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Espgaluda (PlayStation 2) artwork

Espgaluda (PlayStation 2) review

"Though it may not happen very often, there are times when I am thankful to be living in Japan. While the locals may put asparagus on their pizza and sell used panties in their vending machines, there is one characteristic of the Japanese that my Gaijin brain can actually comprehend... their continued fascination with the old school shooter. Be it of the vertical or horizontal scrolling variety, this classic genre is thankfully still alive and taking quarters in the land of the Rising Sun. And th..."

Though it may not happen very often, there are times when I am thankful to be living in Japan. While the locals may put asparagus on their pizza and sell used panties in their vending machines, there is one characteristic of the Japanese that my Gaijin brain can actually comprehend... their continued fascination with the old school shooter. Be it of the vertical or horizontal scrolling variety, this classic genre is thankfully still alive and taking quarters in the land of the Rising Sun. And though the genre may be as good as dead in the West, the Japanese have been busy refining the simple concepts that up until a few years ago were considered the be all end all of gaming. At the forefront of this continued display of retro love is Cave, a small scale arcade developer who is often considered to be the best in the business. Games like Dodonpachi or Ketsui may be an unknown quality to most, but those in the know will recognize their expert craftsmanship as being something truly special and unique. And if this is you, well, you're probably already anticipating the release of Cave's next great masterpiece, Espgaluda. This one goes out to the shooting elite...

Other than being incredibly difficult to pronounce, Espgaluda is a vertical scrolling shooter of the variety that your Pappy used to play. Much like its brethren before it, players are charged with eradicating an evil menace that has generally made a nuisance of itself by wronging your character in some terrible, earth shattering manner. Who, what, where, why and when? These questions aren't important, you're only job is to make the bad people pay. Queue the ominous music and say hello to the character select screen where players are introduced to the two avenging angels who are to partake in this evening's 5 stage orgy of destruction. Of course, the fact that each character has a subtle variation in their own attack strengths and weaknesses is neither here nor there. It is after all a genre staple and one that players have come to expect. In keeping with basic modern expectations, the old school tradition of piloting an aircraft or spaceship into battle is now also a thing of the past. In a fashion similar to that seen in recent hits such as Gunbird and Shikigami no Shiro, players must forgo the comforting warmth of a cozy, double plated cockpit and instead show the hordes how to fight, up close and personal-like. That's right, it's the old angel wings for you...

That's not to say that you're going to be seen as any less of a man, it only means that you're going to feel about 100 times more vulnerable. Ah huh... now if you don't mind, please pass the weapons and let's get down to it! Before you get too full of yourself though, know this... there's more to this outing than simply scrolling up the screen and shooting down everything in your path. The pick up and play mechanics of shooters past may have served our ancestors well, but as Treasure have proven with their seminal classic Ikaruga, mixing a little thinking with the shoot it if it moves gun play can go a long way. Sure, the standard rapid fire and charged shots are useful, but they pale into the insignificant when Espgaluda starts to break out the old resource management. Don't worry, I was pretty surprised too! When an enemy is shot down, they will invariably discharge a little green gem. Collect enough of these life saving gems and players will soon be able to ''awaken'' their character and thusly slowdown time. Sound familiar? It's while in this awakened state that the opportunity to not only rack up some serious points, but to perform some extreme acts of impossible dexterity presents itself. Whatever you do however, don't forget to switch back before the gems are fully depleted... lest you want to know what true meaning of fear is like.

It's this aspect of the game more than anything else that separates Espgaluda from the pack. Dodging all the super heated plasma that's being thrown your way is one thing, but trying to do so while managing your gems is a 100% unadulterated lesson in madness. For here is a game that will literally throw everything it has at players in order to stop them from progressing to the next stage. So much so that those new to the genre are sure to find the whole experience more than a little frustrating and over-whelming. With much of the screen real estate now dedicated to the countless incoming enemies and their accompanying fire power, players are going to latch onto Espgaluda's new health bar system like a baby to a teat. In a stunning display of generosity, Cave have thoughtfully provided players with an energy shield that will buy them a few extra seconds of precious life before being blown sky high. It's an interesting concept that works well within the confines of a shoot'em up, and one that is sure to save your arse on many an occasion. Combine this creative thinking with the gem fueled bullet time and it becomes clearly apparent that Cave have once more taught an old dog new tricks. Neat! Now roll over and speak...

As good as the old school gaming gets, the visual presentation comes as something of a mixed bag. With the player's character flying through the skies like a heaven sent angel, the steam powered enemy units provide a stark military-esque contrast that imbues Espgaluda with a distinct personality all of its very own. While each of the designs is an outstanding achievement in the fusion of cultures, the overall lack of color and vibrancy will only serve to disappoint players as they are reminded of their mid 1980's shooter origins. That being said however for the most part, each of the backgrounds does a stellar job of providing players with something pretty and varied to look at before being forced to blow it all to smithereens. The red splotches of blood left when shooting enemy guards are cute while the silky smooth frame rate is a truly a heaven sent blessing! My, how did they do that?! Complimenting the player's rampant genocidal actions is a soundtrack that certainly knows how to get the old blood pumping. Part over-revved dance track, part electronic journey into fantasy, the BPM are run at an all time high and have as such become an essential part of the overall Espgaluda experience. The boss tracks may be heavily repeated, but even that hasn't stopped Cave from putting together a soundtrack that most players would have no problems listening to outside of their time spent with the game.

Finally as if to cover all bases, Cave have sought to extend Espgaluda's brief arcade-like lifespan with the inclusion of an even more challenging arrange mode. Here players can expect to find the usual suspects as a new mix of characters, redesigned levels and a series of revamped enemy attack patterns all do their bit in keeping Espgaluda loaded in your Playstation2 just that little bit longer. It may not sound like much on the surface, but chances are if you're one of the shoot'em up faithful then you're probably already aware of the fact that that such game's are not about the long term challenge. You're here to better your personal best. While you're striving for gaming nirvana however, you may want to check out the region2 DVD that comes packaged with every copy of Espgaluda. If you thought the Ikaruga Appreciate DVD was something special then you ain't seen nothing yet! Watch on in awe as what can only be described as a God among men puts the game through its paces, often performing such feats of unbelievable agility and concentration that the whole thing seems totally unreal. Truly, a world class performance if ever there was one! I'll have what he's having...

Make no mistake about it, Espgaluda isn't a game that the common Joe will appreciate. Heck, the poor guy will probably take one look at its all too frightening enemy attacks before walking off in a cloud of intimidation. Perhaps straight back into the welcoming arms of a third person action adventure, fuzzy little animal mascots and all. For shooters such as this are an acquired taste, and now more than ever we need to savour them with all the hot and sweaty excitement one can muster. The technique is here, and the concepts are sound. Sure the graphics could have been prettied up a bit and a few extra stages wouldn't have gone astray... but... if you're going to be honest with yourself then you're probably not really interested in such trivialities. It's the challenge that you want. A desire to beat the odds and proudly stick your three letter name at the top of score board for all to see. MID 1,000,000,000 points and a generation of nasties wiped out. A feat that would have lived on in the urban legends of your local game center is now available, fresh and fancy free for the home consumer to enjoy. This one goes out to the shooting elite...

* It's fast, it's frantic, it's going to take your breath away
* New ''bullet time'' feature works surprisingly well
* Resource management... I'm still shocked!
* The shield function is an interesting genre addition
* There's an incredible amount of stuff going on at any one time
* Character designs are unique and interesting
* The fantastic soundtrack up the beats per minute and gets the blood pumping
* Amazingly enough slowdown is never an issue

* Players new to the genre may be put off by Espgaluda's challenge
* Again, newbies may dislike the fact that Espgaluda could be completed in 20minutes
* The graphics are kind of plain in a ''it's retro but it could have been prettier'' kind of fashion

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Community review by midwinter (August 22, 2004)

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