Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu Ver 1.5 (Xbox 360)

Checkpoints OFF
4 Difficulty levels
5 Stages (loopabe)
Ship speed fixed, selectable at start
- - - - - - -
Developed by Cave
Published by Cave in 2010

Fifth chapter of the series that in time came to be synonym with developer Cave and the term "bullet hell", Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu Ver 1.5 is the direct sequel to Dodonpachi Daioujou. The Ver 1.5 exists because the initial 1.0 release of the game contained major issues and was soon revised and replaced everywhere, becoming pretty much abandoned and forgotten afterwards. Released for the Japanese Xbox 360 under its original title, Ver 1.5 also came out for the console in Europe and later for the Nintendo Switch and the Steam PC platform under the name Dodonpachi Resurrection.    

Dearly referred to by shmup fans as DFK, Daifukkatsu is a shmup that successfully adds alements that help alleviate the hardcore aspect that the series had until then, a perception that went through the roof with Dodonpachi Daioujou, also known as DOJ. And I'm not talking about the addition of new game modes such as Novice, a special version targeted at beginners. The bottom line is that the arcade version is a lot more friendly to regular players, yet it brings completely new and fresh nuances for hardcore shmuppers who play for the highest scores possible. So it's not just a matter of heightened spectacle, as one can quickly derive from the graphical differences of DFK when compared to DOJ.

No matter how you see it, playing a game like this to the fullest requires a lot of knowledge simply because there are lots of intricate details beyond the most basic rules of gameplay. The starting point for all game modes are the inputs (fully configurable), which consist of shot (hold for laser), rapid shot, bomb and hyper activation. Yes, now hyper activation isn't accomplished with the bomb button, a detail that was always kinda weird in DOJ. Once activated, hyper massively enhances the ship's firepower for a determined amount of time. Different from the hyper trailing accumulation seen in DOJ, in DFK there is only one single hyper gauge, which is filled up by killing enemies normally and hitting them with the laser, an effect that happens faster if you do it at the top of the screen or at point blank distance (by adding the laser aura). Another interesting twist of DFK is that all ships start fully powered-up, so the only items relased by carriers are extra bombs.

In Xbox 360 mode (arcade) there are two decisions to be made when starting a credit. The first one is the ship, which follows the standard of previous games in the series of type A (red, narrow shot, fastest movement speed), B (green, medium-range bending shot, average speed) and C (blue, wide shot, slowest speed). The second decision is the play style, a choice that affects gameplay in several different ways:
  • Bomb style: moderate shot and laser power with an initial stock of 3 bombs (always increased by 1 on death) with auto-bomb function (bombs are triggered automatically when the ship gets hit).
  • Power style: there's no bomb stock, but the bomb button activates two different attack modes, Normal and Boost. Normal (default) has less power and increased movement speed, whereas Boost has double the firepower with a larger laser and lowered movement speed.
  • Strong style: combines the most important aspects of Bomb and Power styles, with regular bombs just like in Bomb style and firepower close to that of Boost mode in Power style.
Strong style is pretty much a beefed up and slightly harder version of Bomb style, and was actually introduced in the arcade revision for Ver 1.5. It had to be unlocked to become playable in the original arcade board, but as far as I know it's available by default in all home ports.

A sneak peek of Power and Bomb styles
(courtesy of YouTube user njiska)

As always, using the laser reduces the speed of the ship, but speed perception is a lot more diverse in Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu due to the several combinations of ships and play styles. The addition of auto-bombs is the main reason why DFK is considered the first beginner-friendly chapter of the franchise, simply because it completely eliminates the pressure of losing a precious life while carrying a full bomb stock, allowing players to limp through the first loop (at least) with much less effort. However, the duration of the auto-bomb is much shorter than the regular deployment of a bomb, as is its destructive effect. In addition to that, due to its ability to cancel enemy bullets another good resource for survival is the hyper shot, which can always be saved for the hardest parts of any level. It's also possible to cancel bullets by destroying some of the larger enemies, so take that into consideration when devising a survival strategy.

On the other side of the gameplay spectrum, scoring has also been shaken quite a bit from DOJ. You still need to kill enemies in succession to sustain a combo that's shown in big bold numbers on the upper half of the screen (the chain is lost if you fail to keep it going, bomb or die). This time around the combo isn't directly multiplied by the enemy's base value though. The basic rule is that the multiplier levels are now applied according to combo intervals. For example, you don't get anything for the first 499 hits, and between 500 and 999 hits the multiplier is ×2. Then for each 2.000 hits more the multiplier increases by 1, between 7.000 and 9.999 it reaches ×6 and beyond 10.000 it maxes out at ×7. However, the multiplier is only in effect as long as you have a full hyper gauge. Whenever you're hypering or if the gauge is not full the multiplier isn't applied at all.

As a result, the secret for really high scores in Daifukkatsu is to use hypers to send the hit count through the roof, then refilling the hyper gauge and holding on from hypering while you surf the rest of the level sustaining the chain for big points. There are other intricacies involved in the use of hypers, such as a nice invincibility window upon activation and deactivation (important!), rank increase in five steps with each successive hyper use, the resetting of this rank at every new level, the ability to carry over hyper to bosses and between levels and the generation of random "danger lasers", among other minor details. In my opinion, the whole mechanic built around this new form of hyper was a brilliant move by Cave since it truly keeps the scoring system engaging for the most hardcore players. It's also an extremely valid, if only a bit cruel, compensation for the abundance of survival aids and the tamer challenge curve when compared to direct predecessor Dodonpachi Daioujou. Still on the subject of scoring, it should be noted that in DFK the "maximum" score progression for surplus bombs is still present, but the end-of-stage bonuses are negligible.

Elemental dolls waiting for some heavy bullet hell action
Looping Daifukkatsu can be achieved in two separate paths, Omote and Ura. Omote (sometimes referred as Tsuujou, which means "regular") is the most simple and requires players to collect at least 35 bee items or use at most 2 bombs. Bees are uncovered by lasering their locations and appear in two colors that alternate between each other: green (refills approximately 1/3 of the hyper gauge) and yellow (gives you points). There are normally 7 bees in each level, which would then require players to collect all of them during the first loop. However, you can enter the Ura route in the first stage of the first loop, a path that has has 9 bees per level and allows players to get all 35 bees by stage 4. The recipe to get into the Ura route is simple: before you reach the mid-boss, destroy 3 of the big silos yourself (before the big tanks do), but when destroying the 3rd silo you must have a full hyper gauge. If successful, you'll see the warp and the appearance of a new midboss, as well as slightly different stage progressions in each subsequent level. You'll be kicked out of the Ura route if you fail to either collect all bee items in the stage without dying or die/bomb during the fight against the midboss. All midbosses in the Ura route are new takes on the bosses from Dodonpachi.

The requirements to enter the Ura second loop are of course much harder than those for the Omote second loop. To activate the Ura loop you need to collect all 45 bee items (which requires playing all stages in the Ura route) and have used at most 2 bombs and died once. Since you don't have bombs in Power style, this is the only style choice for which the death condition is relevant. Only in the Ura loop you'll be able to fight the two extra final bosses.

Speaking of Power style, one of the first things I asked myself when I started playing is why anyone would choose to play it over two other alternatives that come with autobombing. The answer came much later, when I had a little more understanding of the game. Up front, this is a style that's more suitable to experienced players. Hyper behaves a little differently here: overall the gauge fills up faster, and the act of erasing bullets with the hyper shot contributes to that (only laser fills up the gauge in Bomb/Strong style). Boost mode has a higher bullet erasing power than other styles, but there's a little catch. For some strange reason, when starting a chain hyper shot in Normal mode gives way more hits than when in Boost mode. Since you can't have bombs, by picking up a bomb item you're then entitled to a single use of an auto-bomb.

Due to the rugged nature of the laser, visually Power Style is reminiscent of the shot type selection seen in previous chapters. By the way, Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu is very pleasing to the eye, with the customary Cave intensity and a plethora of air and ground gold tokens to be absorbed as you wreak havoc amidst bullets and enemies. The reasoning behind bosses morphing back and forth from mechanical beasts to huge robot girls can be traced back to the game's story, which isn't actually fleshed out in any way besides the loop endings. In short, it's more of the same shallow sci-fi mumbo jumbo. As for the music, it's nice but probably too upbeat for the aggression levels you need to endure later on, and definitely falls short when compared with the soundtrack for DOJ, for example.

Arrange mode A (ver L) of Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu Ver. 1.5

My strategy to enter the loop in the arcade game (Xbox 360 mode) was pretty simple: get into the Ura loop in the first level and collect all bees in the first four stages. Memorizing their locations was obviously the primary objetive. Another aim for me was to reach 10 billion points for the second extend, which is obviously easier said than done. The key point for that is stage 2, since you'll certainly reach that goal if you bridge the midboss, exploit his lasers for big hits, refill the hyper gauge and keep the chain going during the second half of the level. Just like all other enemy lasers in the game, repelling the lasers from the midboss is accomplished by lasering. Just tapping the laser usually does the trick when under heavy enemy fire, but it certainly takes some practice to get the rhythm right. The other extra lives are obtained by scoring 1 billion points and by taking the 1UP uncovered when you destroy one of the huge central turrets after the stage 3 midboss without bombing.

The interface in the Japanese release of Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu Ver. 1.5 for the Xbox 360 is completely in English, so finding your way through resources such as Training, Replay Data and a nice assortment of configurations in the Options is pretty easy. Japanese is only reserved for in-game dialogue and windows. Replays are only saved if you don't restart any level, even the first, but pausing is permitted though. Besides the Xbox 360 (arcade) mode, the port also includes a Novice mode, Arrange A (plays a little like DOJ with trailing hyper medals) and Arrange B (stage-based score attacks with weird mechanics and a striking visual makeover). A version 1.51 was available exclusively in the first-press editions via a DLC code (besides a few gameplay tweaks, it has only one loop with both TLBs waiting in the end). The Xbox 360 limited edition also includes the original soundtrack in a separate disc.

Venturing into the more intricate details about the gameplay does require a lot more time with it. That's not my case though. I didn't even try to find a reliable route through those dreadful laser wheels of the final stage, always burning up a lot of bombs instead... Nevertheless I was able to consistently loop Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu / Resurrection, which says a lot about how approachable this game actually is for us mere mortals. Doing the same in Daioujou, for example, was only possible in an extremely, outrageously good day. B-Strong was my choice for ship/style and as usual I played in full defauls (difficulty 2), reaching stage 2-2 in my best result.

Next in line in the series is Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu Black Label, which is the ultimate arrange mode for DFK and received a separate retail release for the Xbox 360.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

600 1CCed shmups!

Time to break the blog flow once again to quickly talk about the milestone of 600 shmups beaten in a single credit and, as a bonus, dabble about the state of affairs in my neck of the woods.

This last hundred took me almost 4 years, which means things have slowed down to an average of two shmups a month, sometimes more and occasionally less. At least I haven't failed a single month and was always able to write about at least one game, which is a good number during those hectic months where work and real life decide to unite and give us a hard time.

Speaking of which, real life has brought about a new aspect that's kinda bugging me as of late. I don't know if all readers are aware of this, but I own every single game I play and write about in physical form (bar the digital-only of course). I have always thought of myself as a player above all and secondly a collector, but unfortunately the collecting part has taken a hit in the latest months thanks to the inexplicable policy adopted by Brazilian customs, which is a complete mess of an organization and has always worked with no standards whatsoever. This lack of standards has worsened as of late, to the point of denying entry to the country of many of my recent purchases and is making importing impossible.

Before anyone throws out the question, it's important to mention that the blockade to imports is a real lottery. I have friends who are getting their packages normally, the same packages that have bounced back for me. "Bounce back" is a soft way to put it though, since there's no guarantee the packages will go back to their origin or just get lost in thin air, which has also happened in the past but very, very scarcely.

If this keeps going on I'll seriously contemplate abandoning collecting. I'm pushing 48 this year, perhaps it's the way the universe found to not so politely tell me "hey, bud, how about moving on and focusing on other ventures?".

In the meantime, shmupping continues. 

Top 5 hardest 1CCs in the last hundred, in no particular order:

Honorable mentions are Dodonpachi Daioujou Black Label Extra on the XBox 360, which in my opinion is just as hard as White Label, and gravity arena Terra Lander on the Playstation 4, a game with a couple of insanely tricky levels.

Top 5 easiest 1CCs in the last hundred, in no particular order:

Honorable mentions in the easy category are 1942 on the NES, Twinkle Star Sprites - La Petite Princesse on the Playstation 2 and Red Death on the Playstation 4.

There was one shmup I could not beat during this last cycle: Iro Hero for the PS4. Not because I was incompetent, but because there's a bug that makes the last boss invincible and doesn't allow you to complete the game. I contacted Red Art Games (retail publisher), eastasiasoft (publisher) and Artax Games (developer) a few times already, but they all disagree about which company is supposed to come up with a patch. A few other shmup enthusiasts have also tried, unfortunately to no avail. I even got to the point of reaching out to Sony, but as expected they don't give a s#%t about it either.

Total number of console shmups beaten by system:

Total number of console shmups beaten by genre:

During the last hundred blog entries, at 19 posts the NES beat both the Playstation 2 and the Playstation 4 by one game only. It's just normal to see the NES getting ahead as the most played console due to its extensive library, but my feeling is that it's just a matter of time for one of the Sony systems to take the lead. As for the Mega Drive, there are only a few shmups left for 1CC attempts. Which one should I target next, I wonder?

No love was given to the Sega 32X (understandable), the FM Towns (impossible, my Towns is dead) and the Neo Geo (inexcusable). It is my intention to play Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 and another Neo Geo shmup soon, I just haven't decided which one yet.

Other prospects for the future include moving on to a few old acquaintances I've yet to actually try to beat, such as Battle Garegga, Border Down and R-Type Final. You can never take for granted any available time you get to play, and a classic example of this is how a week at home ~ on vacation ~ helped me practice and quickly get the loop on Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu Ver 1.5, which had been on my radar for months but remained pretty much untouched until the last couple of weeks.

And I didn't forget the requests received many years ago, such as Kingdom Grandprix. It seems however that my dream of having Mahou Daisakusen / Sorcer Striker released in physical form won't come true any time soon. I probably won't get through the series in order, at least not the way i'd like to.

As always, thank you all for keeping up with me and my shmup rants notes. Hopefully some of you might still be here if by any chance I'm able to make to 700 hundred 1CCs!


PS. It just seems I won't escape the fate of owning a Nintendo Switch. Pokémon has become quite a big thing at home as of late, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Akinofa (Playstation 4)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
3 Stages (loopabe)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Pixel Lantern
Published by Red Art Games in 2022

The love for pixels goes way back in the history of home computers and, of course, video games. Even today in the era of ultra advanced high resolution graphic techniques people still resource to pixels in order to establish mood, ambiance or a simple connection to the style of old. German developer Pixel Lantern is of course aware of that, as we can see from what they were able to visually accomplish in Akinofa, a horizontal shooter that's completely built around pixels. In concept it's a very weird one too, an aspect that's certainly bound to draw some attention, at least when you first read about it.

Akinofa is a "mysterious undead fish of green flames". It doesn't swim, instead it flies in a mix of gothic and medieval settings populated by tiny creatures and fiendish ghouls. Normally it shoots green projectiles (button × or R1) but after a while it acquires the ability to fire special shots with limited ammo (button □ or L1). When in need and provided you have bombs in stock, the undead fish can summon a bigger version of itself that cruises the screen damaging enemies along the way and making you invincible (button ○ or R2).

Meet the boss of the forest world
Unfortunately this is another example of a game that requires grinding, at least until you've maxed out all upgrades by purchasing them with the gold collected during regular play. I actually tried to advance without upgrading anything once I saw you could rely on three random items that appear at the end of every section. Sadly they only allow you to obtain special shots (double, triple and 3-way spread), ammo refills, health points (hearts) and bombs (lightning bolts). You can't increase life and bomb stock, the ammo gauge, the firing rate or improve damage capabilities during the game itself, and while it is theoretically possible to finish Akinofa without these enhancements it would probably take ages to get through an extremely boring and frustrating ordeal.

Akinofa is comprised of three worlds, each one with five sections where you fight a boss in the last one. The first world takes place inside a decrepit castle, the second one is a magical forest and the last world is a medieval fortress. As I mentioned above, in the end of each regular section except the boss fight you can purchase up to three random items, in what's the only aspect that's remotely related to a roguelite nature. Stages unfold in the very same way every time at one single lethargic pace, which at least makes memorization easier. A tiny counter in the lower left keeps track of how many enemies are left in the section, and if you manage to kill them all you collect a "perfect" bonus of 1.000 points.

A single orb that appears in the first world might either release a heart or coins, but this orb is completely absent from the second and third worlds. This means that after the first world you can only recover health if the game allows it at the end of every section. Preserving health is the most important strategy to survive some of the enemy traps later on, and by then you'll certainly be accustomed to the slight inertia applied to the character's movement. That's the main reason why touching walls is often the major cause of health loss and deaths. There are no continues and you'll need to start from scratch if the game is over, even though there's a "try again" option together with "main menu".

Launch trailer for Akinofa on the Playstation 4
(courtesy of YouTube user and publisher RED ART GAMES)
If you accept what Akinofa has to offer, which is mild shooting action with little variety, somewhat grating music and no real rewards in the end, the first upgrade you need to get is "gold", which increases the chance of enemies dropping gold coins. Then it's just a matter of replaying the game over and over, collecting gold, upgrading your arsenal and learning how the gameplay works in the process. Eventually you'll get strong enough to not die by being sorely underpowered. On the other hand, bosses are wimps which can be obliterated in no time by bomb spamming. Once the boss of the third world goes down the game loops with little fanfare and more resilient enemies (new game+ begins now!).

There's nothing basically wrong with Akinofa's gameplay, it's just devoid of any real excitement. However, amidst the snoozy action and the naïve stage design there might be a few thrills in trying to get those 100% kills for the perfect bonus. Chests and vases don't contribute to this percentage so you can skip them, just note that chests will always have only gold coins whereas vases might also give you an ammo refill or an extra bomb. In any case, once all upgrades have been maxed out gold ceases to be important because you'll always have enough of it to get the in-game special weapons and recovery items. Excess gold doesn't even count for any extra points once the game loops, which is a shame. 

Once I looped the game I met my demise somewhere in the first world, pretty much out of boredom. At the time of this writing the result below was enough to put me in 7th place in the online leaderboards. There are no local score tables and no difficulty settings whatsoever, the only tweaks available are audio balancing and vibration.