The gods of 2D, though their powers may wane with the coming of a third-dimensional force, have not forgotten us. Gekioh Shooting King, released in í99 in Japan, has come to US shores, guns blazing. If you just need a bottom line, Iíll give you one. The game is 10 damned dollars; go buy it.
For the frugal among you, perhaps a bit of convincing is in order. Gekioh sports the best 2D explosions largest sprites and enemy designs for your playstation console, save perhaps those of Strikers 1945. But Gekioh uses the system to its max potential. The only slowdown youíll see is in two-player mode...Itís almost like playing the game on a Saturn! Just with smaller sprites.
Gekioh proper is a basic vertical shooter with few frills. Three weapons possible, five levels of power-up. Collect medals for bonus points at the end of the round. Oddly, all medals collected count toward your score, even if you lose a life. Further, continues are unlimited. Pressing 'select' Inserts a Credit. Great for the novice, but frustrating for the seasoned shooting king who may see the amateur approach within a few million of his/her hi-score. Each weapon comes with its own distinct type of bomb. This is not a thinking-manís shooter, what weíve got here is strictly a dodge ní gun affair. But you wonít hear me complain about that, never in your life. The bullets are smart, the enemies suicidal. This is arcade action soul food.
There are eight levels here for your shooting enjoyment, with backgrounds which follow the tired-yet-traditional 'journey into space' theme. This of course means that the final two stages consist of naught but stars, making for some drab visuals later on. Each level is composed of several sections; six if Iím not mistaken. You wonít notice these Ė theyíre simply the invisible checkpoints from which you can be spawned after death.
Five paragraphs down, we get to dessert. The gameís most boast-worthy feature is the plethora of alternate modes available. The first three: Geki mode (read: 'normal'), easy mode and hard mode. Easy mode is strictly for your 9 year old sister. If you even touch it, youíre banished forever from the Insert Credit kingdom! Hard mode is where you go when youíve cut your teeth on Geki, and wish to face the true challenge. The other six modes are where the excitement starts. Enter the Ďbonusí option to see the available alternates (no need for unlocking, these come standard). Iíll outline them individually.
Pocket Mode: Holy crap. This here is a Pocketstation version of Gekioh, playable in full screen. Itís even got the burn-in image so common for the system, and if you pause, you get the contrast/battery life screen! Gameplay-wise there are no backgrounds of course, just shooting and bombing. But itís goddamned brilliant gameplay, and tougher than normal Gekioh. Iíve no idea if this game works with an actual Pocketstation, even though Iíve got the Japanese release. But if it doesÖmy goodness.
Comical mode: Killing enemies fuels a laugh track, which is modulated with each progressive stage. It feels a bit faster than the other modes, but that could be my imagination. This is perhaps the least useful of the extras. The big gripe here: the cool music which starts at the beginning of each stage should just loop instead of lasting a mere 10 seconds. After that, all you get are the sound effects.
Stingy mode: Now you donít have to impose the limits on yourself! A common practice within the shooter Ďcommunity' is to limit yourself to one plane, no bombs and no powerups. This mode does all of that for you. Whatís more, each enemy yields a mere 1 point. When you die, a percentage shows up to indicate your progress. Tough! Great~!
No Mercy mode: If you can beat this, you are the shooting king. All enemies shoot at you with deadly accuracy, but powerups remain. If you switch to the lightening homing weapon you may be able to pull through.
Slow mode: Yes. This is what I like to see. Consider this your training mode for entry into the shooter elite. Slow mode forces the game to run at roughly 50% speed, and enemy shots to roughly 25%. But the bullets fill more of the screen here, than in any other mode. The game forces you to learn the high art of dodging, and to become one with the hit-box around your ship. In this way it Ďtrainsí you in the way of the shooter. Think of the final boss in Radiant Silvergun, but a fair bit easier. The soundtrack is new for this mode, and each plane you shoot down screams in agony. Every level has been darkened as well, leading the manual to call it the preferred mode of the Goths. Very good practice, and completely enjoyable in its own right.
Ancient mode: good for a laugh. This mode renders the screen monochromatic, making it impossible to tell which weapon youíve picked up. Scanlines, screen lint and poor speaker connection accentuate the aged experience. Itís like a Jidai-Geki WWII drama. No other significant changes, however. Go granddad!
Of course Iíve some minor gripes. First and foremost, the borders on the side of the playing field are obnoxious. The traditional black bars would have sufficed, really. You get used to it, but itís notÖvisually appealing. Slow mode uses the black bars, so gets extra points. And Iíve no problem with the frame in Pocket mode, as you need this to position it as a Pocketstation game.
Another problem; only one weapon is truly effective on bosses, but oft-times youíve not the chance to switch over before it arrives. So to be safe, I tend to stick with the Vulcan weapon when partaking in a one-player campaign. Thatís not how it should be. A few powerups placed before each boss would have been nice.
In Geki mode, the bosses are far too easy. These guys are basically pushovers, aside from the final battleship. Hard mode remedies this, but even soÖI believe them to be a bit too easy for Ďnormalí mode. And yet the enemy A.I. is right on target for what I expect out of a normal game. Good old balance problems.
Something to note; the in-game music is not incredible. Itís entirely incidental, and will leave little imprint on your psyche. However the opening and ending themes are brilliant exercises in classic shooter composition. Itís worth playing the game through to completion just to hear the song as the credits roll. Nobody melds western musical genres like the Japanese.
The biggest problem: the game is not particularly memorable. I'd owned the Japanese version for roughly a year before the re-release and hadn't played it to completion, as far as I could recall. And yet, once I reached the final boss in the process of reviewing the US version, I realized that I had played quite far into this game, just not finished it. It was an uncomfortable realization. But this time round it struck me as a hell of a lot better. A low price tag does that.
You can't save your hi-score. Bullox.
And the last thing I should mention is that the Ďbonusí modes do not have endings per se. If you care about that sort of thing. No payoff there.
But listen: This game costs ten dollars. I donít know how many times I have to say it. Itís got multiple modes, several of which make the game different enough to actually warrant beating. Tim and I blasted through Geki, Slow and Ancient mode before the game lost its lustre for the play period. The game is not as venerable as something like ZanacXZanac, but it gives you what you need.
Itís seriously like three shooters in one, each completely enjoyable in its own way (the ďthreeĒ being Geki, Pocket and Slow, which are all different enough to each have a distinct feel). This is the best shooter you can get new for US $9.99. All shooting fans should buy the game. Maybe if we do, more will be brought over. Thatís still how it works, isnít it? Make Gekioh sell out everywhere. Weíll all reap the benefits.
brandon sheffield wants more. more!