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When you come right down to it, I'm a simple creature. I don't need anything complicated to be happy. Simple things like cinnamon rolls, spring rain, happy flowers, and laughing children all bring a smile to my face.
There's just one thing that my life has been missing that keeps me from being blissfully, blissfully happy: wanton destruction.
Fortunately, with the release of Czech developer Rake in Grass's side-scrolling shoot-em-up Jets'n'Guns, my happiness is complete. Jets'n'Guns, as a classic example of the side-scrolling shoot-em-up, is all about the wanton destruction, and manages to breathe a surprising amount of vitality and sheer attitude into a genre that is sadly often marred by horrible clones and remakes.
Although just about everyone is familiar with some form of shoot-em-up (or shmup), for those rare souls who have never seen a shmup (deprived as they are), here's a quick run-down:
A side-scrolling shoot-em-up usually takes place in space, with the player piloting a lone space ship against a horde of enemies while the level slowly scrolls by. Generally there are environmental hazards to navigate around, such as asteroids, or the action will take place within a space station, cave, or otherwise walled-in area. Hitting the walls results in damage to your ship (or instant death, depending on the game). Different types of enemies tend to exhibit unique and somewhat predictable behavior; some standards include kamikaze enemies that try to ram your ship, enemies that fly straight across the screen or stick to predictable formations, enemies that shoot at your ship (some that aim, others that don't), and enemies that are attached in some way to the environment (mounted guns, etc.).
The key appeal to a shmup is the frenetic action and wholesale destruction (space bees being an added bonus). These games are about reflexes and the ability to concentrate amidst chaos; those who think Europa Universalis II is too fast-paced need not apply. To offset the fairly straight-forward gameplay there are usually boss battles at the end of levels to spice things up, and many shmups offer multiple types of weapons with which to deal out the pain.
Jets'n'Guns has all of these classic shmup standbys and introduces a number of interesting twists to the gameplay that elevate it from the level of just another side-scroller rehash to a ridiculously fun game in its own right. From the rusted iron sign on the title screen, spewing fire into space, to the soldiers parachuting from their wrecked vehicles in order to shoot rockets at you from the ground, to the absolutely amazing soundtrack, this game takes everything that makes shoot-em-ups fun and ratchets it up a notch.
Graphics go boom!Normally, graphics are one of the things that I tend to write more about. However, when it comes to Jets'n'Guns, there really isn't all that much necessity. The graphics are excellent, no doubt about it; they're colorful, lots of explosions, fairly varied landscapes and backdrops, lovingly crafted ships, adjustable paint jobs for your ship, and lots of fun little details included in the levels. Yet when you come right down to it, the eye candy that's available just isn't what matters the most. They're definitely above par (especially when it comes to side-scrolling shmups), and the explosions are a lot of fun (can you say particles everywhere?), but really with the gameplay and sound that this game has got, it practically doesn't need graphics.
Alright, so maybe no graphics whatsoever might be a bit challenging to play, but it could definitely have gotten away with Sketchfighter complexity level graphics and been just as much of a blast.
Speaking of blasts, what really make the graphics a great time are the many explosions. This game puts particle effects to some very good use, and the explosion your ship makes when you die in particular is pretty staggering. Since stuff will be exploding pretty much all the time, this means that the fun-factor that explosions intrinsically contain is pretty high.
About the only other thing worth noting is that the graphics are all 2D (although some of them, such as your ship, look like they may have been rendered in 3D). The standard scrolling affect of background moving more slowly than foreground is applied, and, as already mentioned, the environments are varied between space, planets, and space stations.
The only graphical issue that I ever found was that with some structures it could be sometimes tricky to tell if the structure was in the background (and thus something you couldn't run into) or in the foreground (and thus potentially lethal). This problem didn't crop up too much, and as I played more I started to get a feel for what things were in foreground and background, but it was still something that could have been slightly more evident from the graphics.