Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Void Gore (Playstation 4)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
1 Stage (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Panda Indie Studio / eastasiasoft
Published by Red Art Games in 2021

Void Gore is a game I've had on my shelf for a while, one that I toyed with every now and then in between the long spells of my daughter building houses and castles in Minecraft. One of the the early cheap physical releases for the Playstation 4, the game is as straightforward and simple as it gets, with an extremely humble interface that goes hand in hand with the minimalistic gameplay for a mindless shooting experience that shouldn't surprise anyone, let alone those who're fond of ultra realistic graphics.

As part of the secondary branch of shmups developed by Panda Indie Studio, Void Gore is a no-frills romp with a limited gallery of enemies. Sure it has similarities with the Project Starship series, but while Null Drifter and Red Death suffer from excessively primitive or contrived design, Void Gore hides a surprisingly engaging apex once you've maxed out the in-game collectibles. For a while I thought of it as an endless game, which it actually is at its core, but after some time I realized it can be considered a loopable little diversion. At the end of the day this might be a stretch, although a justifiable one for a couple of reasons.

The interface here is designed as a rudimentary directory structure. From the upper level you can access the game, the online leaderboard, general options for controller vibration and audio/video tweaks, including the selection of up to 8 fixed backgrounds (if you have unlocked them). After you start the game and have a Game Over, two new directories open up: Store and Restart. In Store you're then able to purchase upgrades with the coins collected during the game, which stack up as you play successive credits and fail. Yes, fail. That's what will inevitably happen simply because the ship starts out in an unbelievably slow and underpowered condition.

Release trailer for the retail version of Void Gore on the Playstation 4
(courtesy of YouTube user and publisher RED ART GAMES)
Basic controls work with shot (×) and a "clear attack" (□ or ○). By holding shot the speed of the ship is reduced, and by activating the clear attack button all bullets inside the radius displayed around the ship are nullified. The clear radius is regenerated automatically and at its maximum size starts blinking red, which means that all enemies caught inside the next clear attack will also be destroyed. Every enemy killed fills up a bar in the upper corner of the screen, and if the next enemy is killed before this bar gets empty the score multiplier is increased up to ×8. It's basically the same mechanics of the Dodonpachi series, albeit much less strict and only possible to be sustained within each wave. As for the generated coins, they're all sucked into the ship automatically.

With an enemy spawning routine that's completely random, every credit plays out slightly different. Since the enemy gallery is rather small, there shouldn't be much trouble once you get used to them. It all comes down to drones, eyes, mouths and mangled structures that look like brains, sometimes in multiple arrangements connected by nerves/veins. What varies when waves progress is the amount and the size of the bullets they fire, as well as the items left behind also in a random fashion. The item list includes upgrades for fire rate (R), bullets (B), damage (D), clear area (A), clear speed (S), missiles (M) and HP/life (H).

Upgrades in the Store section include several ship and firepower enchancements such as extra HP, more speed and more bullets fired, as well as higher firing rates and damage levels. Missiles can be activated and upgraded in the same fashion, and you can also get double coins and larger/faster recovery for the clear attack radius. Unlike the improvements you get from in-game items the upgrades from the Store are permanent, giving you a much needed head start in your next credits. It takes a while to max out all these upgrades though, but once you've done it – or you're close to doing it – Void Gore suddenly starts to become... fun.

Hell freezing over in a hellish ravine

Every single enemy attack is preceded by swift visual hints, so nothing feels cheap at all despite the random enemy spawning routines. That's probably the main reason why Void Gore is able to make the most out of its meager assets. And then there's the non-stop action once you're a few waves into the game, especially once you have to start using the clear attack defensively against those skulls that quickly flood the screen with bullets. It kinda requires players to be "in the zone" to advance further than wave 20, and all it takes to deplete your complete health stock is a few seconds of distraction. Speaking of which, the maximum number of hearts you can keep is 9. On the other hand, an interesting bonus for being down to your last life is that the maximum multiplier gets bumped up from ×8 to ×12. 

One final and important note about Void Gore is related to an option from the "On next match" submenu, the same one where you purchase double coins. If you spend $500 on $@†4n LVL 10 you'll face the game's boss at wave 10 in your next credit. This boss is actually the fiendish creature from the box art. It only appears in wave 10 and the right to fight him must be purchased every time before a new credit is started (I don't think I've ever seen this in any shmup). Of course you can play a credit without "purchasing" the boss, but then you'd be losing out on a set of five extra items given out when he bites the dust.

Regardless of the unexpectedly engaging nature of the gameplay when all upgrades are active, the method of powering up the ship with cumulated coins is of course a cheap cop-out for the game's lack of substance. Enforcing mandatory restraints disguised as upgrades just to fake the impression of having more meat on the bone is a strategy that sounds absolutely dumb particularly in a shmup, for lack of a better expression. Once all upgrades are maxed out coins are useless, and even become a visual distraction when the screen starts to get really busy.

At any rate, I did enjoy my time when blasting through Void Gore. In the high score below I reached wave 36, which corresponds to the 4th loop if we consider the boss wave to be the final one in the first loop (10 waves per loop). A weird bug makes the high score below appear slightly lower when it gets uploaded to the online leaderboard.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Terra Cresta (NES)

Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
1 Stage (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Nichibutsu
Published by Vic Tokai in 1990

Most well known port of the arcade game, the Japanese Famicom version of Terra Cresta came out very soon after the debut of the original in 1986, whereas the NES version came out in early 1990. Even though this long interval between ports might have hurt the reach of the game in the West, my impression as an old gamer arriving quite late to the party is that it's still well regarded among most NES fans I happen to know. That's just another testament to the huge appreciation the platform had in its heyday and still has to this day, I'm quite sure.

What I do know is that the spaceship dogfight of the century, as indicated by the game's box art, is actually quite faithful to its arcade roots, retaining everything about the original gameplay whilst obviously simplifying the assets and the challenge around 8-bit restraints. It still looks simplistic in the grand scheme of things, yet it certainly feels like the arcade game at home – a worthy development over the primitive experience of Moon Cresta and a very welcome evolution to the graphical style first presented in Xevious.

Wave formation attack against giant desert lizards
At the center of Terra Cresta's gameplay is the gimmick of collecting extra parts of the spaceship and enhancing its firepower with them, as well as deploying these parts in specific formations in order to have a greater edge against the enemies that have taken over the planet. The barren and desolate grounds are also filled with weird creatures and all sorts of turrets, from the type you can see from afar to those that will only emerge when you're too close to them, sometimes also protected by solid obstacles. If you see numbers close to larger hatches you'll know that hitting all of them will release extra ship parts. With each extra part collected the ship gets bigger but is also upgraded with extra resources such as more powerful frontal shots, a rear shot and a rear shield that damages enemies on contact.

Firing is accomplished by pressing button B in the controller. Button A is reserved for the activation of the formation attack, provided you have it in stock. This is indicated by the F icons displayed in the lower part of the screen, which appear whenever a ship part is collected. The number of parts you have affects the firing pattern of the formation attack: two ship parts result in a dual formation that fires a wave-like arch, three ship parts generate a triangle that heavily increases your firing coverage, a four ship formation is similar but adds orbs that move forward in a circular motion, and the attack for five ship parts looks like the one for three ships only slightly more powerful. Finally, if you manage to get all parts without dying the ship will turn into an invincible phoenix for the duration of a formation attack.

Most of the danger in Terra Cresta comes from enemies appearing from behind. It can also be troublesome to recover from some checkpoints if you need to face bosses with no upgrades at all. Occasional slowdown and flicker happens if the screen gets filled with enemies, most notably those waves with lots of drones that come into the screen in a circular motion. Getting hit can either kill you instantly or destroy parts of your ship, a move that's necessary if you'd like to get the phoenix again. After all, once all ship parts are taken the numbered hatches stop showing up. Formation attacks are certainly more useful against bosses, but remember that whenever a new ship part is taken you get a full stock of three Fs to use. Therefore you don't need to be stingy with formation attacks if you see a new ship part coming up for grabs.

Transforming for great justice!
(courtesy of YouTube user The VideoGames Museum)

Since Terra Cresta is actually a continuous stroll with no interruptions whatsoever, I consider it a one-loop game where the loop checkpoint is the third and largest boss, a huge mecha that fires slow-moving fists that overlap with regular bullets. There are two other bosses that appear prior to that, but they're smaller and in general less demanding. All of them time out and leave the screen if the fight drags for too long. Each loop takes roughly ten minutes to be completed if you don't die too much, and after a few times playing Terra Cresta it becomes clear that the terrain tends to repeat itself in predictable arrangements. Even though the point of entry of most aerial enemies is still random and an increase in difficulty is expected in further loops, it's hard not to be bothered by the repetitive nature of the game design.

The first extend is given when you score 30.000 points, and for each 50.000 points afterwards you get another extra life (you'll hear a distinct sound cue when it happens). A weird detail is that you can only see your life stock right at the start of the game of after dying. And while a graphic compromise had to be made for the larger bosses, which appear in black screens instead of the normal terrain, the phoenix form of the ship comes with a short music snippet that plays only in this version. The most interesting feature of the NES port, however, is the ability to alter formation patterns in the "Design" options both in terms of ship part location and shot direction. I never bothered to tinker with it.

If I remember correctly, in the high score below I was able to reach the 7th loop using the default formation patterns. I must mention that in order to have at least a decent time with this game a turbo controller is definitely recommended. Terra Cresta has no autofire at all, and trying to play it with no additional help is definitely a no-go. Unless you're a purist or a masochist, of course.