As far as semi-classic japanese STG-flavor goes, Ether Vapor Remaster is a must-have on Steam particularly if you already own Satazius or Jamestown and cannot wait for the upcoming Ikaruga or Kamui any longer. Somewhat reminiscent of mid to late 90ies 3D shmups (particularly the Taito-stuff like the Layer/Ray-games and maybe a bit of the Donpachi thrown in for good measure). Ether Vapor is a hybrid of classic shmup-styles with more modern score-focused elements added in. Meaning that bulletpatterns aren't exactly "danmaku" or bullet-hell and your ships hitbox is pretty big. Nevertheless stuff gets pretty intense and particularly the final bosses flood the screen with projectiles leaving little space to dodge away and get out of the line of fire.
As far as score-focused elements go, you will only be rewarded with a high-score if you 1CC a stage all the way through to the end. Dying in a bossbattle means all your victory-points are lost to the void, same goes for your timebonus for beating a boss really fast. Compared to more modern / recent STG-titles, score and "normal" gameplay aren't all that interlocking - so you can play this just for the sake of completing it and never give a damn about score.
In order to do so, you keep playing again and again, unlocking extrashields and credits - making the game progressively easier as you go on. But 1CCing is pretty much the way to go, and here start the problems. While the game is really nice to look at - with very fun, classic designs and textures that remind me of the way one would color and shade Gunpla/Robot-Modelkits (which is a nice touch) as well as fantastic looking explosions - it is unfortunately way too easy to loose track of enemy projectiles and/or your ship as soon as the game really starts throwing stuff at you. To make matters worse, at times the perspective shifts into a weird third person view/dynamic angle in which I still haven't figured out where the hell in space I am actually am - as a result I constantly take "this is bull"-hits in these sequences. It can be frustrating to say the least, and is definitely a real problem that could break the experience for you especially if you go for that perfect run.
However, the rest is so fast and fun, particularly blowing up whole squadrons of popcorn-enemies feels so damn good thanks to excellent feedback and massive explosions that I can look past some of the design flaws. Overall, the quality of the game is pretty fantastic - especially if you consider that this is a japanese doujin-game and not a big company retail title developed for the arcades or something. I wished other indie-titles were this solid at the core.
Ether Vapor Remaster simply nails that arcade-feeling I am looking for, and while flawed in parts, is pretty much without competetion on Steam right now (thanks to Greenlight that will change soon) at what it does. So, grab it if you have that arcade-itch.
Posted: January 25th, 2014