Monday, December 5, 2011

Recca (NES)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
4 Stages
Ship speed selectable
- - - - - - -
Developed by naxat soft
Published by naxat soft in 1992

Recca, one of the holy grails of any Famicom collection, sure has an intimidating fame. Not only is it regarded as one of the rarest titles ever released for Nintendo’s 8-bit console in Japan, but it’s also widely revered as the best shmup in the system. It's an extremely expensive vintage item, and in a world where emulation works in a flawless manner the joy of inserting that charming cartridge into an NES machine is mostly restricted to "crazy" people willing to spend a lot of money to get the real deal. I could surely feel the anticipation as I played it for the first time. That’s the moment when hype takes its toll on people, and in the case of Recca I have to confess I expected more.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a great shmup, with deep gameplay mechanics and a healthy array of extras to boot. It’s well known for pushing the hardware to the limit and for being the first game programmed by a guy named Shinobu Yagawa, who would make a stellar career in later titles such as Battle Garegga and Ibara. Recca is also considered by some people as the grandfather of bullet hell due to its frantic pace and high bullet count at times. I don’t agree with that, simply because all heavier bullet curtains can be blocked by a shield device that exempts the player from the need to dodge. Sure Recca is intense and fast, but this isn’t an exclusive trait - many other NES shmups, such as Zanac, are equally as rich and frantic.

What Recca has going for its strong reputation is a combination of three winning factors: challenge, bosses and music. We’re talking about a tough little shooter here, which while not reaching extreme difficulty levels still demands some time to be learned, beaten and eventually mastered (not talking about the arrange modes yet). There’s a great number of boss encounters of all shapes and sizes, and they help alleviate the asymmetrical structure of the stages. As for the music, it’s definitely one of the greatest collection of 8-bit shmup tunes I have ever heard, with dramatic, epic and even electronic undertones. No wonder the official CD soundtrack fetches high prices every time it shows up in online auctions.

A final boss to end all things

The most basic gameplay aspects to worry about are the power-ups. Once a certain amount of enemies is killed an item will appear. The blue one with a letter upgrades the main weapon, cycling in the following order: V (vulcan) → L (laser) → B (forward beam) → F (forwards/backwards, Star Soldier-type) → H (homing). The red item with a letter activates/upgrades a side pod, cycling in the following order: F (forward, slightly angled out) → B (back) → C (counter) → R (rotate) → S (search). With the main weapon (button B) it takes three of the same items to reach maximum power, and every surplus power-up is worth 10.000 points. Auxiliary pods (button A) fire a single smaller shot with less destructive power, and you also get 10.000 points for each extra power-up of the currently activated type. As for the blue items with no letters (medals that look like little eggs with wings), don’t let any of them go by and they’ll eventually be worth 2.000 points, starting with 50. Extra lives appear every once in a while, but you can't have more than 7 in reserve.

Ship speed can be selected between four available settings through the SELECT button. The slow first setting is a must against the first stage boss, but other than that the whole game should be managed in setting 2 or higher. The last and most important gameplay feature is the charged bomb: whenever you stop shooting an energy bubble will appear and grow in front of the ship, and as soon as the bomb meter is full just fire the main weapon to trigger the bomb. Bombing is the bane of all strategies in Recca, be it for survival or scoring. On the survival side, it blocks/absorbs all incoming bullets (a defense feature also provided by the auxiliary pods). On the scoring side, each absorbed bullet is worth 100 points, and every time a bomb remains charged you get 5 points per frame (1 point per frame while charging).

In a game where enemies will sweep by sometimes at blazing fast speeds, choosing the best weapons represents half the chance of surviving. My weapon of choice was the laser (L) because when maxed out it will home on anything ahead of the ship with great destructive power (excellent to take out those fast laser turrets in stage 3). F is also very useful, in fact it's the best weapon to upgrade first because of its coverage. The only really useful auxiliary pod is the search (S), since it will point and fire automatically at any on screen danger, and easily replaces the main weapon when the screen is not full of enemies. Besides all these resources, memorizing and getting used to enemy patterns is the only way to perform well, no need to worry about rank progression because there isn't any. Brute force works wonders, as well as anticipating the nastier sections with a charged bomb ready to detonate.

A credit in the normal game mode
(courtesy of YouTube user jinjinnim)

There are times when the scrolling speed is so fast that it's a bit taxing to keep up with what's going on. It's a neat dynamic effect that otherwise disguises the poor and overall generic graphics. The waving effect applied to the background from time to time is nice, but the first and fourth stages are basically comprised of cannon fodder and bosses against a dark star-filled or a static waving background. The HUD disappears completely during boss fights, obviously to allow for an optimal sprite manipulation, but it sucks not to know your speed setting or how many lives you have left.

Since Recca is such a busy game it's natural to have slowdown as well as flicker, though the latter is much more pronounced. There are no continues and the four stages in the main game take roughly 20 minutes to complete, but since there's no timeout on bosses it's possible to milk some of them for more points, as long as the whole run does not exceed 1 hour (remember that pausing the game doesn't pause the counter). Once beaten, resetting the game will set the main screen on fire and activate a harder arrange mode in the normal game selection. Comprised of seven stages with an outrageous increase in difficulty, this is where the NES gets really pushed beyond its limits, so prepare for a barrage of enemies and even heavier flicker. Though in the regular game it isn't so easy, in the arrange mode it's pretty much impossible not to reach the 9.999.999 counterstop value.

The extra modes are the main reason why the game's full name is Summer Carnival '92 - Recca. It was released in very small quantities as a competition cartridge which also includes some additional game modes: Time Attack (maximum score in 2 minutes), Score Attack (shortest time to achieve 1 million points) and Zanki Attack, a hidden mode accessed by a trick where the normal game is started with 50 lives and every killed enemy releases 4 or more suicide bullets at random directions. Zanki is pure craziness and feels totally unfair, but it's lots of fun just like the main game itself.

I clocked a little below half an hour when getting the following high score in the main game:


  1. The holy grail of Nes Shmups? Perhaps even NES games period! Congrats on the 1CC and having a copy. Think I only know of yourself and one other who own it.

  2. I discovered this one by accident when I did my Top Five NES Shmups post a while back. Suffice to say, it made the number one spot! :P

  3. Wow master Kollision! Congratulations for beat this master piece from Nes!