I debated whether I should look at stuff from LD Jam 39 or Hydorah for this week. As you can see from the title, I ended up doing neither. I remembered that I saw this neat thing on itch.io, an engine for bullet hell games. I’ve previously tried making a Yume Nikki-themed shooter and while I’m happy that I made it, I still think it’s mediocre. So I look into this a bit and I see that the creator, Yal/Yaru, has made a whole bunch games, engines and asset packs. In looking into this bullet hell engine, I decided to look into her other shmup works, so let’s dive into this together.
YaruDanmakuEngine – Demo
So, this engine I was mentioning, it costs $14.99. Hm, seems a bit steep, what can Yal do to show people that this is an effective engine and that she’s not selling people snake oil? Why, she can make a demo game for it!
Available for free, you can play a jokey Touhou-like game, with two characters and two stages (the second stage not shown in the video). You go through a bunch of sequences in a stage, gathering power from small fry and minibosses before facing a boss with more complex bullet patterns. Just kinda the stuff you’d expect from a Touhou-like game.
As a showcase of the promised functions of the engine, it works really well. It showcases how the engine can handle stage sequencing, bullet patterns, a power-up system, bullet grazing – pretty much everything the engine promises to help with. I continue to be wowed by how the bullet patterns in spell cards are used, as someone that doesn’t have enough complex math knowledge to accomplish that, and the boss enemies show some neat ones. I especially like the Divided Heart one (which by the way, I think is ridiculous to fight against as the second character).
The game is of course not a fully-fledged one, so, why not look at other shmup stuff Yal made?
Road Warriors 2
Road Warriors 2 is a traditional vertical shmup that’s available pay-what-you-want, intended to be in the vein of CAVE shooters. The game boasts of four levels with four different difficulties, each ending in a boss fight.
You fly down the road, shooting down attackers from some vague army. You rescue friends from slain enemies and they rejoin you as an addition to your ship, giving more firepower. Your friends, however, are not only just your wingmen, but they’re also the game’s bombs. Yes, you can callously sacrifice one of your friends and use them as a bomb to clear the screen of bullets. It’s a cold, harsh world. It is also a neat mechanic, intentionally downgrading yourself so you can have more breathing room, so there’s a greater element of risk to using bombs besides the fear of running out.
I feel that one of the biggest threats in the game is not the hordes of bullets spewed at you, but those awful squadron of ships that die in one hit. Initially, they don’t seem like a problem, as they don’t shoot at you. The problem is that they deal contact damage. If you don’t manage to shoot them down, they’ll fly offscreen and then fly back up from behind you. Unlike the game’s bullets, which are glowing and can easily be picked up, the ships are in plain colors that aren’t as easily picked up. It becomes an issue when a bunch of them start flying in at odd trajectories, all while a normal enemy is taking shots at you, so it’s easy to mess up and get crashed into. It’s a simple threat but it’s honestly one of the greatest threats of the road.
As for the bosses, I think that they’re pretty cool and made for satisfying level ends, bringing an intensity that doesn’t feel cheap. I’d say that the Fist King fight is my favorite, because there’s a lot going on with that fight that isn’t just spewing the screen full of bullets; though, I also appreciate that bullet jump rope that Duoblade X has. If I had a complaint about the bosses in general, it’s that their defeat almost immediately transitions into the next level and you know, I’d appreciate short breathers.
The aesthetics of the game are kinda in a weird place for me. The soundtrack, by Pip Malt, is some grungy rock fare. However, the feel of that music is at odds with the game’s look, which is somewhat bright, almost cutesy. The music and the name being Road Warriors 2 kinda springs to mind a more Mad Max design than anything. I think part of it is the border art for when you’re playing the game in fullscreen, which is some anime pixels over blurry action art – I really can’t tell what vibe I’m supposed to get.
Overall though, the game’s pretty okay. It’s an alright shooter with cool bosses and affirms to me that if anybody would know how to make a bullet hell engine for Game Maker, it’d be Yal.
Arengius is of course another shmup, this time a horizontal one. While you can get the game for free since it’s pay-what-you-want, there’s greater incentive to pay, as paying at least $1.50 nets you a full version with more ships and difficulties to choose from. Also, it’s nice to give devs at least a dollar, anyway.
One of the main features of Arengius is its power-up system. You can pick up turrets, side cannons and options to shoot alongside you – and the important thing about this is that all of these can stack. Witness as you accumulate a ridiculous amount of power, your ship bulking up as it unleashes a hailstorm of bullets. If you run out of shield, you’ll not only lose a life, but your setup thus far, which makes dying more painful, especially if you happen to die in the middle of a boss fight. If you have the full version, power-ups also have different variants depending on what ship you’re using, features and appearance-wise, which solidifies the different play styles each ship gives. I will say that you should be careful the speed-up items as being too fast may cause you to crash into terrain, which is especially dangerous in the levels with narrow passageways.
If you play on any of the Scattered difficulty settings, you start off the next level without any of the power-ups you got, which stops you from building up into a horrifyingly powerful ship. I didn’t dabble too much with the Scattered difficulties, because making horrifyingly powerful ships was a large part of Arengius‘ appeal for me.
So, while the limited version of the game gives you a basic, versatile ship, getting the full one nets you five more to use. The other ships sort of offer different play styles, with one ship and its variants of power-ups concentrating on strictly horizontal shooting – including firing behind you – while another has strong shots that don’t fire straight. What’s the best ship out of these? Honestly: I still feel that the initial ship is still the best one. While it’s basic, it’s just too practical as with sufficient power-ups, it can get really good screen coverage and the sheer amount of bullets makes up for its weak firepower. Out of the ships granted by the full version though, the Warrior has to be my favorite. While it doesn’t benefit as much from power-ups as the others (it lacks diagonal and vertical coverage, the usually helpful “O” power-up is underwhelming, etc), its high base damage is hard to argue against – it’s also the most practical ship to use for the Scattered difficulties, being the strongest from the get-go.
When the game refers to itself as an 8-bit throwback, it doesn’t solely refer to the game’s style. A lot of NES games – especially licensed ones – were weird with their settings and enemies, coming off as a weird fever dream where inanimate objects attacked you. Arengius sort of embraces the weirdness of NES games with its variety of settings and creatures. Sure, there are a lot of standard mechanical turrets and ships that you’d expect from a normal shmup. But then there’s the casually strange enemies, such as the moai-like statues that throw out rings of energy, armored robot knights facing down your spaceship in the narrow walls of a castle that’s led by a large knight swinging around a flail, gas clouds and miniature suns that split off into smaller versions of themselves, etc. There’s also the whole NES-esque excuse plot, with the titular Arengius being a villain that’s boss of a skeleton robot army, which is ridiculous. Arengius is very much one of those casually weird NES games and I think that’s part of why it works as a throwback.
Arengius very much feels different from the other two games in this post, besides the stylistic choices. Even outside of Easy mode, the game feels kinda slow-paced in comparison to them. There’s also some different priorities thrown into the mix, as you very much want to make an absurd ship to go along with the standard goal of reaching the end of the level and beating its boss. With enough firepower, the game becomes less of a gauntlet and more like a power romp, which is an experience you don’t get with the other games. I guess if you like shooters but if want something more easygoing, this is the game to try out out of the bunch. Of course, if you still want a harder experience, there’s the Shieldless difficulties, where you only have one hit for each life and, well, good luck with that.
So, that’s some shmup stuff on itch.io made. Yal’s also made some twin-stick shooters, though I guess they don’t fit my definition of a shmup. Besides, I covered a twin-stick earlier this week. But anyway, Yal’s shmup games are pretty alright and they show a nice variety between each other. After seeing her experience in making these kinds of games, there’s definitely less hesitation about the bullet hell game engine she’s made. So hey, if you want a shmup to kill some time or want to make a bullet hell type game but can’t figure out how to do so, Yal’s the gal to check out.