In week 3 of Shmuptember, I played two shoot 'em up games (shmups) that were all over the map with respect to scope and production values. On one hand, there was the highly focused ZeroRanger. On the other, we had the genre melange of Yurukill.
This little indie title pairs down the vertically scrolling shmup to its base elements. The graphics are simple, the color pallet is limited, the story is minimal, and the gameplay is straightforward. In fact, this game's extreme minimalism lends it an almost mysterious quality. What are these things I'm fighting and why? What does this new powerup do? At no point will a character start monologuing to explain all this; you're left to discover it all for yourself.
ZeroRanger may make one of the boldest style decisions I've seen in a modern shmup: the color palette is restricted to two colors, green and orange. This makes for some simple but very striking pixel art. The look feels like something between a Virtual Boy display and an original Gameboy game being played in a Gameboy Color. Of course, neither of those devices could render at ZeroRanger's level of detail or high framerate, so the visuals feel both retro and modern at the same time. Also of note, is that this game displays vertically (aka “tate mode“). Thus, it'll look especially fantastic if you have a monitor that can swivel into portrait orientation.
As far as the story goes, a snappy and stylish attract mode sequence provides a Cliffnotes version of a shmup plot: “Invasion from space! Our last hope! Become the ZeroRanger!” Other than this, the only other storytelling comes in the form of a few lines of cryptic text before each boss battle. I get the distinct impression there is more than meets the eye with this game's story and premise, but I haven't been able to get far enough to reveal its secrets.
Gameplay: Die, learn, upgrade, repeat
ZeroRanger‘s gameplay is initially extremely simple; steer your ship and fire your single weapon. At the end of each stage, you are presented with the choice of two special weapons. Similar to how the game presents its story, the weapon choices are not clearly explained; you have to just make your best guess based on the icons for each option. Similarly austere, you begin the game with only a handful of continues. However, each attempt you make through the game earns points that unlock additional continues for use on your next run. All the weapons and continues you unlock persist between runs, so your odds of success increase with every attempt (sort of like a shmup version of a Rogue-lite).
Another feature ZeroRanger has to offset its difficulty is unlimited continues. Once you've beaten a level, you can reload at the start of the last level you've reached with all your unlocked weapons and continues ready to go. However, you lose all checkpoint progress within that level. This is a big deal because ZeroRanger‘s levels are long and difficult. For example, the furthest level I was able to reach had over 15 minutes of intense shmup action from the starting point to the beginning of the level-end boss battle. That's a long time to focus and keep your cool!
Despite looking so simple at the offset, I found ZeroRanger to be a really interesting game. It does a lot with so little and delivers some of the tightest shmup action I've played this month. Unfortunately, I ultimately hit a wall with it. After making multiple 15+ minute long runs at the 4th level only to get killed by the boss, I decided to set it aside for now. Perhaps after watching some Youtube videos of boss strategies, I'll return to it armed with knowledge and renewed patience.
Note: Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of Yurukill.
While ZeroRanger represented the purest of shmup experiences, Yurukill is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It provides a story-focused experience that combines gameplay from a variety of genres (including shmup, of course). With its dramatic visual novel story, point-and-click adventure puzzles, criminal trial sequences, and vertically scrolling shmup battles, there is a lot to talk about with this game. Thus, I decided to roll my Yurukill impressions into a separate article that will be coming out soon. In short, I found the game really intriguing, but with shmup action only making up a small part of its content, I think I'll be saving this one for Visual Novel November.
Week 3 Closing Thoughts
Both of this week's games were vertically scrolling shooters but they couldn't be more different! For the final week of Shmuptmeber, we'll return to basics with a quirky indie game and a revival of a classic.