This Week’s Purchase: More CAVE games for the Xbox 360
Back in September last year I imported an NTSC-J Xbox 360 and began my mission to acquire all the weird and wonderful CAVE games that never made it outside of Japan. Unfortunately the large cost of both the console and the rare import shmups meant that in order to prevent financial ruin I had to put my quest on a temporary hold. But although it took longer than expected I think I’ve finally got them all, and today I’ll run through everything new in the collection since last time.
From left to right: Mushihimesama Futari (ltd edition) Mushihimesama HD (ltd edition), Ketsui, Raiden Fighters Aces (not technically a CAVE game), DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu ver 1.5, Muchi Muchi Pork! and Pink Sweets double pack.
In total I purchased eight games – I made some big savings by buying in bulk but also ended up with duplicates of DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou and Deathsmiles X2 (not pictured). The overall cost of the games was £170, which broke down to £40 for Mushihimesama HD and £130 for the rest bundled. Some of these games are really expensive, so this was a pretty good deal; the Muchi Muchi Pork! and Pink Sweets double pack usually sells for around £100 alone, and Mushihimesama HD for £40 isn’t half bad either. I was also able to sell on the duplicates to make back some of the money I’d spent. Finding these deals did take a while however, although the reward was certainly worth the patience.
As these games are filling in the gaps in my existing CAVE collection, we’re generally talking about some of their weirder and rarer titles. There’s also Mushihimesama Futari, which technically I already owned. Now I also have the limited edition version, a luxury item I wouldn’t have purchased on its own, but as part of the bundle I’m certainly not complaining. The game comes in a larger outer cardboard box, opening up to reveal a soundtrack CD as well as the game – which features alternate artwork to the standard retail version. However the limited edition disc is region locked, unlike its standard counterpart.
The limited edition Mushihimesama HD is packaged in a similar way, opening up to reveal the 360 box (with fancy artwork) and soundtrack CD. Even though the game came out in 2012, three years after Futari, Mushihimesama HD is a port of the arcade title that was released first (2002). Because of this the game strikes a nice balance between CAVE’s classic mechanics and new presentation values – a contrast more prevalent here than in any of their other releases. The game is hardcore bullet hell madness without some of the complexities found in their later titles, the graphics are super slick, and the overall presentation is superb.
Of course thematically and visually it’s similar to its sequel (think Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on a mission to exterminate bugs), but in terms of level design it perhaps has the edge. Overall Mushihimesama HD up there with DoDonPachi DaiOuJou as one of the best region locked games that you can get for the console. Incidentally both games previously received ports on the PlayStation 2, although as you might expect these aren’t as competent as the Xbox 360 versions. However DoDonPachi DaiOuJou was ported by 5pb, and required the intervention of CAVE to bring the game up to standard. Naturally CAVE didn’t allow the cowboys at 5pb anywhere near future ports such as Mushihimesama HD, which they handled themselves.
Up next we have Ketsui, the last title 5pb would release after the DoDonPachi DaiOuJou fiasco. But aside from presentation values inferior to CAVE’s own work, the game is a an excellent port of a really amazing arcade game. Aesthetically it’s not too far removed from the DoDonPachi games, although maybe a little bleaker. It’s also one of the few CAVE titles to star brooding men rather than sexy anime girls – so bonus points for variety.
Although region locked on Xbox 360, Ketsui is the only CAVE game also available for PlayStation 3. Sure, it was released three years later, but that hardly matters any more. Unlike its 360 counterpart, this version is region free, and it’s an excellent game well worth importing.
Then there’s Mushi Mushi Pork! & Pink Sweets. On the surface this looks pretty interesting – it’s double pack and the idea of having two games for the price of one is exciting (although due to rarity it’s technically two games for the price of about two and a half). But the inclusion of two titles is essentially a means of compensating for the fact that neither live up to the incredibly high standards you can usually expect from CAVE.
Both titles were programmed by Shinobu Yagawa, who previously developed classic shmups such as Battle Garegga and Armed Police Batrider. Of his two CAVE games on offer, Mushi Mushi Pork! is better, and whilst it feels noticeably different to your standard CAVE title, there’s still an interesting mix of ideas at play. Meanwhile the mechanics in Pink Sweets don’t feel quite right, and the game isn’t a whole lot of fun to play. Aside from the nasty graphics you’ve got an awkward charge shot system where a shield bubble is generated in front of your ship when you’re not firing your weapon. Using this correctly is the key to success, but as it takes a few seconds to charge properly the only way to efficiently utilize it is to effectively memories the levels. Would this be tolerable if the game was better? Who knows.
Whilst the double pack does include two games, the overall collection still feels a little underwhelming. The presentation values aren’t great, there’s the bare minimum of game modes and neither games have the option for remastered visuals. The game is technically region free, although is perhaps most desirable as one of the console’s rarest titles, rather than as one of its best.
Finally there’s Raiden Fighters Aces and DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu ver 1.5. Raiden Fighters is an anthology containing all three games in the series developed by Seibu Kaihatsu. Whilst these games don’t deliver the same intensity as any of the CAVE titles, they are still a lot of fun, and Raiden Fighters Jet is particularly great. All three titles have a substantial options for customisation, and the collection as a whole is well thought out. The game actually made its way to North America, and the Japanese version is almost entirely in English, but both versions are region locked so if you live in Europe you’re out of luck.
The opposite is true for DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu ver 1.5, which was given a PAL release by Rising Star Games under the title DoDonPachi Resurrection. Despite this it was never released in North America, but if you’ve got the machine to play either region locked versions of this title then it’s of course worth importing. There’s technically a separate Black Label version that was subsequently released in Japan, which I guess is the one game I’m still missing, but the Black Label mode can be purchased as DLC for DoDonPachi Resurrection, with the only game mode not included being a Black Label Arrange that mixes together DoDonPachi with elements from Ketsui.
What conclusion can I really come to outside of the obvious – a Japanese Xbox 360 is really great if you want to experience the extensive library of CAVE shmups Of course a selection of these games are still region free, and titles such as Deathsmiles saw international releases. As a collector it’s also a great area of videogames to venture into, and we’re talking about almost all of the rarest and most desirable Xbox 360 games out there. I’m still a way off mastering some of these titles, but once I’ve truly played them to death I may write some more about CAVE’s immense series of games. There’s also a load of older titles that weren’t ported to the Xbox 360 (E S P Ra.De. anyone?) which I’ve played, but not covered at all here. For now I’ve really only just scratched the surface.