Saturday, January 29, 2011

Gigawing, or: "Getting killed and still be proud of it"

One of my friends went to Japan and asked me if I could give her a list of games she could get for me there. Yesterday she brought me the games, under which was the sequel to one of my favourite games: Gigawing 2. We won't discuss that game, since I haven't had time to play it yet. Instead we will discuss one of my favourite games, the prequel to Gigawing 2:...<wait for it...> Gigawing!*

Gigawing is a side-scroll shooter (with planes) that was developed by the Takumi corporation and published by our all time favourite Capcom. Initially it was meant for the Japanese arcades, but they also ported it to the Dreamcast. Gigawing has your average upgradeable bullet-shooting and screen-wiping-bomb-throwing, which would already make it a decent side-scroll shooter. The controls are fluent, the music is awesome and the characters that fly the plane are actually likeable and deep (for as far as a shooter permits).

The developers could have kept it that way and go drink some Asahi at the nearest bar afterwards. I think they did that and then one of the people on the team came up with a new weapon. The situation must have played out something like this:

Trust me, this beer is good.
Tanaka took a last sip of his beer, put the glass on the bar and just stared at it for a while.
"You know what, Takahashi, I think the game needs just one more weapon."
"What do you mean, Tanaka? Isn't it nice already?"
"Nah, it's too bland. I want a shield that can deflect bullets with a bit of recovery-time, so it doesn't get too overpowered."
"How can that be usefull when they can just dodge the bullets?"
"We add a shit-load of bullets, that's what we do."
"But how do they shoot the enemies if there are so many bullets?"
"With the deflected bullets."
"But why would they want to do that when they can just shoot them?"
"Because deflected bullets spray bonus-point-items when they hit an enemy."
"SINCE WHEN DO BULLETS... ooh, I see where you're getting at."
"And the bonus's worth increases every time you pick one up without dying."
"I like it! Tanaka, to the Batcave!"
And thus Tanaka and Takahashi went to the studio, implemented the idea and got alienated from their wives and kids, because they spent too much time at work like every other Japanese father. Life was miserable, but the game was great...

Playing Gigawing is insane. Bullets are all over the place and every other moment in the game you switch between these thoughts: "Bugger! How am I going to dodge all those upcoming bullets?!" and "Bugger! How did I just survive that armada?!". You've got extremely overpowered weapons and the enemy has extremely overpowered numbers. The longer you stay alive, the more every bonus increases in worth, creating possibilities to insane scores. The emphasis is on 'staying alive', since although there are an insane amount of bullets flooding the screen, the game has a 1 hit kill and a maximum of only five lives for you to survive all seven levels. The developers didn't bother and just give you unlimited continues, but they have an alternative ending for you if you finish on just 1.

This is considered a breeze in Gigawing
When I first played this game, I went through a couple of levels and didn't know what to do with the deflective shield. I fiddled around a bit, but I quickly got the hang of the deflecting, since the pacing of the level actually takes the recovery time of the shield into account. Sometimes you fly through a quiet breeze and other times you fly through a bullet cluster-fuck as if they just summoned a great old one. Deflecting bullets at an Armageddon moment brings the framerate down to half its original speed. This was probably unintended, but it always gave me a nice couple of seconds to replace myself on a quiet place on the field, so I wouldn't get shot during recovery. This only helps you to a certain amount, because further on the game sprays bullets 24/7. I need more than 10 continues to defeat the final boss.

I never made it to the alternative ending and frankly, I don't want to. I made it to the third level on one continue and that will be enough for me. After that, the levels only get harder and harder. The game tends to push you into a kind of trance and if I were to win it, I guess I should be sucked in even further and that's where it gets creepy. I found a walkthrough once by someone who worked out all the good endings. There are 4 pilots, so that makes 4 endings you have to reach on 1 continue. (Note: in multiplayer mode you have different stories for every combination of pilots, so the total amount of endings is [4 single + 6 multiplayer] times [good and bad ending] = 20 endings) This guy only went for the single player endings to document in his walkthrough. Note that people who write a walkthrough try to distance themselves from the game to be objective. This guy certainly tried, but he ended his walkthrough with this:

As for a last comment, I just wanted to state something about the 20 different endings. You noticed that these endings are the result of different paths taken, much like in life. Now, I may sound a little cheesy here, but try applying this to real life. Look at how many different paths you can take and realize that nothing is ever set in stone unless you make it out to be.

This creeped me out immensely. The writer certainly is a nice guy, he made us a walkthrough and was so nice to wish us well in life, but Gigawing =/= life! It began to dawn on me that to get the perfect ending and the additional, unlockable 5th pilot, I had to hand in not only a lot of my time, but a bit of my sanity as well. I hope the guy is okay, since I can't really find recent work from him. Dingo Jellybean, if you are reading this, mail hi to your fan Snake, will ya?

Comparing Gigawing to modern day games, one aspect begins to emerge in my mind: balancing, trying to make the game just hard enough so the player keeps playing. In current games (or even less current games), the power of weapons and enemies is restrained, so the game stays clear and the player can play through. This can be apparent on occasions in which sub-machine-guns turn out to be useless or terrifying enemies turn out to be easy to beat. Gigawing throws the concept straight out the window by overpowering everything just to see where it leads. For some inexplicable reason it is still fun as hell. It's the most recent game I can think of one will just play for the score, because every moment is a conflict in total panic that will either end in "hahaha, I survived that" or "Fudge! hahaha, I'm dead." Either way, you won't care for the ending, this game is purely played for being a game that's just insane.

* note from first paragraph: yes, I am aware that I shouldn't try to screw with the English language when I am not that experienced with it.

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