I remember the old days of entertainment. Back in that bygone age, the internet as we now know it didn’t exist, and “streaming” was a marvelous fantasy imagined only by those that had modems capable of downloading more than six JPEGs per day. While many of you younger readers are likely desperately attempting to imagine the full ramifications of that past (“where did centaur porn come from?”), consider that the older members of the audience know exactly the trials of those troubling times. And, should you speak to one of those elders, you might hear tales of days when the entire viewing guide for Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t available at all times on a device you keep in your coat pocket. This made television watching very hard! If you missed an episode, you just had to hope you caught it again in the ol’ rerun cycle (maybe TNT picked up the show for 24 hour syndication), or you were out of luck. Do you know how difficult it was to watch The X-Files? Every time you’d tune in, you’d hope to get some new information on that smoking dude, but, no, it was that damn episode about the guy with the tail. X-Files was never good! Everyone tuned in every week hoping against hope that this was a new episode, and by the time you realized it was a repeat, well, it was Friday night, not much else to do, anyway, may as well stick around. Ratings blockbuster!
Though I suppose one advantage of living through that unenlightened time is that it instilled in my generation an inescapable feeling of… hm, there’s probably a German word for this… solace in not knowing everything. For an easy, nerdy example, look no further than Sailor Moon. Here’s a series that premiered daily every morning before school. Unlike, say, Sonic the Hedgehog the Cartoon, Sailor Moon was a (mostly) serial story, with new characters appearing, old villains being defeated, and the occasional “arc” that would end and lead to some kids playing a flute for some reason. In modern “binge” thinking, it seems like skipping even one episode of a serial story is tantamount to forgetting your mother’s birthday, yet, back then, if it was revealed that Tuxedo Mask was actually that dude that occasionally dresses like Dracula and now he’s evil for some reason, and you missed it, meh, you got on with your life and watched the next episode. This dude that is named after a rock is actually a dudette in the Japanese version? Neat. Doesn’t matter, though, this episode is about a blue version of Garfield. To be clear, it’s not that we reveled in our ignorance (that is a luxury that can only be afforded to modern man), simply that we acknowledged there were things we’d never know, and we moved on. It could be confusing, but it worked.
Giga Wing is a colorful Capcom shooter for the Sega Dreamcast. It vaguely resembles another beloved Capcomian shoot ‘em up, 1942, and, considering the Dreamcast didn’t have that many games (ever), it was likely to sneak into your average DC owner’s collection. Giga Wing, technically, had no barrier to entry: it was not “the latest in the franchise”, it did not feature some abstruse control scheme or 3-D “upgrade” of old play styles. It was, simply, a new shoot ‘em up, which puts it in a genre that barely needs more than one button. Bundle in two player, simultaneous co-op mode, and this seems like a game that could be the easiest “pick up and play” game on the system since SoulCalibur.
Unfortunately, while America wasn’t looking, the shoot ‘em up genre changed a little bit.
You’re likely familiar with the phrase “bullet hell shooter”. For those of you that have avoided the genre, it basically describes any game where there are approximately infinity “bullets” on the screen at any given moment, and you must steer your lil’ space ship deftly through the hail of death to avoid a practically inevitable crash landing into flaming wreckage. In a way, this is the logical endpoint of the “dodge everything” areas of Gradius and alike, but, on the other hand, it’s nigh a genre onto itself. While shoot ‘em up skills are valuable in a bullet hell game, a true bullet hell experience effectively begs for its own very specific skill set. And really good eyes, too. Dem bullets are tiny.
But it’s not difficult to spot the evolution of the bullet hell. Obviously, you needed to wait until systems could process 7,00,00,000 little glowing balls of death on the screen at a time, so the genre didn’t really get going until the 90s. Many point toward Batsugun as the start of the fire, but DonPachi is practically the Super Mario Bros. of the field. And then there’s Radiant Silvergun, probably best known as the predecessor to Ikaruga, one of the best bullet hells in all the cosmos. There are plenty of famous/infamous bullet hell games that preceded Giga Wing.
… Only problem is that they were all released exclusively in Japan. Whoops.
So, for anyone that scored a copy of Giga Wing back in the Summer of 2000, the experience was… kind of confusing. Giga Wing offers infinite and instant continues, which is ideal, but if you’re someone that doesn’t enjoy their own death, it can get pretty frustrating, pretty fast. The opening stages are manageable, but, for anyone expecting “1942: The Next Generation”, well, bad news, but I don’t think the Allies are winning this war. This is a bullet hell game through and through, and that means that it requires more practice than it takes to get to Carnegie Hall. And, for whatever reason, we’re following Metal Slug rules here, so every continue means a reset to your high score, and good bloody luck surviving long enough to climb to that top of that score table. Entering into a bullet hell without any advance warning is just as welcoming as walking into actual hell. Abandon all hope ye who load this disc.
Luckily, that didn’t matter.
When you come from a background of… solace in obliviousness, it’s a lot easier to deal with the unexpected. This is what shoot ‘em ups look like now? Okay, cool, yeah, I guess that makes sense. Let’s see what this game is about. There’s barely any internet, so I can’t check online reviews or message boards to see what people are talking about, and I’m the only person in this town with a damn Dreamcast, so I can’t ask my friends. I guess I’ll just play it? Sure I’ve died a lot, but I also beat the game with that one character, so let’s see if it’s any easier with this one over here. Hey, maybe I’ll call Vinnie and we’ll try out the two player mode. Hey, this is pretty fun when you get used to it…
And so it goes. The ignorance of not having other’s opinions or any context for what the hell is actually going on here pushes you to move forward, and, the game’s already here on my system, may as well try it. Sure you missed a couple of episodes, and, yes, you might enjoy it more with more information, but you can muddle through all the same. And, in the end, you might find something you enjoy, even if you’ll never know anything more about it.
Buuuut you’ve got the internet now, so just go ahead and sit back and let me tell you about every game ever. What’s next, ROB?
FGC #260 Giga Wing
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Spice World for the Sony Playstation! Ah ha ha… What!? I have got to stop hoarding videogames while drunk. That’s what I want. What I really, really want. Please look forward to it?
I pretty much just like games where stuff explodes.