Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Eschatos: Forcing Perspective

It's great to see a team come together and try to push shmups to new limits, allowing us to enjoy the same old formula but with a splash of vanilla to keep it fresh. Many styles and choices in gameplay have worked really well over the decades, making such a game that much more respectable for trying something different. Eschatos is not that game.

For what it's worth, Eschatos is a buffet of past successes combined together to not only impact a sense of nostalgic charm, but to also show us why we love what we love, with style. Besides the obvious audible nods to soundtracks of the 90s, there are a few humble design principles employed that are finally able to be appreciated thanks to technology catching up with ideas. My main focus is on the game's occasional forcing of perspective, bringing a much-feared depth to those bullets.

This may sound a bit familiar to my post about a forced perspective for bullet-dodging in Sin & Punishment, but this time things are different. For one, there is no gravity to worry about, so the working plane is strictly two dimensions. This makes maneuvering much easier to calculate, knowing there are still just four possible places to which to move in order to survive.

However, with this sudden perspective change, bullets closer to you move faster. This is good. It's exhilarating and pumps adrenaline when you need it the most. The problem with this is that you get less brain power to keep an eye on where the boss/enemy is located at the top of the screen (who, because of perspective, is slightly smaller than intimidating). Luckily (and smartly), the developers made the decision to angle your shots generally towards the center, to kind of mimic shooting into the distance. The result causes your bullets to gravitate towards the boss, missing at times, but sink into its meandering mantle much more accurately than you'd think when you aren't paying attention.

This is nothing new to us, of course. This was one of the selling points of RayStorm back on Playstation (and now in HD on XBLA/PSN). However, RayStorm's forced perspective wasn't extreme enough to cause any additional thrills the game would have had in flat mode. Coupled with the added difficulty in judging if bullets were on a collision course, and this was simply a novelty execution that would need some time for refinement. I'm not saying it's been perfected here, but I am saying it was a step in the right direction.

To say that Eschatos executes past designs with style is an understatement. Knowing its audience, the original Judgement Silversword (a WonderSwan gem) is included in full with the game, satisfying the player's palette to a point of contentment. The price tag might be a bit steep for those outside of Japan, but a region-free disc means that it's money that would definitely be well-spent.

Here's the middle chunk of gameplay from Easy Mode. Headphones recommended if you like hearing what you listened to when you were 15 years younger than you are now.

[cross-posted on Gamasutra]