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Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Hotdog Storm

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

Hotdog Storm (Marble Inc., 1996)

Arcade shoot-em-ups weren't always the "bullet hell" stuff we see now (and I really should find a less tired term to use next time) -- the shift towards that occurred in the late '90s, when the genre sort of leveled out in quality and wasn't really drawing in players like they used to, and without the strong competitive component of fighting games to keep them going, shooters were all but headed underground. And Hotdog Storm was one of the harbingers of the decline.

Not that it's a bad game, though. But for starters, Hotdog Storm is not a run-of-the-mill name, and if you're like me, that will be your only reason for playing it. (I'm not sure anyone figured out what it's supposed to refer to; the emblem on the title screen suggests that it's the name of the fighting force you belong to.) Unfortunately, I have to burst your bubble: The game doesn't live up to the title. Right after the title screen, you'll see that it's another jet fighter shooter where you blow up big robots. Yay. And this was in 1996, right about when all that stuff finally got long in the tooth, and a year after Cave debuted with the first DonPachi.

But, again, regardless of Marble not having the best timing in history, Hotdog Storm is a capable shooter. The graphics are decent, with a clear Raiden influence -- explosions are common, and shrapnel flies everywhere once something's destroyed. And most of the enemies, not just bosses, use sectional sprite parts to make the mechs hover and "breathe," an animation technique that wasn't used too often.

This isn't even like Dino Rex, where you think you're just playing something kind of crappy, and then all of a sudden you're thrown into Crazy Land. The only other food imagery is in the high score screen, which features flying hot dogs and condiment bottles. Maybe that's where they got the idea for the name -- someone was staring at their After Dark screensaver and decided to bring the flying toaster concept over to hot dogs. And yes, I am struggling to find something else to write about Hotdog Storm. Basically, it's worth playing just for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of shooter history.

As an interesting historical point, despite being inferior to Cave's games, Hotdog Storm ran on the original hardware developed by Cave for use in their shooters of that period. But I suppose it stands to reason that no matter how great your hardware is, and no matter what innovative games are made for it, you're going to get some lesser products from people that may or may not have tried their best to just get something good out there. All things considered, I do think the makers of Hotdog Storm tried. And at least they're really great at picking names.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Pistol Daimyo's Adventure

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

Pistol Daimyo's Adventure (Namco, 1990)

Namco is credited with pushing arcade shoot-em-ups forward with Galaga and Xevious, though they rarely stepped out of those two universes afterward, except Dragon Spirit and Dragon Saber, which aren't too mechanically different from Xevious anyway. For the most part, they let other companies concentrate on that genre while they went ahead and tried to innovate in others. Namco's straight-up shooters were more about looking different than being completely different.

Enter Pistol Daimyo. It was one of Namco's few horizontal shooters (Ordyne being among them), and was not at all serious. The cartoony style lampooned many tropes from Japanese history and mythology and simply turned it into an absurd shooting game. It wasn't the first "wacky" shooting game, since the aforementioned Ordyne and Konami's Parodius came years before, and it definitely doesn't seem like something that Namco was putting a lot of marketing muscle behind. This seems more or less like a passion project (or at worst, a goof-off time-filler) for the team that made it.

Pistol Daimyo's Adventure is notable for a few things. OK, it's notable for one thing: you play as a daimyo with a giant gun fused to his head, and who flies around by rapidly flapping fans he's holding with his feet. His origin is a mystery, but few would want to question a guy with a gun on his head. Technically, Pistol Daimyo's Adventure is a spin-off of Bravoman, as the Daimyo first appeared as a boss character in that game. He's been redrawn and refitted here, as his "Adventure" takes place in his home world of Feudal Japan But Crazier (my nomenclature).

Indeed, this take on ancient Japan certainly paints an odd picture of the nation. You'll be fighting angry frogs, throngs of ninjas, giant whales, entire battleships, and more as Pistol Daimyo slowly floats along the countryside. If nothing else, it looks consistent; it's not so absurd as to throw digitized people or large sexy women in your face like Parodius or PuLiRuLa does. It's just a big damn fun cartoon.

But the true defining characteristic of Pistol Daimyo (the game) is that it's unrelentingly difficult. For something that looks like it's meant for kids, it starts bringing the hurt from the get-go. And since this was before the days of bullet-blanketing shooters like DoDonPachi, the difficulty doesn't come from the volume of bad things coming at you as it does the speed and the volume. Most of the enemies are made with their own movement patterns, so there's lots of grouping of enemies who jump or fly or run in their own ways, leaving you with few "outs." Quick reaction time is important, but if you've been playing too many recent shooters, where most of the time you're making incremental movements to avoid waves of bullets you can clearly see coming, then you might need some readjusting. Regardless, for a clever shooter that's as challenging as it is baffling, simply look down the barrel of Pistol Daimyo.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: The Great Ragtime Show

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

The Great Ragtime Show (Data East, 1992)

To start, I thought I'd go with a game that's definitely odd, but isn't bad enough to be laughable: The Great Ragtime Show, an unfortunately forgotten shoot-em-up from Data East. Forgotten perhaps because its name is as out-of-place as calling Crash Bandicoot "Uproarious Animal Revue."

Yes, Great Ragtime Show (also known as Boogie Wings) is, despite the title, not really about a great ragtime show; tap dancing and jolly piano licks will not be in your face. However, its style is very much inspired by the adventure serials of the silent film days, with a bit of a steampunk aesthetic, too -- you're meant to be fighting an army of enemies who have mastered manufacturing walking assault robots and such.

Beyond that, it's a very inspired shooter. You start off flying a biplane that has a hook attached to it, carrying a spiked ball and swinging freely as you fly around. When you let go of the ball, the free-flying hook can grab onto almost anything in the game that isn't bolted down -- trucks, tanks, enemy soldiers, what have you. You can't do much except let go of the things you grab and fling them across the screen, but it does help kill enemies nonetheless.

Your plane can't last forever, and if you're a beginning player, you'll inevitably get shot down. But that's where the brilliance comes in: You keep playing as the pilot, who bails out and continues the assault on foot with nothing but his pea shooter of a pistol. And though you may have lost a plane, you can quickly gain a motorcycle, horse, miniature tank, or car with a missile on it.

Great Ragtime Show comes from a time when shoot-em-ups were just about to become full-on "bullet hell" games, so it relies on background spectacle more than projectile mayhem, and it's all the better for it. An early stage has you speeding by a Ferris wheel that's gone loose and tumbles through town, and another takes place in a town celebrating Christmas (including evil Santa-bots) which then transitions into a baseball stadium for some reason. It's a bunch of amazing scenes every other second, something that I feel is lacking in today's action games.

But really, as much as I can describe The Great Ragtime Show to you; as much as I can tell you it doesn't deserve to be forgotten in the annals of history, it boils down to the fact that you really have to play it. Or at worst, watch a YouTube clip:

Omega Four Point Oh

After being squeezed out of 1UP, beginning SCROLL, getting a full-time gig at GamePro, and most recently, the news of Hudson probably-maybe canceling their 3DS projects, I thought now would be a good time to talk about something I'd been wanting to for quite a while; a particular episode in my career that wasn't as revolutionary in the long run as this long-winded post will make it sound, but it did kick my butt in a sense. It's the only review I've felt regret about, but probably not entirely in the way you think.

That would be my January '08 review of Omega Five, the Xbox Live Arcade shooter from Hudson. A few years prior, I had developed a renewed appreciation for arcade shoot-em-ups. I always loved the classics, like Gradius and Blazing Lazers, but I used to think the late-'90s rise of the "bullet hell" style was practically pornographic in nature; a twisted sort of puzzle game that had lost its way. Eventually, I simply realized that this is where the genre is now, and really, the games aren't any less enjoyable. Shooters still represent good, clean, simple fun that had endured since the invention of video games themselves. They may go a little overboard with repetition, but still offer the best bursts of fun in a pinch.

But anyway -- Omega Five. I was intrigued when it was announced, for sure. Hudson and Natsume, two old favorites of mine, putting out a great-looking XBLA shooter that was from the Holy Land of Nippon through-and-through!? But then I saw and tried the game months before it came out at a Hudson press event, and didn't like it. When it finally came out and I took the review, I got to spend more time with it. I still didn't like it, and wrote a negative review with a 4.0 (now "D") rating, sort of expecting to be just one of a few reviewers from the other mainstream sites who felt the same.

What I did not expect was that I'd be the only person on the planet who didn't like Omega Five. Everybody downloading it was loving it, other reviews were praising it, and their ratings were barely dipping under the average. Throw in a link to my review, and you have a perfectly balanced shitstorm.

The eye of it was GAF, as it usually is. The review went up the same day the game did, so as people were getting high off the game in the forum's Omega Five thread, they were rudely startled once my review showed up. Immediately, the accusations, insults, and thoughts on game journalism flooded in. Including the inarguable fact that because it was a negative review, it was therefore terribly-written (that one's always a favorite). Now, I wasn't a total newbie at this job, and I knew people on the internet are generally not nice, but still, when you're in the moment; when the signal-to-noise ratio is so imbalanced against you, it doesn't matter if you started writing reviews last week or for 15 years. To some degree, you're going to feel your world crumbling. I was enemy of the state for a day, but I just had to let it go. And I have -- but for a moment, I wanted to say a couple of things about the review.

omegafive.jpg

First: It definitely could have been written better. Thinking 1UP's audience was bigger than it was/is, I aimed the text towards a more general audience; the folks who didn't care about shooters that weren't Geometry Wars. But, oops, this was 1UP, a place with a solid history of great interviews with Japanese game makers, and other respectable coverage about Japanese game stuff that people visited and loved us for. For god's sake, it's what I loved them for. Instead, the tone of the review was excessively acidic. Normally, I'd say being harsh with one's words is acceptable for a review of what the writer thinks is a bad game, but with Omega Five I cranked it up to where it simply overshadowed whatever I thought was good about the game (there were things), and in turn, it irked people way more than it should have, based simply on attitude. Both the opening and closing paragraphs didn't help, as that's what most people scrolled down to first (or quoted in the forum posts).

But the second thing I have to say is that, regardless of the text, I have no qualms about the rating and core criticisms I gave the game. Those criticisms were A) the characters were too big, and B) the bullets interfered too much with the background. Well, what's "too much," you ask? Any shooter is going to have a curtain of bullets jetting toward the player at any given moment, right? That's the point, right? Right, but, that stuff is usually thought about very carefully. I didn't catch that with Omega Five; if anything, it seemed to me like the designers were trying too hard (or not enough) to balance the bullet volume with the character sizes, and I quickly reached points in the levels where I simply lost track of what I was doing, and the damn thing just got going. I can't say that about my time with, say, Deathsmiles, another horizontal shooter on 360, because Deathsmiles hardly has that problem when I play it. Deathsmiles was made by people who know how to make shooters.

And I like to think that I understand shooters, then and now. Probably not in all the ways that everybody else understands them (I'm not the 1cc type, so, sorry if that's all that matters to you), but I've played, and played, and reviewed, and reviewed tons of games over the years in a variety of genres, so I think I've earned the belief to know what works for me, and what usually works for a game of a certain type, and consider what may work for someone else. Maybe I'll treat a game a little worse or a little better than the other guy, and maybe I'll make a kneejerk reaction to something before it's out (y'know, like everybody), but when it comes to putting nose to grindstone, I'm always fair. Fair enough to take a game as it is; fair enough to compare, contrast, and contextualize, and fair enough to reserve some optimism if I'm disappointed. Yes, really -- I honestly could not wait for the 3DS Omega Five, and hopefully it still pops up.

Like I said, I was no stranger to assholes on the internet, and in GAF and GAF's spin-offs' cases, several of those people are so devoted to their shtick that it's no wonder they go kamikaze in response to the tiniest pinprick of opposition. And if I learned anything (hoo boy), it was that I should just be myself. Mindfully targeting an audience is one thing, but when you're so far off the target of another -- one that you yourself identify with -- the backfire is deafening and destructive. Yeah, no shit.

As much as the jerky responses made me upset at the time, nothing terrible occurred as a result of the review. No one gave me a talking-to. Hudson did not complain (as far as I know). I kept my job, for a couple years anyway. In fact, it was a few months later when Hudson brought by Takahashi Meijin, and I got to have fun with him, and generally end up with a good experience and a perfectly normal relationship with the company. Yes, a happy ending -- because, really, Omega Five was an XBLA shooter with an impact on video game history as strong as a raindrop. I'm glad you liked it, but I didn't, and maybe we can find something else to agree on. Oh yeah, well... three months later, I gave Ikaruga an A, and no one said jack about it, me, or Omega Five. At least one side had their expectations met that time.