Steam is giving scrolling shoot ‘em ups (or “shmups”, as they’re often called) a fresh lease on life. It’s a niche genre to say the least, having grown from arcade culture and typically catering to hardcore fans, and home console releases have been sporadic. With its massive reach and growing library, though, Steam is opening the genre to a whole new audience. Now that DoDonPachi Resurrection is available, old and new shmup players alike can experience the series that really gave rise to the “bullet hell” shooter.
The basic mechanics are as simple as any scrolling shooter: you fly your spaceship within the confines of the game screen, while the level scrolls automatically and waves of enemies bombard you with bullets that you have to dodge. Some enemies, and bosses in particular, have a tendency to fill the whole screen with intricate patterns of bullets that require quick reactions and good foresight to avoid, and the relatively short length of a single run is offset by a focus on chasing high scores and mastering the game – a process that will take a lot of practice.
The DoDonPachi series puts its own spins on this formula, though. In addition to the standard machine gun that’s generally good for covering a wide area, your ship also has a laser for more focused but less versatile damage. Firing the laser slows down your movement, which is vital for making the miniscule movements often needed for weaving between bullets, and it also lets you repel enemy lasers that would otherwise be unavoidable.
There’s also the Hyper system, which lets you enter temporarily enter a powered-up state when your Hyper gauge is full. In the case of DoDonPachi Resurrection specifically, Hyper mode also lets your gunfire and lasers cancel out certain enemy bullets, open gaps in bullet formations that would otherwise be practically impossible to break through. In addition to the usual demands on reflexes and practice, there’s a tactical element in figuring out the best times to use your Hyper.
DoDonPachi Resurrection is actually the fifth DonPachi game, but it’s a perfect candidate for the series first Steam release, given it was originally designed to incorporate the best ideas from all prior DonPachi games (as well as developer Cave’s other shmups). Perhaps more important, Resurrection is widely regarded as the most approachable game in a series (and genre) famed for its uncompromising difficulty. When you’re trying to reach a new audience, like that of Steam, not alienating newcomers is important.
I must admit, I’m very green when it comes to shmups. I played Space Invaders and TwinBee a bit as a kid, and got obliterated by a demo of Ikaruga once, but I didn’t get my first real taste until just this month, with a little indie game called Blue Revolver. Despite my being such a rookie, DoDonPachi Resurrection welcomed me like an old friend. If you’re new and (understandably) daunted by this genre, the Steam version of Resurrection is a great place to start.
The main reason for this is that there are two main game modes, “Play” and “Score Attack”. The latter is akin to the hardcore arcade experience – it’s all about chasing high scores, perfect runs, and starting over from scratch when you run out of lives. Play, on the other hand, gives you unlimited continues, and considering you pick from wherever you died – even mid-boss fight – you’ll be able to finish the game no matter how much you may struggle. You won’t see all the game has to offer in terms of secret bosses and true endings, but you’ll at least be able to play through without being forever stuck on the first level or two.
The other thing that makes DoDonPachi Resurrection a great game for beginners is a dedicated Novice mode. This is identical to the standard version of the game in terms of enemy layouts and scoring, but enemies shoot fewer bullets and their shot patterns are generally easier to get around. It’s a great introduction to what makes shmups so exciting without overwhelming players with the seemingly impossible barrages that hardcore players thrive on.
For those who want it, there’s still plenty of challenge here, though. The aforementioned Score Attack mode will be a source of plenty of frustration and joy for players competing for high scores, as will the elusive perfect run. DoDonPachi also has a handful of secret bosses and a couple of different (and harder) routes that can be accessed by completing specific objectives. Just getting up to the game’s “true” final boss, Hibachi, is an incredible feat, to say nothing of actually beating her or, worse still, doing all that on a single life.
DoDonPachi Resurrection originally came out in arcades in 2008, and has seen a few different versions released in the years since. These aren’t updates as such, but slightly different takes on the same basic game that can all happily coexist. Arrange A, for example, has a different means of charging the all-powerful Hyper attack , while Black Label introduces an interesting risk / reward system around the new “Red Mode Gauge” – the more full the bar, the more difficult the game, but the more points you earn. All up, there are eight different versions all included within the package, each offering something slightly different.
As good and approachable as DoDonPachi Resurrection, it’s still a game for a niche audience. The whole game is built on a deep but simple arcade-style play, and if that’s not something that interests you, this game will offer little. There’s little in the way of story, and what’s there is inconsequential and difficult to understand without a lot of extra reading outside the game. It’s definitely not a game with any interest in trying to be all things to all people, or even most things to most people.
If you like shoot ‘em ups, though, DoDonPachi Resurrection is a game you’ll want to pick up at the earliest opportunity, and if you’re intrigued by them, this is an excellent place to dive in.
- Approachable for newcomers
- Plenty of depth and challenge for hardcore fans
- Interesting, tactical scoring system
- Story is minimal and confusing
- Not much to offer outside the core shmup experience