Saturday, July 3, 2010

Four Quarter Friday - Vampire Rage

In a valiant attempt to try and get caught up, I decided to take on a shmup for Four Quarter Friday that I knew I'd be able to finish in less than an hour. Which I did. I didn't account for the next hour and a half where I was unable to pry the controller from my own hands. And no, I didn't glue it to my palms again. I'd thank you for not bringing that up from here on out.

Vampire Rage is a vertical scrolling shoot-em-up in the style of, say, Raiden or Ikaruga. Instead of a ship, however, you control a flying vampire on a quest for vengeance against...something. They really don't say. Heck, I beat the game twice and I still don't know what happened. Let's not dwell on that, though. Instead, let's focus on the glorious shooting. Your vampire shoots a spray of bullets if you tap the A button and fires a more focused beam if you hold it down, also slowing your movement speed. Your other weapon is a sword that swings around at the press of the X button, deflecting bullets back at your enemies and forming a large bomb if you deflect enough bullets at once. You can even move said bomb around the screen with the right analog stick, focusing the blast on specific enemies such as the giant multi-part wurms or bugs or whatever they are. And you'll need all these things as the screen gets littered with enemies and bullets fast, even on the normal difficulty.

Speaking of screen-filling hazards, the visuals were a lot better than I expected after seeing the opening art. The drawings, though better than anything I could do, aren't all that great and seemed a little out of place. The fact that they're on black backgrounds added to the "doodles in an emo kid's journal" feel. On the other hand, I could just be overly critical because I recently looked at Symphony of the Night artwork. Once you get in the game, you see nothing but glorious sprites, many of which either fill the screen or just shower it with ammo. The music is appropriately moody but most of the time it's drowned out by the random laughs or words your vampire bellows out. They aren't too annoying, but I half expected him to start yelling "MY WOOOUUUNDS THEY CAAAAANNOT HEEAAAL."

As I said above, the controls are pretty simple. Two analog sticks, two buttons, go. A secondary set of fire and sword buttons on top would have been nice considering the use of the right analog stick, but it's not really necessary. Everything is responsive and precise enough for the bullet hell you'll be facing, and the only things I could blame for my deaths were my eyes and my reflexes.

People looking for a time-consuming shooter aren't going to find that here. Though it's challenging enough, the game's three stages are over in roughly fifteen minutes. On the other hand, at least in my case, I didn't want to stop playing. The global leaderboard was showing some pretty impressive scores and with such a small time commitment you can try for a higher score a few times in one sitting. Even better, though, is the RAGE difficulty (not nearly enough 'A's in "RAGE"). It's difficult. Like, a lot more difficult than Normal. Enemies shoot walls of ammo instead of a few bullets, and if you use your deflection sword willy-nilly you'll probably be seeing a stream of bullets that you can't do anything about but watch hit your emo hero. It isn't, however, TOO difficult, and that might be the best thing about it as it'll keep you trying and, upon completion, replaying for a higher score. And, like any fun shmup, there's co-op.

Few games get that short but sweet arcade-like addiction right. Vampire Rage, though not perfect, keeps you coming back for more well after that first completion, and it's just as fun the next dozen times through as it is the first. For my measly four quarters, I can't ask for anything better than that.

Vampire Rage from tricktale games is available on XBox Live for 80 MSP. Played Normal to completion twice, played halfway through RAGE twice before forcing myself to stop, and still can't get over that box art. I know, rose by any other name and all that, but it just has so much RAAAAAAAAAGE.

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