By Video_Game_King 14 Comments
Well, that was certainly fast. I finished this game in a little over an hour on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Hell, I'm pretty sure it took me longer to write this blog than to complete the game it's covering. That's got to be some kind of record. Not that I'm complaining or anything. In fact, I wouldn't have had it any other way. For you see, Liberation Maiden is a lot like sex: it's extremely loud, visually busy, and everybody's trying to kill each other, but damn, does it feel amazing.
The only issue I'd really take with the game is the story. It's the year Future, and Japan has been conquered by....that part's not very clear. In fact, you have to jump into the Gallery menu just to figure out what happened to Japan in the Future, and even then, unlockables guarantee that you're going to be in the dark on a lot of important details regarding the premise. (They were invaded by Dominion, by the way. No, I'm not entirely sure what that is.) Anyway, Japan's invaded by robots or some shit, and it's up to their president to fix this problem personally, by which I mean "she straps herself into a giant yet extremely vulnerable robot to fuck some shit up". I guess the morale boost this would bring is supposed to outbalance the massive tactical errors that come with the territory. Or maybe 18 year old high school students aren't master strategists.
Or maybe I'm not supposed to take any of this too seriously. I can see that counter-argument coming into play at some point. After all, none of this is being presented too seriously. It's a sci-fi future where robots fly through the sky and presumably do other things. This isn't the real world; who am I to question these rules? As long as there aren't any major holes or horrible offences, I'm just supposed to be content with the fact that I am the Liberation Maiden, right? Yea, I can buy that argument, and not just because of that last part. The story's not the main focus of Liberation Maiden, so some leniency is in order. Some, though, because there's still one major thematic issue at play here. The bad guys are bad presumably because technology. That's the most important factor behind their evil nature. They're disrupting the natural order, and it's your job to fix it....with your giant ass robot that's also made from technology. That's a fairly large thing to overlook, and sadly, the game never really addresses it. Instead, I'm expected to accept the "technology sucks and the natural world will always triumph" lesson without examining this one significant factor.
At least the game looks good doing all this. Actually, "good" might not be the right word. If I had to describe the look of this game, it would be "clean". Everything about the game just looks ludicrously smooth and refined. Take, for instance, the anime cutscenes. OK, so there are only two of them, but Liberation Maiden's going for quality over quantity. The colors are striking, the lines completely natural, the animation is fluid, and it's clear that a lot of effort was put into how this game looks. Some of this applies just as well to the actual game parts, but in a less exciting way. All I can really add is that the frame rate is very smooth. It might reach 60 in some areas, although I'm not an expert on this type of thing. And while I'm talking about the aesthetic, I might as well mention the music, because it's pretty good. (This time, "good" is the right word to describe it.) It's got a fast, high energy beat that fits the game extremely well.
This is because at any given time, there can be a trillion things going on simultaneously. Your goal in any given level is to shoot things until the game tells you to shoot even more things. (There are other things to do, but more on that in a minute.) Holy hell, is Liberation Maiden good at providing you with things to shoot. You're never at a loss for something to blast full of missiles (or lasers, if you prefer variety in your indiscriminate killing). What results is a very fast paced shooter that specializes in instant gratification. In fact, that's mainly the reason why I'm totally OK with the game being only five 30-minute stages long: it lets what ideas it has work at their full capacity. If the game went on for any longer, the mechanics would be stretched far too thin, and the game isn't exactly equipped for variety. It's only good at quick, simple minded shooting. Yea, this type of high-density gameplay may turn off those who can't keep up with the pace, but personally, I find it incredibly appealing.
However, I am an understanding man (the lack of executions during my reign stands as proof for that), and as such, I will mention that the game has more to it than that. Not much more, mind you, but enough. In addition to the normal missions of shooting things up, each level also contains at least one side mission that entails...well, shooting things up under slightly different circumstances. It's not a lot of variety, but enough of a distraction to shake things up.......Not doing it for you, huh? How about unlockables? Tons of unlockables! More unlockables in than there are enemies! That should keep you busy for a while, and not in a cynical "because we couldn't come up with actual content" kind of way. More in an engaging "actually pushing the game to its limits" kind of way. Yea, some of them are knocked out easy, like "use this weapon a lot" or "kill this amount of guys", but then you have to beat the game 1200 times on Hard, all of them with an absolute perfect score. Such a challenge requires playing the levels over and over again to understand the mechanics and such. I assume. I never really went after the unlockables because it's not my style, but it's certainly there for anybody who actually wants to.
I guess the only real complaint I'd lob against the gameplay would be the controls, which definitely take some getting used to. They're a lot like Kid Icarus' controls in that you move with the stick and aim with....well, the stick, but the extendy stick on the back of the 3DS. I don't have a lot of issues with this. Instead, I'd like to criticize the movement. Moving the stick forward or backward moves you in those directions, whereas moving it left or right merely turns you in said directions. That may sound minor, but it's counter-intuitive and muddies the combat. You spend a lot of your time drunkenly backing in and out of fire, just trying to get your bearings and wishing things work better. Well, wish granted, as all those complaints are rendered completely and utterly moot by the L button, which allows you to strafe and shoot things up as the developers intended you to: jumping between targets at very fast speeds and barely understanding any of it.
- You know how a lot of games can be fun because of their idiocy? This isn't one of them.
- Imagine Kid Icarus: Uprising if somebody replaced the cheesy comedy with a bag of meth.
- And man, does it look (and sound) superb.
Man, I wish I hadn't covered Bulk Slash two years ago. That would've given me a flimsy excuse to call this blog "Ba".
Instead, we're going with this. Why I thought this would be a quick game to beat is beyond me. Rather than getting a game that would take an hour to beat, I got a genital-bustingly hard shooter. Not just ball busting; Ikaruga busts your entire crotch and reproductive system into nothingness, denying you any sort of sexual thrill from its completion. (Assuming, of course, that beating hard games gets you hard.) But for as criminally difficult as the game is, it's hard to fault it. Ikaruga's hard less because it simply spams bullets at you, but because of intelligent design that results in the game spamming bullets at you.
What makes this particular shooter intelligent? Your only form of defense against a World War's worth of bullets: polarity changing. Match the color of an oncoming bullet and it will simply make you more powerful. Fail to match it (and if you play this game for long enough, you will) and you die a horrible death. Just looking at it on its own, things already look promising. It's an easy to understand premise, but gets complicated really fast. See that screen I used in the word bubble? That's from the second level. That soon, and the game already makes you feel like you're gonna die when about half the screen will do the exact opposite. And it only gets worse from there. If the screen hasn't become a horrible mosaic of black and white, it's because unblockable obstacles are flying at your face at sonic speed, and you have to react a lot faster than that if you want to survive. Do I even need to say that this creates some very real tension, or that it will rob you of life after life; credit after credit?
What I do need to say is that this isn't all that bad. The tension transforms Ikaruga from a game about triumph to one about survival and then back to triumph as you finally make it through what the game has thrown at you. It's hard to put into words, but merely making it through a level in this game creates this strong feeling of exhilaration and excitement and whatnot. Besides, for as horribly difficult as the game is, it's a lot more lenient than it initially seems. See that ship in the screenshot I referenced just in the last paragraph? Only a very tiny part of it needs to be hit for you to die. Granted, you're probably not going to use this as a strategy in the actual game, but it's good to know that even when things are tilting in your favor, the game's going to kick your ass. Bosses are also skippable, but why would you bother doing that? Unless said boss is absolutely going to destroy you (and I can name maybe only one that will), you stick it out and beat that machine into submission. Let it know who's boss.
Because that's what this game is all about: skill. If you don't have the skill, you're simply not going to win. I know that sounds insultingly basic, but it really is a theme that runs throughout all the features in the game. That's why the chain system exists: to boost your score like crazy so you can get the extra lives you'll so desperately need. You build it up by killing enemies in sets of three, but good luck doing that when the game specifically goes out of its way to fuck up your combos each and every time. Just like simply finishing the levels, it takes a lot of effort to get this working and feels very satisfying when you've accrued the skill necessary to pull it off. Same goes for the next system in the game, which explains why I'll be so brief with it: you do more damage to enemies if you don't match their color. Now Ikaruga's no longer just about matching whatever color happens to be dominating the screen. Now you have to weigh your options: do you take enemies out with little risk over a long time, or do you go for broke and just blast opposite colors and hope they don't do the same? The only way to figure that out is to play the game a billion times and learn its systems in and out. You know, that sounds like a good place to leave the bl-
Oh, right. I forgot that my contract forces me to mention at least one major flaw per review. Let's see what I can dig up.....controls? I already tackled that with Liberation Maiden, but sure, why not? In fact, let's make it a very similar complaint: movement. Specifically, no use of the analog stick (if there was any, I sure couldn't figure out how to get it working). Granted, the game was originally made for arcade sticks that I doubt allowed the analog control I so desire, but still, it's not exactly the best way to control the game. An analog stick may allow me more control than a simple D-pad would, something I'd absolutely love in a game like this. However, let it be known that this is a minor complaint, as is the low level count. Given how hard they are, length isn't going to be an issue with them, and given the level of thought put into their design, I doubt enjoyment will be, either.
- I have said that this game will kick your ass and bust your genitals. I would stand by both statements if Ikaruga hadn't effectively destroyed the lower half of my body.
- But it's a thinking man's destruction, especially when you're replaying the levels enough times to have the luxury of thinking them over.
- Oh, and something about the controls, I guess?
- Fun fact: the translation of the game's name is essentially "finch".