Radiant Silvergun overestimates my chances in bullet hell

, | Game reviews

There’s something simultaneously familiar and daunting about the Treasure logo appearing when I fire up Radiant Silvergun, a classic bullet hell shmup that thinks a lot more of me than I do. I love Treasure games, but you have to “get” what Treasure is trying to do in any given game before you “get” what they’re trying to do.

Does that make sense? If not, you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve applied more brain power to Radiant Silvergun than I intended, so I’m running on a mental deficit right now.

After the jump, Treasure’s hidden treasures

The first thing you do in a game like this is jump in and shoot some stuff. Obviously A to shoot and the left stick to move. What more does a guy need to know? Apparently a lot, because my first few sessions last only a handful of seconds.

How do I unlock more weapons? What’s the difference between these different modes? What happened to Stages 1 and 2, because starting on Stage 3 every time is proving a bit much for me? And where’s the button to kill everything on screen?

After a brief trip to the “How to Play” screens — all two of them — I conclude that you don’t unlock these different weapons. They’re all in there already. I just need to figure out what they do and when they should do it. And with this realization, I’m actually playing Radiant Silvergun for real.

The point of this game is applying the right tool to the right job, which requires about 75% trial and error, and 25% reflexes. Since when are bullet hell games so brainy? What kind of insidious developer is going to dump all the tools in my lap and then let me figure out how best to apply them? Should I really be trusted with this much flexibility when I thought I was just here to twitch around and watch stuff blow up in glorious vertically scrolling 2D?

Radiant Silvergun was originally a 1998 Sega Saturn game. The idea is that you learn a stage, then you get through it, then you try to get a high score. Scoring is based on building up chains in which you kill an uninterrupted series of enemies of the same color. I can sometimes get about a dozen of them before I have to break the chain to kill the rest of the enemies on screen.

But as I jotted down some notes, the attract mode started playing. At which point I had another realization on par with finding out I had all the weapons from the get-go: the idea is that you focus only on enemies of a single color. The attract mode shows someone working his way through a crazy difficult level, shooting only red enemies and dodging all the rest. The trick to scoring isn’t shooting everything. It’s selectively shooting things to build up your chain. At which point, Radiant Silvergun is no mere bullet hell shmup. Now it’s a brainy puzzle game, every bit as misleadingly spectacular as Bangai-O.

On one hand, I respect that Treasure lets me discover this stuff on my own. But on the other hand, would it freakin’ kill them to put this stuff in the “How to Play” section where it belongs? Is Radiant Silvegun only for pre-existing fans of Radiant Silvergun? To really discover Treasure, sometimes you have to be willing to dig.

3 stars
Xbox 360