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[ Writer ] = BAD
[ 07/25/03 ] = Year Of The Shmup

With consistent shooter releases in 2003, many are calling 2003 the "year of the shmup." Having heard this come up often among the shooter crowd as of late, this is one topic that I felt I had to make a few comments on. Is it accurate to say that 2003 will be the "year of the shmup?" Well, I think so, given the fact that by its close 2003 will have seen a good number of much-needed quality shooters that the industry had been lacking. With contribution from Konami, Cave, Treasure, Hudson, Success/Taito, and G.Rev, the genre should have a healthy offering of titles that may spark interest among non-fans. Although unlikely in some aspects, the new technology used to make some of the titles may lure in a couple of non-fans here and there; but then again, it really comes down to what magazines will say about the titles. If consumers can break free from the chains of bad reviews, we might see a few of the shmups in 2003 spark some interest in the hearts of a few. Attraction of newbies set aside, 2003's shooter lineup looks impressive, even with the absence of favorites Takumi and Psikyo. Treasure kicked the year off with the release of the highly-anticipated GameCube Ikaruga, Cave followed up with the monumental consumer release of DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou, and Success knocked our socks off with Shikigami No Shiro II. Not to be left out, what shooter fan can forget the greatness that Cave unleashed upon the shooter crowd with Ketsui? Also among the honors were Border Down (a horizontal shooter that with pretty Naomi graphics that turned its fair share of heads) and Iridion II (a vertical shooter with pretty GBA graphics that also turned a few heads). If 2003 is indeed the "year of the shmup," these titles certainly did build a strong foundation for it...

With two different versions of Ikaruga, three different versions of DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou, Ketsui, Shikigami No Shiro II, and Border Down floating around in early 2003, shooting fans had a good lineup of titles to choose from. In past years, it would have stopped there, wrapping the year up with a handful of shooters, lacking in needed quantity. Not 2003. The year started out well, and it looks like it will continue in the same manner; release dates for new shooters across all hardwares keep coming, and fans are loving every minute of it. First Konami announced Gradius V a while back, then Irem officially released info on R-Type Final, G.Rev decided on a BorderDown consumer release via DreamCast, Hudson decided on bringing Star Soldier to the GameCube, and Success recently announced Psyvariar II for the Naomi hardware, as well as a consumer release of Shikigami No Shiro II for both the GameCube and XBox. Now that is a list of shooter releases! Combined with what had been released earlier in the year, fans of the shooting game genre can do nothing but look forward to 2003.

I'm most excited about the upcoming releases of Gradius V, Shikigami No Shiro II, and Psyvariar II. Gradius V should be a winner, (read my other articles), Shikigami No Shiro II plays and looks very nice, and Psyvariar II looks like it's shaping up nicely. In fact, when I played Shikigami No Shiro II, my first impression was that it played so much better than the entries before it, and my second impression was that Success/Taito really did a good job on the game's visuals. Visually, the game is right up with Giga Wing 2, Ikaruga, and Zero Gunner 2, with beautifully detailed backgrounds and lots of splashy effects and explosions. The characters in SNSII are also nice, and may be able to draw a good number of anime freaks into buying a GC or XBox to play the game. All in all, I am especially happy to see that Success listened to the cries of players and answered by putting SNSII on the GameCube and XBox, but I am ultimately pleased with the fact that the game will be on the GameCube. I hope together with Ikaruga GC and Star Soldier that Shikigami No Shiro II will make the GameCube hardware into the much-deserved shooter-preferred developing tool that it should be. That is what I want to see. Last but not least, Success/Taito has also shown some handsome footage of Psyvariar II as of late, and I have to say...the game looks fucking awesome. Although only through pictures, it can be seen that this game looks just as nice as Shikigami No Shiro II as well as the other aforementioned Naomi-based shooting games. I liked the first entry of the series, and with Psyvariar II, I think I'll like once again; this one puts you in control of a mecha (instead of a ship) up against some pretty mean-looking bosses with some killer bullet patterns. Kick ass. I haven't played it yet, but I am trusting that Success/Taito will make this one every bit as enjoyable as the entries before it. I'm definitely looking forward to trying this one out, but more than anything I hope that it will get a GC consumer release just as Shikigami No Shiro II has. It would be great to see Success continue bringing their shooters to the GameCube; their shooters are more than welcome on it!

2003 also marks the return of the technical shooting fan's savior - R-Type. After numerous XBox rumors and other such misinformation, Irem's R-Type Final made it to a 2003 release. While I am not nearly as excited about R-Type Final as I am about Psyvariar II, Shikigami No Shiro II, or Gradius V, the game looks like it will deliver some quality shooting. With an ass-load of ships to choose from, gobs of weapons, and stage innovations, this could be a seller (if the magazines like it, that is). With R-Type Delta Irem impressed us, and with R-Type Final, I don't think it will be any different; anyone who's watched the game in motion knows how nice the game looks. It looks like Irem has polished the game just as they had with R-Type Delta, so we should expect a frustratingly hard (but fun) shooting experience. If the game carries on everything from its past, it should be a good shooter for those who fancy precision and technical shooting over white-knuckle intense shooting. I'm a fan of both, so I will be getting R-Type Final sooner or later; it's too good to miss out on! As far as R-Type III goes, although it's been said to still be in development, thankfully it hasn't been canceled. Don't get me wrong, I am pleased to see that the ultra-rare R-Type III is coming out on new hardware, but I am hoping that it won't be just a "port," meaning that it would be nice to see some new features and/or graphical additions. If the power of the GBA hardware is taken advantage of in the way that Konami did with Gradius Galaxies, R-Type III for the GBA will impress beyond that of the original R-Type III. Yet another title I am waiting to get my hands on - R-Type III for the GBA!

Next to R-Type Final is BorderDown, a nice-looking but sometimes annoying horizontal shooter from developer G.Rev. Not at the bottom or at the top, BorderDown is an acceptable shooter that plays somewhat like G.Darius and R-Type; it mixes precision flying and shooting with sporadic bouts of mass bullet-dodging. The game's Naomi-powered visuals look good, the gameplay is decent, and with luck the game will sell enough to warrant future efforts by G.Rev in the genre. I may not be the biggest fan of the game, but it gets respect nonetheless for supporting Gradius V and R-Type Final in the arena of horizontal shooters. I love playing vertical shooters, but it's good to know that there are some good horizontal shooters around when you need a change of pace...and BorderDown feeds the hunger well. Let BorderDown kick your ass if you need a break! Star Soldier has also been announced for the GameCube, which I think is good news; I thought the series was dead after the lukewarm acceptance of Star Soldier - Vanishing Earth. Star Soldier - Vanishing Earth wasn't a bad shooter, and it wasn't a great one, it just didn't have the "kick" that could have made it a powerful shooting experience. The game needed better effects and weapons, which could have undoubtedly been done on the hardware of the time. Hopefully Hudson will make the next Star Soldier a strong title with some series innovations and cool effects; Star Soldier - Vanishing Earth was good, but it lacked in effects (most notably in explosions). If Hudson plays their cards right, the new Star Soldier will support shooting goodness on the GameCube alongside Shikigami No Shiro II and Ikaruga GC. It's been said that compared to everything else, the game was disappointing; all I have to say about that is that Hudson still has time to improve the game from its preliminary state, and they might have to if they want to compete with what Ikaruga GC and Shikigami No Shiro II have did. At any rate, the game is helping the genre survive, which is a good thing.

Also worth mentioning is the most recently announced Cave shooter ESPGaluda, along with Raiden Fighters for XBox. I don't think I really need to say much about Cave's new project; having made titles like DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou, Ketsui, ProGear, and Guwange, I don't think anything will change. That is, Cave's new project will most likely kick ass. The developer has a knack for creating works of art. That is all. Shrouded in secrecy and said by some to be caught in bankruptcy-induced limbo, the XBox Raiden Fighters would be nice to see this year. With the online play they said it was going to have, it would be one hell of a fun shooter, wouldn't it? It would be a damn shame to see this project go belly-up; if there are funding issues with the project, another developer should pick it up...we need Raiden Fighters to come home! Cross your fingers for this one, because it's teetering on the brink of cancellation.

Although I actually think that the shooting game hit its prime during the reign of Takumi and Psikyo releases (Giga Wing, Mars Matrix, Strikers 1945 II, Gunbird 2), 2003 might prove to be a resurrection of sorts. I say this because for once (in a very long time), consumer shooter releases are showing consistency in titles, which is a different story than before (where releases were a sporadic and unpredictable mess). The strong support from developers in 2003 might breath new life into the realm of shooting games. I, for one, hope it does, simply because there is no other genre in the fucking industry that is more underrated than the shooting genre. Period. The genre needs this break. Sure, fighters have been shit on in favor of single-player movie-watching mayhem (you know what I'm talking about), but shooters have been trashed by even more of the "gaming community." Just look at the "oh no, not another one of these games," brainless reviews of shooters in popular magazines (or sites) and see how the "gaming community" views shooters; it's not pleasant, is it? Well, hopefully 2003's powerful lineup of shooters will kick magazine editors square in the teeth and show 'em who's boss...