New arcade shooting games

By Alex Kierkegaard / August 31, 2006

The trickle of cool shooters coming out in Japan is continuing, with two new titles likely to be released in arcades by the end of October.

Karous was announced just over a week ago, and news of Cave's Mushihime-sama Futari have been coming in since late May. But try googling them, and you'll only be directed to a handful of stray blogs and niche forums.

And that's true even if you google them in Japanese.

I find it a bit sad, really, that only a handful of dudes on the internet seem to give a shit about shooters anymore. And what a terrible shame this is, because the new Mushi at least could very well turn out to be one of the best games of the year, judging by how great the original was, and going by Cave's spotless reputation.

And yet, few people will ever become aware of if, or of the great-looking Karous.

Of course, you've all been told the reasons why shooters are ignored by the press: "Players don't care about them; no one buys them."

Well I've got news for you sister: the reason no one buys them is, in fact, because the press doesn't cover them. And the real reason the press doesn't cover them, is because these companies can't afford to take out ads in your shitty magazines and websites.

For my part, I'll try to do my best to correct this great injustice. Even though I am not in Tokyo at the moment to report more closely on them, I have gathered here all the details I could find about Cave's and MileStone's latest. Please follow news on these titles here and elsewhere, and tell your friends about them. Let's create some hype ourselves: these games certainly deserve it.

Karous (カラス)

MileStone's Karous was first announced on their website about ten days ago, with a simple page showing the logo, and the words "New arcade shooting". Way to go to make a big splash, MileStone. It reminds me of how Warashi's recent Triggerheart Exelica was announced, only this is even more low-key.


There is some confusion surrounding the game's title. In Japanese, it is pronounced karasu, which is their word for a species of crow. But the kid that MileStone occasionally hires for the odd English translation mistakenly romanized it as karous. This means that if you were to go to one of those huge Japanese arcades once the game gets released, and ask them to show you where they have the Karous machine, they will most likely not know what the hell you are talking about. You'll have to ask for karasu instead. But whatever, in the end, it's their game not mine, and they can translate its title any way they fucking please. Just be sure to call it by its correct name if you want to be down with the cool Japanese kids in your neighborhood.

So for a few days, that awesome-tastic black & white image you see above was all there was. And then last weekend MileStone conducted a location test at the Club Sega in Tokyo's Nishi Shinjuku, and the first video quickly found its way online (much too quickly: it was seemingly uploaded the day before the location test!), by some dude called saweki on YouTube. You can watch it here.

Only six seconds long, and as low-quality as it gets without finding yourself staring at a blank screen, the video more or less showed that Karous will play in a similar fashion to MileStone's own Rajirugi (also known as Radilgy: MileStone seems to be in dire need of someone with elementary English-language skills.)

And happily, a picture of the beautiful Ikaruga-like poster also surfaced, which confirmed that the game will be running on Sega's Naomi hardware:


Now by Monday you'd have expected some sort of update from the location test on MileStone's site; a video, or a few screenshots, or at least some concept art. But no, they were too cool for that.

The next update came from a guy on the Shmups forum, who has yet to learn that when you steal videos, sound clips, and images from some website, you are supposed to -- at the very least -- mention the source. (At least he didn't hotlink them, like the guys from French website Neo-Arcadia, who have turned stealing other people's media into an art.)

Now I am going to go ahead and post all that stuff here, and I'll be sure to edit this page with the proper acknowledgements/links as soon as I find who owns it. If anyone knows, please get in touch with me asap.

In the meantime, enjoy a video (97.2MB) of what looks set to be a very enjoyable cel-shaded shooter, a super-grainy sound clip (1.72MB) of its nice drum & bass soundtrack, and a picture of the location test, which is only missing the "Wish you were here" tagline:


So that's all the info available on Karous at the moment. It seems to work the same way as Rajirugi -- you build up the barrier weapon, then crash into bullets and enemies to collect bonus items -- but there are now experience points and some sort of a level-up system in play. The bullet patterns are more dense, and the visuals have been improved significantly, with richer textures for the enemies, and a darker overall look. The drum & bass score also seems to fit the game well.

If MileStone continues to improve in leaps and bounds, as they did from Chaos Field to Rajirugi, then we are in for a treat. And just as importantly, the game is certain to be ported, and probably to more than one console.

Mushihime-sama Futari (虫姫さま ふたり)

News of the sequel to Mushihime-sama first surfaced at the end of May via various PCB resellers. And just as the original Mushi was officially announced through the Espgaluda soundtrack, confirmation of the sequel came first to those who ordered the Espgaluda II soundtrack, with a tantalizing image on the back of the CD booklet:


Then just about a month ago AMI, Cave's distibutor, posted the game's gorgeous flyer on their site:


By the way, if you are tired of me describing every image as "beautiful" and "gorgeous", I am sorry but I can't help it. That's how modern shooting games are made: the companies always make sure they hire good illustrators for all the promotional art (how the in-game art eventually turns out is, of course, another matter).

In fact, someone on the Shumps forum reported that a Japanese friend of his told him that his mother's uncle's great-grandfather told her, that famous Japanese graphic novelist Haccan would be doing the honors this time. Check out some of his work; if it's really him, then his credentials seem impeccable. (Also, I promise to look in my Thesaurus for more adjectives when describing images in the future.)

The flyer was a huge surprise, because it proclaims that the game will be playable at the 44th Amusement Machines Show, which takes place in Tokyo between the 14th and 16h of September. In addition, PCB resellers were reporting that the game would be available by the end of September (they are now saying by the end of October). All of this is rather uncharacteristic of Cave, since they haven't even done a location test yet, and it doesn't look like they plan to before the show. Maybe sometime in early October then...

Up until that point I was shitting my pants with excitement, because Mushihime-sama is the best shooter Cave has made in several years. Espgaluda II, Ibara, and even PinkSweets, the shooters that followed it, were all great games, but they didn't have Mushi's extremely ambitious scope, nor its wide appeal and flat-out wow moments, and they all have their faults, however small. Mushi, on the other hand, was without fault; a timeless masterpiece which I'll probably keep going back to deep into old age.

So my lust for the sequel, after only seeing the two images above, reached such a point, that I promised myself I'd be at the show to cover it as extensively as possible.

But then a few days later an actual screenshot was posted on Cave's site, and my excitement was quickly deflated. And don't bother clicking on it, it won't make it any larger. It's so small that you'd be forgiven for thinking they were ashamed of showing it, if most of the other screenshots on their site weren't similarly tiny.


In all honesty, I had been hoping that Cave would move on to new hardware. They had made four games on their third generation system, and it was really time for them to move on. But I didn't feel let down just because they were still using the old hardware. From the screenshot, the backgrounds looked as if they were lifted straight from the first game, and no enemies or bullet patterns were clearly visible. Though I still had faith in Cave -- it was only a single screenshot, after all -- most of my enthusiasm was gone in an instant.

And that's how things stood until Friday, when two new images were posted on the gamengai forums (see original thread), taken from the latest issue of Arcadia, the only game magazine worth buying in the year of our lord 2006, god bless their souls.



Now that's more like it! Just look at that gargantuan fireball-breathing dragon boss -- the extra-large fiery-red caption underneath says it all: The Arcadia dudes are as excited about this as I am, and as you should be, if you know anything about shooters.

It's amazing how one screenshot can change everything. I am more amped about this game now than ever before. Sure, it still runs on the SH3, but the effects look ill, the colors are bright and brilliant, and note that the default high score is over two billion, and that's just a screenshot from Original mode! Dammit, I don't much use exclamation marks, but now I can't help it; here are some more!!!

A lot of fans are salivating over this single screenshot at the moment, and hopefully the readers of this website will now join them. One thing I am not going to do is go into wild speculation about the scoring system, which will likely be even more twisted than that of its predecessor. We'll know all there is to know in a couple of weeks, anyway. What I will say is that I am glad they have decided to keep the various modes, as they were Mushi's most outstanding feature, and the addition of a new selectable character is welcome, though hardly necessary (I'll still be playing with Reko, the insect princess herself, but feel free to pick the cute boy, if he's more to your taste).

Cave has always tried to top its previous games in terms of manic-ness, when making sequels: just look at DOJ or Espgaluda II. It's certain that they will try to do this again. But how will they manage to top Mushi's Ultra mode? I've absolutely no idea, and that's what makes this whole thing fun. If I knew everything there would be nothing to get worked up about.

Anyway, this game looks sick (yes, judging from one screenshot; I never learn), and I am going to do everything I can to be at the AM Show and write more about it, and about Karous, if MileStone shows up. It's far from certain whether I'll make it, as I need to get a new passport and I've hit some snags in that department, but I'll do my best. One way or another, I'll be sure to keep you updated with all the news on these two games. Stick around.