3/07/2012

SONIC IRONSTORM: FATAL ATTACK

"Shmups are a lot like prostitutes, in that they're the oldest kind of videogame, and that you're likely to contract Hepatitis from playing Gradius."                           
                                                                                                                                                -Aristotle


Oh, hello there, and welcome back to Hidden Gems. In the previous installment, I had mentioned how the arcades' decline resulted in several genre's periodically dying out, but I also made mention of how in the 2000's, the Japanese Doujin (indie) scene revitalized the Scrolling Shooter genre for PC. Well, this would seem like the perfect segway to discuss the Touhou Project, wouldn't it? Instead, this installment will be taking an in-depth look at SONIC IRONSTORM: FATAL ATTACK, a game with a name that even Steven Segal would think is trying too hard. Actually, we won't be taking a very in-depth look at it, because I am terrible at this game, so without further ado, here is Hidden Gems' in-depth look at the first stage of  SONIC IRONSTORM: FATAL ATTACK.



\m/ SO HARDXKORE! \m

SONIC IRONSTORM: FATAL ATTACK (PC)
Developed & Published by: Astro Port
Released in: September 2007

But in all seriousness,  SONIC IRONSTORM: FATAL ATTACK is a vertically scrolling shooter for the PC. Despite being a 'Doujinshi' (Japanese Indie game) FATAL ATTACK is deeply rooted in tradition. Most Japanese Indie shooters belong to the 'Bullet Hell' family, in which the screen is clogged with hundreds upon hundreds of slow moving bullets in intricate patterns. Bullet Hell games are slow paced, and reward precision. FATAL ATTACK, belongs to the golden-age, early 90's school of vertical-shooting, featuring fast, but sparse gunfire, requiring sharp reflexes, and keen timing. It also eschews it peers' cutesy anime aesthetics, in favor of the more traditional high-tech military vibe. This game could be compared to the legendary Raiden games, in the best way possible.


Left: Raiden doing what it does best.
Right: FATAL ATTACK doing what it does best, which, incidentally, is the same thing.

Like the later Raiden games, FATAL ATTACK makes you choose from a selection of aircraft before starting the game. Unfortunately, there are only two ships available, Valiant Fighter, and Spear Hawk, who will be referred to as 'Goose' and 'Maverick' for the duration of this article. Despite the sparse selection of ships, their shot-types are so distinct from one another, that  they offer plenty of variety, in spite of their thin numbers (as in '2').

Left: Goose fire less bullets at once, but has missiles that do a lot of damage. It's bomb is an impact missile.
Right: Maverick fires in a huge spread pattern, but it's bomb has to lock-on before firing.

Goose is more difficult to pilot, but offers better results when used properly. Maverick is more forgiving for  beginners, but falls short in the long run. Goose has a narrow spread of gunfire (Z shoots people, btw), that concentrates on fewer enemies at once, but destroys them relatively quickly, whereas Mavericks ridiculous spread (like, the entire screen at once) gradually whittles everyone down all at once. Goose's bomb is a missile that jettisons straight-forward, and explodes upon impact. Maverick's bomb is far superior, but requires you to manually lock-on to a target, leaving you liable to fly directly into enemy fire and die. Maverick's missile is a sure-thing though.

The most remarkable advantage Goose has over Maverick, is his secondary weapons; as you accumulate weapons upgrades, in a fashion similar to Raiden, Goose will eventually start firing and obscene amount of small missiles everywhere, covering anywhere your standard fire can't. These sub-missiles are fired by pressing Z, just like his standard guns. This puts Goose above and beyond Maverick in terms of overall potential, but you'll need to earn this raw power first, which is no small feat, since SI:FA is a Shmup, and Shmups are hard.


You have Dangerzone stuck in your head now, don't you?

Well, now that you've become acquainted with your ships, soldier, it's time to discuss the mission; SI:FA consists of 6 stages or zones, and 6 possible paths. After selecting your plane, you chart a predetermined path through 3 of the 5 initial zones, labelled A-E, in a fashion similar to StarFox. After visiting every zone at least once, you'll unlock a 6th, Zone F. I've never been to Zone F, and likely never will be, because I'm plagued with thetans

Firepower works in a tiered fashion, again, similar to Raiden. As you collect little ''P'' emblems, your firepower increases by one level. You max out at eight. These power-ups are found after shooting down larger enemies, as shown in the image. Wasting one of these big guys will unload a vast amount of tiny "P" emblems, as well as an occasional "S", which gives you a shield. The shield allows you to take a hit without the suffering the penalties usually given for death, which we'll get to in a sec. 'P' emblems accumulate relatively quickly, and it's not unlikely to become fully upgraded by the first boss encounter.

Death, like in Raiden, will result in losing everything. It is possible to salvage some of you ''P'' emblems when you respawn, but you can recover no-more than four, so it's still a set-back. The actual method of recovering your goods is a lot easier than in Raiden however, as the emblems simply stay-put in the exact location of your death. They don't bounce around, and try to deliberately trick you into getting killed again like the fuckers do in Raiden. They're such assholes.

This being a throwback game, means it also features the classic 'Rank' mechanic that almost every pre-danmaku (bullet-hell) shooter used. The rank system is a form of dynamic difficulty that makes the game harder the longer you go without succumbing to fiery death. The Rank is reset every time you die, in order to keep things sustainable, so try not to worry too much.

Speaking of difficulty, FATAL ATTACK includes 5 settings, the standard Easy, Normal, Hard & Insane and a fifth one I'll get to in a minute. The game has the supplementary modes you'd expect from a modern shooter, in the form of Replay, and Practice modes. Replay is self-explanatory; The game records your inputs until you either lose a credit, or score a 1cc. Upon death/victory, you can choose to save a replay. Modern games with a large following, and practical access to the internet (such as the Xbox360 edition of Ikaruga, or Touhou for PC, which doesn't have any online modes, but saves replays to a PC.) would then allow you to upload you replays to a server, or allow you to capture them and upload them to YouTube, where other people can watch them, and marvel at your dexterity. SI:FA is no exception; the userbase is extremely limited, but there's still videos readily available, such as these perfect playthroughs. One for each ship:

Goose & Maverick unleash their true potential in the hands of YouTube people.

Practice Mode is much more interesting, because of the abundance of options you're given beforehand. In addition to selecting your aircraft, you are allowed to play with what basically amount to a DIP switch menu. From here you can augment how many Shields, "P" upgrades, your starting rank, as well as which Zone you'd like to play through. Unfortunately, Practice mode is just that, and isn't competitively viable. You can't save replays, and if you record yourself, through an external program playing this impure mode, the games' fanbase (all 12 of them) will scoff and call you a scrub. 

No-one, however, will ever scoff at you for playing SI:FA's unlockable difficulty setting, SHOOTING GOD. In SHOOTING GOD everything is obnoxiously fast, and you will probably die. Here's a video of a user named 'SnakeEater7771' completing the game on SHOOTING GOD. You might want to have a seat for this: 

You can get your very own copy of SONIC IRONSTORM: FATAL ATTACK from the official (?) site, from the loli-loving gents at DoujinStyle, or from Mediafire, if you're a REAL AMERICAN!!

Now before you go and shoot down some vipers of your own, I want you to remember this:



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