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Shooting Love, 200X (Xbox 360) artwork

Shooting Love, 200X (Xbox 360) review

"I love shooting, and I'm glad that the income Triangle Service earned by groveling and pleading with bleeding-heart gamers led to something so entertaining. Their online blog says their goal is to provide SERVICE to shooter fans. (They cheesily explain that's why they're called Triangle SERVICE.) Based on the company's progressively inventive releases throughout the new century's first decade, I'd say they've held true to their mission."

I love shooting.

Apparently Triangle Service does, as well.

When Triangle Service brazenly pleaded with gamers across the globe to purchase Trizeal for the Dreamcast, they appealed to fans' pure-hearted "Shooting Love". When the company fell into unexpected money and ported Trizeal to the PS2, they subtitled it "Shooting Love". Somewhere in my closet, I even have one of their headbands; it's a simple white cloth strip emblazoned with the slogan "Shooting Love". Triangle Service is not the most talented development studio, and they certainly aren't the largest, but they profess to design their games with pure unbridled love. I believe them.

Shooting Love, 200X is the culmination of that love. Although missing XII Stag (no doubt because Taito owns the rights to that one), this disc gathers every one of Triangle Service's other shmups released from 2000 through 2009. That really doesn't amount to a lot of games, but it's still enough to deserve being called a compilation.

Partly due to the developers' ridiculous S.O.S. for sales from a while back, and partly due to being the only game on the disc to receive a previous port to consoles, Trizeal is the shooter on here that will be familiar to most. This version is actually called Trizeal Special, presumably because it's special. I couldn't quite figure out the exact reasons for that distinction, but the bullets look brighter, the game seems a bit easier, and I actually enjoyed it more this time around than when I played it on Dreamcast a few years ago. My favorite aspect to this shooter is how, by fulfilling certain conditions (such as destroying all of the purple stealth bombers in the BREAK OUT! gauntlet), you can trigger branching paths. The new paths pose FAR more challenge, but also present a much higher scoring potential.

Trizeal's spiritual successor -- the game that we were graced with after responding positively to Triangle Service's plea for help -- should be slicker and sweeter, right? Right?

Yeah, uh, Exzeal is that game, and visually it's a huge step backwards. The music is still catchy, but whereas Trizeal exuded the attitude of a low-budget project trying desperately, DESPERATELY to look like a legitimate retail release, Exzeal wallows in low-budget attire. And not low-budget in a stylized indie way like Geometry Wars. It looks like a few programmers set out to make a normal vertical shooter but they simply had no money to make it look good. As such, Exzeal has a terrible reputation, to the point that some new-age shmuppers dramatically label it among the worst games of all time, which is ridiculous, but that's why it's important for games to look good.

Surprise -- Exzeal's actually fun! The game falls squarely under the marquee of "puzzle shooter". People have accused Ikaruga of being a puzzle game disguised as a shooter, but Exzeal takes that concept to its ridiculous extreme. During every enemy encounter, there is a "correct" way to win so that points are maximized. Play it like a normal shooter and it's just an easy, underwhelming diversion . . . but try to find the 16x multiplier chains in even the smallest skirmishes and you'll be replaying this one for hours. For extra added depth, the mechanics drastically change depending on which spacecraft is selected. It goes far beyond simply using different weapons. I mean the entire method for achieving points changes; one craft increases the score multiplier by slaughtering multiple enemies in a single blast, while another increases the multiplier by rolling from side to side and catching opponents in its vapor trail.

If you want to see how to properly play Exzeal, and therefore start enjoying it a heck of a lot more, be sure to watch the NICE! DVD 2 that comes packaged with Shooting Love. This nice DVD also provides a taste for the true showpiece of this collection:

Shmups Skill Test

The DVD contains snippets of the "Gamers' Koshien Tournament". Anyone who follows Japanese high school baseball (unlikely) or has watched the anime Princess Nine (more likely) will understand the Koshien concept: competitors fight for the right to face off in that most coveted of arenas. For Japanese high school baseball, it's the Koshien Stadium. For Shmups Skill Test, it was in a darkened Japanese arcade, but it still looked pretty damn fun. On the surface, the Skill Test is a shmup brain game -- it even calculates your age and divisions of intellect similar to Big Brain Academy -- but the DVD really shows off the competitive potential as two brave shmuppers battle it out for supremacy across a couple dozen unpredictable mini-games. There was even a pig-tailed young lady featured in the DVD, implying that Shmups Skill Test enhances nerd sex appeal.

The game on the left pits you, as defender of the Earth, against a barrage of asteroids. Persist and the difficulty level rises and the barrage becomes more relentless. After being pelted by too many rocks, the Earth explodes and the game calls you an idiot (BAKAYARO). While playing alongside someone else, what initially appears to be a cooperative advantage suddenly becomes a competition when you realize that bumping his ship into the asteroids improves your own score. The game on the right requires you to shoot at falling garbage to knock it into an orbital trash-can. This isn't as easy as it sounds, because Shmups Skill Test features a surprisingly complex physics engine that takes trash speed, distance, and shot positioning into account.

Other mini-games include dodging challenges, such as evading Hibachi Jr.'s ridiculous bullet swarms (a poke at the DonPachi series), blowing up throngs of tanks in a Raiden spoof, or avoiding tall buildings as the screen randomly zips around and rotates, which becomes even more knuckle-whitening once your onscreen competitor starts shooting at you. These games cleverly jab at more famous titles, but they're also legitimately challenging and entertaining.

As an endcap, Triangle Service has included one last shooter, which is exclusive to the home release. Minus Zero looks like an indie game, and I've seen comparisons drawn to Geometry Wars and Every Extend. Unfortunately, it's got nothing on those games. Minus Zero is fun for a bit, but it becomes apparent very quickly that it's not a serious experience. Play well and the difficulty reaches its plateau within minutes. Decorated with a spectacle of fluorescence, haze, and retro stylings, this is the game that will garner the most "ooh" and "ahh", but it's actually the weakest title on the disc.

That's okay. All that Shooting Love, 200X needed to succeed was the Shmups Skill Test, and the inclusion of two other enjoyable games -- as well as a trippy little ditty to impress the friends with -- just makes the deal even sweeter.

I love shooting, and I'm glad that the income Triangle Service earned by groveling and pleading with bleeding-heart gamers led to something so entertaining. Their online blog says their goal is to provide SERVICE to shooter fans. (They cheesily explain that's why they're called Triangle SERVICE.) Based on the company's progressively inventive releases throughout the new century's first decade, I'd say they've held true to their mission.


zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (June 28, 2009)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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