Ryu Jin (Arcade, 1993)
In my quest to experience the newfound world of shmups, it's easy enough to seek out and find the major franchises of the genre - Gradius, R-Type, whatever. But the reason the genre has always been so daunting to me is because of the vast number of more obscure gems (in an already obscure genre) - many of them exclusive to Japan - and hardcore shmup fans tend to swear by these type of games even more than those major franchises. But I wanted to dive in to the genre! An endless series of Gradius and the like would become a bit stale no matter how good they might be. Where to start?
Luckily Racket Boy's Shmup of the Month Club took care of that for me, because, a few years in, the already hardcore-shmup fans are nominating all sorts of stuff that a genre noob like myself have never heard of. Case in point: Ryu Jin, an arcade, Japan-exclusive, Taito-published shmup from the early '90s. But it's also a little bit random - certainly seems obscure even to genre fans - which means I might not be able to fully contextualize it. But who cares about all that? We're all just shooting shit down in a lone spaceship, right?
Well, yeah. See, I don't know if we should call this a bullet hell - it doesn't feature those massive pattern-waves of enemy fire that I associate with the genre, but it's way too manic and intense to lump in with other genre standards. An in-between game, then, which is exactly what someone else in those forums labeled it. All I know is that was pretty damn hard - hard is one thing, but dying restarts you at the beginning of the level, and that's pretty brutal. In each life you have a health bar - 3 hits, upgradeable to 4. But the problem with this is how little impact a hit seems to have - enemy fire is everywhere, and there's no major audio indication, and there's very little grace period either (just barely enough time to mutter a curse under your breath - or scream at the screen, as the case might be). I understand the need to up the difficulty by restarting the level upon death, but I would have preferred the 3-hit health system to be a little more forgiving. But that's just me - I'm a scrub.
Visually, it's a nice looking game and plays butter-smooth, though its aesthetics didn't impress me much. I sort of suspect this is a problem in the genre in general, but visibility became a concern after a while - like enemy fire colored closely to match the background, or your ship's huge charged attacks. The real hook of the game, if there is one, is that by holding down the fire button you can charge your ship's attack into a bigger one - a little too big, as it obscures too much of the oncoming enemy fire. So the central crux of the game is getting into the right rhythm - when to use a charge, when not to. It's necessary to take down enemies with it, which is another small problem I had - balance issues with enemy health. There are way too many enemies who can take two (or more) fully charged blasts, and at that point it begins to feel a little tedious.
But I won't dwell on the game's shortcomings too much - in the end, it left me hungry for more of the same - in a better package, if it's on the menu.