If you publish Flash games in some capacity and would like to fund further development based on this prototype, don't hesistate to contact me at nathan_AT_icecreambreakfast.com.
Arrow keys: move
TAB: Toggle between attack/defense modes. Defense mode: no attacking, but you absorb blue shots. Absorb enough, and you can hold and release tab to unleash a powerful counter attack blast.
'f': fullscreen, 'escape': leave fullscreen.
'm': mute/unmute sound (not in fullscreen)
GOAL: Survive waves of enemies to get to the end of the level. Every time you unleash an attack blast, it will be more powerful. Kill 7 enemies at once with the blast, and you'll get the chance to power up your main attack.
Please wait for this to load - there's no progress bar. Click the flash app a few times to give it input focus.
There's no way to restart, so press F5 to refresh the page to play again.
How to Play Well
Learn when to keep your shield up and when not to. With a raised shield, you absorb blue shots as ammo for giant counter attacks. However, you also move more slowly, so you can't dodge other shots well, nor, can you attack. Striking the right balance is key.
There's more complexity. Use your special attack, and it grows more powerful. So try to fill your special attack bar and use it as often as possible to raise its power. As a twist, most enemies fire blue shots on death. To really get special attacks quickly, kill enemies while in attack mode, then absorb their blue shots in shield mode, then get back to attacking. Alternate. Kill at least 7 enemies in a giant counter attack, and you'll earn an attack strength powerup for your regular attack. It's a lot to juggle.
If that sounds complicated, watch the video below watch it in motion.
In this level, the main attack is a slow-to-fire spread shot, and the special attack is a bundle of weaving attacks. The bundle of attacks can be partially steered as they advance up the screen; they'll roughy center on your horizontal position.
Shooter Powerup Systems
Growing up, I never much liked shmups (like this). I preferred exploration in games, but I was also put off by losing all my powerups when I did, as was the norm in shmups. It's a strange rule choice - so if I'm not doing well because I got hit or died, the game reacts by taking away all my power and making me even worse?
Radiant Silvergun, from Treasure, was a giant revelation. In Radiant, players begin with all 6 possible attacks, each highly distinctive, and the gameplay challenge is learning when to use which attack in a level.
This was new. No shmup I'd played before made weapon use so tactical and skill-based; most demanded course-grained trial and error, forcing players to accept weapon power-ups before they knew what they needed. Players would then try different weapons for level sections when failing and retrying. Radiant wasn't like that. It showed a different philosophy for handling shmup weapon systems. (A rough parallel between Quake Deathmatch and Counterstrike exists here)
The better known Ikaruga, also from Treasure, elaborated this philosophy. But instead of pushing diversity of attack styles, Ikaruga emphasized one attack, one special attack, and a polarity system, where players absorb shots of one color (white or black) but are threatened by opposite color shots, and players choose in real-time which shots to absorb. Absorbed shots fill a meter that powers the special attack. Like all of Treasure's best efforts, all the rules are interconnected in surprising and deep ways.
Incarius tries to have a kind of Ikaruga-lite-ness to it. It lacks Ikaruga's purity and tightness. But it's in a similar space.
Structures of Shmups
My favorite shmup growing up was the CompileNES game The Guardian Legend. It's a hybrid game, not a pure shooter. The Guardian Legend mixes top down, Legend of Zelda-style exploration and pure shooting sections like like Ikaruga. The exploration segments aren't especially strong, lacking Zelda's idea density, but the shooting segments are solid, especially for a NES game.
Perplexingly, hybrid formats like this have never gotten more traction. To a player like me, some structure and a break from shooting occasionally makes the shooting much more delectable. Either that's not a widely shared desire, or developers must assume it's not. Had I all the time in the world, Incarius would have that structure.
Hybrid structure deserve more exploration. There are other games noteworthy for it. Along with The Guardian Legend, Actraiser and Blaster Master come to mind. Each merges and varies two dissimilar game styles for a complete whole, with those modes kept entirely discrete. I'd like to see more.
Attack Absorption and Multiple Meanings through Interactions
Incarius revolves around enemy attacks being player ammunition. This is a recurring theme for me.
Sparks and Dust uses the same idea. When players jump, then float, they absorb enemy attacks. Absorb enough, and players release powerful counter attacks.
In my reflecting demo, sending back enemy shots is the only way players can attack. In the videos of my Bangai-o-ish demo, counter attack strength is proportional the danger the player is in.
Even incend might qualify, with enemies as ammunition for explosion chains, and long explosion chains the only way to earn extra lives to keep playing.
This interest is not mine alone. Turtles in Super Mario Brothers are both foe and weapon for savvy players. Super Mario Brothers 2 takes "enemies and attacks as ammunition" to delightful extremes. Metroid's freeze gun turns enemies into wandering platforms for player mobility. In Lode Runner, enemies pick up treasures players must collect and are sometimes key to solving problems. Klonoa's "throw enemies to double jump" fits this category. All "corpses as ammunition" rules in Diablo 2 fit here. Nintendo is getting short shrift here - between Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Wario games, this design philosophy is heavily leaned on.
Treasure deserves a special entry here. Radiant Silvergun, Bangai-o, Ikaruga, Silhouette Mirage, and Mischief Makers all have core mechanics treating enemies and foes attacks as ammunition for player abilities. It's territory they've mapped very well.
This approach is powerful because it deepens player interaction yet is straightforward and cleanly parsable. If interactions in action games form a recursive grammer, the sentence and paragraph equivalents in most games is limited. The graph of interactions are simple, oriented around the player. In Castlevania, say, the role of a medusa head or skeleton is fixed and simple. They hurt players, don't interact with anything else. Thus, any encounter with them has limited directions it can go, bounded by the player's relationship to walls and floors and the player's attacks, ammunition, and health. By comparison, if Mario encounters a few turtles marching around some breakable blocks and goombas, the possible actions the player could take, and the reactions from the enemies, and the events that would happen after that system was in motion, grows combinatorially larger. Enemies and blocks all take on different roles as foe, attack, possible treat, or surface to stand on or bounce off, depending on how the situation evolves. Meaning in Mario isn't stable; it's very discretely contextual, but it changes in predictable ways.
The design aesthetic also introduces a sense of unity. When comparing good play in Ikaruga to most other shooters, that quality is apparent. It's also striking in Lode Runner, Centipede, and Silhouette Mirage, among others. With rules like this in place, there are no loose threads or extraneous parts. Every object in the game fulfills multiple roles, and all orient the experience back towards a unified whole. Perhaps this is hand-wavy, but unity is like pornography, as the old saying goes: you know it when you see it.