Posts Tagged ‘shoot-em-ups’

The legend of Battle Garegga

December 20, 2016

battleflyer

Some games maintain an aura of silent legend without receiving significant critical praise. Battle Garegga, a 1996 scrolling shooter by Raizing/8ing, has retained that legendary reputation for twenty years.

Few outside the hardcore shoot-em-up scene have heard of it: If Gradius is the scrolling shooter bible, then Battle Garegga is its Necronomicon. Devoted fans speak with equal reverence about the game as they do about its mad author, Shinobu Yagawa. Every moment of Battle Garegga feels distinctly planned, as Yagawa’s phantom hands pull players this way and that.

Battle Garegga has style. While the visual design itself is a bit murky, the game’s aesthetic dodges tropes that modern shoot-em-ups fall prey to. Many players have lamented that traditional shoot-em-up “spaceships and warplanes” aesthetic has been replaced by cute anime girls in an appeal to anime pop culture. Not so here.

Battle Garegga veers instead toward a neo-WW2 aesthetic, a world of dehumanization, mass industry, and bleak factory landscapes punctuated by bright explosions. If that were all, Battle Garegga would fall victim to the same bland realism that plagues many modern titles. What’s interesting is that the game also has a strong fantasy component, feeling like an understated steampunk world.

This nod towards the unrealistic is no surprise, considering Raizing/8ing’s previous game, Kingdom Grand Prix, was high fantasy, a rarity for the genre. Many of the boss designs in Battle Garegga are absurdist industrial monstrosities, such as the spherical fortress MadBall, or the arms-akimbo Junkey Monkey. Battle Garegga is gritty and industrial, yes. But thoughtlessly realistic it is not.

This is underscored by the selection of playable characters. Four of them are fighter planes, but the other four (secret) characters return from Kingdom Grand Prix. They are, in order: a warrior, a sorceress, a samurai dragon, and a necromancer. I cannot stress how much their inclusion adds to the game. The latent steampunk trappings would amount to little without the ability to fly through as the samurai dragon Miyamoto or necromancer Bornham. Each character has their own playing style, able to be subtly altered for speed, size, and color by pressing a different button during character selection.

Equally important is the soundtrack. I have very little to say about it that won’t be immediately apparent upon listening. It’s energetic, upbeat, intense, varied. And its one of the few videogame sountracks that’s completely listenable outside of the game it’s featured in. Battle Garegga, in my mind, is defined by its music.

I think the jewel in Battle Garegga’s crown, though, is that it’s also a very intuitive game. Yes, Battle Garegga’s systems are complex, with seemingly limitless depths to be exploited. But on a surface level, Battle Garegga asks you to do two things: Shoot enemies and collect point medals. These are very satisfying, very primal videogame objectives.

And there’s a whole lot to shoot. One could almost call that Shinobu Yagawa’s calling card. Other programmers will usher enemies in from one side and then the other in an orderly fashion; from the very first second of gameplay, Battle Garegga gives you plenty of targets and a frenetic sense of disorganization. There are massive explosions, and too many enemies to initially keep track of. Items are constantly filling the screen; players must race to collect what they need. Even without worrying about deeper systems, Battle Garegga feels rich, considered, and sufficiently overwhelming.

Battle Garegga rewards players at every skill level. Certainly it’s a difficult game. The new PS4 port, courtesy of M2, does a lot to mitigate this difficulty through alternate modes and settings. If you’ve never played Battle Garegga, or if you’ve only dabbled in it as I have, I encourage you to try it in MAME, or create a Japanese PS4 account in order to download it. After all, this is the sort of game that could keep you going for twenty years.

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