Friday, September 2, 2011

Omnicron: Think Less; Do More

Always on the hunt to satisfy fresh shmup cravings, I recently came across this short little gem called Omnicron. The visuals and audio are deliciously retro, while the controls are a bit more modern, employing command of the WASD keys over the traditional arrows. Of course every shmup needs a gimmick to stand out from the pack, and this title is no outsider. In addition to moving around with WASD, you have a separate reticle controlled with the mouse that can destroy blue bullets with the left mouse button. The right mouse button summons a screen-clearing seizure-inducing bomb that requires a meter to fill up before each use. Combined together, these two mechanics constantly fight each other for attention, requiring you as a player to play two games with one mind.

Two's Company
At first the struggle to focus on movement, dodging, mouse aiming, and proper clicking is overwhelming to the point of declaring impossibility. This harkens back to the days of thinking you're able to tackle dualplay without seriously considering dropping the rest of your hobbies. It's only until you assign priority to the mechanics that they begin to pay off.

Movement and dodging are king. The movement of the reticle is needed only in times of need (or compulsive score hounding). Dictating this front-and-backseat authority not only makes the game playable, but allows your mind to work on multiple levels without knowing it.

Involuntary Success
Soon enough the reticle will seemingly target anything blue on its own; your ship will weave through the upcoming traffic of pain with confidence. This is the point at which you stop thinking and start doing. It happens in any game once your body has adjusted to its demands. Ever zone out during Tetris (or in my case, Lumines)? Same thing here, except losing happens more often and way more easily.

This of course doesn't immediately spell victory. The final boss, whose final form is hard to predict with how its forms transition, is the centerpiece of the game, asking you to utilize all of your recently learned skills in a flurry of fulfilling challenge.

Here Today, Bomb Tomorrow
Unfortunately, the game is a rather short one. Aside from one final boss and an introductory level seemingly included as a training sesh for said boss, there is little in the way of something to keep you busy. I would naturally cite this as a shortcoming, as it's clear the full potential of this unique mechanic wasn't even close to being wholly exhausted. However, what little time I had to explore the world of Omnicron was enough to warrant a closer look at the memories and experiences it immediately creates.

The good news is that gems like these come around all the time. There are always crazy game developers, many of whom need only wear a pair of underwear to be "ready for work", churning out a vast array of mindful explorations of the world of game design. Luckily many of these games end up being shmups. Personally, I find many shmups pass through the radars at IndieGames and ShmupsForum, though they can really be found anywhere if you simply look.

Download Omnicron!

[cross-posted on Gamasutra]