Raiden IV never stops ticking me off.
Normally, I give shmups the benefit of the doubt, given that the shmup may well be my preferred genre of game — something about the impossible odds of the things, both in a narrative and in a ludic sense, has an almost unlimited appeal to a gamer like me. I’m willing to make apologies for shmups that I’m simply unwilling to consider for other genres.
And yet, Raiden IV. I bought it because it was a gaping hole in my collection, an entry in a genre that I have few excuses not to be a completist for. Heck, I convinced family to get me a Cave shmup at exorbitant import prices before I ever got around to landing Raiden IV, which even had a soundtrack in it and everything, for around $20? So I’m glad I finally got around to picking the thing up, but wow. It just makes me angry.
Mostly, it makes me angry because I’m terrible at it, and it requires the sort of fast reflexes that, say, Cave shmups eschew for the sake of offering bullet patterns and tiny escape windows. But there are a couple of quantifiable things in here that just feel like poor design decisions, the sorts of faux-pas that can turn a 1cc run (not that I’ve been anywhere near one of those on any sort of respectable difficulty) into a thrown controller. These are the places where getting blowed up real good goes from being a player deficiency to a game deficiency — something any decent shmup developer should desperately try to avoid in the creation of their game.
Problem #1: MEDALS LOOK LIKE BULLETS (ALSO, BULLETS LOOK LIKE MEDALS)
No, they don’t look exactly the same. The medals either have wings on them or they stay still and just sort of glimmer in the sunlight, while the bullets are typically smaller circles that move in a straight line, but really, the problem is the color. Bullets in Raiden IV are the same color as the medals. While this isn’t such a problem in the early stages when there aren’t as many bullets to dodge and you have a few hundredths of a second to look around and figure out whether running into the yellow thing or flying away from it is a good idea, the latter stages afford no such luxuries. It’s too easy to think you’re flying into a medal, when actually you’re flying into something that will explode you into a million pieces.
I mean, the obvious solution here is to avoid the medals, but this is a shmup, and scores matter. When I’m in the zone and running on pure instinct, I should be able to simply think something like “YELLOW CIRCLE BAD!” and move out of the way, or “YELLOW CIRCLE GOOD!” and go pick it up. I shouldn’t have to think “YELLOW CIRCLE OMG WHAT DO I DO NOW DOES IT HAVE WINGS?”, because by the time I get halfway through that thought, I’ve been killed by a stray bullet from somewhere else that I didn’t see coming.
Problem #2: CAMERA MOVEMENT
It’s no secret that there’s a certain amount of precision involved in navigating the treacherous waters of shmuppery, and that gaining a feel for your ship — that is, achieving an instinctual sense of how fast it goes and how powerful its shots are — is paramount. As such, it can be terribly frustrating when some levels allow the playing field to go beyond what the screen displays, allowing the player’s movements to affect the section of the field that is shown on-screen. What this means in a vertically-oriented shmup is that when the player moves to the right, the camera moves to the right as well, which also means that the player moves slower on the screen than he or she is accustomed to. Bullets traveling in the direction that the camera is moving will also slow down, and bullets traveling in a direction opposite of that of the camera will speed up.
What this means for the player is a slight shift in the perception of the game, one that only applies to certain levels. It’s not severe enough a shift to be an obvious change in style, but it is enough to have an affect on the way that a player has to approach the game.
Really, it’s just enough of a change to get you killed.
Raiden IV is not a terrible game, and it’s enough to satiate my need to blow up tiny airplanes with my own tiny airplane. Still, it’s hard to see myself running back to this one too often when I have things like Mushihimesama Futari or Ikaruga, games that never feel cheap even as they’re making me cry, to play.