So you're playing Raiden III, and you're just beasting it. You haven't lost a life, your bombs are out the wazoo, and that upcoming boss doesn't stand a chance against your maxed-out Crest toothpaste shooter. You're on top of the world, and then BAM-- You lost a life from some side-swiping peashooter, whose mere existence was dwarfed by your perfect run and blinding onslaught of explosions, medals, and hidden fairies. Was that really the way you thought it would all go down? You know you can't possibly continue this run knowing that you just let that happen to you. Your whole mindzone was destroyed by that one blind shot that snuck up from the rear, just when you thought the world was your bonus point.
I've come across very few shmups out there that result in both me seeing the pitiful end of a beautiful run and also have me blaming myself for the problem. I suppose there are people out there who, in all scenarios, will take a deep breath and say to themselves, "I will do better next time." For the rest of us, I think we've heard the phrase "Oh come on! That's just bullsh--" etc. time and time again.
Let's look at Raiden III. There's enemy ships designed specifically to shoot only horizontal bullets at you. In a game that's a vertical scroller, those familiar can attest that such a move is sneaky and grounds for punishment (to the game, controller, television, etc). It's hard for the eyes to judge whether collisions are going to happen horizontally (maybe one of the reasons the vertical line test in mathematics triumphs largely over any such horizontal equivalents). That's also why horizontal shmups have a pace that is slowed down, for more intricate observations that are much-needed in order to survive. This is also probably why Defender is so difficult. For anyone. And then there are those slow vertical shmups that suffer the opposite: unchallenging patterns in bullets and enemies that make you wish you had a reason to input your initials prematurely. I'm looking at you, Truxton II (but still, ♥).
So let's get to the games where I oftentimes keep blaming myself for a death. We have Ikaruga and R-Type. Both games are largely based upon memorization. Both of them definitely have unfair enemies that shoot horizontally. It's not like I'm warned any better about them coming. It's more about how predictable those enemies are. In Raiden (the series), I have a good grasp over how an enemy will shoot. The variable here is when that shot will be fired. That's really the key. Let's get Ikaruga out of the way and mention that everything is set to a rhythm that never disappoints, allowing you to know exactly when and why a bullet is coming your way. And even if you accidentally use your homing lasers, switch polarities, absorb all of the wrong color, die, and input your initials, whose fault was that? Well, you (okay, me. And it's always during Chapter 2-3). I've died hundreds (probably thousands) of times in that game, and not once have I blamed the game for a death.
R-Type follows loosely along the same lines. Scenarios are predictable enough such that you'll have a steady handle on what's going on around you. I suppose Gradius does some of the same, though sometimes the screen can become hectic enough for me to feel overwhelmed (dev's note: That was the point). I know these are supposed to vaguely simulate futuristic intergalactic space-travel against evil legions of badly-armored spacecraft, where randomness is the norm and dirty tricks are in. But seriously, twitch-based gameplay can really only go so far. If you've 1CC'd any of these unfair shmups, give yourself a pat on the back and go back to acing Death Smiles. I'll continue getting more than enough twitches with a game I have memorized from start to finish, but which I have yet to beat.
Perhaps it's personal preference, or maybe that I'm not fast enough for what those games demand. Whatever the case, I can only take so many doses of it until I've OD'd on failure. But then again, Michael Jordan missed over 9000 shots in his life. Which is why I get back on those horses, once enough time has passed to the point where I forget whose fault it was, of course.
[cross-posted on Gamasutra]