I was there in the portentous eruption of RTS games in the late 90's and early 2000's. From Command and Conquer, to Rise of Nations, to Age of Empires, to Empire Earth, to Total Annihilation, a clear and obvious trend established itself.
Difficult as it might be to imagine now, the RTS genre was once novel and was a prestige genre for the PC, displaying it's computational capabilities and the open-endedness of the mouse-keyboard as an input system compared to the controller of a home console. The trend was quickly established, that every game just needed to be bigger than the last. Larger supply caps, bigger armies, larger maps, more resource types, ages, eras, more complicated tech trees. The creeping growth in content belied the actually languishing of the genre -- there was no growth or innovation in design, or style. No matter how big the battles or how long the game lasted, you could not escape the feeling that you were just playing the same game over and over again.
Warcraft III took a different approach. They shrank the scale of the average RTS game, and forced a focus on intimately and intricately controlling small amounts of units in interesting ways. The upkeep mechanic forces the player to choose between an efficient economy and a large army. The heroes, the leveling, and the items on the map tax the multitasking of the average player, forcing them to attend actively to their army. The strong emphasis on skirmishing and micro, and the intentional nerf on the macro side of the genre, was a genuine innovation, and Blizzard countered the boring fungal growth of "scale" as the definitive feature of the genre. They went the opposite direction of the industry at the time, and in doing so, they made an RTS which is even today utterly unique. You will not play another game quite like this.
The presentation in this game is simply amazing. The soundtrack is incredible, instantly resonating with me. the visuals are not only technically impressive but genuinely gorgeous in the way that only facsimiles of low-poly early 3D graphics can be.
The issue is the gameplay. 3/4 of the ships available to you will only smear across your screen like frozen molasses in vain attempts to dodge unreasonably swift bullets, while you're lugging around a gargantuan hitbox. The sprite scaling is off: This is a vertical STG and the screen is just too crowded. There is very little room to react or maneuver. It plays like it wants to be a TATE game, but it sadly isn't and the gameplay just leaves you frustrated, Extremely memorization heavy for the 1CC.
It's been said that "quantity is a quality all it's own", and I'd like to invoke that sentiment to suggest that Weirdness and personality can be a substitute for substance, which I think is true in varying degrees depending on the material. This substitution is well above ersatz in The Neverhood; it has a style and a presentation which is instantly forever memorable and that deserves respect. On the other hand, I don't actually like playing it very much, and I don't think peculiarity can entirely replace any fledging semblance of a conventional narrative or structure. Still worth playing though.
Strongly influenced by the Cotton series, except good! Trans witch girl pastel aesthetic with sick music and very solid STG fundamentals in my opinion. Three shot types, and a charged shot clears bullets in a straight line in front on you? Brilliant. My frothing demand for this game increases.
You think this is an STG? Imbecile. You fool. This is a Tantalus Simulator.
The 1CC seems so doable. Your hitbox is genuinely miniscule. Following Cave's conventions, the bullet speeds and patterns are downright reasonable, at least compared to Raizing or Psikyo games. You even have an alt-fire mode that slows the bullets down more. 3 lives. A generous screen clear. It's so easy to convince yourself that this is the game, this is it. This is finally the Cave game that you 1CC.
Don't kid yourself. Whenever you bend down to drink the water at your feet, or reach above to the ripe fruit above your head which seems ever so close, Cave crushes you into the dirt in a way that feels embarrassingly fair.
Still prefer ESP Da. Re. though.
Treasure's eyes are often too big for their stomach. For every Ikaruga, Mischief Makers, or Gunstar Heroes that feels excellent and plays like a well-oiled machine with flow state mastery available to you with "just-around-the-corner" closeness, there is an Alien Soldier, Guardian Heroes, or Silhouette Mirage: games so stuffed with controls and mechanics that it makes Paula Dean wet her eyes with envy.
There are just too many systems vying for your attention in this game. It's well-made, with good visuals and music, but even after beating it, the game's controls feel foreign to me. I love that Treasure tries to do things different with the genres they put their hands on; I love that this doesn't feel like a Mega Man game or a Castlevania game. But I wish it felt like something other than what it actually is.
Between Ikrauga's color system, R-Type's force pod, G-Darius' capture ball, the Rayforce Shot, et cetera, developers in this genre are tripping over themselves to differentiate their titles mechanically in ways that range from ingenious to gimmicky.
Cave has a different approach. There is practically nothing in this game but shooting, dodging, and bombs, but the fundamentals in this game are so balanced, and so satisfying, and so well-engineered that it's like eating at a Michelin star restaurant that only serves bread and butter.
Great presentation on this game, music and sounds effects are slamming. The graphics and the aesthetic are top-tier, at least for my taste. Absolutely no qualms with the presentation.
Make no mistake, this is essentially a Gradius game with some tweaked mechanics. The level design is very Gradius, and it reminds of Gradius in that, when your ship is fully powered your OP and the game a little too easy but if/when you die, you're far too weak. Your main shot does essentially nothing, even when it's fully powered, so you're going to find yourself spamming charged shots. I found it too hard to clear enemies sitting at the top and bottom of the screen for this reason -- the charged shot is just three big tentacles that reach out in front of you.
The pod in this game is kind of interesting, R-type inspired but different. It blocks enemy bullets when it's connected to your front, but can't be connected to the back. When you shoot it out, you can't do charged shots anymore, but the pod will extend even more tentacles and stick to the weak spot of an enemy and just do constant and decent damage. Since your uncharged shot is awful, a lot of my boss strategies consist of me shooting the orb at the weak spot, letting it do a bunch of damage, and just dodging bullets.
Game is good but not well-balanced. The boss fight on level two takes way too long. You're too strong when fully powered, but too weak after death. I never have liked when ship speed is tied to a power-up, since that just traps you in a death cycle of feeding quarters into your (likely virtual) machine until you can snag another one. Worth a play for the visuals alone but frustrating.