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Rival Megagun (PC) artwork

Rival Megagun (PC) review


"Blowing up your friends. They probably deserve it."


We talk about shmup’s a lot here. Between us, we’ve done all kinds of weird passion projects: we’ve covered all the Thunder Force’s, for example – but that one’s pretty easy. Save the first two games (and TFII’s worth is still hotly contested) everyone loves that series. So we also covered all the Zaxxon games in order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 32X version which, in some regions isn’t a Zaxxon game at all. Just to make sure people knew how invested in shooting we really were. We’ve covered obscure Japanese doujins, fan made homages, long forgotten retro titles and R-Type. Especially R-Type. Shortly (honestly, this intro will end soon; I promise) I’m going to cement that point by talking about Rival Megagun, but it’s a different kind of beast than any of the hundreds of other games we’ve covered here in the past couple of decades. It’s a straight versus game that pits you directly against another player. This means I had to rope in one of the other writers here to play against. God help me, I got stuck with Marc Golding.

Marc is the reason I’ve only reviewed one shooter all year, because the ravenous bugger swallows up all the review offers before anyone else can claim them (there’s not a lot else to do in the frozen wastelands of Canada, I suppose..) But Rival Megagun’s tandem system meant the greedy git finally had to share. So, begrudgingly, he did. Both armed with copies of the game, we delved into the single player trappings in an effort to get a slight edge over the other, and we came away with the same impressions. As far as vertical shooters go, Megagun’s mechanically benign. You surge up the screen; you shoot at the generic ships that also shoot at you and you try not to die. It doesn’t do a lot wrong; there are no glaring flaws to poke holes in. The controls are responsive, the music generic and unremarkable. The backgrounds perhaps produce more harm than good; they often do a pretty poor job of helping the player distinguish projectiles, sometimes sharing colour schemes too similar for comfort. Occasionally, something like an iceberg formation or a particular cloud bank will be too sharply presented and seem more like an obstacle to be avoided rather than a part of the landscape scrolling beneath your craft.

So, without the need to bother each other, we would both probably spit out a lot of words about how Megagun has a modest job it sees through to a modest conclusion, slap a modest amount of stars in the obligatory rating system we’re all forced to adhere to, and call it a day. But that’ll just have to wait; there’s a gimmick to discuss, and it might just save the day.



The closest thing either of us could think of to compare Rival Megagun’s Player-vs-Player shtick to was Bust-a-Move, the adorable bubble-bursting puzzle game. Here, the more bubbles you burst, the harder you screw over the person you’re playing against, adding to their bubble count and crowding out their screen. So, doing well on your side of the screen means that the other side inhabited by the second player becomes steadily harder to maintain. In Megagun, this is replicated by maintaining combos; by blowing up enemy craft in uninterrupted chains. For every link in the chain you forge, a new floating turret is added to your enemy’s screen, which manifest en massé once the combo is broken. Dial up a chain of only a few hits, and you do yourself no real favours; a small collection of turrets and their lazy bullet output is very little threat, but it does make excellent fodder for your rival’s own combo chain.

And so starts the basics of Rival Megagun’s risk/reward catch. You need to fly aggressively to command the best combos, but the enemy forces shouldn’t be underestimated. Rock too far up the screen in attempts to headhunt kills, and give yourself less room to weave through the bullets and laser blasts. Hang around at the bottom of the screen to give yourself more room to manoeuvre and risk losing a promising combo as your slaughter slows down. Of course, if you just hang around in the same spot long enough, you could fall foul to your opponent’s direct attacks.

Unlike Bust-a-Move, constant kills start to fill a gauge that, as a secondary function, allows you to launch barrages across the screen border and towards your opponent. These differ depending on what character you’ve chosen, but include homing missiles, minefields, or delayed plasma bursts. They have their place in a cunning Megagunner’s arsenal; keep an eye on your opponent’s screen and, should you spot a time when their side looks a bit busy, ambush them for great victory. It’s easy to score the occasional cheap kill this way, giving an overly adventurous player more projectiles than they can weave through, or punishing a cautious player for staying in the same spot too long. Still, stealing chunks of the gauge is a risk in itself; you’ll definitely want to be the first one to fill it completely. Doing that unlocks your boss attack.



Rather than summon a boss onto the other player’s screen, you instead become it. And it’s undeniably awesome; filling half their screen with your new transformed bulk, you can plug away at your foe with four different kinds of projectiles that also adhere to any suggested guidance you care to offer it. Spin those house-sized bullets right into your friend’s path – they’ll secretly appreciate it. Or perhaps they’ll just explode. Probably just explode.

The most memorable parts of Rival Megagun centre around these boss attacks. Once, in the fatal game of Marc-must-die, we found ourselves locked in a deadly deadlock of death. We’d played a few games together and had both started hitting our stride, becoming more comfortable taking on the AI goons who we destroyed for personal gain. Marc was greedier for a quick victory, so sent columns of streaking laser at me in regular intervals; but I was a man of patience and cunning. I avoided his attacks, watching my own gauge getting fatter with every explosion. Without taking the bites out of it my worthwhile rival did, I filled it significantly quicker. I triggered my boss transformation and then…

..well, then, not a lot. I timed it poorly and there was little in the way of enemy traffic when I left my screen and stole across to his. To his credit, slippery Golding played a solid bit of defence, twitching his way through my bullet patterns until my rush attack ended and we were back on an even keel. Except, we weren’t. No really. Because my gauge was empty and his close to full. So, sooner rather than later, the tides did turn, and it was up to me to survive his boss onslaught. Only I hoarded my screen-clearing bomb supply better than he did, so ensured my survival that way.



We plugged away in a back and forth for a few minutes longer until one of us exploded and the other one gloated (I’ll pre-empt Marc and admit that I think he won that particular volley), then we ran a few more games, talked about the game in that pretentious way critics discuss anything, and got on with our days. The Rival system certainly elevates Megagun above its generic settings, but once that novelty wears off, there’s not much left. I mean, sure, settling some old scores against a friend half a world away was great for a few rounds, but there’s not enough variation to keep hard interest invested into rolling games over and over. What if you don’t have friends? (I’m the only person who talks to Marc, for instance…) You can jump online and play other people in a solid application of network play, but there’s no substantial single player options available other than having an AI rival take the guise of a challenging player, and doing the same thing again in a tourney setting.

That doesn’t make Rival Megagun bad; it’s not. But it is limited. Once you’ve seen all it has to offer, you can try changing up your pilot for slightly different skills or try to earn little enhancements, like making yourself magnetic so that power-ups slowly drift towards you, but it’s unlikely to eat up many of your evenings. Perhaps it works best when pulled out for small, furious sessions that you feel obligated to let your Canadian friends win to protect their delicate eggshell-like egos…

3.5/5

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (December 16, 2018)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Masters posted December 16, 2018:

Wow.
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overdrive posted December 17, 2018:

That's one of those reviews where one can tell you had a lot of fun in the writing of it. Very enjoyable to read. And always nice to see a site member that's not me getting skewered in your work, too!
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Masters posted December 17, 2018:

Don't you fall prey to the doublespeak, Rob.

The review is intellectually dishonest! Filled with backhanded compliments and half truths. For shame, Mr. Hartley, for shame.

Don't make me release the tape.
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EmP posted December 17, 2018:

I offered to record some games. You made me promise not to.

Jokes on you; you won most of them.

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