Give me in-game retries, or give me death

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This will likely sound completely random and irrelevant, but something occurred to me today as I was playing Galaga Legions (a proper review is coming soon) that I thought might be somewhat common amongst the shmup fan community. That, or I just felt like bitching and decided to write an article about the object of my bitchery.

Shmups — really, really difficult ones — often require the player to retry a level over and over and over again in order to memorize enemy patterns and heighten one’s reflexes. There has not been a person born who can get through the entirety of Ikaruga without ever having picked up the game before, because these games are punishing and ruthless by their very nature. 

If you die twice in the first three minutes of a level in, say, Galaga Legions, it’s incredibly clear that you aren’t going to make it to the end of the level — or that, at the very least, a quick mistake has left you with fewer lives than you’d like, and you would be much more comfortable just starting over and correcting whatever mistake you made.

With that in mind, why the hell does Galaga Legions force me to exit the game, go to the menu, and then select my desired game type, level, graphical style, and control scheme before letting me back into the thick of things? Why, in other words, can’t I just retry from the ingame pause menu?

Hit the jump as I complain more about something only the most hardcore of shmup perfectionists care about.

The designers behind Galaga Legions and Ikaruga are, if not geniuses, awfully goddamn close. Their games take typical shooter mechanics and turn them on their heads, adding a single additional mechanic which initially seems simple and irrelevant, but eventually reveals its true depth. Whether we’re talking about the polarity system in Ikaruga or the satellites in Galaga Legions, these two shmups are awfully goddamned good.

I’m tempted to say it’s puzzling when geniuses screw up really simple things like menus, but maybe it’s not: these people put so much hard work into the actual game game, that option functionality was simply forgotten about.

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Or, perhaps it’s that they respect the player too much. The designer would never assume that the player would be so pathetic as to try and restart the level after only thirty seconds. So you lost a life within a minute of starting the level; so what? You’re not that much of a pathetic perfectionist that you want to retry the whole level in order to do it better, would you? 

Oh, you do. Whoops.

I blame myself, of course — it’s a poor shmup player who can’t come back from losing a single life and beat the level anyway — but at the same time, I wish so desperately for Ikaruga or Galaga Legions to include an ingame retry which doesn’t take thirty seconds to activate. I’m sure it’s not actually thirty seconds, but playing a shmup heightens your senses and slows down your perception of time as you rush to dodge bullets and blow away baddies; a few dozen seconds of menu navigating can feel like minutes under these conditions.

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Trying to hone one’s skills and beat a single shmup level is a quasi-religious experience. You become hypnotized as you subconsciously internalize the rules and patterns of the enemies coming at you, zoning out as you repeat the same sequence of events over and over and over again, fighting to get to the part you’re having trouble with, and finally succeeding after a half-dozen tries only to start again, now working on getting past the next part of the level you have trouble with. It’s a borderline obsessive-compulsive state of being, and your sense memory can really begin to kick in in weird ways.

If you’re a habitual restarter like myself, you’ll eventually (and again, subconsciously) learn the exact joystick and button movements necessary to navigate back to the menu and restart your level. If, say, you have to pause (start), scroll down to quit (down) and select it (A), then scroll down two more times in the main menu and select the mode you were playing in (A), the level you were on (A), and the control setup you used (A), then these all begin to string together as the player is forced to input the code more and more often. It becomes as quick and automatic as entering the Konami code: whoops, you died, better hit startdownAdowndownAAA and wait for the game to load back up.

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I don’t really know where I was going with that, but it’s an oddly automatic hypnotic sort of reaction I have to constant shmup death in lieu of an ingame retry. 

Anyway, that brings me back to the whining: if you’re going to have a game with frequent player death that demands perfection from its player, then do them the courtesy of allowing them to redo the level without making them hypnotically navigate 30 seconds of menus. I wanna play the game, dammit, so just let me do that as easily as possible.

Fuck you, I thought it was interesting. 

Anthony Burch