XII Stag (Playstation 2)
I love a good shooter, me, even if the only ones I'm half decent at were in the arcades 20-25 years ago. I find modern shmups a lot more difficult... whether that's because I wear glasses or as a result of reflexes diminishing through age, who knows? I still enjoy the bullet hell games, though... in the main. Some are just too much for me, even with infinite continues.
XII Stag is one of my large and, if I do say so myself, fairly impressive collection of PS2 PAL shmups. I haven't got a Japanese PS2 so I haven't got any of the imports, but I've bought most of the other ones that are available. I even wrote about them for Way of the Rodent.. That was a fun task! So, this is one of those games that I have played before, but it fits in perfectly with the advent calendar, so here we go again...
Cloudy out, innit? Oh... that's just the smoke from wrecked metal ships.
In a world of vertically-scrolling shooters, XII Stag tries to be a little bit different. In the main, it's same old, same old... you fly up the screen, enemies swarm onto the screen spewing trillions of bullets, you die. Rinse and repeat until game's end. So in order to distinguish itself from other vertical scrollers, XII Stag introduces a completely different weapons system.
"Great!", I hear you cry, "Tell me about these marvellous innovations!". Well, don't get too carried away just yet...
As you'd expect for a game like this, your ship is pretty handy at lashing out umpteen forward-firing projectiles per minute. There are no extra weapons to be picked up, although you can power up. There's no bomb either. Instead, you have a barrier which, when activated, opens a bubble around the ship for a short time, and as long as you stay there you can't be destroyed. You have a limited supply of these per ship, so if you choose the right moments to use them you'll maximise their effectiveness.
The green, green, grass of death.
The real difference, and the reason for the name XII Stag, is the side-shooting weapon. If you emply that, rather than your forward-firing weapon, you start up a score multiplier, which climbs until it reaches a maximum of 12X the normal score. The rewards are lucrative, but as is always the case, they don't come without risks...
And here's where the problem lies. The side shooting is only activated by sideways movement. And as the game is designed to throw stuff at you to take advantage of that, you end up doing as much waggling as in the Activision Decathlon. In fact, it brought to mind the days of activating power-ups in Wizball, way back in the Commodore 64 days. Which is fine if the pace isn't too ramped-up, but XII Stag is a bullet hell shooter, and the last thing you need when you're trying to navigate a screen full of laser death is to be waggling left and right to shoot the stuff that's dispensing it.
Of course, you can fire forwards as well, and the power-ups add more and more bullets to that directional firepower. But considering the amount of stuff you chuck out, it's surprisingly feeble. There's not much point in getting behind stuff and blasting them when it's like chucking paper darts at a tank. So you have to go into spinning whirligig of doom mode, regardless. What a bind.
I don't know of an arcade on the planet that had a XII Stag machine in it, and if there'd been one near me it would have probably only got one ten out of me. That's not because it's a bad game... it's perfectly alright. It's just too complicated and difficult for an aging gamer like me.