Day 4 - ...but don't take my word for it...
20.2.03 by Angry Drunk
Many of us who have played a video game carry fond memories of the SHMUPS...
The Time: Summer 1989-Matinee Shift
The Place: Lobby-Lancaster Cinemas
It's entrance was unannounced but we knew that change was in the air.
A simple replacement for the Road Blasters machine that was unrepairable. Of
course I played the Road Blasters machine, although my performance was
unremarkable. I've never been a fan of race type games and so never mastered
the skills neccesary to show a noteworthy score. I was looking forward to
Then that man in the lift back truck came. He removed the unit with the grim
manner of a mortician, leaving only an impression in the carpet. I took the
opportunity to sweep up the halo of popcorn and skittles that had
accumulated over the years, the landlord making presentable the residence
for a new tenant.
The Game: 1943
For those unfamiliar with game, allow me some exposition. You: a fighter
pilot circa 1943. Your Opponent: The combined navy and airforce of the
entire Japanese Fleet. Yes the game was an unsubtle sequal to 1942. The
objectives were the same, destroy wave after wave of Zero's and battle a
boss bomber/battleship/carrier at the end of each level. The difference was
a subtle but profund. You see you only had one life. One chance for the
redemption of your nation and way of life for the unwarrented attack on
Pearl Harbor. This time you were battling over Midway and the only way to
continue on your mission was to collect energy pods along the way to replace
the fuel that was ticking away or shoot away buy your adversaries. Those
same energy pods could also represent Special Weapons, timed power-ups that
were essential for battling the horde ahead of you. You chose what type of
Special Weapon or energy pod you would pick up by firing at it to cycle
through the choices. Precision and timing were paramount. Not enough weapon
time, and no chance at the boss, not enough life, and you sink unsung into
I soon became the master of this machine. No other employee could touch my
scores. Some became so discouraged as to stop playing the game altogether.
As a young rising star in the heirarchy of theatre politics, it became a
point of pride, but I'd reached the ceiling. The game seemed to cycle
endlessly from Bomber boss to Battleship boss to Carrier boss over and over.
I started to doubt that there was an actual end to the game at all.
It happened the night of a screening. I don't remember the name of the
movie, but it was one of the summer blockbusters, maybe The Abyss. All of
the crew was assembled to watch the movie as we always did the night before
it opened. Everyone was excited to watch the movie, but I had other business
on my mind. I'd taken a break from the machine for about a week. We'd
recently gotten a Bubble Bobble machine in and competition was fierce, so as
standing champion on 1943, I was required to throw my hat in the ring with
the new machine. But that night, 1943 like a siren, compelled me.
I slid my quarter into the machine and gripped the joystick like shaking
hands with an old friend. everyone was moving into the auditorium and called
to me that the movie was starting, but I was entranced. I fell into the
familiar patterns that I'd fallen into hundreds of times before. But this
time was different. Gracefully, I threaded my fighter through the orange
death that was sprayed across the screen. Precisely, I manuvered the power
pods to ensure full health and Special Waepon time. Deftly, I jockeyed into
position to deliver the coup de grace on fleet after fleet of yellow menace.
I slipped into the zone that only the pacman fevered and pinball wizards are
familiar with. And finally after seeming hours of play, I conquered that
I don't have the words to describe the feeling of exultation that comes with
reaching the end of a game, but as anyone who has mastered a game can tell
you, it is a powerful and private experience. In your mind, you are grand
marshall of a ticker-tape parade, riding atop a convertable cadalac as the
U.S.O. girls blow kisses to you from the sidewalks. Hero of a nation, you
have demolished and demoralized half of the axis powers, the land of the
rising sun is broken assunder by your skill and determination.
And then your mind unclouds and as you look at the screen, a list of
japanese programmers is your only reward.
It is funny that you are talking about shumps today...
Over the weekend I was sitting on the couch playing DOA XBV and screaming at
Tina for not accepting my $17,000 leopard skin boot offering. Soon after, the
Xbox was shut down and the quest for the new 'game of the day' began. While
searching through my collection, one of the cogs in my brain turned and locked
down on a game I played on my Colecovision Adam years ago. The game was
Frenzy, and I had to play it NOW!
For those of you who were still candy bars on store shelves back in 1982, let
me fill you in on the madness and glory of frenzy. You were one man, alone in
a maze filled with robots who were all hell bent on killing you. In addition,
the walls reflected lasers and were all electrified and the act of bumping
against one would send your character into a multicolored, Defender-like death
sequence. Your saving grace was that you were slightly faster than the
mindless robots and you could avoid most of their attacks. If you were able
to keep your cool you could avoid most of the lasers and other obsticles. What
makes this game so great, and a leap above its predecessor Berzerk can be
summed up in two words: EVIL OTTO.
Imagine the standard icon of the 70's: the smiley face. Now make it angry,
make it bounce, make it indestructable, and make it faster than hell. Evil
Otto would sit dormant in the middle of certain stages of the game with a
complacent smile on his face. If you spent too much time in one room, or in
one area of the maze, Evil Otto's starts a comin'. You could temporarily stave
off the smiling bastard by blasting him until his expression changes to
absolute hostility, but he always reappears faster and faster. If you were not
near an exit, Otto kill you.
Frenzy's predecessor Berzerk had a very primary color palette and offered up
rudimentary backgrounds and characters that felt a bit flat and static. Frenzy
turned the color way up and added dynamic areas like generator rooms and Otto's
Domain. These areas offered several dynamics that affected gameplay. For
example, if you entered a generator room, you could shoot our the walls
surrounding the generator and blow the whole thing up. This action would stop
the robots in their tracks and leave them as sitting ducks for your lasers.
There were also walls that you could shoot holes into and use as baracades
(something I also loved about 'Out of this World' which came out almost 10
After a whole weekend of retrogaming I must say one thing. Playing this game
using the Colecovision controllers has destroyed my hands. Try to find
yourself a good Atari 2600 joystick or SuperAction controller joystick to play
with. The nook between your thumb and pointer finger will thank you for it.
If you don't, Otto kill you.
Master N, out
Okay, a couple short stories from the shmup genre...
While many have enjoyed other shmup games, the two I spent the most
quarters on were Heavy Barrel and Smash TV. These two games were
actually part of a sub-genre of shumps that I refer to as "Twist n'
Released in 1987 by Data East and developed by game designer Koji
Akibayashi, Heavy Barrel was a derivative of Ikari Warriors, the
popular title released the year before by SNK. As in Ikari Warriors,
the characters controlled by the players are viewed from above and
controlled with an innovative control stick that defined the Twist n'
Shoot genre. One could move the stick in any direction to move the
players about; however, you could also twist the stick to make the
torso of your character point in a different direction. This proved
invaluable, as it allowed you to perform strafing runs that were the
only way to kill the enormous amount of enemies that were thrown at
you. Upon being hit, these enemies would die and dissolve into nothing,
another trait of the shmup genre.
What set Heavy Barrel apart from the rest was the pursuit of building
the ultimate weapon, the Heavy Barrel. As you progressed through the
levels, you would gather parts for this weapon, and upon gaining the
last part, the digitized voice would bark out far too loudly to
everyone in the arcade "HEAVVVVY BAAAARRELLLLL!", whereupon everyone
else would look up to see what the hell made that noise.
The weapon was huge, and would wipe all the enemies from the screen
with ease. It was a very satisfying payoff to such a buildup, and a
major reason I kept feeding quarters into it.
Smash T.V. was a further refinement to the genre, being released in
1990 by Williams. It was not entirely a Twist n' Shoot game, as it
separated the shoot and move functions into two different joysticks,
but the effect was the same: a top-down shmup where the torso aiming
moved independently of the body.
Smash T.V. was different from other shmup games not in originality (it
was essentially an updated Robotron 2084), but in the way it raised the
bar of violence and gore in video games. Taking it's cue from The
Running Man, a 1987 Schwarzenegger flick about an ultra-violent game
show, Smash T.V. raised parental ire with its loudmouthed and brash
encouragement to blow everything away for cash and prizes, as well as
the graphic bloodbath that occured when the boss was defeated. The kids