Barking mad

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If my Radiant Silvergun abilities were written up in the style of a school report, I would cross my fingers and hope to be politely described as an “enthusiastic trier” – Kimimi can’t do it, bless her, but she’s a determined little soul. “Good effort”, “Marked improvement”, “Making progress”, and all of those other affably empty sentences teachers write to try and discreetly sidestep the subject’s obvious lack of quantifiable talent. There are some shmups out there I’d say I’m at least halfway competent at, and one (just one) that I would say that I used to honestly play really quite well, but Radiant Silvergun is about as far away from that haphazard little bundle as any game could ever be. It’s not for a lack of understanding – compared to all the secrets, second (or more!) loops, and obtuse scoring mechanics found in other titles there’s nothing too out-there going on in Treasure’s epic take on gaming’s oldest genre – but no matter how hard I try I just can’t do it any more than I can play Free Bird with spoons or care enough about socks to bundle them up into matching pairs.

Why? Who knows. I’ve (just about) got the reactions, the genre awareness, and the patience to practise things I like until I get them right, but neither playing for survival nor score ever works out for me and this game, it almost feels like I’m the subject of a very specific and extremely petty curse (this curse also extends to Metal Slug, for no apparent reason). But that doesn’t mean I’ve ever given up hope, even twenty one long years after the game’s debut – in fact I feel like I have to keep trying in a weird sort of way: I need to prove to Radiant Silvergun somehow that I love it enough to be worthy of having it hanging around the house, but as the usual shmup challenges are completely out of the question (high score/don’t die/ideally both) I’ll have to think of something else to do – and pick a specific version of the game to do it on too.

Criminally Radiant Silvergun has only ever had three releases in its entire existence – each one a little different from the other, and in my humble opinion they rank like this:

  1. The Xbox 360 version. The original game’s in there and it also has the option to switch to a freshly-tweaked and much better Ikaruga-style chaining system if you want it to. Based purely on the merits of the game itself, this would be the port to go for even if the others were as cheap and easy to buy as this one.
  2.  The Saturn version. You get the arcade game (literally the arcade game – the files on the disc are split into independent Saturn/ST-V folders if you go look) and what was at the time and exclusive and enhanced Saturn port with immediately noticeable extras on one disc.
  3.  The arcade version. The most basic of the three and it’s on a cart which always feels a bit weird, even if it’s not weird in a bad way. Other than because OMG pure arcade original Radiant Silvergun I love you!!! there’s in all honesty no reason to go lusting after this particular release.

So for this little self-made challenge I’ve got in mind I’m going to use the Saturn port, because it has that unnecessarily smug satisfaction that can only come from owning an expensive Japanese shm

A DOG KENNEL

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You see Radiant Silvergun has these tiny happy pixellated dogs (“Merry”s) tucked away in awkward spots throughout the game, and if you find one they give out a chirpy woof and then dish out a few extra points for your score – isn’t that lovely? But the Saturn version – and only the Saturn version – has a special kennel on the ranking screen for them to live in. I just love that little kennel and the way the already odd-looking bouncy dogs vibrate as they roam around their new home, completely unnecessary and all the better for it.

So that’s it, that’s the challenge: I’m going to bring these good boys home. All of them. I’m going to become THE DOG MASTER. It’s past time I accepted that I’ve got about as much chance of 1CC’ing this particular game as I have of spontaneously morphing into a line of squirrels performing the can-can, so I’m instead going to focus my efforts on doing the one little thing I have a realistic chance of doing even if it’s of no real importance to anyone but me. To help me on my way (read: The only reason I can even try to do this) my good Australian friend Matt, the most Radiant of all the Silverguns, wrote a very thorough guide detailing the location of every last dog in the game which should in theory make this task a complete walk in the park – check the guide, get the dog – done!

But before setting off on my epic Merry-collecting run I think it’s important to play through the game in full once “blind” so I can see where my so-called skills naturally fall and hopefully from there I’ll be able to see how much I’ll have improved by the time I’ve finished.

[A thirtysomething woman plays Radiant Silvergun for a bit]

FIVE dogs? Is that all?!

Just so you know, there are thirty dogs in total which means I missed… almost all of them. Oh heck. That also ranks me as a “Breeder”, which doesn’t sound especially flattering. It’s clearly time to whip out my friend’s guide as there are more dogs in the first stage alone (which is, as we all know, Stage Three thanks to a combination of the game’s out-of-order time-travel shenanigans and a whole stage dedicated to past events) than I ran into all flipping game on my own “talents”.

[One guide-assisted run later]

Let’s start with the good news: My friend’s guide’s accurate: Phew! Not that I would ever doubt the shmup-loving nutter, but seeing his descriptions match up with what I’m seeing in the game means I’ve got one less thing to worry about. But it’s even better than that – his tips have been written with a certain blog-maintaining idiot in mind, which means I can actually understand his helpful mix of visual cues combined with easily-referenceable boss and stage names and he even had the good grace to sneak a Red Dwarf reference in there, because friends know friends watch Red Dwarf. I also don’t feel so bad about missing almost an entire game’s worth of Merrys the first time through now either – some of these dogs are disgustingly well hidden and you’d really struggle to find some of these without extra help or countless methodical runs where you do nothing but sweep every single stage with homing lasers.

Now on to the good-bad news: I realised something interesting during my guide-guided run – the kennel count is based on the largest raw quantity you’ve ended up with in a single go, it’s not counting individual dogs based on their location. In practise this means there’s that if I find five dogs scattered throughout the game and then have another go and pick up five dogs in one stage (and collect no others) my dog kennel will have a grand total of… five dogs. This is sort-of a good thing because I know I’ll never have to tear my hair out as I try to work out which specific Merrys I’ve missed – all I have to do is clear the game (continues are OK!) in one perfect doggy run to sort out the whole lot.

One. Perfect. Run.

It sounds a little bit more intimidating when you say it like that, doesn’t it? Still I’d struggled to do any worse than I already am, so almost by definition everything from here on in’s got to be some sort of improvement. Right, time for another run! For this one I’m making sure I pause at the start of each stage so I can read ahead and keep it all fresh in my mind as I play.

[Like last time, but with a scrunched-up face as I scour the screen for tiny dogs]

…I beat my previous best! Um, by one. Just one dog.

At this point I’m prepared to swear they’re deliberately hiding from me.

I’ve narrowed my troubles down to a few key issues:

  1. I really am abnormally bad at Radiant Silvergun – “Setting fire to a salad – underwater.” kind of bad.
  2. WHERE ARE THESE DOGS HIDING?!
  3. Most importantly of all: I’ve been playing on arcade mode because I’m a teeny bit lazy and don’t want to do all the stages and the extra bosses as well the way Saturn mode makes you even though I know I really should.

So! Another go? Only this time I’ll do it properly on the full-fat director’s cut Saturn mode, excitable jabbering cut-in portraits and all. Let’s g-Oh. Oh wait no I forgot Saturn mode doesn’t have infinite continues I haven’t a chance in hell…

[Feel free to imagine a very short and deeply embarrassing run here]

But I do at least manage to grab four dogs before I rush headlong into a hail of bullets (I have a nasty habit of charging forward when using the Radiant Sword attack, and it never ends well for me), which is, in terms of the amount of game seen balanced against the number of dogs gained, a huge improvement. And also proof, if any were ever needed, that I really am a lost cause.

Back to arcade mode, I guess! Let’s temper those “ALL THE DOGS” ambitions a bit and call a double-digit gaggle of dogs a victory, shall we? I’ll just knock the difficulty down a bit before I start to make sure I spend slightly more time chasing after THE INVISIBLE DOGS THAT MOCK MY VERY EXISTENCE than I do dropping dead in a variety of easily-avoidable ways.

[BE PRAYING. BE PRAYING. BE PRAYING]

One run after that and the game declares that I’m now a “ProBreeder” – that’s seven whole dogs worth of Merry in English – seven! And I think I’ll take that as my own little victory.  It may not the double-digit figure total I was hoping for (which was already less than the GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL hopes I had at the top of this article) but you know what? I had a good time and saw real improvements in both my dog-catching and general Radiant Silvergunning thanks to a little practise and The Power of Friendship – how is that not a win?

Did anything really special happen here? Did I achieve anything that would be considered even mildly noteworthy or impressive? No and no. But it’s been a fun few days and a very good reminder that even legendary titles are still just games that exist for the playing, and it’s more than OK to have fun for fun’s sake. Gaming has always had a lot of baked-in challenges: Platinum trophies, speedruns, “no damage” clears, optional extra-tough bosses and so on – and those are great if they catch your eye. But the little ones can be just as meaningful on a personal scale – remembering to hold up to pose at the end of every stage when you’re playing a Castlevania game, finally finishing off a friend with Sakura’s taunt in Street Fighter Alpha 2, or just finding that satisfying [bop, bop, BOP] rhythm in a good platformer as you neatly bounce on the heads of everything that comes your way. “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”, after all.

 

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4 thoughts on “Barking mad

  1. I knew you could pose like a big posey poser in Symphony of the Night and Harmony of Despair (that one has accompanying voice lines!) but does this work in the earlier ones too? Now I have to try it.

    Also self-imposed challenges are the best. I sometimes struggle to break out of the 1CC/high score mindset when playing a shmup, but it’s good to remember every so often that it’s okay to play just for the experience. Or the dogs.

    Like

  2. I think you should have pointed out that your mate isn’t exactly brilliant either, he’s just never loved a game more. This is without a doubt one of the best gaming related articles I have ever read! It speaks to all of us, not just the elite out there 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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