Calling something "good with friends" is often the cruelest thing you can ever say about a multiplayer game. Yeah, you can have fun with friends in basically anything, it turns out friends are good, not Phasmophobia. And it's so easy to see that in Lethal Company, especially from the outside looking in - some bullshit lame horror coop horror game to scream at, acting as the new steam flavour of the month game to merely moisturise the slip and slide of socialisation.
Despite the resemblance, Lethal Company is not that. Flavour of the month, maybe, but versus the thousand souless PC games out there of it's breed it's truly closer to something like Dokapon Kingdom and hell, Dark Souls, for the kinds of emotion and socialisation it brings up.
Because truly, Lethal Company is a game about having a really shit job. There's no real sugarcoating it. It's a game about being explicitly underpaid for dangerous, tedius work salvaging objects from ugly factories, where the corporation you work under and the true majesty of visiting planets and experiencing it's fauna are so stripped back and corporatised that you don't even notice it. This setting and the gameplay really sets out a very clever vibe for the game, as frankly, it on it's own, is almost deliberately not fun, but it is a wonderful way of building up a camraderie between players and really get into the boots of a worker in a bad job slacking and goofing off a bit. On my first playthrough with friends I found some extraodinary catharsis in one of the gang spending some of our quota on a jukebox playing license free music and just having a jam for a while, and likewise, a good haul which takes some of the pressure off others is appreciated, and the "man in the chair" - the guy left behind at the ship to deal with doors, turrets etc, feels both valued as part of the team, but also themselves lonely, tense, awaiting their friend's safe return.
It is also, as a more obvious point, very funny. Basically every run of this game you'll make something funny will happen. A comrade fumbles a wonky jump to their death based on bad information. You walk just inside the range of your comrade's voice to hear them screaming for help for half a second. You watch as the man in the chair as a giant red dot slowly bears down on your comrade, try to warn them and then see the red dot taking delight in eating them, and there's so much more. It's surprising really as a game with so little going on in gameplay and so limited in variety of stuff that it keeps on bringing up new stupid shit to happen.
Its rarely legitimately scary, even in the rare case you're alone amongst monsters with all your friends dead. The stakes established are just set too low, the animations a bit too goofy for the intensity to ever feel too much. And that kinda folds back in on that "shit job" thematic of the whole thing. Being almost indifferent to the surprising variety of monsters, seeing them as much as obstacles as hell demons that want to eat your face, is ultimately part of the job. Yes, the fourth angel from Evangelion wandering around whilst you slowly crouchwalk across the map to your ship is tense, but almost amusingly tense. Gotta roll with it.
It's a delightful experience, really. If you wanted to you could linger on how cobbled together the whole thing feels right now and how limited the actual gameplay really is, but they do nothing to take away from the truly great times Lethal Company sparks. The closest a game will ever get to being on the last day of your christmas contract with debenhams and just slacking with the other temps, giving people discounts on their items for no good reason and occasionally the weeping angels from doctor who come out with a giant spider and they're in the ONE hallway that leads back to the exit and Ernesto is dead, damn.

Its sometime in the year 2000, and Treasure are finishign up production of the best games of all time, Sin and Punishment, and for some fucking reason, in their after work hours, Programmer Atsutomo Nakagawa and artist/director Hiroshi iuchi have put together a prototype for a new game. Masato Maegawa, founder of treasure and by the sounds of it, the best boss of all time, plays it and basically puts his own money on the line, hiring three guys from G.Rev, themselves scrounging enough pennies to make their metal black fangame to assist, and putting the game into full production.
It is one of those realities that is very easy to forget about Ikaruga, now 22 years into it's stint of being "the shmup", and with that has come some sort of monolithic presence. And certainly with it's truly bonkers level of polish, it is hard to imagine it's origin - an absolute flash in the pan, a game that some top level developers really wanted to make, and circumstance and a little risk taking gave them a shot at it.
And you can't say they didn't take it.
Perhaps it is a byproduct of the "one chance to do what you want" reality of Ikaruga that the game is downright pathological in it's approach. And that approach is really the kicker, and usually the thing that draws contention.
Because Ikaruga is rigid as they come. You really have to cast your mind back to the likes of very early toaplan titles like Tiger Heli and Slap fight to find a game where spawns, bullet patterns and stage layouts are essentially locked in, and the game is almost entirely built around really knowing the stages before you go into them, figuring out the best paths through them and executing it perfectly. There's really more resemblance to some fucked up kind of racing game than a wild game like say, Recca. And yes, a lot of shooting games have a strong emphasis on stage knowledge, but Ikaruga is a game that basically shows you the door unless you're prepared to meet it on it's terms. It is a game that can feel comically impossible on a first approach, with stages 3 and 4 in particular being filled with layouts of enemies and bullet hazards that are fast, complex, and will just kill you before you have a chance to properly assess the situation. It can feel outright unfair, and it's probably worth pointing out the Original arcade version came with something ive never seen in any other arcade game - a trial mode which let you play the first two stages with infinite lives on one credit, serving as an introduction for the player to apperciate the mechanics.
And yeah, Ikaruga is a bit gimmicky. I will admit readly it's a game that really took me a while to actually grasp - it's exceptionally easy to appreciate the things about Ikaruga that are obviously exceptional, but especially coming at it as if it's a standard STG, harder to have actual fun with it.
For me, what unlocked that fun was the scoring. Ikaruga is exceptionally tightly tuned, but the scoring is just wonderful - and for me the secret element that tends to go unmentioned is large parts of it are very in line with games like dangan feveron and thunder dragon 2 where enemy spawns are tied to kills, which makes optimising it's chains of 3 enemies and doing it as fast as possible, spawning more in for more points and then you can get more extends and then maybe, just maybe you can beat this thing, right?
And at least for me, when i unlocked that key, when i got my first good run of stage 1, I got it. And from there the beauty of Ikaruga really shows itself. Because yes, doing a cool run of stage 1 is good gameplay - but Ikaruga then pushes this gameplay as far as it will go, with the claustrophobic and more puzzle-y stage 2 and first half of stage 3, to the notorious, exceptional battleship raid of stage 4 with an almost rhythmical quality to it, to the peak caravan-scoring festival of stage 5, each stage with a completley unique and weird boss that puts different elements of the game's mechanics to the test, and really only the first one resembles a traditional STG boss at all. Oh, and you want to quick kill them all.
Learning all these stages, these bosses, understanding their quirks, and understanding the quirks of Ikaruga's own systems, is just about the most satisfying thing i've done in any videogame. And buried deep in there, amongst the routing and execution, the sponteneity and chaos you were sure that Iuchi and Nakagawa hammered out of the game rears it's head again - sometimes in elements of the game itself, like the completely bonkers bonus chain enemies at the end of stage 3 that Superplayers still havent optimised, and the snakes in the final boss' second phase - but more often in yourself. Ikaruga is a game challenging and demanding to the point that even the very best players cannot execute the perfect route every time, and it is in catching the small errors, the deaths, the chain breaks - like a snap of oversteer going down the back end of the nordschleife, they may be mistakes but catching them is part of the thrill.
I would be remiss not to mention Ikaruga's just unbelievable presentation. The key staff member of Ikaruga I havent mentioned yet is Yasushi Suzuki, who's art direction and particularly his mechanical design is absolutely impeccable. The ikaruga ship is as unique and offbeat as the game itself, the designs of enemies and their sihoulettes is perfectly balanced between flavour and function, and on a simple level, the game is just pretty much the best looking 3D STG out there. And I know it really doesn''t matter but goddamn is his Key art, featured in the steam version as backgrounds, just the best.
And yeah i've got to mention the music. Director of Ikaruga Hiroshi Iuchi is not a composer. His main thing was making backgrounds and his jaunt in directing Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga already seemed like a stretch but just popping out one of the best game soundtracks ever as you do so and then not releasing another piece of music for 22 years is something else. And yes, a lot of it is based around that one motif from "Ideal" but that is fine when your game is 20 minutes long and ideal might be the very best in the long tradition of exceptional STG stage 1 tracks. I simply do not understand how you just do that.
The real cherry on top of Ikaruga is how it works thematically. It's clearly a sequel to the very dour radiant silvergun, a game about breaking the eternal cycle of torment humanity inflicted itself with some buddhist themes, which is hype as shit and awesome in it's own right, but there's also Radiant Silvergun's subtext - that of game development stagnating, devs repeating the same things and refusing to risk - that is really wha the stone-like represents, and Ikaruga takes glee in blowing it up, but it's the game's entire existence and style that refutes it best - and its worth noting in the years between the two, it wasn't alone. In the years between RSG and Ikaruga, in the STG space alone you had the wild Dimahoo, Guwange, Progear, Raycrisis, Mars Matrix to name a few. They, and Ikaruga, are proof that whilst the wheel of samsara might bind us, the capability to change it is there.
The end result of all this is just so special. A lot of STG development history has strokes of lightning in a bottle, but Ikaruga takes the cake. A small bunch of ridiculously talented creatives on the same page (nb. Iuchi has called Nakagawa his "wife" in relation to work on this game) given the chance to make the thing they really wanted to do and threw everything at it. In like a year dev time. I swear, the more you look into Ikaruga the more it feels like an impossible result. And yet it is here, and it is special.

Got my likes on twitter interrogated after uttering in a discord VC call
"Pentiment is extremely ugly"
So much for the tolerant left

This was very clearly not even written by a british person we don't have wonderbread here.

"This place is not a place of honor... no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here... nothing valued is here." - Waste Isolation Pilot Project, New Mexico
99 crabs stuff themselves into the bucket of a Mute City that has been widened just enough to make the mechanics trivial when in a breakaway, and yet still tight enough that the main pack racing may as well be done with marbles, as you bounce down straightaways five wide that at best can handle 3 wide.
It is so very very stupid, and to play and even appreciate F-zero 99 you really need to bring yourself down to it's level. This is not a place of honor, where calculated decisions and mechanical skill decides whether you win. This is as close to a simulation of the middle ground between being a pachinko ball as there will ever be. And that, in it's own way, is kinda remarkable. As 99 people step into a 2.5 minute race, you personally get to witness and participate in the net wastage of 4 man hours. I have won a game of this and I fundementally thought i drove way worse in it than a race I came 70th in. I cannot overstate what a clusterfuck it is.
There are some thought out elements, granted. F zero's boost system being so perilous works remarkably well for 99, as you're encouraged to push your luck as far as you can possibly take it if you want to win, which leads to even more chaotic and swingy final laps where half the field will probably just die. It does have the effect htat you can basically place well in every race just by trundling about at extremely low risk though, which is a bit lame. The comeback mechanics, which are absurdly neccessary as otherwise any early breakaway would win by a mile, are probably too powerful but as I mentioned, this is not a game for anyone serious so somehow more madness is appreciated.
F-Zero 99 is so cursed that it kinda loops back to being fun. A cynical repackaging of thing you like chasing a trend that died a good 3 or 4 years ago, somehow has less content than the Threadbare snes Original, fucks up the gameplay, and feels like it wasnt ever tested with the full player count. I'd say it was the most disposable game ever made if it werent for that last of these nintendo BRs being literally born to be in service for like 3 months.
I don't hate it. It's quite clearly terrible and pointless and a giant waste of time for everyone involved, and is at best kinda fun, but there is some art in that. When you're all in the brain melter together, you have to laugh, or you'll cry.

Oh, how deep the rabbit hole goes. Even by the standard of the modern indie puzzle game that is a bit up it's own arse, the depths of Void Stranger's mysteries and secrets are inscruitable and seemingly endless. A full, complete 4-6 hour playthrough of the game where one comes to what seems like a mastery of it's mechanics and rules can also be one that leaves one basically having scratched the surface. I sincerely doubt anyo play of VS will ever see everything it has to offer, and that's kind of amazing. It's an insane strength for the game to have - it really feels like wandering the halls of an abyss you can never really fully see the end of, constantly coming across things that clearly all add up but feel alien and shocking all the same.
It's a game that commands attention. System erasure clearly have a knack for this stuff - amazing music, stark visuals and presentation, huge dedication to tiny moments of unique gamelay, brilliant music - just like Zeroranger, void stranger feels important and major.
In Zeroranger, that presence never really fades. I have a lot of problems with the game, mostly that it's just not a very good shooting game outside of it's major bosses and it ends up feeling a bit too much like cho ren sha x Radiant silvergun fanfiction than it's own thing, but it's relentless pacing, lightness on dialogue and text and exceptional ending sequences pushes it thorugh.
With VS, that presence feels more like a veneer that chips away the more I look.
The real issue is hat I just think the core gameplay is quite poor. I can't say im a sokoban savant but this can't be as good as it gets. I don't think the puzzle structure is that great for one - the difficulty veers absolutely all over the place and gimmicks are largely consigned to their own puzzle "block" - but also I just dont think the core mechanic is very good. The block-sucking staff is neat and occasionally leads to some very creative possibilities but I think more than not it leads to puzzles which are a bit inelegant. You'll spend minutes slowly using the one tedius 3-block technique to cross gaps just to fuck up one input and need to do it again, there's lots of puzzles where the solution feels drawn out even when it's obvious what to do,, and for me at least, i rarely felt accomplished for finding a solution in it. The mechanics are generally the sort of thing that sounds really cool but ultimately ends up more tedius than anythign else.
But maybe the bigger deal is the story. Awesome presentation and framing aside, there's absolute zero meat on the bones which sucks considering it must have 100 times the dialogue of zeroranger, a game who's characters I care a hundred times more about when almost the entirety of their characterisation is in actions and funny cute artwork and boss fights and stuff. I was really ready for a more involved, wordy slower story but it feels like a story from a different dev, its just a complete nothingburger. Thanks to it being a puzzle game with wildly varying difficulty too, the razor sharp pacing of ZR is left well behind and you can concievably go for hours without finding anything of note if you're bad enough.
And that's really what weighs on me. As boundless as VS's depths are, the hooks that drag me into that stuff are not there. I'm reminded, if anything, of the Witness - and VS is nowhere near that bad, but there is just an whiff of that kinda pretentiousness coming through here as a result of the story being so weak - which is more on the presentation being so good, granted.
So yes, it is a marvellous, deep rabbit hole, but I kinda just don't care. I really wish i did.

This trash website decided to yeet my good, proper ACVI review so you get the cliff notes
- Gameplay good
- Difficulty and balance is a complete mess
- Rusty gives me very pleasant ace combat Zero flashbacks
- Am i the only person who thinks this game is absolutely beautiful
- Fromsoftware really knows you'll just listen to a melancholic feminine voice
- Story is a surprising highlight, bit less bite on the anti-capitalism as a gameplay concession but good exploration of some neat sci-fi concepts and vibes
- Why'd they ever stop making these?

Just wanna say this game's box art fucking sucks

Well, what was the point of all that?
I have been racking the question in my head occasionally for bordering on two months now.
There is enough "good stuff" in FFXVI to carry 5 different games on their own. The performances, especially Ben Starr's exceptional turn as clive, are pretty universally excellent. I like the characters, as dirtily done as basically any woman is by the plot. Soken's score is excellent and the sheer level of bombast in it's action scenes is top tier. It is in many ways, a game where a bunch of top-tier creatives are putting out their best work.
And I feel nothing!
Final Fantasy XVI might have a bunch of good shit in it, but it's overall creative direction is very poor. The first half of the game gets carried hard by being focused Clive, who is so brilliantly portrayed (and often, improvised) that when the focus of the game shifts to the larger scale conflicts, and some of the other good characters get less time, it just meanders around towards an eventual ending which might have been good had the back half of the game not just, completely failed to make compelling stakes and interweave this conflict with the characters at all well. This has been a problem with FF before - when the character focus basically departs from FF9's final disc the game limps to the line, for instance - but XVI feels like it has even less of a point and it's lull lasts the majority of the runtime.
This leads to the back half in particular becoming a game of awesome peaks - usually in the Eikon set pieces where it feels like all the talented people in development were actually on the same page - amid a sea of mediocrity, especially on retrospect. I am currently talking to a friend who's playing through FFX and even though it's not my favourite, seeing just a scant screenshot or two of "filler" scenes from Luca or Zanarkand, and I feel right there. With XVI it's been like a month and I had to google the name of the main antagonist of the second half, and that guy has like, a really obvious name too.
Another thing comes out of FFXVI in the end is how... careless it is, to put it nicely. The game's poor direction and failure to make it feel like it's trying to make a point or idk, be art, makes its borrowing of tropes from game of thrones feel all the more egregious. Carelessly throwing about implied sexual violence and its whole slavery thing without having, like, a point - at best it's just weird and uncomfortable and unneccessary, at worst its very suspect, lets just leave it at that. The game's treatment of women in particular ends up as an extremely bitter note that is probably a result of a piling up of uncocious biases rather than malice, but that's not good either!
This is to say nothing of the continually weak sidequests and questionable game structure, that it should have culled way more RPG elements, that its way too easy on the first run and more! But these are incidental problems in a game that just fails to make me feel anything when that was clearly what the intention was.
I love parts of XVI. I love Clive, Gav, Cid, Mid and Jill even if the game doesn't. I love the Eikon fights. I love the music. I can't love the game they're in, which in poor direction just wastes what good it's got.
It really should not be the case that Final Fantasy XVI, a game produced by a development team of legends with a nigh-infinite budget and all the time in the world should not be a legitimately more careless and harder to love game than Wanted: Dead, the follow up to devil's third where a lot of the creative decisions were made by an eccentric Swiss billionaire who has probably defrauded the russian state and really likes Stefanie Joosten. But here we are.

Of all the games ever produced, I imagine to many, Doom may well be the most familiar. An absolute behemoth of a game that was and remains intensely popular and a foundation for one of the most popular genres of game, and also immensely well understood on a technical and development level, with endless interviews and whole books on it's development and its technical restrictions. It is also - and this isn't a criticsm - quite a restricted in terms of gameplay elements and scenarios. Countless doom maps are powered by it's handful of enemy types and weapons, and creating interesting combat encounters with them and different environments - and whilst I am not too big on the Doom gameplay personally it's clear this is a massive component to it's longevity.
And so, for both the average consumer and especially the doom nut on forums, the game, in it's own way, is Home. Familiar, comfortable, and despite its ostensibly horrific tone - safe.
The corruption of that is what I think makes My House tick. I can take or leave the myriad references and pouring through google docs that comes with the files, as well as the general game structure with all it's item searching. But the way My House twists the comfotable, known quantity of Doom into somethng else legitimately freaks me out a bit, and is paced really well. Cute house mod devloving into "huh that's a cute trick" into "this is impossible to do in Doom" is such a good trick, and it keeps on going to point where it did - for moments, at least - feel like I was playing some cursed copy of doom found in a creepypasta.
Breaking down that feeling of familiarity and safety in a horror experience is tough - done wrong, it can feel very cheap. But at it's best it's the perfect kind of cruel, that gets under your skin and nags at you even once you're outside the experience itself. And whilst im not huge on basically anything else the game does (but im not a big Doom fan, so that's not neccessarily a "problem" considering who this is really for), I think it does that so, so well.

There is no point having a billion ships without a good playgroud for them. RTF3 is maybe the final nail in the coffin that Granzella will never be to Irem what Cave is to Toaplan.
Kazuma Kujo was a lead on R-Type Delta, Metal Slug and In the Hunt and how he's te auteur of what is now two full game's worth of stages which are so poorly paced and full of blatant issues that wouldn't pass muster in game jam.
The RTF2/3 project in general has always felt a bit misguided but this final update (because yes, that's basically all this is, thank you misleading marketing, doesnt even come with all the DLC) is proof that the caretakers of what is possibly the best well known STG series haven't got a fucking clue.

Imagine if Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin was just the combat, and the combat was worse.
An incredibly pretty game at times and the boss encounters are impressive, but the core combat and particularly enemy encounters are really not up to snuff, nor challenging in the slightest. The game really has no answer to you just sniping basically everything from outside an enemy's area, and the whole thing is just very exploitable and lame.
That said, bonus points for using the Gradius power up system as it's chief roguelike mechanic, where building up souls can enable you to get different bonuses upon cashing out. But it isn't nearly enough to save it.

It's called colour a ninja because the colours are singular

Bad news, you've agreed to remake Resident Evil 4. You can't do a dead space where you just make it look prettier and make obvious improvements because RE4 isnt the sort of game to benefit from that and is about as close to a perfect action game as has ever been produced. And unlike your previous, considered remakes which even at their worst have value in portraying the same events differently, you cant change this one too much because that'd make less money. Also, corporate demands you remove the tank controls the original game is completely built around because modern gamers dont understand not being able to move whilst aiming.
It's a testament to the fine state of modern Capcom that this realisation of terrible ideas sort of works. Give this project to the capcom of 2016 and it'd almost certaintly be a remake on the level of Demons Souls 2020 where even if it looks """"prettier"""" it ultimately contributes basically nothing and just looks kinda off. Given what must have been ludicrously tight limitations considering the straight regugitation of RE4 with modern menuing and movement is probably the version that sells best - I think the job here is a good one.
Perhaps the boldest, though basically unspoken decision, is basically to drop the part where RE4 is this really clear, methodical and calculated action game. Whilst RE4make is still kinda decent in this regard, and it's encounters are often very fun, the focus is far for more on chaotic situations and reacting on the fly, in real time, to stuff. The decision alone to adapt RE2make's pretty stupid crit mechanics, along with enemies now focusing more on flanking (i get the feeling many way well spawn behind you but am not gonna state that definitively), variable stun damage, and the way animations interact and are rarely invulnerable - the end result i'd say is unquestionably a worse action game in terms of replayability and depth, but it does heighten how intense the encounters often feel. It almost feels crass to make this comparison considering it's lineage - but it feels a lot like the last of us.
And I think it's neat. Its kinda fascinating how significant the change in gameplay feels with nearly identical encounter design, weapons, general structure - to the original. I like how it rewards a different set of tactics and sort of fiddles with things like the balance of the original not by neccessarily buffing and nerfing things, but the game system changing neccessities. Grenades for instance are good in OG RE4 but here they are insanely good thanks to them simply allowing a way through masses of bodies.
The best changes, and the ones you can clearly tell the devs are most confident of, are those to the knife, probably the only real glaring fault for my money of the original RE4 combat system. Speeding up ground takedowns alone helps a lot, but I think limiting it as a resource and it's use defensively is very well done, and works particularly well with all the grabs and flanks the game throws at you. It's the one thing i see in this game as somethig which, with balance accordingly, i'd say "straight up mod that into RE4" were it that easy.
More questionable decisions come in the story and tonal changes. The middle ground adaptation of still keeping the story pretty fucking stupid (this is a good thing) whilst having the characters and general tone be much darker and less in line is not too great, though it could be worse. The character portayals being so good does sweeten the deal though. Ashley and Leon's growing friendship over the course of the game is legitimately lovely, the new Luis stuff is fantastic, the somehow made the Merchant better, and I like how Ada seems a bit more conflicted in this version. The antagonists definetly do take a blow in being less fun though. Whilst the original is clearly better overall, I will say there is fun to be had playing a serious version of Leon experiencing all this stupid shit.
Overall, I find it hard to judge. Part of the brilliance of particularly the RE2 remake is in how it accompanies the original work, provide an alternate take on events, and the entire "RE2 experience" is raised from having the two versions regardless of which one is "better." RE1 and 3 also benefit similarly (Even if the 3 remake is pretty weak). And with RE4 being such a conservative remake, the risk was that it would be almost pointless. Fun, yes - its Resident Evil 4 - but ultimately contributing very little. But I do think it is worthwhile. It certaintly isnt the best version of RE4 and it's more confused than any prior remake, but the changes here are interesting and make for an interesting take on the game, and particularly the character changes which can kinda feed back into enjoyment of the original.
Also, it really is a title that really makes you appreciate the original. Nothing can hammer home just how strong the encounter design, pacing and scenarios are in the original like them being nearly unchanged for the most part 18 years later, put in a different game system thats not as good, and it still is fun as hell. RE4 really is one of the best to ever fucking do it.
In a perfect world, the RE4 remake is a much bolder title. In my head I imagine something similar to RE1make with fixed camera angles and making greater story changes to give things to give more contrast - but that was never going to happen when that would not sell so well. RE4 is not the best remake and probably never could be burdened with the reality that it will sell 10 million copies if it just played it safe. With the constraints in mind, I think it's about as good as we were going to get.
And the silver lining is now Capcom has drunk the poisoned chalice, it's shackles are gone. The potential with Code Veronica and even RE5 for remakes which have the alternate take potential of RE2 is now ripe for picking. And im really up for that.

I have a soft spot for NMK. For the classic arcade game enthusiast, they are one of those devs - the small, plucky dev with like 15 people on staff that manages to pump out 3 games a year that are somehow mostly quite good (UPL, Athena, Jaleco, Video System are other examples) - that is always so wonderful to discover the library of. And before the 90s, they're kinda like most of those examples - fun but mostly a curiosity. No one these days is going to play Argus over the other shooters of the time from Konami, Taito and Toaplan because it's legitimately the best on offer.
But with the turn of the 90s, and acquisition of some incredible talent, NMK really started hitting some home runs. Gunnail, P-47 Aces, Super spacefortress Macross 2 are truly top class shooting games to this day, and their magnum opus Thunder Dragon 2 is one of the absolute best in the genre. They are really up there with Taito and Toaplan as the STG kings of the early 90s.
Yet at the same time, they never stopped being NMK. Whilst many of their games look pretty "generic", they almost always contain some ridiculous game design quirk or just... oddball decisions, and it's great. Saint Dragon has you basically play snake and R type at the same time. P-47 Aces has a bizzarely chirpy soundtrack and scoring based on you bouncing inside of enemy hitboxes, and Saboten bombers is Saboten Bombers.
Saboten bombers is quite frankly, unhinged. It is an almost self-parodical take on the snow bros/bubble bobble, fixed screen elimination platformer formula. It really just is snow bros with lots of explosions, ultimately. And that does make it a better game (sorry Toaplan ilu too) - Snow Bros really becomes a very methodical, slow game with tonnes of setup when you actually want to play it well, and whilst Saboten does have it's level of setup at a very high level, it is much more chaotic and way faster paced, and I really think it nails it's balance in terms of having to act fast to beat the time limit, but with enough care to avoid getting caught up in your own, and others explosions.
But chaos alone does not make Saboten so wack. It must be mentioned Saboten is essentially a sister title to 91's truly heinous Hacha Mecha Fighter - one of the most adorable shooting games ever produced which is also extremely hard and unbelievably cursed. I'll spare you the full details but a huge part of scoring in that game involves hugging the right border of the screen. Where enemies spawn from. Without warning.
And somehow, Saboten is even more ridiculous for high level play. You will struggle to find a game that is more random and full of as many insane secrets. You will get a random bunch of points at the end of each stage for no reason. You can hold start for the first two stages after inserting a coin and get multiplier items. You can deliberately die straight up for multiplier items. Item spawns are mostly random. Extends are mostly random. Enemy actions are mostly random. You can freeze your multiplier at 8x after deaths but only the WR holder knows how. Start the game holding P1 jump and P2 bomb (even if P2 isnt playing) to get half a free extend. If you hold jump for a whole stage, you get a free peach. If you ignore one of your extremely rare extends, you get a 9x multiplier, and that isn't even a quarter of it. Of course, outside of an extremely rare handbook NMK made none of this is conveyed to the player remotely. Brilliant.
Watching a high level run of Saboten is about the most ridiculous game experience you'll ever see. Doing absurd snow bros chain setups at the same time as relying on a bunch of luck and doing some random other shit to make things happen, all ocnducted by a silly cactus. The scoring potential is frankly ridiculous too - this game can be counterstopped in it's first loop with a combination of insane luck and skill, yet new players probably won't even touch the top 5 digits on the scale. Stupid-ass game.
And yet is also extremely well made. Perhaps the most obvious thing about Saboten is how utterly pretty its pixel art and particularly the animations are. There was absolutely no need for them to go so hard on the adorable cacti dancing on the name entry screen. There was no need for so many background screens. There was no need to make that enemy cactus to a delinquent pose and smoke whilst standing still. But they do, and Saboten as a result feels utterly alive. Things are constantly moving, even going AFK enemies are probably doing a silly dance or something, and it's just quite joyful. As aforementioned, it's also extremely fast paced by the standards of a fixed screen platformer, and a lot more interesting as a pure survival game imo compared to snow bros, which really only gets interesting for scoring. Saboten's level design is also great, with stages embracing the bouncyness and the AOE of the bombs. Of the Shitpost duology, I definetly think it's the better game than HMF, and i find it a fun game just to embrace the silliness of. Especially if you can wrangle a friend into fightcade and continually bomb them.
Now, for the real plot twist. Whilst actual credits for Saboten Bombers are unknown, as it doesnt have any - based on other NMK games of the time, it is very likely that this game's composer was Kazunori Hideya (HIDE-KAZ). AKA the lead sound engineer on Metal Gear Solid 3. And if it wasnt, it was legendary composer Manabu Namiki. And it's designer/lead? Based on other credits around the time, it is very likely to have been Gunnail head Morio Kishimoto. The current head of Sonic Team and director of Frontiers. That explains a lot, I feel.
Anyway, Saboten owns. It's so stupid.