By: Krooze L-Roy
(Operating Thetan, level 4)
#2 – Psyvariar 2
Out of all the games on this list, this one least adheres to typical shmup conventions. As a matter of fact, you could go so far as to say that Psyvariar 2 turns the whole concept of the shmup on it’s ear. Flying directly into enemies and their bullets is not only possible, it’s essential to scoring well. And experts at the game tend to shoot their weapon only occasionally; purposely (though selectively) sparing the lives of their adversaries. It’s a strange beast; a shmup that requires very little dodging and shooting. “B-But how is this POSSIBLE,” you scream in red-faced indignation.
Here’s how. Gameplay revolves heavily around leveling up your character (you play as a mech, by the way). For every level gained, your mech becomes temporarily invincible for a fraction of a second. During this time you are free to kamikaze your enemies and dive into their bullets. With some skill, and perhaps a bit of luck, you can level up repeatedly and frolic carefree through even the thickest waves of enemy fire. And man, oh, man does it feel nice.
This simple concept spawns a devious conflict of interests in the players’ psyche. Risk is the key to both success and failure, and this is mostly due to another of the game’s key mechanics; bullet scraping.
Placing your mech in close proximity to enemy bullets increases both your score and your experience level. This risk obviously puts you in immediate danger, but it’s also fundamental to leveling up, which temporarily cancells out this danger. You frequently find yourself in both situations; dying because you get carried away with bullet-bathing heroics, and the other side of the coin; dying because you didn’t fill up your experience gage fast enough to cancel out the massive wall of lead coming your way.
These elements create a game that’s as maddening as it is captivating, but for all it’s complexity, it’s not as difficult as it sounds (nor as complex). The hit box is extremely small, perhaps even as small as a single pixel. Thus, only a tiny portion of your mech is actually vulnerable to enemy fire, resulting in many “how the hell did I survive that” moments, and who doesn’t love those.
The true difficulty of the game is psychological. It’s the struggle to find a balance between playing carefully and going for it that makes this game tough. As such, it’s one of the few games that you seem to get worse at as you play and become more confident with it’s concepts.
It does indeed take a while to get used to playing a shmup this way though. And it’s equally difficult to get un-used to it when you switch over to a more conventional game. It’s as unique as Ikaruga and as addictive as crack-laced crack. And when you get into the rhythm of the game, it’s an experience like no other. This game simply must be experienced, and you should do whatever it takes (w h a t e v e r. i t. t a k e s) to get your hands on it.
Psyvariar 2 is also available for the Japanese PS2, which can be picked up for significantly less zenny than the Dreamcast version. So, as much as I hate to say it, that might be a more sensible route to take if you have an import-enabled PS2.