I have a feeling I know what some of you are doing already. Some of you "hardcore" are looking at that big ol' B in the corner and opening up your e-mail program to start composing flame mail, accusing me of being "spoiled by the evils of 3D" and "not a true gamer." In spite of the fact that a B is a damn good score.
But why "just a B"? After all, Do DonPachi Dai-oujou is a great game. That fact can't be denied. It's just not something many people who lack patience and perseverance will be able to enjoy, and even some more devoted players may find themselves tried.
Dai-oujou (meaning "peaceful death" - ah, sweet irony) is the fourth installment of DonPachi, Cave's most popular and supremely influential 2D vertical-scrolling shooter series. (Yes, it's the fourth, not the third, even the cut scenes say so. Those of you who claim Do DonPachi 2 isn't really DonPachi because it wasn't exclusively Cave-developed: kindly remove that stick you have wedged so firmly in your sphincter.)
After the game achieved a great level of popularity in Japanese arcades, Arika wisely decided to get the rights to do a home port to the PS2. This makes it the first home port of a Cave game in over five years. Let's hope we don't have to wait as long for the next one.
When you start the game, you can choose between two ships: the A-type, with a little less firepower but more speed, and the B-type, with wider, heavier shots but a bit less speed. From there, you can choose your "element doll," cute female robots that increase the power of your ship's abilities. Shotia gives you stronger regular shots but a weaker and very slow laser, and also carries the most bombs out of the three. Lenyan gives you a very powerful and speedy laser but a little bit weaker shots and a slightly smaller bomb stock. Exy has both a strong shot and laser, but is crippled by the fact that she carries very few bombs. Players will soon find the ship and doll combination that they prefer to play through the game with.
Basic gameplay is an extension of previous games in the series. Your ship has two main attacks: rapid-fire shots, which you use by either pressing the fire button repeatedly "old-school style" or holding the autofire button, or the laser, which you get by holding down the fire button and use to mow down enemies in a straight line. Generally, the laser is more powerful than the shot, but causes the ship's movements to slow down. However, the power and range of your attacks and how they affect the speed of your ship is dependent on ship and doll choices. Your ship also carries bombs, which are limited in number and are best used only in moments of dire need. Bombing while not pressing any buttons or while using the rapid shot gives you a full-screen blast that will rid the screen of smaller enemies and enemy fire. Bombing while using your laser results in a two- or three-second blast of extremely powerful spread laser that causes massive damage to anything in its path.
Dai-oujou's scoring system is built around "combos," or basically "how many enemies you can blow up in rapid succession." The bigger your combo, the higher your points multiplier goes. You only have a small amount of time to continue a combo after blasting through an enemy, so figuring out enemy attack patterns and how to use them adds a lot to your score.
New to Dai-oujou are the Hyper items. When you pick up a Hyper item, it replaces your bombs until it is used. Pressing the bomb button sends your ship into Hyper mode, where your shot frequency increases massively and your laser becomes a rapid pulse beam. With this extra firepower, it is much easier to create combos and score huge amounts of points. However, unlike with bombs, you are invincible for only a brief second when you first use the item, so you need to be very careful not to die before your Hyper time runs out! (What a waste!) You can collect multiple Hyper items after your first, and they are used all at once, with each one adding additional time to how long Hyper mode lasts.
The port quality of PS2 Dai-oujou is practically flawless. Load times are few and far between, and never become overly disruptive. The presentation in particular really goes above and beyond. You can choose four different display modes: horizontal, horizontal hi-res, vertical, and vertical hi-res. (You need to tilt your TV for vertical display. While this can be a pain in the neck, especially with a big TV, purists swear by it, because it's just like the arcade!) In addition, you can adjust the aspect ratio to match the size of your TV. If you have to play horizontal, Arika wisely decided to let you put that "empty space" to work to giving you the option of attaching wallpaper of the game's gorgeous art and even a map of the stage. Beats looking at black bars, I must say.
There's also a massive wealth of in-game modes and options. First off is regular Arcade mode. You can change many different settings here: difficulty, player stock - the usual. But in addition to that, you have the special "No Bullet" mode. It's just what it sounds like: the entire game from beginning to end, but the enemies don't fire at you. It's great for practicing combos and learning enemy formations, but I wouldn't become too comfortable with it, since bullet dodging is only part of the game's challenge.
Possibly the best, most-fleshed-out and useful mode in the game is the Simulation mode. This mode allows you to control many different aspects of the game for purposes of both practice and just playing around. You can set your stage, the stage's starting point, bomb/power levels, Hyper items and how long they last, the specific degree of enemy difficulty/attack, and much more. There are loads of options here that will keep you busy for quite a while. There is also a Replay mode here, where you can save movies of your best play runs and high scores or the goofy situations you've concocted by messing around with the settings.
Finally, one of the biggest PS2-exclusive features is the "Death Label" game mode. I would very much like to know whose sick, twisted mind to
congratulate blame for this mode. You start off at the end of each stage and receive of bunch of items before you go into the boss fight. This may sound like a "boss only" mode, but it has an added twist: the already insane bosses have become about three times more difficult. The number of bullets has almost doubled, and they come flying at you with a speed that only those with the fastest reflexes on the planet could ever dodge. In some cases, that's not all: if by some act of God you make it to the final form of the last boss in this mode, you get to fight not one, but two of them at the same time! Even the Japanese experts find this mode to be absolutely crazy. If you think you're up for Death Label, all I have to say is . . . good luck.
To top off all these great extras, Arika threw in a bonus DVD with extra gameplay movies from Japan's best players, as well as other assorted media bits. All of this makes for an excellent package that I hope more companies will look at in the future when doing arcade ports.