Some games you just weren’t meant to beat

I’m never, ever going to get a chance to fight that thing. Whatever it is. And it’s too bad, because I’ve always kind of liked shooters. Good old-fashioned shmups just kind of appeal to me. I think it’s the intricate dance around the bullets, the adrenaline, and the wicked power-ups. Unfortunately, I’ve also come to realize that I’m really not all that good at them. Actually, check that: I really suck at shoot’em-ups. When it’s me in one spaceship against the world, the world wins. Every single time.

That hasn’t stopped me from trying, though. When I was a kid, I considered it an accomplishment if I made it past the third level of 1943 for the NES. I never did, of course, because that plane was a real bastard, and I always seemed to be out of fuel at the end of the level. Getting hit all the time does that to you.

It was the same story with R-Type Delta on the PlayStation. Great game, quite nice to look at, too hard for the likes of poor little me. And don’t even get me started on Mars Matrix. That game was indeed bullet hell, and I was its chief damned soul. Now here I am with the Gradius Collection and Metal Slug, butting my head against that same old wall. You would have thought I’d learned by now.

I’ve had a quick run through all of the Gradius games now (well, except for Gradius III, mostly because Kishi’s article made me actively terrified of it), and the results have been pretty consistent. I pick up some power-ups, start to move faster. “Hey,” a voice in my head says, “maybe you can actually do this!” I’ve got some Options now, my lasers are filling the screen, and I’m popping those little alien bastards left and right. Then, all of the sudden, wall. Bang, I’m dead. Or bang, there’s that phoenix at the end of Gradius II’s first stage. Or that caterpillar thing in Gradius Gaiden. Or hell, pretty much any wall of bullets will do it.

Bang, bang, bang, you’re dead. Game over.

But unfortunately for the citizens of the universe, I’m going to keep hopping into that cockpit. And when I’m done, I’m going to pick up an RTS. Or god forbid, a fighting game. I guess there are some games that I just can’t quit.

19 thoughts on “Some games you just weren’t meant to beat

  1. Yeah, Contra 4 indeed…it’s a lot to handle at first, but you’ll get it after a little while. Also, picking up a fighting game or two wouldn’t be a bad idea…

  2. I have the same relationship with fighters. I have a huge collection of discs: Virtua Fighters, Street Fighters, Tekkens, Mortal Kombats. I can cheap my way through the first fights, but once the difficulty level increases to require combos and juggles, all is pretty much lost.

    I even bought an X-arcade stick (w/adapters for all my then current systems) hoping that in the way a new word processor makes one a better author, or a new camera makes a better photographer; I would see same sort of improvement…

  3. I’ve never beaten a shmup without cheating (games like Bangai-O with level select don’t count, in my opinion).

    Good to know there’s someone else who loves the genre but sucks at it.

  4. Kat, have you beat any of the Parodius games? I’ll bet you the bright yellow tutu-wearing robowalker-turned-bunnygirl is within your reach.

    Have hope. It worked for Gurren-Lagann (god someone please please make a Gurren-Lagann shmup)

  5. I made it to… the second to the last level of Contra 4 on normal mode. Also, I love fighting games. I just suck at them.

  6. I finally decided this week, after throwing my Classic Controller against the floor by the cord in frustration trying to get through Level 5 of Soldier Blade, that I’m not going to spend any more money on shmups. I have terrible eye-hand coordination, no fine motor skills and really bad reflexes. I’m terrible at these and not getting any better, and I own enough of them now that I can amuse myself with the ones I have if I feel like playing one.

  7. My best friend busted my first NES in a fit of rage after it froze up on the last Ninja Gaiden level. My birthday was a few weeks away and my dad made an early present out of a timely replacement. And though I’ll always will remember that game fondly, I haven’t touched it since.

    (Does anyone know why registration is closed in the forums?!)

  8. I’m the same way with RTS games. I like playing them and I usually get about halfway through the campaign before I hit a wall. Then it’s straight to GameFAQs for cheats so I can watch the cutscenes I’d never see otherwise.

  9. Give Einhander a shot. I suck pretty badly at shooters myself, but I did manage to beat Einhander. I’m pretty sure it’s the only shooter I’ve ever beaten. A lot of it has to do with the weapons–you can select which weapons you start with from any weapon you’ve ever acquired in your playthroughs of the game. So once you find some of the super powerful hidden weapons like the Flash, the next time you play you can have it equipped as your starting weapon. Coming back with a heavy duty arsenal when you die is very helpful.

  10. I always find it odd that RTS games are notorious for being one of those genres people just can’t deal with difficulty wise (well, barring ultra-competitive multiplayer matches anyway). Twitch skills you can plateau with, fighting games require the occasional weird bit of dexterity, but with something like, say, Star Craft, it really does all come down working out the proper order to build things in the early game for maximum efficiency. Persistence should pay off there for anyone.

  11. Incorrect. Build orders are only part of the equation. If you can’t efficiently macromanage a large economy while knowing how to properly micromanage your armies on the ground, you will probably lose. Macro I can do, to some extent. Micro is what always gets me in the end.

  12. Ah, I completely relate with this article. I may not be completely crap at shmups, but I have never finished a gradius or r-type either and yet I keep playing them and wanting to buy ’em.

    Ah, NES ninja gaiden, I feel your pain! In my case I had spent so long getting to the last level after fighting the ‘fake’ last boss and dealing with those annoying birds, then we had a power failure (quite frequent where I am so this is not the only game that I was depressed into not finishing) I never played it again and proceeded to the sequels.

  13. I think the only shmup I’ve ever beaten was that free game on XBLA last year (dunno if it’s still there). And that was with the ability to hide behind three other better players who spent half their lives getting all of the achievements.

  14. Gradius III on the SNES/VC is not nearly as crazy difficult as the version Kishi described–in no small part because its poor programming causes slowdown when there’s lots of bullets coming at you! It’s one of the /two/ shmups I’ve beaten (the other being Castle Shikigami 2 on the easiest possible combination of difficulty and character).

  15. I second the recommendation for the Parodius games. They’re a little less infuriating and a lot CUTER!

  16. As a shooter fan myself, I’m always sort of sad that it can be such an impenetrable genre. My own hooks into the genre were Ikaruga and the Touhou doujin series; the former for how brilliantly it overturned many of the usual conventions of shooters while still staying true to its roots (something very common among Treasure games, I’m sure many have noticed) and the latter for great music, bullet patterns and fairly accessible gameplay, all made by one person no less! Beyond these, the amount of variety, gameplay and otherwise, in what must seem like a limited genre is pretty staggering.

    When it really comes down to it, the reason that these games keep bringing me back despite the punishing difficulty is the same reason that I love action games and fighting games; they all give you a feeling of accomplishment like no other, that when you beat it or accomplish some milestone you know you earned it by your skill alone and not by cheesing through. Being confronted with a seemingly impenetrable wall of bullets and breezing through without taking any hits gives a huge rush that has few equals.

  17. Everybody is bad at things they don’t do very often, though. I find that people who think they ‘suck’ at shooters just aren’t spending any real time with them. If you put half of time it would take you to go through Chrono Trigger into R-Type Delta, I guarantee you’d know the game inside-out and would look exactly like one of those players you see on YouTube and assume must be extremely reclusive. ;)

    The same goes for any kind of shooter, really. Whether it’s all about memorizing enemy placements or learning the intricacies of a complicated scoring system, your success is – for better or worse – largely determined by the amount of time you’ve spent in the saddle, so to play one shooter for 20 minutes and decide that you’re just not cut out for “these kinds of games” is to cheat yourself out of some incredibly rewarding, fun experiences.

    (Of course, forcing yourself to practice when you’re really not interested would be just as unhealthy, but you know what I mean…)

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