As I continue to try and slow-drip the contemporary shmup scene, I am making an effort to mostly complete games before I move on to others. I fell into the shmup collecting trap back in the day, stowing dozens of roms on my computer and stacking many a Dreamcast import on the shelf, without actually finishing many of them. Lots were untouched altogether. Tack on the fact that many of these games take hours to learn and appreciate properly, and it sounds like a good strategy.

Bear in mind that I have to enjoy the game. This year\’s Crisis Wing has left me positively un-zinged and I have no plans to finish it as yet.

One game I have been enjoying immensely is 2018\’s ZeroRanger by System Erasure.

Bless my beard, this game is good. At first the retro aesthetic and minimalist color palette kept my expectations low. Soon enough, though, I began to notice how imaginative, well-designed, and fine tuned this game is.

One clue to tip me off was the fact that setup was a breeze. It recognized my arcade stick immediately without any calibration, altering the tooltips accordingly. The differing game modes, affectionately titled \”White Vanilla\” instead of \”easy,\” for example, are all exceptionally rearranged to ease the player in and teach the different mechanics and patterns. I would call their (it\’s two dudes) design approach almost avant garde, as we zap from one area to another with little flow or transition. One minute were in terrestrial air space, the next we\’re racing across a bone canyon to face a giant skull. 

We could possibly attribute this to the aforementioned graphical minimalism, but I think that belies what the game is trying to do.

Underlying every screen and stage is a single theme: \”May you achieve enlightenment.\” This, let\’s call it, Hindu-inspired motif (there are also some clearly Buddhist imageries, but I think that\’s beside the point) is as weird as it is comforting. So if we, the character, are in some kind of meditative state, it\’s entirely plausible that we may be jumping from vista to vista, challenge to challenge. It\’s also suggested that we are in some kind of alien simulation as well.

And that\’s what ZeroRanger does that\’s so impressive. Using a notoriously antinarrative genre, it tells, through suggestion and style, a compelling story. We\’re on a journey and that journey is not from one wave of bad guys to another. Even if it\’s more suggestive than actual, we are still moving along.

I\’ve gotten the \”end\” of the game and, while no beans are spilled, we are in some sort of trance state or simulation. I love it. Apparently there is more to the ending and it\’s sneaky to get to. That\’s a bit of a turnoff, but in no way diminishes the wonder of this game. 

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