anti-shmup.jpg ['Shmup Me Up, Buttercup' is a bi-weekly column by Jeremiah ''Nullsleep' Johnson, dealing with the latest shoot-em-ups, or shmups, from Japan and the West, and covering the frantically cultish game genre that refuses to die, despite many bullets aimed in its direction over the years.]

Lay Down Your Arms

There was an interesting discussion a little while back on the Shmups forums about certain shooters that seemed to emphasize a pacifist approach to gameplay through the mechanics of their scoring systems. To put it plainly, if you wanted to go for the high scores in these games, you would be better off just not shooting. After all, at their most basic level shmups require only two actions from the player — shooting and dodging. And with bullet dodging arguably being the more defining aspect of the genre, it was inevitable that some games would take the non-shooting concept to its ultimate end.

Photo Shoot in Touhou Boots

bullet.jpg One such game is ZUN's Shoot the Bullet, a doujin "photography game" originally released at Comiket69 for the PC. The game consists of a series of boss battles featuring characters from the Touhou universe. To say there isn't any shooting involved in this game would be a lie, but its an entirely different type of shooting here. Amidst the frantic dodging of your opponent's bullet patterns, you are not expected to return fire but instead to photograph them. There are only two action buttons used in the game, one to slow your character's movement for more precise manuevering and another to take pictures.

Holding the photo button down allows you to move the crosshairs closer to the target while time is slowed down, the tradeoff being that the size of the frame shrinks, the longer that you hold the button. Between shots there is a period of time you must wait for your camera to recharge. Once you have successfully taken a certain number of pictures of your opponent, they will be defeated. Its a very unique concept, with the title's gameplay requiring many of the same skills needed for more traditional shmups, but with a definite twist.

Every Preconception Blown Away

extend.jpg Another anti-shmup with a twist is the brilliantly conceived Every Extend. This freeware doujin game was first released back in 2004, and there is an updated PSP port planned for commercial release this year (apparently not in time to beat the homebrew DS port though). So what is so different about Every Extend? Well, it takes the concept that dying is bad, and totally obliterates it.

Here, blowing yourself up is the primary gameplay mechanic, and everything else revolves around timing this action perfectly. Indeed, the "quick manual" for this game contains the extremely brief explanation of "blow up self to involve enemies," and lists the only controls as "move" and "blow up self." This is truly elegant game design. Clarifying the previous explanation slightly, the goal of Every Extend is to blow yourself up at key moments in order to set off chain reactions of explosions that take out as many enemies as possible. The longer the chain, the more points you score towards getting a life extend to make up for that one you just threw away.

There are also 3 types of items: green capsules that give points, yellow ones that extend your remaining time, and red "quicken" items that increase the amount of enemies and the speed at which they move. In the end, you're left with a game where you're working to get as many enemies on-screen at once as possible just so you can kill yourself in the midst of them. It doesn't get much further from conventional shmup gameplay than that. But somehow, Every Extend manages to be instantly addictive and a lot of fun as it indulges in its individuality.

Should I Shoot Or Should I Go Now?

So, is this the future of shmups? Shooting games without the shooting? Probably not. But these games serve as testaments to the fact that there is still plenty of room left for new ideas in this genre, new directions yet to be explored. So take it easy, give them a chance and give your trigger finger a rest for a while.