in 1942 and Exed Exes, two spiritual successors in the Capcom shmup timeline.
Vulgus is also where you'll first see some trademark icons in the Capcom shmup lore, such as the Pow item and the yasichi (the colored lollipop). The Pow appears randomly as you defeat enemies, and each one adds an extra cannon/torpedo to your stock. The yasichi, on the other hand, is actually an enemy that approaches the ship and darts into its location. Other items show up in the form of letters D, E and S, which seemingly don't do anything. I don't think they affect enemy behavior to a noticeable extent (decrease quantity, increase number, increase speed) as seen in the hint included in this very same collection. What I noticed is that if you take many of them during the same stage without dying you'll eventually be able to collect a yellow star that's worth 10.000 points.
The loop boss!
An interesting aspect of the gameplay that might not be that intuitive in the beginning is that the quicker you take Pows and letters the quicker they will appear. If you fail or refuse to collect an item it will keep showing up until you take it, and only then the item spawning sequence will be resumed (most frequently it's a random letter for every two Pows). Items don't appear in outer space areas, but whenever they're on screen note that if you move left/right and leave it out of sight it might just disappear, as will some of the enemies.
For a quick burst of shooting action Vulgus is quite a decent diversion, given that it doesn't take too long to be looped. At the end of the 3rd stage a bigger enemy with rotating rocks appears, in what could be considered the loop boss. There are a few odd choices in the rudimentary mechanics, such as the cannon stock being retained even if you die and the routine for extends and extra lives. Extends are normally achieved at 20.000 and 60.000 points, whereas 1UPs come from destroying certain enemies and quickly vanish amidst the mayhem. No worries though because they get duly registered. And whatever your life stock is, the maximum amount shown in the life indicator is 4.
My final verdict on this game is simple. If you fancy the style of 1942 and Exed Exes but can't cope with their excruciatingly long campaigns and difficulty, which is my case, then Vulgus is certainly a nice option to try. It's just as relentless, but three stages is all it takes to add it to your 1CC achievement list. Both input buttons can be configured at will in the options screen, as well as rapid fire (a controller with turbo fire will give you better results though). The repetitive music is really the only atrocious aspect players need to endure, but there's a slightly less grating alternative in the Capcom Classic Collection disc. Just go to Options → Game Settings and switch on Sound Remix.
Here's my final result in the Normal difficulty, reaching the icy planet one more time on the second loop.