[Arcade Obscurities is a bi-weekly column by Solvalou.com's Arttu Ylärakkola, probing some of the most interesting and obscure arcade games yet to be covered in the geek gaming press, thanks to Arttu's JAMMA board collection, and our insatiable quest for knowledge. This fourth column looks at Puzzloop and Pang creator Mitchell's 2002 single-screen shooter Gamshara.]
One of the most underrated and underexploited shmup-subgenres is the Cabal-type shooter. For those people who have not played the 1988 TAD Corporation classic, you get Cabal when you take your normal 2D on-rails-shooter, remove the scrolling, and change the perspective from a first-person to a third-person perspective, moving the camera behind the player.
The above details allow the games to implement their main source of enjoyment: the combination of a visible player character and static scenery. By moving your player horizontally, you can hide behind parts of the scenery and only get exposed when you decide to attack. When you are visible and firing towards the enemies, a crosshair can be freely moved around the screen to attack while you stand still firing at the enemies, totally Rambo-style. Indeed, most of the lives are lost by "trying to shoot just one more enemy" before ducking behind cover. However, a certain aggressiveness is required, as the covers crumble when they receive damage, so you have a kind of time limit in which to shoot all the enemies from one level. Without any sort of safe spots, getting hit by dozens of incoming bullets is very, very easy.
The Cabal Of Cabal Clones
The ramboish Cabal was followed by Wild West -themed Blood Bros in 1990. Surprisingly, those two seem to be the only good examples of their genre: there have been other quite similar games, but none of them provide the raw simple playability of the aformentioned titles. Two examples: Konami's 1988 into-the-screen -scrolling Devastators was chunky and unplayable, Sega's 1999 Charge 'N' Blast featured nice polygonal graphics, but got very negative reviews almost everywhere.
That's where Mitchell Corporation's Gamshara comes in: it's from 2002, but still sticks to the same basic formula as the old non-scrolling 2D titles, and that is the exact reason why it is better than many of its conterparts. The gameplay itself could have easily been implemented identically 20 years earlier, but Namco's System 10 hardware spices it with smooth hi-res 2d with very nice transparency and lighting effects.
Damn Those Greedy Warloads!
It's the year 1500 in Gamshara, and the land is in turmoil because "greedy warloads" (that's what the game says) "shed bood onto the land to extend their wealth and power". However, one of these "warloads" sends his samurai ninjas, Saika Magoichi and Hotary to end the bloodbath. Saika is powerful but slow, Hotary is speedy but has weaker weaponry. What this boils down to is lots of Cabal-like shooting - either hundreds of footsoldiers, horsemen, ancient tanks and ninjas in gliders or screen-filling bosses: fortresses with endless of gun turrets, mechanical dragon/submarine hybrids, or other historically inaccurate adversaries.
To make the task a bit easier, in addition to firing with A-button, you can avoid the enemies by jumping (B-button) or powering up the "Gamshara mode" by pressing the C-button: Gamshara mode grants you much-enhanced weaponry for a limited time - very useful against big swarms of enemies or to deliver the finishing blow to an end-of-level nasty.
Long And Short Of It
Chaining multiple kills gives you more points and also the ability to use a powerful blast that can be only launched after a long enough period of continuous firing: as you move the crosshair instead of yourself when firing, quick judgement is often required to decide wether to safely duck for cover or to keep firing against a large enemy in order to deliver the big punch.
So what's the verdict? Well, Gamshara is not as good as it could be. I have very few ideas how to improve the game, but for some reason the original Cabal is simply just more fun to play. Maybe it's Cabal's surgically precise evasion roll versus Gamshara's fiddly bullet evading jump. Or the way you're just quickly whisked to another level in Gamshara, instead seeing the next level on the horizon in Cabal.
Cabal has lots of place to hide behind, Gamshara hardly has any - so maybe it's underutilization of safe spots? I don't know, but what I know is that Gamshara gets points for doing its small part in reviving a dead genre. It's not a complete success, but like a, say, Tetris-clone, it is impossible for this one to completely fail to entertain.