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 Post subject: Giga Wing (Arcade on CPS-2 hardware, Dreamcast port)
PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2019 8:37 pm 

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Joined: 03 Oct 2011
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Location: Southern Ontario
Note: I've 1cc'd the game deathless solo with Stuck on the CPS-2 hardware, beaten it with all characters, did a deathless cooperative run of the game with a friend, and beat it a couple times solo without ever using reflect, first with Stuck and then with Ruby. While I have substantial experience with survival play, my scoring is still currently quite low in this game though, I think about 55 trillion is my current best, a far cry from the 200+ trillion upper scoring potential in this game.

Giga Wing is a 1999 by Takumi released on Capcom's CPS-2 arcade hardware, and later ported to Sega Dreamcast. To this day, they remain known most for their Giga Wing series as well as for Mars Matrix, but they also produced a couple other lesser known gems such as Kyukyoku Tiger II and Night Raid.

The things the Giga Wing series is perhaps best known for are the reflect mechanic, whereby you have a shield you can periodically activate to return bullets back at the enemy, and its scores measured with a gloriously absurd number of digits. Whereas many arcade games will measure scores in the millions, Giga Wing's high scores are in the trillions in the first game, and only add more digits in the sequels. At its core however, Giga Wing is a game that deserves to be renowned for the fantastic level of polish and refinement it showcases in its design, and the sheer joy it is to play. It's a shmup that deserves to be held in equally high regard as other great works made by other famous shmup developers. Though Takumi was never as prolific on the market as a company like Psikyo or CAVE, their few releases were consistently good, and the first Giga Wing is perhaps one of their best.

The controls for Giga Wing are setup as a two button game, with shot being used to fire or activate the Reflect Force depending on if it is tapped or held, and bomb being used to activate instant protection bombs. While there's only a dedicated 3rd button for rapid fire in the Dreamcast port, the tap speed required to max out your firing rate is unusually slow for an arcade game, and is the least exhausting of any arcade game without built-in rapid fire I have played. Reflecting deliberately takes a half-second to charge and activate, thereby forcing you to use it more deliberately as opposed to as a purely reactionary defensive tool, though if you don't care about scoring at all it's a very powerful offensive and defensive tool in one. You're completely invulnerable to all damage and enemy collisions during the reflect and for a brief period where your plane flashes afterwards, and not only do reflected bullets do a lot of damage but reflecting gives you an opportunity to get close to otherwise dangerous enemies, where pointblank shooting can significantly increase the damage for characters with spreadshots. It's also worth noting that the reflect itself is extremely satisfying to use, with an intense sound effect and massive showers of medals produced when you successfully reflect back waves of bullets at an enemy.

The reflect mechanic is the central tool in the game's scoring system. Killing enemies as well as reflecting bullets spawns medals that raise a scoring multiplier, which then ups points earned from shooting enemies as well as from the end of stage bonus, which awards points based on how many pieces of the boss were destroyed, how many enemies in the stage were destroyed, and how many bombs you have in stock. Holding onto bombs is helpful for score, but even at higher level play you can use a bomb here and there without feeling like you've suddenly tanked your potential score. What counts is raising your multiplier as quickly as possible.

Bombs provide instant defense, look great, and as a bonus also instantly refill your Reflect Force meter when they finish, guaranteeing you have a reflect ready to go when the bomb ends. One thing that makes me prefer Giga Wing and Night Raid to Mars Matrix is Mars Matrix's lack of an emergency bomb. It's all or nothing with its vacuum mechanic, and Giga Wing's reflect mechanic as well as Night Raid's grapple attack are far more intuitive and viscerally satisfying to use than the suction mechanic in Mars Matrix is, where survival strategy later on consists of using it in short bursts as a kind of dodge rather than using the full meter to throw bullets back or activate the bomb that causes it to take forever to recover to recharge.

Scoring isn't necessary though. As a balance against the sheer power of the reflect mechanic, there are no extra lives in the game awarded for scoring, so you can simply play the game for sheer survival if you like. There is technically a 1UP in the game, but it's only obtainable if you've died a few times prior to reaching a specific spot, so it's more of a measure to encourage you not to give up even if you've died a few times early in a run, and will never appear in 2-player mode. 1CCing (beating the game without using a continue) the game is necessary for the good endings, and that includes both players 1CCing the game if you're aiming for the 2-player good endings.

The game features 4 selectable planes, all of which are quite viable to clear with, though Stuck is probably the easiest to do so with. The character you play as determines the order you play the first 3 levels, with the level order determining their difficulty. There's also separate story modes for each 2-player character pairing with good and bad endings for each. The difficulty slider in the CPS-2 options menu doesn't seem to affect a whole lot in the game (if anything, unlike say Progear where the difficulty greatly affects bullet speeds especially early on), so functionally the game appears to have one single difficulty mode available. Also, though the number setting in the CPS-2 hardware menu appears to be set to different defaults depending on if you're playing the game in the Japanese or North American version, the difficulty appears to be more or less identical between regions. I assume this also holds true for the Dreamcast ports but I can't guarantee that's the case.

This was the first arcade game I ever 1CC'd. Having vastly expanded my repertoire of shmups, it's a game I can look back on and safely say it's held up to my initial experiences. The relatively low tap speed needed to play it, the tiny hitbox that's basically the same size and shape as the yellow cockpit on the plane, the intense feel of the reflect mechanic, the enjoyable scoring mechanics focused on trying to squeeze out as many points from reflecting as possible... it's simply a fantastic game. It's also not that daunting a clear either, with the first 4 stages being quite good as far as being a slow and steady progression of difficulty compared to some other games where the pace gets frantic much quicker. It's a good introduction for a beginner to a well-made shmup with forgiving mechanics, but even the easier stages remain fun for skilled players thanks to the enjoyment from scoring. Stage 5 genuinely amps up the difficulty though, featuring a fun and intense high-speed stage, followed by Stage 6 which serves as one lengthy and enjoyable boss fight against a gigantic fortress that you dismantle piece-by-piece. Stage 7 again is simply an extended boss fight against a true final boss, only obtainable if you 1CC'd up to this point.

The Dreamcast port is almost as good, with the Japanese version featuring full voice acting for the characters with unlockable artwork, an unlockable 5th player, introduction of a rapid fire dedicated button, and so on. It suffers from a lack of in-game slowdown though, which makes a few sections harder than the original arcade release. Specifically, the game is lacking slowdown in a couple minor parts of Stage 5, but also lacks a ton of slowdown in Stage 6 and 7, the two final boss stages of the game, where the lack of slowdown makes the Dreamcast version even harder to clear than the arcade release. It's still certainly playable though, and even though it's unfortunate the voice acting is completely removed as an option in the English release and the slowdown isn't replicated and makes the last couple of stages harder, the Dreamcast port of Giga Wing still a fine home port to own otherwise.

And though it's not the major appeal of the genre certainly, the story and characters are genuinely good as well, with dialogue given between stages as well as before major fights. There availability of multiple unique endings for playing in cooperative with various characters also adds significant replayability, and there's a good story in here about humanity being manipulated for the enjoyment of an outside force and trying to overcome the medallion's influence. The story is also entirely skippable with a press of the start button, meaning if you're not interested in it, it's quickly skippable, a key feature when replaying for score (unlike Gradius V which strangely has like 3 unskippable cutscenes per loop, despite otherwise being a fine game).

What's genuinely bad about the game? If you're in the bottom left or bottom right corner of the screen, the game doesn't move the reflect meter at all, unlike how Progear or Akai Katana will move the meters offscreen as you approach them to maximize visibility. With your ship going partly beneath the meter, hiding in the corner affects visibility somewhat, though this normally isn't a significant issue. Also, though the sound effects are quite good, the music isn't anywhere near as good or catchy in other shmups of its time, and I'm not sure I'd ever want to listen to any of them on their own. The game's lack of extends may also feel a tad unforgiving to newcomers. It means that every mistake is far more significant, but the reflect is strong enough and the bullets generally slow enough that I think the difficulty still feels like it's at a good level where it's very reasonable to clear the game with good use of resources and still a far cry from the sheer difficulty of your average Konami or Psikyo shmup for instance.

Also, if you're into playing coop, Giga Wing sadly lacks the 2-player "Tag Mode" combined scoring that's in the later sequels, and there's not yet a hacked version that includes it as an option. Due to how the scoring system works, you can't really play for score cooperatively like you can in the sequels. It's still a great deal of fun to play for survival though and attempt to get the good ending of the game which requires both players get to Stage 7 without using a continue (one player can gameover prior to this and then if the other reaches the TLB stage, the dead player can use a continue to respawn in Stage 7 though to see the good endings).

I'd also like to also address some of the criticisms of the game I've seen in both professional reviews in print, as well as on various message boards:

"There's only 5 stages; stage 6 and 7 don't count cause they're just bosses."

There's plenty of shmups with only 5 stages that are perfectly enjoyable. Giga Wing has 5 scrolling stages, followed by a lengthy final boss stage and then a final unlockable true final boss. I'm not sure what's to complain about.

"You can beat it in only 30 minutes!"

This complaint holds true for any shmup if you credit feed it. If you want to play it well you'll obviously need way more dedication than that.

"The Dreamcast version sucks because it's too hard."

While the arcade version never slows down to the point some of the modern CAVE releases do when the screen gets dense, it's true that the Dreamcast version is missing slowdown the arcade version has later on. This is mostly an issue on stage 6 and possibly stage 7 where some very helpful slowdown is indeed absent. That being said, you can learn to compensate for the lack of slowdown there, and Stage 1 to 5 all feel very playable and not all that different from the arcade. I'd say what differences there are do bump up the difficulty somewhat, but they're not insurmountable or unreasonably difficult to compensate for.

Also, if you're not fortunate enough to own a copy of the CPS-2 version to play, the arcade version emulates very accurately nowadays, so that's a fine alternative if you own the Dreamcast port but find it a tad rough at the end.

Giga Wing is my favourite Takumi shmup, and is a solid introduction to the genre for beginners as well as a satisfying game to play for score for experts. Highly recommended game, though sadly the music doesn't rise to the same level of enjoyment and quality as what you'd normally hear in a Raizing, Cave, NMK, or Toaplan shmup.
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