Battle Garegga Rev.2016

Battle Garegga Rev.2016

released on Dec 12, 2016
by Eighting



Battle Garegga Rev.2016

released on Dec 12, 2016
by Eighting



An expanded game of Battle Garegga

The legendary arcade shoot 'em up from 1996 is back in this meticulously crafted release that's sure to please both devoted fans and a new generation of shmup maniacs!

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1CCd with all 8 ships, one of the best shmups I've played so far. The push and pull with the rank system and scoring for lives to suicide away, is one of the most engaging systems in a shmup once you know whats going on. I would love to push the score and get some higher letter ranks under my belt someday

It really cannot be overstated how GOOD the M2 Shottriggers series of ports are. Battle garegga is already a super fun stg with a killer soundtrack but the M2 port takes it beyond with new modes, completely customizable difficulty and gadgets that help teach you every mechanic of the game. Huge recommend for any fans of the genre.

One of my favorite games. Love the layers of strategy regarding dismantling specific enemies and bosses for more points, the score chaining with medal-drops, deliberately avoiding drops for powerups and different option-formations, and rank-management. Endlessly replayable.

As the dominance of arcades fades further into the past along with other relics of our memory, a growing collection of armchair critics have begun to question limited lives and their place in gaming, often unfairly maligning them as nothing but an outdated relic from a time where arcade operators just wanted to squeeze extra money out impressionable children. Similarly, many modern games have leaned away from actively scoring the player during the duration of the game, also to the delight of some. Obviously these don’t belong in every game (you’d be hard pressed to conjure a compelling argument as to why the scoring of Super Mario Bros. is one of the better elements to that title), but what detractors of these don’t recognize is the extra layers that immediately get added when you build a game around these two systems.

Scoring on its own may be an explicitly intrinsic reward in an old arcade game, but what happens when you’re granted extra lives for getting high scores? Suddenly the thought of working towards mastery over basic mechanics becomes a bit more alluring, especially in titles where an extra life can be the determining factor between continuing to play the game and being forced to spend more of your parent’s money. Depending on the game, you may also realize there's been a shocking amount of consideration for how scoring itself is handled - it's not just about bragging rights anymore, you’ve essentially unlocked a whole new slew of mechanics and gameplay challenges to play with in a title you may have disregarded before. These old games weren’t just a ploy to steal your money, they were designed by real people trying to make their game a more exciting and complete package than whatever other games were sharing space in the arcade.

These hidden gems of design ideas can still be found all over arcade titles waiting for a curious player to discover, and one genre that feels absolutely rich for this type of exploration is the shoot-em-up. These games tend to be so challenging for most players that the only reasonable way towards an elusive one credit clear is to earn extends through creative uses of the game’s scoring systems, because there's no way the layman would be able to get by without eventually crumbling under pressure and making mistakes. While you may not be able to read every single bullet pattern that gets thrown your way even after many hours of play, if you engage with the scoring system you’ll likely have a bit more room for error and have a far greater chance of reaching the end. While these games seem insurmountable at a glance, these truly are titles that anyone can learn and get into with enough determination and perseverance. That said, I think there’s extra room for these games to blossom and evolve even more than they already have since their inception.

Standard shmups are often complex but somewhat linear pieces of artistry. Interesting offensive mechanics may throw wrinkles into the equation and force players to consider each scenario with every possible solution, but due to the relative rigidity of bullet patterns and enemy layouts, you could reasonably find an optimal path through and solve the game with enough time, dedication, and study. There's obviously a certain beauty in that - ascending to match the piece on its level and finally seeing through the canvas between the splashes of painted bullets that get in your way of success - it's one of the more literal ways you can use games as a vessel for artistic expression and there's absolutely value in that. The only problem is that at a certain point, the core loop of the game shifts from a problem solving affair to an execution check. Obviously this type of gameplay has its own appeal, and my simplified summary doesn't account for tertiary methods of play such as score attack and pacifist runs (or any number of ways you feel like tweaking the gameplay flow to your liking), nor the arduous journey of climbing the mountain of success in the genre to even reach a point of true mastery. It's just that, with their traditional implementation, I don't find them to be the best vehicles for pure player freedom and expression in the medium of games.

On that note, I think it's unfortunate, albeit understandable to a certain degree, that Battle Garegga a title that's slipped under the radar for most. Its initial facade of an industrial war-grounded aesthetic is relatively unassuming paired next to the otherworldly architecture of galactic ambitions in more popular shooters, and at a glance it's hard to parse its mechanics any further than "it sure is a shmup". The irony here is that, once you peel back any preconceived notions on the game and really dig into its cavernous depths, this is by far one of the most enchanting takes on the genre you can find.

If traditional shmups are more about knowing what the game is about to say than what your actual response is, then Battle Garegga is all about constant back and forth exchanges where making a poor decision may blow up in your face with no easy way to bounce back. It's an active conversation, constantly flowing between leading roles of command and brief moments of reprise to consider your next plan of attack. Few games of any genre have truly captured this feeling for me, let alone shmups, but what's really surprising is that it doesn't do anything extremely complex on the surface to demand this type of engagement. There are many different selectable ships that fuzzy up the decision making during runs, but bullet patterns can be easier to read than what you may expect from your average Cave affair, your secondary attack options are multifaceted but still pretty easy to understand, and bombs mostly work how you'd expect for a shmup. Altogether, this makes the game rather easy to enjoy on a baseline level, but those elements alone are not what set it far above the pack for me. Rather, the defining element to Battle Garegga is it's infamous ranking system, essentially this game's version of dynamic difficulty scaling.

To me, dynamic difficulty is put into games for two primary reasons: putting higher skilled players in check to prevent them from feeling bored by a challenge they're far beyond the level of, and to push lower skilled players past their comfort zone and give them a taste of what's just beyond their grasp. You could make an argument that it's unfair to punish skillful play like this, but generally speaking I don't think this is done out of malice. It's fair to say most developers designing their game around scaling difficulty simply want to push players a little bit more each time they play and make sure they never hit a slump where they desync with the natural difficulty curve of the game. In its best iterations, dynamic difficulty has worked so well at keeping players in the zone that they didn't even notice it was pulling the strings at all.

Battle Garegga, conversely, feels outright antagonistic towards the player at basically every turn. Nearly every action in the game is enough to push the in-game rank just a little bit higher, and the only way to drop the rank is by dying. Don’t get your hopes up that this is like Resident Evil 4 or GOD HAND either, where you could easily tank the difficulty through repeated failure to make an upcoming section easier if you felt like it, because its limited life system will quickly net you a game over if you try to quickly drop your rank with rapid, thoughtless deaths. It sounds so simple, but applying this design idea to a shoot-em-up of all things has such massive ramifications on the game and seeps into every single facet of play. There's no doubt in my mind that many people have and will continue to drop Battle Garegga simply due to the Ranking system, and if they’re just starting out I don’t think I’d blame them. Improving at shmups already feels like an impossible task for most, so considering that the game was severely punishing them for standard play, as well as requiring more money for each credit at the game’s release, I can see why players quickly roll over to a different game after getting frustrated and confused at this one. In modern day with the benefit of hindsight however, I think brushing this aside would be a huge mistake.

As you can probably guess, Battle Garegga ignited a spark from me I haven’t felt in a long time. But what is it about this exhausting cocktail of cruelty and creativity that does it for me? Well all of it, frankly.

Rank is the big elephant in the room regarding the game as I’ve mentioned before, and it really is the backbone of the whole experience. Nearly everything you do increases the Rank, but what does this actually mean? In the long term, it means every decision made can have unforeseen consequences later in a run, varying from faster and denser bullet patterns to end-game bosses having their HP doubled, but simultaneously this means your short term stretches of gameplay are orders of magnitude more stressful. Take stage 1 for example, many shmups suffer from the first stage being a minute-long warmup before you get to the real game, and can lead to resets becoming all the more exhausting when the biggest slump of gameplay (comparatively anyway) happens right at the start. In Battle Garegga, there’s SO much shit to worry about and so many variables to consider that every fresh run feels like you’re already starting at nearly 100% mental capacity. I mentioned rigid routing earlier, but here it's not so cut and dry. Depending on your ship choice your upgrade route might swing wildly, and every item you pick up is preceded by a massive question that lingers for your entire playthrough: “how might this fuck me up later in the run?”

Looking at it on paper, it genuinely might not be a massive boon on your rank to pick up one extra shot upgrade or not, but even beyond the ramifications of prepping at the start for a stretch of the game you won’t reach for another 4 stages, there’s a blanket of anxiety that gets cast over a run from this that completely shifts the energy of the entire experience. For a mainstream comparison, I felt a similar ever-present pressure while playing through Resident Evil for the first time this year. Similar to controlling the Rank in Battle Garegga, every bullet fired and Ink Ribbon spent left me wondering much harder how my final stretch through the mansion would be, but it can’t be understated just how much of this is retained when compressing this feeling into a 30 minute game compared to spreading it across a 4+ hour one with multiple save points to catch your breath.

Not only does this change how you view items you’ve already collected and decisions you’ve already made, this has a really cool side effect on the physical space that items themselves take up before you even think about picking them up. While item drop locations are entirely deterministic, the shifting Rank means you can rarely be quite sure of when and where specific items might drop, and also inadvertently turns surprise random drops into an extended piece of the enemy roster. Some items are good at different points in the run, and also change in external value depending on how you want to deck out your ship, so every drop requires a quick and intelligent evaluation of whether it's something you should deal with or not. Options are probably the easiest example of this, being one of the most valuable upgrades you can earn for your ship, but adding more rank in one pickup than any other item in the game, so while you could pick up a few extra Options early to dramatically increase your DPS, you have to quickly decide whether or not this extra firepower is worth it in spite of the rather large immediate rank increase.

Medals are the one piece of this pie that feels a bit too rigid on paper, essentially being an item you should disregard entirely if you drop a combo and reset their value, but tied in with the rest of the items and the uncertainty of where they’ll appear, they end up wrapping around to becoming one of my favorite things to keep up with in a run. While the decision has basically already been made for you that you always want to pick them up to keep up a chain and quickly work up towards an extend, they have a nasty habit of dropping in the most repugnant places possible, as keeping track of every mechanic at once, on top of keeping a mental note of what enemies exactly will drop the item you want, is just too fucking much for the average player to juggle. Enemy formations are already beautiful and layered in their construction and consideration for a distinct challenge, so tie that in with an item that essential feels random in its placement -on top of fighting enemies that can effectively change the spread of their attacks from run to run based primarily on your rank - and you end up with fresh and unique obstacles to overcome, often when you’re not ready for it. Depending on the speed of your ship a bad item spawn can be absolutely catastrophic, so having to stay on your toes and be ready to squeeze through even the tightest of bullets to keep up your chain gives me a rush like no other. Shmups are generally defined by absurd hand crafted patterns to push through, so having a persistent piece of challenge that feels as dynamic and unpredictable as this is an absolute breath of fresh air for me.

The final layer that really makes this system so fascinating is its relation to deaths and your failure state. Death is the only action capable of dropping the rank, and hoarding your lives for long stretches of time is a surefire way to end up with an experience far too hard to keep up with by the time you hit the halfway point of a run where your Rank REALLY starts to bite you in the ass. Naturally this has led to strategies revolving around deliberate suicides before challenging sections or getting an extend, but giving you extra room to bounce back from genuine mistakes is a nice motivator to try and push sloppy runs further than you may have tried before. Even in the worst of my runs, I constantly find myself saying stuff like “well, let’s see how the rest of the stage goes”, “at least my rank is a little bit lower now”, or “shit, I better play well in the next stage to get that extra extend.” Again, it's this dynamism that really sets this game apart from not just other shmups, but most games in general for me.

Now, if you’re familiar with the development of Battle Garegga there’s a chance you already know this, but here's the part where I have to rip off the bandaid and admit something. In an interview translated by blackoak on the Shmuptacular forum in 2011,
lead designer and programmer Shinobu Yagawa admitted of the Ranking system that “...It sounds bad, but it was one of my methods for increasing income for arcade operators.” While this may just seem like a damning condemnation of Yagawa and the rest of the team, like they just made the game as a 百円硬貨 muncher and it just organically evolved into the mechanical mess it is today, that would be ignoring the fact that everything surrounding Ranking is exceptionally well considered.

I’ve already mentioned the enemy formations, but the general stage design here is just absolutely perfect. Each stage usually has a central gimmick, setpiece, or persistent element to consider that gives every stretch of the game a distinct identity and creatively blows up your rank for the next stage and eventually fuck you over by the end of it all. My favorite of these being a massive 1-2-3 punch right around the middle of the game: A mini-boss in stage 3 that you have to tear apart piece by piece and keep alive for as long as possible to earn an extend while keeping track of the fighter planes that act as safe spots for the boss and new enemies for you to deal with, the dozens of medals that come from bombing huts in stage 4 that skyrocket your rank and deplete you of your resources right before the impending boss rush, and flying platforms in stage 5 that always drop six items of varying use, but the likes of which being tied to your item drop order mean the actual layout and set of drops is going to different every time you fight them. As an addendum to my old point on items as dynamic obstacles, this stage and set of enemies is maybe the best example of this. They’re by far the easiest enemies to fight in a vacuum, but the core of each platform being an obstacle course of items to weave through to either avoid extraneous Rank increases or to keep up your chain when a Medal spawns is one of the most breathtaking pieces of design I’ve ever seen in an arcade game.

There's no doubt in my mind Yagawa did not envision the modern version of how Battle Garegga would be played, but you don’t just accidentally design and map a game out as thoughtfully as this. Somehow there isn’t a single stage in the lineup that feels out of place, and all of them contribute to the structure in ways I just can't get enough of. I especially enjoy how even the game’s pacing keeps you on your toes, going from a dense set of 4 levels where you prep for the hardest sections of the game, a massive endurance test of a boss rush right in the middle that takes place over whats by far the longest stage of the game, and two final stages that, while pretty standard as far as structure go, act as your final test of the game’s mechanics quite well. Initially I wasn’t sure how to feel about the last third of the game shifting the focus away from Rank control and setpieces, but being the section that shows most clearly the ramifications of your choices throughout the game, as well as being the one stretch that's anything like this, I think it ends up slotting into the full stage lineup quite well. Somehow, despite being as crammed full of overlapping ideas and off the wall mechanics that always have a new wrinkle to uncover, everything fits into place and adds to the game meaninfully (even dying to drop your Rank clearly had some thought put into it, with the number of lives you have when dying determining how much your Rank will drop, meaning its always better to suicide before getting an extend and not after. Brilliant.)

Maybe this persistent stress and indecision felt during play is why Battle Garegga isn’t for everyone, but I just can’t get enough of it. Even though I’m far below the level where I can truly capitalize on every millisecond of play to maximize my score, I constantly find myself pulling back to appreciate this impossibly complex web of interwoven mechanics, and ogle at the ways players have broken the game in half and bent it to their will. The fact that the game is over 25 years old and players are still pushing the limits of what's possible in it is awe inspiring. This perfect combination of its unsolvability and difficulty of wrangling with it’s mechanics, combined with its loose enough structure to allow for players to truly stretch their legs and express themselves, is a perfect microcosm of why I fell in love with video games to begin with.

What I’ve come to learn over the years of getting into games from before my time is that first impressions might fool you, and may inevitably push you away from something you’ll truly fall in love with. We always hear about “don’t judge a book by its cover” but even beyond that, I think shaking away preconceptions of art (whether it land anywhere on the scale of a singular piece or an entire genre) can lead to finding new ways to appreciate even something as overtly laced with cynicism and cruelty as they come. Taking off the rose tinted glasses, it's extremely clear that the era of arcades from the 80s and 90s didn’t always have a clean experience for the player in mind. It’s why games were tough as nails in their original pay-to-play format, and it's why a massive stretch of early console games felt like they carried over some old bad habits from their predecessors. Income was always a driving factor to their design, and pretending that wasn’t the case would be extremely disingenuous of me. Looking beyond that, however, is the key to finding what made these games stick with people back then, and continue to pull them in now. If we all cast aside our rigid understanding and discussion of certain game design concepts, I think we’d all collectively find more games to fall in love with and appreciate. Maybe we’d find more games that have an exciting platter of stuff to dig into that was truly there all along, just hiding under our noses waiting to be discovered. Maybe we’d find more games like Battle Garegga.

it's the best shmup ever made plus every version's soundtrack which are all absolute bangers and a bunch of new additions, what else is there to say

There's a lot to say about this game, but really it all boils down to the addictive weapons -> score -> extends -> weapons loop and incredible presentation. Even the simplest sections of the game feel like they require my full concentration to make sure I don't drop a medal and every item is a bargain made with the game. The port is fantastic, too, pretty much delivering on all fronts with multiple soundtracks, great emulation, replays, a very useful rank graph, a new arrange and even a custom mode to fool around with. Still aiming for the 1cc!