Radiant Silvergun was the first mainstream shooter to introduce the element of Ďbuzzí or scratching into its play system. For the uninitiated, scratching is a system of play in which the ship must graze the bullets in order to accrue some sort of reward, be it points, progressive power levels, or any other variation. It sets up a duality of risk and reward which is quite tasty for many shooter players, and effectively kicked off the revitalization and near renaissance of the genre through differing modes of play.
But in Radiant Silvergun, while scratching helped level the ships up faster, it was not the focus of the gameplay. The Psyvariar series, on the other hand, takes the buzz system (as itís called here) and makes it the core of the play system.
Essentially, in Psyvariar brushing up against bullets (without allowing them to touch your death-zone hitbox) making your ship level up quickly, along with the destruction of enemy ships. Iím not sure precisely how many levels are possible to achieve, but Iíve gotten up to 70 or thereabouts. Leveling up increases your firepower, and overall score. Incidentally the game keeps track of three things at the end of each level, as regards the score. These are shot down ratio, max chain (enemies killed without continue) and max buzz.
The buzz multiplier can be increased by hitting the R1 button Ė this sends your ship into a perpetual barrel roll, and concentrates your fire in a stream directly in front of the ship. You lose half of your speed when you do this, but since the buzz multiplier is increased, you gain levels much faster, and I actually find it easier to dodge curtain fire (screen-filling bullets that approach in waves) when my ship has slowed. It allows smaller increments of movement with a larger margin for error in terms of d-pad press to velocity ratio.
Another way to avoid bullets is to use the bomb function Ė this wipes all bullets from the screen, and causes a certain amount of damage to all enemies in the area of effect.
Psyvariar follows the 2D/3D model of Radiant Silvergun in that the enemies and backgrounds are largely polygonal, while the bullets are colorful 2D sprites. The 3D models are far from advanced, but do what they need to do. After all, the object is to destroy these enemies, not admire their beauty.
As the polygonal ship levels up, it changes shape, which is merely a stylistic choice, but one which helps engage the player in actively trying to seek the reward; the higher levels. Itís a very simple model of desire, but one which works well enough for me.
The progression of the levels is somewhat similar to the Darius scenario Ė at various points in the game, you are given a choice of subsequent stages, each of which is assigned a different level of difficulty. Where it differs from Darius is that the better you do, the more options become available to you. For instance, if you get up to level 20 in the first stage (by being some sort of superhuman genius), you will get access to stage 2-d. This is a degree of excellence that I've yet to achieve.
The game is incredibly short, in both Medium Unit and Revision modes Ė usually lasting ten to fifteen minutes. So the ability to choose your scenario, thus adding replayability is a welcome one. Especially given the fact that it's based entirely on your own proficiency.
Further compounding the shortness issue, the game spends nearly as much time loading as you do playing the first level. It loads completely at the beginning of the game, bringing back some vivid Neo Geo CD memories. Curse that juggling monkey!
The two games were originally released in one package (Psyvariar Complete) in 2002. But very recently they were each re-released on their own, and at budget prices.
If you purchase the games in their separate forms, the length could potentially be a problem, though not a huge one if you enjoy the way it plays. Unfortunately the branching path element is small compensation for the short duration of play available to you in one pass. On the other-other hand, the pace of the stages makes one-credit play, often the leprechaun gold of the shooter player, a very real possibility.
If purchased together, the length becomes less of an issue, as both games differ enough to practically warrant being called sequels in the shooter world. Psyvariar Revision is basically Psyvariar Medium Unit version 1.75. It has new bullet patterns and sprites, music, intros, replay mode and ship-level models. Only the enemy models, backgrounds and level progressions remain the same.
Medium Unit strikes me as a bit more difficult than Revision, but Revision is prettier in terms of the bullet sprites, so bear these things in mind, should you decide to pursue only one.
Iíve always said that the buzz system introduces a great dynamic into the gameplay of any shooter that uses it properly. As aforementioned, it adds the risk/reward duality that makes you want to (almost need to) get close to the bullets, the very things youíre supposed to be dodging. But buzz alone does not a good game make. Void of other elements like ship choice, different shot styles and/or secondary supporting gimmicks, the Psyvariar series feels a little bit thin.
Itís as though a great fan-made project got a decent budget and a home release. You really get that feeling of the Ďone elementí they wanted to forward with these games, and that the game was built entirely upon that one idea.
So if you like the concept of buzz for the sake of buzz, this game is like shooter purity. If you like buzz and ship choices, there exists such a game. But Psyvariar is like Structuralist game-making here; the system and all it can do is laid out clearly from the onset, and itís up to you to create meaning with the tools provided. This only works for very specific players that are willing to put the time into such a project. Nothing is hidden Ė you know whatís required of you; itís the replaying and perfecting thatís the fun part, not the initial discovery of the world around you. To this end, a replay mode has been added to Revision, wherein you can watch a pre-recorded highscore replay and try to either best it, or follow it.
The game is basically made for shooting enthusiasts, and not designed to attract a new crowd to the genre. If shooters are your passion, youíll take something good away from your experience. If youíve only a casual interest in the genre, buy Revision alone, or give this one a pass entirely.
brandon sheffield has a Maximum Unit.
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Addendum: Incidentally, if you live in the UK, Psyvariar complete was released for a mere £13. So go get that.