By: Krooze L-Roy
(Time for your shot. Get it? Shmups? Shot? Do you get it?)
#1 – Border Down
It was a tragic day for lameness the day this game was released. Simply put, Border Down is awesome. I could end the review right now and be content in the knowledge that I’ve described the game 100% accurately, but I suppose I’ll ramble on for a while (for typing practice).
The spiritual sequel to another fairly obscure import shooter called Metal Black (which is also very good, by the way), Border Down isn’t distinguished by gimmicks or clever twists. No, BD separates itself from the pack simply by kicking a lot of ass in every conceivable department. Graphics, music, controls – yes. Memorable bosses and level designs – check. Massive firepower – Cliclick. That last one was a text approximation of a shotgun pumping, by the way. A space shotgun.
The weapons at your thumb-tip are the glue that hold the game together, more so even than the average shmup. Developer G.Rev (Under Defeat) has been extremely generous in this department by giving the player a highly versatile yet elegant weapons system. As you play, your gun-power increases automatically (the occasional power up helps to expedite this process). When fully charged, your guns are fucking beasts. Two firing modes are available at all times; holding the shoot button will fire the traditional forward gun, while tapping the same button launches (surprisingly powerful) homing beams.
As potent as these standard weapons are, sometimes the situation calls for something bigger. Enter the super-laser. At any time, your firepower can be traded in for a supercharged laser blast, which will steadily drain your power meter the longer it’s held. It will also render you invincible, making it a defensive tool as well as an offensive weapon. One of the game’s coolest touches is that certain enemies (mostly bosses) have a superlaser of their own. And if two of these mammoth weapons should happen to collide head on… awesomeness ensues.
This simple control scheme quickly becomes second nature, which frees you up to concentrate on two things; dodging and blasting, the rock-solid foundation on which any respectable shoot em up is built.
And you’ll need all the concentration you can muster, because challenge makes a rather prominent appearance in this game. And while it could certainly be argued that such things are highly subjective, I’ll nevertheless go out on a limb and say that the difficulty is perfect. You’ll get your ass kicked until it’s the consistency of raw ground beef, but with time and practice, the game is surmountable. Even for someone with the reflexes of Bruce Lee (meaning, a corpse; probably not the best dead person I could’ve chosen as an example), beating the game in one credit seems tantalizingly doable.
So since I’ve ranted and raved for a bit longer than I’d planned, I’ll try to sum up Border Down in nine words; instant classic; the final nail in the Dreamcast’s coffin… removed. Damn.
As of this writing, there are no known plans of porting BD to any other system, so busting out the ol’ DC is currently the only way to play it at home (it was originally an arcade release, also Japan-only). It’s also a bit expensive to get a hold of, with mint copies selling for well over a hundred dollars, but for anyone who’s interested in picking up one of the best shmups available, it’s money well spent.
#5 – Trizeal
#4 – Zero Gunner 2
#3 – Under Defeat
#2 – Psyvariar 2
What, no Ikaruga? No Trigger Heart? As I stated in the introduction (see first entry-Trizeal), I disqualified all the games which later received U.S. releases. And, for various reasons, (namely the fact that I haven’t played Trigger Heart Excelica) I also secretly disqualified games that are slated to receive a future release. Just thought I should explain that.