Shmups. Blowing stuff up while flying around in improbable locales, for even more improbable reasons hold a certain appeal for people. There's just something cathartic to seeing those pretty explosions. It's also one of the most Zen-inducing game types out there, requiring a lot of finesse in controlling your craft. You have to make it an extension of your soul, so that not even one stray missile will hit your aircraft.
Way back in the late 90's Squaresoft (they're not Square-Enix just yet) released one of the finest shmups of that era: Einhander.
Unlike most shmups, there is a sort of a story going on in the background, which is made apparent by the very first FMV that you see before the title screen. There's a war going on between the Earth and the Moon. As a lone wolf from the Moon, you are tasked to infiltrate and destroy key installations of the Earth forces. But is that all there is to it?
Don't think too much of the implications of the story, this is
a shmup, after all, and the most important thing would be blowing stuff up in the most beautiful ways.
The game is a side-scrolling shooter a-la Gradius, but without enemies coming in from the left. It also featured a great gimmick when it comes to powerups. Instead of collecting random doodads that somehow make your projectiles stronger, it had Gunpods. These Gunpods are the weapons of your vanquished enemies. Once you kill an enemy holding a Gunpod, that weapon is yours for the taking (so it's less 'thief' and more 'pillaging'). There are a lot of different Gunpods, and the game keeps track of what you already obtained, so you can use them on another playthrough. There are three ships (initially) to choose from, and each one has different playstyles to them. It also featured variable speed, but I didn't use that one too much.
Then we get to the Boss battles. They look very menacing, and that makes it that much more satisfying once you see its appropriately spectacular death animation/explosions. Each boss has its own different attack patterns you would have to exploit if you want to stand a chance (though getting better Gunpods works as well).The game grades you after each boss fight, and while you would normally want to kill the boss as quickly as possible for a better grade, methodically destroying parts of the bosses will sometimes lead to special battle situations, which would almost always lead to a secret Gunpod. So, ultimately, there is not one "correct" way to take down a boss, as they usually sport different parts that affect how you fight them when destroyed (you may see a weapon installation and destroy it, only to have the boss pull out BIGGER guns).
To illustrate my point about the bosses, take a look at that video. That boss can be taken down in four seconds (one second to kill, three seconds for the death animation and kaboom), if you had the right Gunpod for the job (a fully-charged Riot / Flash) and knew where to target it so the "head" can be blown off in one shot by piercing through the armor. However, taking your time and destroying the boss piece by piece works just as well, because, it doesn't really matter how long it took, as long as it's the other guy that's smithereens.
The graphics are great for its time, and while it does suffer from slow down, it only happens at some very hectic firefights. This can be a good thing or a bad thing; you might appreciate the slow down because you can see clearly what's happening or you won't because the precision on the controls are a little shot. The way the game changes camera angles for certain events are also certainly a nice touch.
The soundtrack for this game is awesome. The first two level's boss themes are amongst the most memorable I've ever heard. Every explosion goes of with the appropriate "boom" and the sounds on the higher-ended Gunpod are decidedly high-tech sounding. It's one of the rare games that I could recall where there is no piece of music that is out of place.
All in all, Einhander is one of those games where the final product is more than the sum of its parts. Everything in it just melds with each other so beautifully that you won't even notice that you've been trying for the umphteenth time to beat that one boss
, and it's already four in the morning.