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Rad Dog is Doomed

Zero Base is a side-scrolling space shooter-type game…made in RM2K3. But fear not! Kazesui is practically a miracle worker, and once again shows just how much our now 8-year-old program can accomplish.

The game abandons RM’s grid-based movement, instead using actual honest-to-goodness pixel movement and hit detection. No, seriously, it does. And it’s remarkably accurate, for the most part! Your shots collide believably with foes and walls, as do their shots with your ship. And of course crashing into things is instant death. In fact, colliding with anything is instant death. But more on that later. The point here is that the game behaves exactly the way you expect it to, which is both excellent design and very impressive.

The game is not without flaws, though. And I don’t just mean little bugs here and there. Though I did find a few, they aren’t what I’m concerned with. My primary issues with this game stem entirely from the way it handles your lives and its sheer ruthlessness.

When you first start it up, you’re launched into a brief intro that bears an uncanny (read: intentional) resemblance to a similar game that is legendary for its Engrish. After the scene ends, you jump directly into the first stage with three four lives and no ability to save. Or pause. You will quickly lose these lives and have to watch the intro again start over. Then you will lose your four new lives and have to watch it yet again start over again. This will repeat for as long as you continue to fail, which will assuredly be a great deal. A save call after the intro would help immensely. Fortunately, a save is included with the game that lets you start at the first level (so you don't have to watch the intro over and over).

But even if you could save after the intro and didn’t have to sit through it every time you screwed up, The game would still be is still infuriatingly difficult. Three Four lives is a paltry amount to survive on unless you memorize exactly what to do to survive. I did not have the patience for this, so I did what any self-respecting RMer would. I opened it in 2K3 and gave myself 200 lives (and an after-title save). This got me to the second stage, at which I was able to save legitimately. Reloading this save takes you to a stage select. This is a good thing that I would’ve adored having instead of starting over every time in stage 1! The game also saves the number of lives you have, so my still-enormous stockpile was not reset to any arbitrary amount. This is great for me since I stole more lives than the game would ever offer, but terrible for any poor shmuck who made it to level 2 with one life remaining. I suppose it’s possible the game resets your lives if they are low when you save, but I dunno. I’ll tell you when I ever pass stage 1 without cheating. The game does, however, add a life to your count when you reload a previous save. A small, but welcome mercy.

Stage 2 is predictably no easier. You will die until you’re intimately familiar with the game over screen, and you might be already since it’s 2K3’s default one. This leads me to question why the life system even exists. It’s an element you’d expect to be there, but it doesn’t really add anything to the game. If you were in an arcade, this would be the feature that drains your quarters, but we’re not in an arcade, and games have come a long way since then. It’s my opinion that this game would be better off without such a system entirely. The only purpose it serves is to send you to the game over screen, and possibly make you rewatch the intro. In a game this difficult, there’s just no need for that. It’d be more tolerable if lives were not so hard to come by. You can find them as pickups at set locations in some stages. You might get one if your score passes some specific value, but I doubt it. I never gained one this way, and I scored hundreds more points than normal with my towering stockpile of lives. You'll also gain one for every 5000 points you score. Another thing that could make it less tedious would be to give the player more than just 1 HP. Suppose three hits destroyed the ship instead of one? You'd triple the survival rate and quarter the frustration.

In spite of this serious gripe about having to replay so much, the game handles one aspect of it very well. It has two checkpoints per level: one midway and one before the boss. They activate automatically. So it’s not like dying is always an enormous setback; that’s only when you’re on your last life. ..which is fairly often.

I have a few other complaints about the game’s handling of things. The item pickups you get from enemies can change the type of weapon you fire or increase your movement speed. There’s nothing wrong with that; the various weapon upgrades put an interesting spin on how you play. You can even shoot at the pickups to make them change color, and use that to select the type of weapon you’ll receive. But this is a double-edged sword. Because you’re able to shoot items, you’re unable to shoot through them. That means an item drop at a bad location can create a shield for enemies behind it! Take a look at this screen here:



That big machine spits out those little ships you see above it. You’ll notice that the nose of the ship furthest down is just a little further left than the machine that made it. Shooting at the spawner, you will hit these ships as they appear. If one of them drops an item, you will shoot the item instead of the spawner, rendering it nearly invulnerable. There are other such places these mishaps can occur. And while I definitely like being able to choose the weapon I’ll get, I’m not sure it’s worth the times when I’d need to shoot an enemy that got behind a pickup. You lose any weapon upgrades you had when you die anyway. Next, some things seem to be placed in ways that just screw over the player. Things like this turret here:



What the heck are you supposed to do about that thing when it’s in a tight corner like that? Oh, you could zip down in there and try to blast it, but it fires bursts of three bullets in rapid succession. It also takes about ten regular shots to demolish, so there’s no way you’d ever get it before it got you. And the spacing with that wall is also more treacherous than it looks. See here:



This is me going for the item that you’re given before the boss fight. Never mind that it’s another example of placing things badly. See how my ship’s glowing a little red? Yeah, that’s because it collided with the wall behind it. There are about five pixels of space behind your ship that will make you hit walls if you back up too far. It’s pretty much the only hit detection issue I’ve found, but it can be extremely annoying. - Yeah, that wall bug's been fixed.

All in all, this game is very well put together, but the way it handles some of its mechanics makes it a chore to play. The lives system is set in place to ensure you have to play each stage 50 times before you beat it. The items that are supposed to help you may end up blocking your shots instead. It’s too bad, too, because everything else about the game is fantastic. The music fits well, the graphics make decent use of RTP future sets, and almost all the collision detection works like it’s supposed to; a wonder in its own right. Kazesui has done a remarkable job, but the end result is just far too merciless.

4/5

Posts

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Decky
I'm a dog pirate
19517
Another nice performance by Kazesui in every area besides challenge and writing. I might write a review myself.
Seems my update came a day too late. Several of the issues you've raised have been fixed, like the wall you hit too early, it's something that got broken while I was working on level 3 so it took some time to notice it. This makes it possible to kill the turret you mentioned, but shouldn't be attempted without some weapon upgrades. The basic idea of that one (and few other instances) was "to live and let live".

The score also gives you an extra life for each 5000 points now, and you're provided with a savefile which let's you enter stage 1 directly through the level select.

Also, yes if you complete a stage with just 1 life, you will be given another one at the beginning of the next stage... which means you'll have 2 lives... which might only be marginally better. (Apparently there was a poor schmock who finished the first level with only one life).

The main gripe about it being rather difficult is still very much intact though, just hopefully a bit less of a chore.

I find you raise a pretty interesting point about the life system possibly being obsolete. Didn't cross my mind as they are or were pretty typical in these kind of games. One of the only things it does at the moment is to make sure that you won't run out of useable power ups too soon.

Thanks for the review, and the time you spent trying to beat it, eventhough my strong tendency of making stuff too hard
kentona
Your mom is a hero
20851
C'mon, the game isn't that hard. I played it only 2 times now whilst distracted at work and made it to the mid-part of level 2, on the original version.
i HAVE PLAYED 11 times level 2 and cant finish it. Yes it is so damn hard.
halibabica
RMN's Official Reviewmonger
15558
from Kazesui
Seems my update came a day too late.

Or the review request came too early! Blame kentona!

Glad to hear a lot of these bugs have already been fixed, though. Now I feel I should be updating this thing so peoples don't get the wrong idea...maybe a little later. Kinda busy today.
I will say that I think lives are necessary for this type of game, otherwise what in the world is to prevent you from just sitting there while you blow up over and over again until you reach the boss?

Granted, I haven't played the game yet so I don't know if when you die it restarts you earlier in the level, if it does then my point is invalid. But if you restart exactly where you blew up at, then lives are the only thing keeping you on your toes.

I do think gamers in general now are used to having their hands held to a ridiculous degree, to the point that when they're presented a challenge that they can't complete with a couple tries, they give up. Games keep getting easier and easier to the point of Bioshock like stupidity (where if you died, you were simply teleported back a few steps, with all enemies still just as damaged as they were). Harden up gamers... or go play Wii.

Edit: This is not aimed at hali, by the way. Just a general observation.
halibabica
RMN's Official Reviewmonger
15558
The game has checkpoints. When you're killed, you go back to one of them. They're usually midway through the level or just before the boss. Trust me, this game is hard enough with infinite lives.

I agree, though. I hate when games cater to such a low denominator that they're stupidly easy.
A difficulty setting might be in order... or perhaps make it like Gradius, and have a secret code you can enter during the level select screen to give the player 30 lives or something.
author=narcodis
A difficulty setting might be in order... or perhaps make it like Gradius, and have a secret code you can enter during the level select screen to give the player 30 lives or something.


Already a step ahead of you.
since the last update, there are already 3 secret codes implemented (which is what caused the slow down bug you noticed as well).
One of these instantly gives you 9 lives, another a full upgrade of a random weapon, and the last one blows you up.

The issue now is only figuring out how I want to reveal them. The original plan was to implement difficulty settings, and reveal one code for beating each of the different difficulties, but revealing them sooner might be an idea as well. Still thinking about it
halibabica
RMN's Official Reviewmonger
15558
All right, totally updated this thing based on sHoCkInG nEw DeVeLoPmEnTs.

Also, wow, did item upgrades stack in the version I played before? Collecting multiple power-ups balances things out considerably! Have another 1/2 star, mister.
Ah, I suppose the gameplay video could have been have been more clear on that, as I suppose the tiny little text "weapons can be upgraded by collecting another of the same kind" is very quick to overlook.

So yeah, every weapons stacks up to a total of 3 times, which usually make stuff considerably easier. Have the green laser on stacked 3 times and you hit pretty much everything on screen regardless, or have the red blaster stacked 3 times, and the first boss will die in less than 15 seconds (if you don't miss too much). It's even possible to kill the final boss in around 20 seconds with it... but that requires actually living long enough with that weapon to reach the final boss, and with a bit of careful aiming during it's second phase (where you have to hit it in the little gap).

Thanks for the update. Some of the crossed out stuff gave me a good laugh as well.
but the end result is just far too merciless.

Complain about difficulty whilst making Spelunky mods. MAKES PERFECT SENSE.
halibabica
RMN's Official Reviewmonger
15558
At least I can beat Spelunky when I try really hard.
author=Kazesui
The issue now is only figuring out how I want to reveal them. The original plan was to implement difficulty settings, and reveal one code for beating each of the different difficulties, but revealing them sooner might be an idea as well. Still thinking about it
You should hide them in the walls of the levels at certain spots. maybe spread the characters out so you have to keep an eye out for them.
I treat this as the game is meant to be: a fun space shooter reminiscent of the games of old. As such, I mainly play these games for the challenge and the score. I definitely enjoy seeing these types of games here when they become available. I will say, though, an option for skipping the intro would be great.
author=amerkevicius
I will say, though, an option for skipping the intro would be great.

Since the last update (which was a while ago) it has an option for skipping the intro by using the save file provided with the game though
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