Let’s Talk About RayStorm

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Back in the days of ‘Ye Olde Console Market Wars’ from the bygone era known as ‘THE NINETIES’, games could simply get by purely by being super fun to play. Forget about any semblance of a story and just get out there, chuck the player right into the action and hope for the best that they’ll kind of figure the lot out on their own. I mean, there’s minimal plot to things like Mario and Sonic which were pretty much ‘save your friends’ storylines. Even games like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage are merely ‘beat everyone else up, kill the boss cos he’s a lunatic’

That isn’t to say that gaming in the early days, long before you or I were even born except I was because that is my era and you might have been because you’re as old as me or you are older than a foetus at least, didn’t have storylines at all. A lot of the later titles had them and early titles that I can remember such as Ex-Mutants and Golden Axe had a written storyline within the game as you progressed.

Cue RayStorm from the early days of the Playstation and HOLY FUCKING WHAT IN THE NAME OF LUCIFER IS THIS A SHMUP?????

Yes.

This is a SHMUP.

For the uninitiated, that’s the condensed name of the ‘shoot ’em up’ – a genre of games that mostly involves on-rails action horizontally or vertically where you simply shoot everything and try not to die.

I hate the whole concept of the word SHMUP. It’s so lazy and… well… it’s one of those words that just sounds awful to say. I say this from a teaching standpoint but the SH sound and the M sound do not gel together that well. Imagine trying to put the CH sound and the L sound next to each other. IT SOUNDS WEIRD. DON’T TRY IT. YOU’LL REGRET IT. Teacher hat off; gamer hat on.

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I don’t do SHMUPs normally. I’m not a SHMUP fan because to be honest, they’re not the type of game that speaks to me but some reason. There’s a sense of freneticism that doesn’t lend itself to my tastes at times. It’s the kind of game that relies on almost disturbingly high levels of concentration and gamer skills that I do not and have not ever possessed as such. I’m not a BAD gamer. I did ALMOST manage to complete Ikaruga once in my life.

Again, if you aren’t aware of Ikaruga, you’re not only dead to me but you’re ABSOLUTELY FUCKING CRAZY TO HAVE MISSED THAT GAME. That game was the HARDEST FUCKING GAME EVER and I was SO proud of myself for nearly completing it. I never did. It is an absolute beast of a game and for me to have got anywhere near to that end level is a miracle in itself. I mean… I don’t do these types of games. I said that. RayStorm was ACTUALLY one of my first. The only other game of this type I’d played was actually Nemesis on the Gameboy.

I know. Nemesis. On the Gameboy.

That fucking shitstorm of a game. Jeez, that game sucked.

But here’s why I like Raystorm in fact: it made me a better gamer. It made me veer away from my usual gaming tactics of just SHOOT EVERYTHING AND HOPE FOR THE BEST. It made me change the way I approached these sorts of games and other games from then on.

See, I have this unerring ability to be quite bravado-ish in gaming. I will still, even now, go all out attack in fighting games. I know how to block, mind, but I do tend to be very gung-ho in my attacking. If I have a combo, a tactic, a way of getting into the face of my opponent, I will exploit it mercilessly. If I’m on the back foot, then I rethink my tactics. I won’t carry on fucking about by being all up in their grill, hammering buttons like a button-testing fiend who loves testing buttons because his entire life is just a sad, sad mess. I change the way I play. RayStorm taught me that.

A SHMUP taught me to approach games differently.

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And purely on that basis, that is why I like this game.

But here’s the thing: it’s not ACTUALLY all THAT good.

If anything, it’s quite a lazy little title that really didn’t do much for the genre itself or push the limits in ANY way shape or form. It was, for all intents and purposes, an exceptionally safe piece of software. It was OK all over but at the very least, it was FUN.

But it’s not great.

BUT IT CHANGED ME.

Without this game, I would NEVER have got to the last stage of Ikaruga. EVER. Even now, I doubt I’d have got there without this game. Why?

This is a game, and in fact a genre, whereby you can die REALLY easily. It’s a game where you can get shot down in an instant and feel really ashamed that you got shot by a SINGLE stray bullet. I mean… really. There is no reason as to why a SINGLE bullet on the screen should kill you.

Yeah. Well I can be shot down by a single bullet if I’m doing what I usually do. I hold down the fire button and the screen is overtaken by ridiculous levels of firepower spraying across it like fireworks exploding in your face because you’re an irresponsible shit and look at you, you’ve burnt your face off. That’ll teach you to play with explosives, you moron. I even told you not to touch them.

And amidst that explosion of colour and stream of bullets you’re firing? One lone bullet is floating across the screen at half a mile an hour and you’re so fixated on shooting things BEFORE they arrive on the screen that you just leave it just enough time to flick your ship right into the path of that not-exactly-oversized stray bullet and BOOM.

Dead.

And boy does it feel embarrassing.

Suddenly, I’m overcome with the need to STOP pressing the shoot button so that I can see what’s happening all around me. I don’t want to have the ignominy of having another ridiculously slow bullet float towards me in slow motion, like a boat bobbing in the harbour, and losing yet another life to such a miserable excuse of gaming fuckery.

THE SHAME.

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So I slowed myself down playing this game. I was much more tactical with it. I locked on targets and let rip with my firepower. I locked on another set and then flitted across the screen to get away from bullet fire. I waited for enemies to approach and then attacked them when the time was right. No more hidden bullets. No more laughably inane loss of lives. This game was completable.

And for that very reason, as well as being a damn fine little SHMUP, this game is officially on my good list.

However, as I say… it’s hardly groundbreaking. I mean, you can see for yourselves that it’s a fairly blocky, messily-textured game that really does nothing much. I admit that a lot of SHMUPs rely heavily on the space theme and end up with abysmal NOT-BACKGROUNDS with swathes of black and white pixellated stars. For a few levels, we get the joy of such things but the fact that they actually tried to throw in different backgrounds is at least commendable.

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Granted, they don’t exactly scream HIGH-QUALITY but they’re functional and it’s not as if you’re not going to know what’s actually going on. The only way that happens is if you do a me and NO ONE SEES ANYTHING ON SCREEN.

Seriously, you might not have wanted to two-player this one with me. I’d have killed us both.

The bullet effects and the explosions are pretty nifty though and the bosses do look the business. A fair few of them are HUGE, and rightfully so because if you ended up with piddly little bosses doddering about the screen like old men farting, I think we’d have had to have words. There is no reason why games like this shouldn’t have massive bosses. Luckily, for the most part, it does. Particularly…

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This is an entire fucking ship to try and blow up. It’s ENORMOUS. It rumbles past so slowly, it looks like an ant trying to crawl across the length of an elephant. However, on the downside, it is a bit of an anti-climax when you finally defeat it. You kinda get GIVEN the battle by the end. It’s as if the thing stops trying, which is a shame so it can feel very unsatisfying when you DO defeat it.

Also: background.

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Look at how shit it looooooooooks. FUCKING HELL. LAZY. BORING. IT’S SPACE. IT’S ONLY FUCKING INCREDIBLE IF YOU’RE ACTUALLY UP THERE TO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF. This is the graphical equivalent of sneezing on a piece of place card and throwing some Lego onto it. GUYS. NO.

NO.

But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this game is just… FUN. There is something about it that’s just fun to play. The controls are incredibly smooth and responsive and the game never feels unfair or OTT. If you die, it’s because you’ve embarrassed yourself or you walked into an attack that’s too huge to avoid. There’s never an unfair death, although the asteroid field at the start of one of the later levels CAN feel a BIT unfair but that’s an example of a level where unless you actually, you know, TRY and shoot something, you’ll realise that FUCKING HELL THOSE ASTEROIDS ARE HEADING STRAIGHT FOR- oh I’m dead.

Yeah. You’re not thrown into the lion’s den too often. It’s an incredibly completable game and the difficulty of each level can ACTUALLY be controlled by you. You can push the difficulty of each level up or down depending on whether you wantto be challenged on EVERY level except the one you hate or you just fancy being a LAME NOOB OMG LIEK WHY WOULD U EVEN DO THAT LOL BYE LOL and putting the difficulty down to zero each time.

I wouldn’t. It’s all training. It makes you feel very unfulfilled.

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It feels bizarre to think of THIS game, amongst all of the games I’ve played in my life, as the one that really changed the way I played. But replaying this game just reminded me of a time when I realised that attacking everything in EVERY game genre was NOT a good idea. What is this thing you call ‘BRAKING’? What do you mean I need to hide behind that pillar to avoid getting shot? Wait… you mean I can control the goalkeeper? Hmmm… maybe I should heal myself THIS round rather than potentially get wiped out in the next turn…

RayStorm, I am forever in your debt.

And I promise not to embarrass myself in front of you anymore.

Soooo…. where are you staying at university? Oh? Ray’sDorm?

OH GIVE OVER, YOU FUCKING LOVE IT.

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