Friday, April 24, 2009

AAA looks at Ultimate Shooting Collection

Ultimate Shooting Collection is a compilation of three 2D vertical shooters by a developer known as Milestone. The three games are Chaos Field, Radilgy, and Karous. All three games have multiple things in common as they feature the ability to cancel bullets via sword, shield, or even weapon fire(all very rare things in a shooter), they're all five stages in length, they're all one-player only, and they share similar scoring systems that tie to limited use abilities that can be frequently chained in order to achieve high scores.

Chaos Field has something to do with the future and mankind needing to be saved again(or so I assume, I never pay attention to storylines in 2D shooters). Like any other shooter you have a selection of three ships each with their own movement speed, weapons, and special abilities. The weapons and speed are self-explanatory as they are suited to the individual playstyles of the gamer. The special abilities on the other hand are a trickier matter as they represent the bulk of the scoring system. Though these abilities vary depending on the ship they generally consist of a special that targets multiple points on an enemy and another that is directed entirely towards canceling bullets. Doing either of these things raises a combo meter while destroying objects drops items that add more stocks to special abilities.

One of the more unique aspects of Chaos Field is the fact that this game is essentially nothing but bossfights. Typically in shooters a stage will consists of a variety of air and ground-based enemies and then ultimately culminating in a bossfight. Shooters that are nothing but boss battles are extremely rare(the only one that comes to mind at the moment is the freeware game Warning Forever, which you should check out if you haven't already). So instead of the typical level design found in other shooters this game is broken up into a couple of minor bosses followed by the real boss of the level. All encounters are timed and as expected killing bosses faster equates to more bonus points, though you may find more success in creating as high of a combo chain as possible before destroying the boss for potentially even more points.

Also unique to Chaos Field is...well..the Chaos Field. By tapping the L button on your Classic Controller(you do have one right? I wouldn't even touch this game without it) you can enter a different field of play where your weapons are more powerful but your enemies fire more bullets and even ones that can't be canceled by your special weapons. It's pretty easy to figure out from here that there's more risk and also more reward. Overall this game is fairly simple to figure out.

I don't like it though. First off I'm not very fond of the boss battle shooters in general. This is partly because bosses in 2D shooters are always my weakness but mostly due to that it doesn't really work for this game. The bosses are broken up into multiple parts and if you pretend you can imagine them as regular enemies flying in(as with all of the bullets flying around you're more likely to focus on your ship and a few feet around you at times anyway) Also this game does a rather lousy job of getting the player into the game. After going through the basic ingame tutorial(standard for the arcade shooter genre) you're thrown into your first encounter without any time to really figure it out. It doesn't help matters that all three ships are really ugly and clunky looking, which aside from aesthetic issues also makes determining where your hitbox is and how to avoid taking a bullet in it a frustrating endeavor. 

Most inexcusable however(and this is actually a flaw in the collection itself) is that apparently high scores in Chaos Field aren't saved. Now I can't say I'll ever put out a score worthy of remembering but it's always good to know where I stand but if all I have to look at everytime I start the game up is the default scores why even bother?

All in all I'm just not feeling it and apparently neither did Milestone because their next two games were designed to be similar to most other shooters.

Radilgy(or Radio Allergy) has something to do with viruses and emails and some girl with glasses, also the world or at least Neo-Tokyo has to be saved(again I skip everything story related cause I couldn't care less). Instead of three ships this time you've got one and you decide your weapon, color & speed, and whether or not you want to recieve emails from other characters(which doesn't affect the gameplay). The game is designed like any other traditional shooter. You go through the stage fighting a combination of air and ground-based enemies, some larger and with more firepower than others, contend with a boss at the end and so on and until you complete all five stages(or lose all your lives, which is several times more likely). The usual assortment of weapon powerups can be gathered and ground-based enemies leave behind food or other sweet items which are worth points.

This time in order to score well the player must learn how to keep their bars up(which looks exactly like something you'd see on a cellphone). Depending on how many bars you have the points you get for destroying enemies is multiplied by up to 16 times. How do you get bars? Well unlike real life you get more bars from getting as much interference as possible. At the top of the screen is a meter that keeps track of your interference, filling this up fills up the multiplier. Filling up the interference bar is done through catching bullets. When not firing the player gains a small shield in front of them. Every bullet caught in this shield gives a tiny amount of interference(though not all bullets can be caught). Obviously you're going to get a ton of bullets flung at you so there's plenty of scoring potential to be had. This shield can also be used on enemies(you can't be killed by colliding with an enemy ship as you'll just fly through them) and can lead to the interference bar being filled up rather quickly(or at least keep it from draining, since if you're not collecting interference it will go away along with your multiplier)

The other way and the one you'll be using more often is through a special shield that can only be used when another bar at the bottom of the screen is filled up. By hitting the L button a larger shield surrounds the player giving them temporary invincibility but more importantly the chance to gather a very large amount of bullets. This bar can fill up very quickly if you can properly chain certain powerups. These are blue in color typically and it's important to hit them with your sword to keep them on the screen and to eventually turn them into special powerups that fill your bar up instantly. By doing this successfully one could potentially chain their way entirely through the stage canceling everything and racking up 16x bonuses. A particularly nice aspect of this shield is that after it runs out it briefly cancels every bullet on the screen,which is helpful as it gives you a clean way to get out of a sticky situation(though your invincibility runs out almost immediately afterward, leading to many deaths to the careless).

My opinion on Radilgy is that it's pretty decent. It's certainly an improvement over Chaos Field and I find that for the most part it's a smooth ride and unlike the previously talked about Darius Gaiden the bosses go quickly if not easily. The only aspect I really would have done away with is on stages 3 through 5 there's a midboss encounter. These midbosses have more or less the same patterns to them(though they get more difficult depending on the stage) and it's pretty redundant fighting them. Why Milestone didn't do this for only the 5th stage or maybe found some way to mix these encounters up is beyond me. Still though I think Radilgy alone makes this set worthwhile(also highscores in this game are saved).

Finally we have Karous. This game drops the emails but you can still send worms to your enemies and there's something going on about feathers, data encryption, many shades of grey, and nevermind you get the jist of it right? Anyway like Radilgy you have a ship with a sword, a shield, and a main cannon. Unlike Radilgy and Chaos Field however there's only one ship, no selectable colors or speeds, and no other main weapons to choose from.

Scoring in Karous is handled through an experience system. Many shooter fans are familiar with Treasure's Radiant Silvergun and for the most part the same applies to this game. By destroying enemies with your cannon, sword, or shield you gain experience for that particular weapon. The similarities pretty much end here though as while Silvergun has many other factors to consider in Karous it's almost too simple to figure out. As with Radilgy you get a special shield that requires a full bar(which again fills up quickly and almost constantly) and by using it when you destroy enemies you can gain even more experience than by just destroying them without. The combined levels of all three weapons acts as a multiplier for your score(while at the same time making your weapons stronger, tying together both aspects of scoring and survival). Thankfully there are less bars to keep track of in Karous and helpful on-screen indicators keep track of every possibility, leaving you with more attention to what's trying to kill you.

I prefer Karous to Radilgy as the scoring system is a bit simpler and there's less of a delay when switching from the cannon to the shield. Aside from those two minor differences they're pretty much equal in quality.

Overall this collection is worth a look as at least two of three shooters are pretty good and while they don't stand out as some of the best in the genre they're competently designed and are a good fix for 2D shooter fans starving for something else to check out. However more hardcore fans of the genre will be disappointed in the lack of extras for these three games(mainly since previous versions on other systems had extra modes), the issue of Chaos Field scores not saving, and from what I hear the problematic implementation of TATE(though I haven't tried it myself due to not having the TV for it). On the other hand this set can be had for less than $20 which does make it an attractive buy for those not interested in the much more expensive superior versions.  

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