Editorial | 4/22/2012 at 9:08 AM

Co-Op International: Dodonpachi Resurrection

Stop the evil robot ladies with your mighty spaceship.

Welcome to the latest edition of Co-Op International. Here I discuss co-op games that have not been released in the US. This will include current gen games as well as classics. We hope you’ll enjoy learning more about Japanese games – please let us know in the comments section!

In last month’s Co-Op International, I praised Bullet Soul for its relatively fair difficulty. Bullet hell shoot-em-ups, y’see, have become increasingly tough over the years. These days, the average shmup is just plain too challenging for normal human players. It’s no coincidence that the majority of bullet hell shmups come from Japanese developer CAVE. When I interviewed one of the development team a while back, he revealed an unyielding and challenge-focused design philosophy. Dodonpachi Resurrection, the subject of this month’s article, perfectly exemplifies CAVE’s goal of making tough-as-nails shmups.

Dodonpachi Resurrection (aka Dodonpachi Dai-Fukkatsu) is the latest in the long-running Dodonpachi series, unless we count Windows Phone-exclusive Dodonpachi Maximum, a remix of sorts. Resurrection boasts a relatively complex plot for an arcade-style shmup, most of which is conveyed by the manual rather than the game itself. Six years after the previous game Blissful Death, the peacekeeping Dodonpachi Corps detect a space-time rift. An Element Doll (a huge, sentient, and girl-shaped mecha) has fled to the past and mutated into a virus, creating a new robotic army. Thus the nameless, faceless Dodonpachi fighters must travel back in time to prevent the threat from wiping out humanity and changing the future into the dark one seen in Back to the Future 2 or something. In truth, the setup doesn’t matter very much, as most players won’t reach the true ending and see the actual payoff.

Resurrection features three types of ships, all with different shot types and movement speeds. Each ship has two primary types of fire: a wide shot and a concentrated laser. Lasers are more powerful and can negate some enemy lasers (not bullets), but your ship slows down while firing them. Ships can also go into Hyper mode for a brief time after killing enough enemies and/or collecting a powerup. During Hyper, damage output increases and the player enjoys a brief period of invincibility. Knowing when to activate hyper or switch between the various shot types is essential to mastering the game, though I never fully got my head around it.

The first song in this trailer isn't in the game, but you must hear it.

Shot styles provide even more tactical depth. After choosing their ships, both players must select one of three styles: Bomb, Power, or Strong. Bomb style allows players to stock bombs and use them at will; if you take a hit and have bombs in stock, you’ll automatically use a bomb instead of losing a life. With Power style, rather than using bombs, players have the ability to toggle between strong and weak attacks, changing the ship speed accordingly. Finally, Strong style (my favorite) provides maximum firepower plus the ability to stock and use bombs at will.

Allow me to list my favorite aspects of the game. The 2D art is quite solid, with a fair amount of detail and occasional layers of parallax scrolling. I also liked the five main level bosses, who are Element Dolls. Being humanoid and female, they show a lot more personality than typical genre bosses. The Element Dolls are rendered in CG and spout untranslated Japanese phrases during combat. They also take oceans of bullets to kill, which leads me to my next point...

Sadly, Dodonpachi Resurrection is just way too hard for someone of my skill level. I’ve been playing shoot-em-ups since the original Galaga, and I’m by no means a bad player. But Resurrection is designed for another type of gamer altogether – someone who plays bullet hell shmups all the time and happily devotes endless hours to mastering them. The first level is tough but manageable; after that, the gloves come way the heck off. The swarms of bullets fired by enemies and bosses are so dense that I often couldn’t even detect safe paths, let alone pull them off. For some people (masochists), that level of challenge is the height of fun. Who doesn't like being kicked in the groin repeatedly, right? For me, it brings what could have been a very fun game down to pain-inducing levels. Resurrection offers unlimited continues, but use even one and you can’t reach the second loop after beating stage 5, and therefore won’t see the true boss(es) or ending. Locking half the game behind a nigh-impenetrable skill wall seems like a bad idea to me, but I’m just not part of Dodonpachi’s tiny intended audience.

Cooperative play doesn’t really alleviate the difficulty, but it does at least add a bit of fun. Of the four game mode: Novice, Xbox 360, Arrange A, and Arrange B, only the first two support 2-player local co-op. Multiplayer makes things even more hectic than single-player since the screen will always be filled with uncountable bullets. Unfortunately, neither player can earn Achievements during co-op games, a strange decision on CAVE’s part. Still, the game is short enough that running through it with a friend won’t take up that much time anyway.

I wish I could recommend Dodonpachi Resurrection to the majority of our readership, but it really is meant for only hardcore shoot-em-up fans. I wouldn’t even buy this one for Achievements – I got 290 GamerScore out of it, and that’s the most I’ll ever get. Then again, the European version of Resurrection, which comes from Rising Star Games (publisher of CAVE’s Akai Katana in the US and Europe), is still a wonderful collectible. It includes a well-written, full color manual that provides lots of helpful information the game itself lacks, plus a full soundtrack CD. So even if your shmup skills aren’t that amazing, it may be worth importing just for novelty’s sake.

Cultural quirks: Mechanical female bosses, some dressed as schoolgirls and maids, are the main quirks you’ll find here. Also, few non-Japanese developers would create a game with such insane difficulty.

Chances of coming to the US: Low-Medium. While Rising Star Games has officially opened their US branch, the European version of Dodonpachi Resurrection came out over a year ago. Considering the audience for bullet hell shmups' small size, much of Resurrection’s potential US audience probably imported it already.

Language barrier: None. As a European release, Dodonpachi Resurrection’s packaging, manual, and the in-game text are written in our language of choice, English. The bosses’ Japanese voice clips go untranslated, but that’s a very minor detail given the lack of in-game focus on story.

Difficulty of importing: Low. The European version of Dodonpachi Resurrection is region-free so it will play on any Xbox 360. Several European retailers will deliver it to the US, including Shopto.Net and Zavvi, for about $30 shipped. Alternatively, US-based NCSX.com sells it too, but they charge about twice as much as Shopto.Net. Finally, if you’d rather play Dodonpachi Resurrection on the go, CAVE publishes an iPhone version ($7.99) and an HD iPhone 4S/iPad version ($13.99) in the US. Of course, the iOS versions lack co-op, but at least they’re affordable.