This (half baked) article does two things, it goes into the state of the shmup genre and why the likes of CAVE and Grev, who are the Capcom and Ark System Works of the shmup genre have fallen on hard times and are facing somewhat of a perfect storm. The second part contains some news which might pull them and the genre out of the shit as to speak.
The State Of The Shmup Genre
The long version
With the resurgence of 2D retro games due to xbla and psn and the high number of shmups available for the 360 xbla and retail most casual onlookers would think shmups are as a whole in great shape too. But the sad thing is things arenít as rosy as they seem as Japanese shmup developers seem to be facing somewhat of a perfect storm hampering them from making a profit making and selling new titles.
1) Arcade development is no longer profitable. Shmups are usually developed as coin-op arcade games and while the arcades in Japan are still alive if only just. And since many shmups in the past never saw a console release and those that did were lesser ports due to the lacking horsepower of consoles. So shmup purists would buy the arcade PCBs which retailed up to $2000 new. With this generation of consoles finally able to fully emulate the arcade shmups. Many fans are less prepared to spend that kind of money when they can wait for the console port.
Like FTG like SSFIV and KoFXIII, the fact Japanese Shmups are still designed for the arcade means that titles are of a higher quality compared to run of the mill indie efforts
2) Shmups are a super niche genre and traditionally have been kept alive by a small fanbase who are prepared to pay a premium price for the console games that only usually sell 10k to 100k titles.
3) Traditionally most shmup devs tend to all develop for the same console which becomes the console to have for the fanbase. While it keeps sales higher than having their customers spread out on multiple systems. It does mean they are putting all their eggs in one basket. And with the failure of the 360 in Japan, domestic sales are shrinking and arnt enough to sustain profitability.
4) This means that shmup devs like CAVE and Grev are for the first time ever looking towards shmupfans outside of Japan. Unfortunately traditionally practically no western publishers would localise shmups (although the odd shmup made it to the US like the Raiden games) They didnít sell, received very little publicity from the gaming press and most reviews were from gamers who felt that they were a relic of bygone days and should stay there
. Luckily with the advent of retro gaming reviews like this are a raraty now.
5) Unfortunately the genre doesnt have a big enough following to xbla viable for most games. The games are better off been sold at retail at a premium price given there low sales. Also the fanbase and collectors prefer them to be boxed aswell.As ive said in my last blog
xbla is as good a prospect as other genres, Xbla shmups tend to go under the radar with MS usually not listing them as they should in the xbla marketplace. As unlike platformers and fighting games, shmups dont have their own genre tab and often are lumped into the shooter tab along with the FPS games.
Also its worth noting that most xbla shmups are rereleases of old games (eg Ikaruga, Trigger Heart Excelica, Guwange) or shmups that donít have the same content or quality as a AAA shmup (Space Invaders infinity gene, Space Invaders Extreame,Galaga DX, Omega 5) That leaves Trouble Witches Neo which was originally a doujin fangame that became a hit and Grev's Strania which while having ex Treasure employees working on it sold poorly. So for AAA shmups they are best sold as $30-$40 retail games.
6) Before CAVE fully entered into the west, they preformed an experiment and made two of their Japanese releases (Mushihimisama Futari & Esp Galuda2) region free so anyone with a western 360 could import them. They were a success and Aksys published Deathsmiles for NA and Rising Star Games published Deathsmiles for PAL. Also 2 other Japanese shmups from devs other than CAVE were released as region free.
The region free Dodonpachi Resurrection
7) Arksys pulled out from shmups after Deathsmiles leaving RSG as CAVEs only publisher in the west. RSG then released Dodonpachi Resurrection during novembergeddon and despite been region free so US gamers could import. It totally flew under the radar due to every major gaming site bar Eurogamer been focused towards the US market and didnt bother reviewing a niche PAL exclusive, instead they reviewed the mediocre Otomedius Excellent by Konami. Dodonpachi Resurrection was something of a flop with prices plummeting to £10 - £15 new after only been out a month.
8) Also during this time MS pulled the plug on region free with has become something of a band aid to push up sales of shmups that had little or no chance of been localised in the west and Japanese domestic sales shrinking even fuether. Then CAVE say they are to focus more on social games
For Those of you who cant be bothered reading all of that here's the short version
1) Most Japanese shmup devs develop for the 360 which isnít doing well in Japan
2) For the most part the genre is too small to make xbla profitable
3) Region free releases became something of a band aid for devs and propped up sales
4) MS pulled the plug on region free
5) Currently Rising Star Games is the only western publisher of retail shmups. Their last PAL exclusive (but region free) flopped due to not been reviewed by major gaming websites due to them been focused on the US market.
6) CAVE announces its losing money making arcade and 360 shmups and is to focus more on social gaming.
The news segment
So from what seemed as a resurgence of the genre only a year ago has suddenly made a change for the worst and even though a couple of shmups are in the pipeline Sina Mora for xbla and Under Defeat HD for Japan only these might be the dying gasps of air of shmups on the big screen.
CAVE's awesome horizontal shooter Akai Katana
Luckily Rising Star Games have announced they are opening shop in the US and plan to publish CAVE horizontal shmup Akai Katana
both on PAL and NA at the same time! They have also opened a department to publish digitally on xbla, psn, iOS and STEAM! (what they plan to publish on these hasnít been announced)
Although im a UK gamer and was still getting Akai Katana anyway, this news is still very much welcomed due to most gaming sites been US focused its the only way to ensure the game gets enough coverage and has a shot at been a success. I hope that all of you who enjoy the genre will go out and but this quality game when it launches. RSG has shown that if they can make a profit they are more than happy to bring more titles to the west and it would be vital to survival of the best developers in the genre.
Its also worth pointing out that a little back ground on RSG and why they are highly regarded in certain niche gamer circles.
Compared to North America who have Altus, XSEED, NISA and many other niche publishers of Japanese game, PAL land is very much lacking with Rising Star Games been one of the few. Due to been a part of Marvellous Entertainment in the past their back catalog has been for the Wii and DS (Muramasa, No More Heroes, Rune Factory). But after their split they are releasing 360 / PS3 games as well. (Deadly Premonition & King of Fighters XIII) However its their relationship with shmup king CAVE that they are most noted for in arcade gaming circles. And with RSG been the sole western localiser of CAVE's shmups, they garner much praise and respect of the shooter fanbase. read