Shmup Essentials: DoDonPachi Resurrection

My first encounter with DoDonPachi Resurrection — also known as DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu — was in its iOS incarnation.

I’d never really played a danmaku shooter before, so it was to be a new experience to me, but I’d been assured by people whose opinions I trusted that I would have a good time with it. Those assurances turned out to be emphatically true — which is just as well, because at the time I originally purchased it, DoDonPachi Resurrection was rather expensive for a mobile game.

Since that fateful initial encounter several years back, I’ve since sought out the various other versions of this game, and have found it an incredibly challenging but rewarding experience whatever form it takes — and absolutely one of Cave’s finest games to date.

Like most shoot ’em ups, DoDonPachi Resurrection technically has a plot, this time concerning giant robot girls, time travel and attempts to prevent a war happening before it begins, but it doesn’t really matter once you’re into the game properly. The lore is there if you care to seek it out, but this is emphatically a mechanics-focused game rather than a deep and meaningful narrative experience. Which is, of course, fine when we’re talking about a game of this type.

All you really need to know is that you’ll fly a teeny-tiny but ludicrously overpowered (and brightly coloured) aircraft through five distinct levels, blasting everything in your path and trying not to be obliterated by screen-filling patterns of bullets. And in true bullet hell tradition, you’re helped — a little, anyway — by the fact that your ship’s hitbox is much smaller than the complete ship sprite itself, allowing you to safely “graze” bullets to your heart’s content, so long as you don’t let your cockpit get hit.

Cave shoot ’em ups are well-known for having interesting scoring systems, and DoDonPachi Resurrection is no exception. Here, your scoring potential is primarily determined by racking up “combos”, achieved by destroying enemies in rapid succession without taking damage or letting loose a screen-clearing bomb. The higher your combo, the more quickly your score will increase, but if you relent in your attack for even a moment you risk losing it all.

Fortunately, the default weapons loadouts for the ships in DoDonPachi Resurrection are so powerful from the get-go that you can pretty much just keep shooting blindly and concentrate purely on dodging bullets, though a bit of depth is added to the formula by the addition of a powerful “beam” weapon. This focuses your fire tightly straight ahead, dealing significantly more damage but leaving you a bit more vulnerable to popcorn enemies, and as such is best saved for dealing with armoured enemies and ground installations.

Another mechanic you’ll need to master is the Hyper Counter, which allows you to build up power, then release it in a temporary blast of screen-filling ridiculousness in either shot or beam form. While firing your Hyper, you can cancel enemy bullets and also rack up combos much more quickly than normal, making careful timing of its use essential to both survival and obtaining high scores.

Each version of DoDonPachi Resurrection offers a number of variants on the basic gameplay. The mobile version, for example, offers a dedicated “smartphone mode”, which replaces the combo system with a sliding meter that moves back and forth according to how aggressively you are playing and affects your scoring potential accordingly, while the console and PC ports feature several different “Arrange” modes with new mechanics and game structures, a “Novice” mode for beginners, and the various different version numbers and “Black Label” releases that the arcade original version of the game saw over time, each of which make some adjustments to the base formula.

Like most other Cave shooters, DoDonPachi Resurrection’s apparently simple structure belies a considerable amount of hidden depth. Completing the game isn’t just a matter of credit-feeding your way to the final boss, though this is one means of seeing an ending. True DoDonPachi Resurrection veterans will seek out one of two “second loops” around the entire game by collecting shiny bee items hidden throughout each stage, and eventually — if they proved their skills by making it to the end without continuing — find themselves face to face with the series’ recurring “true final boss”, Hibachi.

And once you’ve mastered one mode, there are all the other ways to play to get your head around, each of which offers variations on scoring mechanics, enemy design, visuals and music while keeping the distinctive core of the game intact. So there’s plenty to keep you occupied once you’re feeling confident — though make no mistake, this game is tough, even by bullet hell standards, so it pays to swallow your pride and spend some time in Novice mode before trying for that elusive one-credit clear.

DoDonPachi is one of Cave’s longest-running series, and with good reason: it’s incredibly solid at what it does. On first glance it may appear to be a fairly conventional “tiny spaceship takes on the universe” vertically scrolling shooter, but the combination of atmospheric music, spectacular setpieces, hugely varied enemy and bullet patterns and satisfying mechanics makes for a highly addictive, extremely memorable experience. Even if you suck at it as much as I do.

Worth noting: that mobile version I played first of all is by far the easiest version to get to grips with thanks to the highly accurate, precise touchscreen controls that make weaving your way through complex bullet patterns an absolute snap, so if you’re new to bullet hell, that’s a great place to start.

Or just jump right in with the excellent Xbox 360 and PC ports like the badass you think you are, hotshot. I’ll be here with a mug of warm cocoa and a kind word for when you get back from your ass-kicking.

More about DoDonPachi Resurrection

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