Best Games - Guwange
Okay. First off, there is absolutely no way that I can talk about a game that is part of a splinter off a sub-genre of a genre without wading deep into the weeds. I’m going to toss out some titles and terms without defining them. If you read this hoping to find out what a shmup or STG is, you are in the wrong place. Also shmup is a stupid word and I won’t have it placed idly in my writing without mocking it. You have been warned.
If we were to draw a timeline of the vertically scrolling shooter game you would have to reach all the way back to Space Invaders. While not technically a scrolling shooter, due to the lack of scrolling, the core of the experience is there in Space Invaders. Moving and shooting while bullets rain down. You would step forward down that timeline to Galaga and Galaxian, still proto-scrolling shooters. Any sense of vertical movement in those games is superficial. Soon you would reach Xevious and 1942, both 100% vertically scrolling shooters. Maybe not the first, but very early versions of the form. You would snake your way through games like Tokio Scramble Formation and Varth, Turbo Force and Tiger Heli. The Sonic Wings series and Raiden series. All fine examples of a developing genre.
There are several branch points where the vertical scrolling shooter split into distinct flavours. The standard vertical shooter, the vertical run and gun shooter, and the bullet hell shooter are some enduring favorites. Some would say that it was Cave Interactive’s DonPachi or follow up DoDonPachi that solidified the branch of bullet hell or bullet curtain shooters, but they created a far more important game a few years later.
Guwange was never as popular as many of the other shooters of it’s time since it didn’t see a wide release outside of Japan. Even so, there are a few things that Guwange did that make a game like Ikaruga possible.
Before Guwange, the gimmick of throwing an unreasonable barrage of bullets at the player was what defined a bullet hell game. Guwange is less about challenging your dexterity and more about changing how you focus. Broadening your perception and forcing yourself into a flow state is the only real way to play Guwange.
The beautiful, muted backdrop of a feudal Japan beset by demonic spirits provides the conceit for the game’s core mechanic. Each of the three player characters can summon a spirit that the player can control to float around the screen attacking enemies. When you tap on the fire button you shoot normally, but when you hold down the fire button the spirit is released and the original character is constrained to slow left and right movement only. The spirit moves very quickly and is immune to bullets. The end result of these two different modes is that the player must pay attention to two different areas of the screen simultaneously. The vulnerable and slow moving main character, and the damage dealing and fast moving spirit. Oh, and one last thing, the spirit can slow enemy bullets to create some breathing room for the main character so you can’t pay attention to only one of them. You will need to play both characters, simultaneously, to succeed.
Written down, that sounds like an impossible task. Playing two characters at once on a screen otherwise filled with enemy bullets. Not only can you do it, you quickly find yourself playing through sections of Guwange intuitively. Never really focusing on any single spot on the screen. This is the sort of revelation that makes a developer believe that something like Ikaruga is not only possible, but playable by actual humans with regular human eyes and brains. Guwange is the turning point from one type of somewhat shallow gameplay, to a whole other world of depth and intriguing mechanics.
Guwange is one of the best games, and if you can find it, you should play it.