Saturday, 22 October 2011

Cho Ren Sha 68K (PC/Sharp X68000)

In the first of a series of critical retrospective features, RGCD will be looking back at some of the classic homebrew releases for both modern and retro platforms. In this first article, Sven 'ptoing' Ruthner takes an in-depth look at Yoshida Koichi's classic shmup ChoRenSha68K (particularly it's undocumented features and game modes) 16 years on from it's original release.

I have read my fair share of more recent reviews of ChoRenSha and what many seem to forget is that this is not a release from 2001 or 2005 or whatnot, although that is the time when it became popular in the West due to the internet making Eastern doujin games available to a wider audience of players. In fact, the original version was actually made in 1995 for for the Sharp X68000 (hence the 68K in the title), and if you look what was in the arcades around at that time it holds up well, especially since this was essentially a one man effort. Apart from the (excellent) music which was made by Ruzarin Kashiwagi, everything else was made by Yoshida Koichi himself.
The graphics are functional, nothing too fancy here, but it has some nice boss designs and everything looks good enough to have been an actual arcade game from the mid 90's. The only thing that might get a bit boring is the background which loops for the entire game, one screen in length, but even that makes sense when you consider the setting of the game (which I do not want to spoil for anyone not in the know - find out yourself).

The music is excellent oldschool chiptune fare, which in fact was so popular that there were several OST releases in Japan, culminating in a three CD set with the original soundtrack, remixes by Ruzarin himself as well as remixes by other artists. It is pretty hard to get your hands on this nowadays, but actually writing an email to Ruzarin and asking might work ;)

The soundeffects again are nothing special, but everything works great and the explosions have a nice bass to them and none of the common sound effects (like the player shot) are annoying or intrusive. Howver, one thing to note about the sound and music is that if you are playing this on any recent Windows version (XP and up) you may need to right-click on the program and set the compatibility mode to Win98/WinME. If you don’t the music might be extremely choppy and not fun at all.

Onto how it plays then. The core mechanics of Cho Ren Sha 68k (which by the way translates to something like Super Autofire 68K) are pretty simple. Shoot and do not get shot is the main motive (as in the majority of shmups) but there are no deeper scoring mechanics or gimmicks such as bullet slowdown, bullet cancelling or reflection that many modern shooters have. It does what it does well though and is more on the super fast side of shmups than on the bullet hell side, not to say that it is being sparingly in the amount of flak it sends your way. Every now and then there are special power-up carrying enemies (they shoot quite a lot compared to what you get in most shmups when it comes to power-up ships) which release three power-ups at a time, that are arranged in a triangular fashion and float down the screen. These are your standard shot power-up, bomb and shield. Of note is that picking up any of them will make you invincible for a short period.

What is special to CRS68K in this regard is that you can pick up all three of these at once if you center yourself more or less accurately inside the triangle and wait a bit. When done correctly the power-ups with begin to spin faster and eventually all belong to you, unless you mess up and one of them rotates into your shit prematurely. This and the fact that once you have everything maxed out you get 25600 points per pickup, so that is a good 76800 points per powerup ship and one of the main ways to get high scores. The other big part of your score is that at the end of each level you get a bonus for each life and bomb you have left as well as a shield bonus if you were not hit by the boss and still have your shield. CRS68K is fast, but it gives you shields and a lot of lives, so it is doable, and to my knowledge there have been people who managed it through the entire game (which is in fact two loops, meaning you have to play the whole thing again a bit harder once you get through the first time) without dying, maybe even without bombing.

The way the game gives you lives is that every one million points the shield pick-up will be a 1-up icon (if you carry a shield that is). Otherwise you will have to make sure to get the shield and wait for the next power-up ship to come along. And this mechanic is where players who are not quite as good will have to compromise. Do you risk forfeiting the 1-up by trying to pick up all three items and getting some extra score, or do you go for the 1-up straight away. Especially in later parts of the game where it gets quite hectic this is a tough decision to make. If you are just starting out I would suggest to opt for the latter.

This is pretty much it as far as scoring goes apart from some places in the game where extra enemies will appear under certain circumstances or where you can milk a boss for points to a certain extent.

There is enough variation in the enemies and their formations, pretty much every level has it’s own theme of main enemies and then some general popcorn cannon fodder minions thrown in for good measure. It also stays very fair throughout and there is only one point in the game when enemies come from the back and you have to know where to position your craft so as to not get rear-ended. Also the game does not have auto-fire (despite having auto-fire in it’s name), but the rate at which you have to press the fire button wont kill your fingers or thumb (the game also supports joypads natively).

One thing to note about the Windows version is that instead of running at the 55fps of the original it runs at 60fps which makes it about 9% faster, which in turn makes it quite a bit more difficult. So if you want to play the original chances are you will have to fiddle around with an emulator (unless you have the original hardware lying around, which is unlikely).

The game also has some nice options (and hidden ones). In the normal config menu you can set things such as the button order, Z is shot and X is bomb by default, and this can not be changed, so this is a bit awkward on non QWERTY keyboards. And Q is pause, if you have to take a leak or the phone rings or something.

You can also set the difficulty from normal to hard, which will make the enemies spawn bullets when being killed right away and give you even harder ones in the second loop. There is also a sound and music test. The rest of the options seem to do nothing in the Windows version because the useless stuff which only works for the original hardware was not removed it seems. Also the buttons F1, F4 and F5 can be used to change the screen between non scaled, full screen and full screen with scanlines. All other F-keys make the screen go black, which is not that useful.

The really fun stuff you get if you hold UP inside the config menu for a few seconds, this will bring you to the so-called Kakusi (pronounced kakushi) mode, which simply means hidden or secret. Here you get a wide variety settings to tinker with, which can be used for both cheating as well as training and more.

VWAIT seems to do nothing, no matter how you set it, again probably a leftover of X68000 functionality.

MUTEKI is invincibility.

STAGE is logically a stage select option. Here only 1-7 and F make sense. 1-7 is the normal game levels and F is a hidden boss level called SHOW TIME!! with 3 bosses that do not show up in game as far as shotpatterns go for some and even design for others. For this setting to take effect you need to select CONTINUE in the main menu, START always starts at stage 1.

ACCHO is the loop starting at 0 and going up to 7, anything over that is the same as 1. This setting only affects the type of death bullets (or suicide bullets as they are commonly called) that are spawned when enemies are killed. Of note here is that the loops that are reachable without the Kakushi menu are 0-3, 0 and 1 when playing on normal and 2 and 3 when playing hard. This also means that if you set the loop to 7 the second loop in that game will actually be easier, and selecting hard will make both your loops the same when selecting 6 or higher.

TD_SPEED and JK_SPEED are speed settings for the bullets and the player and they can be set to quite ridiculous values.

BOSSONLY will let you play through the game and skip to the boss of each level. This is quite nice but you will have to face the bosses in your initial outfit. No power-ups of any kind. But at least you will know that when you can beat a boss without any extras you are likely to beat him no problem with some more bombs or a shield in your pocket.

DEBUG lets you see a few different values like score value of the enemy you just killed and such, depending on what you have set it to.

KASEGI can not be changed and as such does nothing. It translates to earnings - don’t ask me. (Perhaps Yoshida was originally planning to market the game to the coin-op industry? - JM).

SAVE DEMO.REP saves your last game as a replay file into the ETC sub directory. You might want to make a copy of this and rename it, otherwise it would get overwritten if you save again or if you make it to the highest position in the highscore table (which I think is when the game usually saves a replay on it’s own). If a DEMO.REP file is in the ETC directory it will start playing after a while if you do nothing in the main menu.

INIT SCORE DATA resets the highscore table.

If you want to get back to the normal config menu just press and hold UP for a while inside the secret one.

In summary I think that CRS68K is an excellent little shmup that will keep you busy for a while if you want to clear it on one credit, especially if you want to tackle the second loop and the true last boss. Anyone into somewhat oldschool as well as more modern bullet hell fare should get a kick out of this. It is not on the harder spectrum of what is out there today but it certainly does not give away it’s goods without a fight.

Download the game here (from Yoshida Koichi's site).
5 out of 5