Boom Blox, Omega Five and the Best 3D Shoot-em-ups

Gorgo playing Boom Blox

So I was able to play a couple of rounds of Boom Blox yesterday. First results: my arms hurt. Well, I guess I’m just not used to physical activity, the same thing happened to me the first days after playing Wii Sports back when I got the console. Boom Blox has several modes of play, one of them involves throwing baseballs and bowling balls at the towers of blocks in front of you. I may exaggerate the motion a little too much, but I kept getting weak in one arm, then changed to the other until that one hurt, changing back again and so forth. With the result of a hangover in both arms. I guess I should work out some more.

Anyway, the game certainly has some very addicting parts. Besides the mode that has you throwing balls, there’s also one where you remove pieces in a Jenga-like fashion and one that lets you shoot things. This is definitely the most boring mode, since it doesn’t really involve the physics aspect that makes the game so interesting. If I had wanted a light-gun shooter, I’d have turned somewhere else (possibly Link’s Crossbow Training.) I’m currently stuck at one of the expert challenges that involves shooting blocks in a clay pigeons-fashion, trying to get enough points for at least the bronze medal. The other level I’m stuck in currently has you defending several kittens against evil ghouls approaching from all sides. Your only defense is throwing a baseball though – and that makes it a really tedious task, since you have to constantly adjust the camera to see where the next wave of fiends is coming from, while at the same time you have to make that throwing gesture over and over again in very short intervals. I guess I’m just too weak for that challenge then. And it doesn’t help either that the gesture doesn’t register very well in the heat of the battle, this just contributes to a frustrating experience.

That being said, the game really shines in levels that contain the Jenga-gameplay mechanics. The gestures in this part of the game work surprisingly very well, seemingly in all dimensions, since you not only have the ability to pull a piece from the stack, but you can also push it away from yourself. The movements you have to make with the wiimote feel so natural, it’s almost as if you were playing Jenga for real (“I could swear I was really playing Virtual Skeeball!”) Anyway, overall it feels like there are more tiresome than fun puzzles in the game for my taste at least – however, I hope I’ll be able to touch on multiplayer real soon, which looks like a lot of fun and might be where the game really shines. I didn’t even take a look at the level editor, since designing levels really isn’t my kind of thing, especially not for puzzle games. The first thing I had to do at my internship at a mobile game development company was creating levels for a puzzle game I didn’t even understand. Since then, I’m trying to avoid having to create any levels at all, even if it’s just for fun. One last thing I’d like to mention about Boom Blox is that I really like the 2D artwork in the cutscenes. What a shame that poor Steven Spielberg didn’t have the necessary small change to have them properly animated. Speaking of which, the first level in adventure mode has this castle in the background and very characteristic square trees – I’m trying to remember which cartoon movie this is a reference to, was it The Sword in the Stone? Edit: Turns out it’s Sleeping Beauty, I even stole a picture from the web to make a comparison shot.

Going back to games, I’ve discovered Omega Five for Xbox Live Arcade. I didn’t even know there was another shmup buried in the pile of XBLA games, the text description wasn’t very helpful either. Anyway, this turned out to be certainly one of the better 3D shmups I’ve played so far. It’s also quite pretty, say in contrary to Triggerheart Exelica, also available on XBLA. When it comes to graphics for 3D shmups, my top 5 now probably looks like this:

  • Under Defeat – One of the best looking Dreamcast games, especially the explosions. Should definitely be ported to XBLA!
  • Gradius V – Great presentation and sound design, excellent level structures and boss designs.
  • Omega Five – Very nice technical designs and weapon effects (the fluids look a little stupid though,) the lighting is a little bland here and there and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish whether enemies are in the background or not.
  • Border Down – I really like the work they did on the backgrounds, but the ship designs look rather random.
  • Silpheed: The Lost Planet – I haven’t played it in a long time, but I do remember that the visuals were relatively impressive, especially for such an old PS2 game.

The game features Robotron-style controls (left stick moves the character, right stick shoots) which really opens up the gameplay, since you have to defend yourself against enemies coming from all sides and there’s no safe spot on the screen at any time. If you’re shooting enemies, you can keep up a score multiplier. Picking up pink chips dropped by destroyed enemies fills up a gauge that gives you a bomb when it’s at 100%. This bomb works a little different from other shmups though, since it doubles as a protective drone circling your character, wiping out any enemy ships touching it. However, once you use your smart bomb to clear the screen from enemy bullets and ships, you lose this protective function. That’s a really clever idea that makes for interesting strategic decisions during the game. The characters available also play very differently, however, I was not able to get the hang of Tempest yet. The bosses I’ve seen so far are quite cool, and it’s one of those games that makes you think “Okay, just one more round” after you lose your life (there’s only one, but you do have a health bar.)

When I’m playing shmups, I usually refrain from using continues at all and instead try getting further and further on one credit only. I’m doing this because using continues feels like cheating for me – also, you’re usually losing your score, and shmups are meant to be played for a highscore. Plus I really want to be able to discover new levels slowly. However, usually I suck at shmups anyway, so I don’t get to see more than two levels from most of the games. There are games where I’m making an exception though – one of them was the aforementioned Triggerheart Exelica, for which I just didn’t care enough and tried getting the achievements at least by using continues. Another exception was Dodonpachi out of technical interest, I just had to see all of the awesome pixeled sprites the later levels are throwing at you in great numbers. Anyway, back to Omega Five: if you’re into shmups, buy it. That’s all I have to say.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Enter this code