I’ve played a lot of arcade shooters in my time, from Galaga to the almighty Ikaruga. And as one would expect, the gist of all these games is to shoot, shoot, shoot and keep shooting until you get to the end. I like to think there’s more to these shmups than just endless, mindless shooting…but photography?
How it’s usually done
I typically play shooters two times. The first time is to just get through the game. Just keep shooting until you get to the end. This serves not only as level scouting but also fulfills the “I beat the game” requirement. But after that, it’s all about score. I’ve seen the end so I don’t need to see it again. No, after that first time through it’s about honing the techniques and memorizing patterns in order to get the highest score possible.
Nine times out of 10 you get high scores by staying alive and shooting bad guys, often in ways that chain together kills to get bonus points. This is also true for the Touhou series of shooters, known for their extreme difficulty due to the sheer number of bullets filling the screen ALL THE TIME. Call them “bullet hell” or “bullet curtains” but the name of the game is dodging and shooting, hoping you’re hitting something. But when I found a new resource for downloading the Touhou series games, I came across one that dispensed with the offensive attacks and instead asked me to take photographs to fight the forces of evil.
Wait, this isn’t a shooter at all!
The game in hand is appropriately called Shoot the Bullet. Without any prior knowledge you might think that title just describes what you do, shooting bullets, but it’s really a play on words that tells you your goal, to shoot the bullets…with your camera. There are no lasers or bullets or smart bombs here, it’s just you and your Instamatic. By all rights you can’t even call this a shmup or shooter because, well, there’s no shooting!
I have to say that with all the shmups I’ve played, I’ve never seen one that uses this game mechanic…and frankly, I would have skipped it had someone told me it’s a photography game. But I’m glad no one did because despite how silly and cute taking photographs sounds for a game, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s challenging, motivating and of course, it is needed to get those all important high scores.
Each stage in the game sees your character, a school girl (of course), fighting against a single boss that spits out nasty, nightmarish bullet patterns. Your goal is simple, to capture a photo of the boss. Each stage requires up to five successful photos before you pass the level. To maximize points for each photo you need to get the boss as close to the center of the camera view finder as possible while also getting as many bullets as possible in the view…AND by capturing the boss’ special symbol in the frame for even more points. Yes, there’s a lot going on there and that translates directly into the game play, putting a ton of pressure and challenge on the player. Dodging bullets isn’t enough in this game, accuracy matters more than ever.
Fun to play, hard to perfect
I would have never thought that trying to capture what is essentially a screen shot of a video game could be so much fun, but it is. I think it’s because using a camera is something everyone can understand. It’s not about upgrading lasers or using smart bombs at the right time. No, Shoot the Bullet is all about taking a good photograph, something we all want to do, even outside of video games. The second you take a photo in the game and get a score for it, you want to do it again…and again…and again. This game really preys on your need for perfection and it succeeds.
Tell me the goal of a game is to take good photographs and I’ll write it off as mini-game shovelware. Something the family can play together and laugh about. Never again. I can see how this type of game mechanic can be a lot of fun it used in a game properly. It just so happens that Shoot the Bullet applies this game play in my favorite genre. If you’re a shooter fan and need something to fulfill your bullet dodging urge while trying on a new challenge, a game like Shoot the Bullet will fit the bill. Of course, if you’ve played your share of Touhou shooters then you’re pretty well up to your earlobes in bullets already.
(And while writing this post I discovered there is a sequel!)