Monday, November 29, 2010

Oh Shoot, Shoot 'Em Ups.

Today I stumbled across a thread about a game project related to a subject of one of my previous blog posts. What surprised me is what type of game it was. Instead of something like an RPG or such it was a shoot 'em up. A bullet hell shoot 'em up even. Since I just complained about beat 'em ups, it seems quite fitting I complain about shoot 'em ups too.

Now unlike beat 'em ups, shoot 'em ups aren't such an exclusive group. But then again, last time I was really referring to an extremely narrow selection of games that has mostly died out nowadays. No More Heroes was brought up a comment, and I said I don't consider it a beat 'em up because it was "too different". I feel I should clarify what I mean, and better clarify how I classify a shoot 'em up in turn, because they are more similar in nature then just the names.

Both beat 'em ups and shoot 'em ups belong in the more general genre of "action games" along with other categories (including platform games like super mario world which my hack is based on). An action game in fact a rather vague and widely applied label, and all sorts of games could be said to be action games as long as they have, well, action. But beat 'em ups, shoot 'em ups, and other categories are not. They have a particular narrower meaning. And it's more in depth then their name would suggest also.

Both beat 'em ups and shoot 'em ups are defined partly by their roots, and partly on their focus. With roots it's primarily that beat 'em ups and shoot 'em ups get basic gameplay elements form old arcade games. Even if they tweak the formula and add new gimmicks, there is usually a definite heritage of ideas that can be traced back directly to an old classic. That is not to say new ideas aren't good and don't happen, it's just that you can see a definite evolutionary line. For focus it's mostly a matter of cutting out everything but one element of combat. In beat 'em ups it's close range combat, in shoot 'em ups it's long range combat. Almost everything outside this focus is usually more or less excluded.

Small side note: Fighting games are like beat 'em ups, except fighters focus on one on one and/or player vrs player while beat 'em ups focus on one vrs. many, and player vrs. mooks. But games can be considered both at once, such as the Super Smash Bros. series (infact I sort of count it as a platformer as well). I still don't think No More Heros has the arcade roots or the exclusive focus to be called a beat 'em up though.

Getting back to what I was saying, shoot 'em ups aren't necessarily as exclusive as beat 'em ups, generally because there are a lot more ways you can handle ranged combat and a lot more diverse classic shoot 'em ups that branched out into a lot of sub-categories. Beat 'em ups never really evolved past River City Ransom and were replaced with newer games that, while still action games involving fights with multible mooks, were totally different in execution and focus. Thats why there is nothing really as universally "wrong" with shoot 'em ups that pops up in most games. But there still is a problem I have with shoot 'em ups in general that has to be looked at.

I suspect people like shoot 'em ups a lot of the time not because shoot 'em ups are good, but because they are simple.

Oh sure, bullet hell games like (most of) the Touhou series are filled with mathematically complex patterns and can be insanely hard, but the gameplay is still brain dead simple. Now I know not everyone likes games like Dwarf Fortress where the online wiki is needed to have the slightest clue what is going on, and thats exactly why shoot 'em ups usually exclude everything but shooting. But there is a fine line between tightly focused and boring. It's probably just me, but I want something else to do besides shooting things. I have always thought Touhou's fangame spin offs like MegaMari were far more interesting. MegaMari isn't a complex game, but it still has so much more involved gameplay just because you have to navigate around and explore, things considered shoot 'em ups almost never do. Not that it's the best game ever, but it's still more interesting then the main Touhou games seem to me.

It's not that I hate shoot 'em ups though. I still find the main Touhou fairly fun, I just wish they would throw me a bone sometime and actually have something besides waves of bullets to get excited about. Any old game can do that if you let it.


  1. So, you know I'm in a channel with both Raibys and the person who made Another World's Chaos, right? I decided I'd link them to this post because I figured they'd find your opinion interesting. You're welcome. I dunno if they'll actually comment or not, but I want them to.

    Also, just to be a troll about No More Heroes, GameFAQs lists it as a Beat 'em up.

    If it's on the internet, it must be true, right?!

    By the way, I know sarcasm doesn't work very well in text, so here's what I honestly think; I don't care that you don't think NMH is a "traditional" beat em up genre game (In fact, the thing I like so much about it is that it IS so unique), but it still follows the formula of... beating people up. A lot. I mean, if it's not a BEU, what *is* it, then? A "modern" BEU, much like some people call recently released first person shooters "modern" FPSes? (see ) It doesn't really matter that much, because I feel like we're just being pedantic, but I dunno. I'm honestly more interested in seeing Azure's response to your opinion on the SEU genre, because I think giving that genre a massive tweak like that is actually a really neat idea.

  2. Like I said, I call No More Heroes a "Hack 'N Slash". To be honest, yes I am nitpicking, but I feel No More Heroes is much more like Devil May Cry and God of War then say Final Fight. But thats just how I personally classify it, so whatever.

  3. The main focus of shoot-em-ups, as you said, is on the bullets. However, that's like saying the main focus of a 1-on-1 fighting game is on the attacks, or that the main focus of an FPS is the guns - it's pretty much a given, and doesn't say much. The difference between various shoot-em-ups is the way they handle the bullets. Dodonpachi mostly just focuses on density, Touhou focuses more on elaborate pretty patterns and characters, and so on. For Another World's Chaos, I'm leaning a lot towards the Touhou side there, but I'm also trying to make it a lot more varied and replayable.
    Well, at the very least, I'm trying to make it not as linear as most shoot-em-ups, and give the player a lot more to do. The player characters are all completely different from each other, there's branching paths, there's extra unlockable bosses and characters, etc. I guess none of this matters without a release though, and I've been getting lazy about working on it, combined with other life stress... oh well.
    Of course, if you don't like Touhou, it's not going to change your mind, but I'm trying to appeal to a wider group. Although I do agree that the genre as a whole is simple (dodge bullets and aim in the general direction of the boss), and I'm not completely reinventing it either... I'm really curious as to what you'll think of it when you actually play, though.

  4. Well we will see. Besides it's not that I HATE Touhou or anything, I just find that the characters are a million times more interesting then the gameplay, to the point where it seems more like if Touhou was an anime or manga and the shooting games were just a fan game made using it's characters rather then the reverse.

    Also, to nitpick about something unrelated, the spell card system makes no sense. Why can bosses use danmaku pattren spell cards and have a billion HP while the players only use bombs and pee-shooters and die in one hit. I would like to see a vrs. Touhou where two characters spent time flinging spell cards at each other instead, which is one reason I like the spin offs and fighting games more. There is a reason why before Touhou most bosses were big-ass spaceships.

  5. Why does Mario die when he touches a goomba from the side, yet the goomba is perfectly fine? Why does your character in an FPS get regenerating health and can survive 20 bullets, yet the enemies die in one shot? It's just because it makes for better gameplay.

    Also, there's a few competitive danmaku games where the player and enemy are even, like Touhou 3 and 9, and Twinkle Star Sprites. You should try them out.

  6. Funny you mention the Mario thing, but I never actually liked the "touch of death" enemies have in platformers to be honest. One thing I liked about a obscure platformer called Keen Dreams is they didn't do that (though the rest of the series did). In Keen Dreams enemies ALWAYS had some sort of noticeable attack animation, and you could in fact touch them and get away before they killed you. It was something I really appreciated. Same kind of thing in the Seiken Densetsu games aside from the first. Enemies never hurt you on contact like they do in Zelda, and I really dug that. Doing the touch of death thing is just laziness, and I always hated it.

    As for FPSes, I think thats mostly just newer ones. Games like Doom for example although there were cannon-folder enemies with low HP, they actual damage of weapons worked basically the same way on monsters as on players. If you ran into a pistol wielding zombie, his shots did the same damage to you as yours to him although monsters were much less tactically adapt.

    I have seen Twinkle Star Sprites, but thats more like a puzzle games vrs mode. It's not a dirrect fight, though it IS really cool. I know of Touhou 3 and 9, but I don't know any details of their gameplay, and I am not at all sure if it's like Twinkle Star Sprites or like something else. Granted attempting make an AI navigate spell cards like a player is something I am not sure is possible.

    Also, going the other direction, Shoot the Bullet has a interesting take on Touhou's basic gameplay, since you never fight back at all. And I could definitely see the explanation that spellcards like Touhou bosses have are something that need to be prepared ahead of time and can only be used defensively, but in canon "bombs" are also spell cards.

    Not that I am opposed to the Touhou-style spellcard boss system or anything, I just think it's story-wise explanation is not very well thought out in some ways. But at least they attempt to justify it so...