Bare Bones – Rhythm Rail Shooter Dream Game

There are a lot of games I would really love to play. Unfortunately, plenty of them don’t exist yet. In the same way that conjecturing about possible magic systems felt like some of the best writing I’ve done in ages (if only because it’s productive instead of critical or referential), this is going to be some fun stuff to outline.

I’m going to describe a mish-mash of mechanics that I’d love to see, making up a game that I’d love to play. These are going to be very bare bones descriptions – I’m not outlining an entire game start to finish. This time, I’m going to examine the skeleton of my imagined rhythm and rail shooter game.

This is a bit different than my usual mash up ideas, in that it is not inspired by select elements from various games. It is actually inspired by a good idea gone terribly wrong – the final (secret) boss of Drakengard 3. For those not familiar, it’s well worth looking up and watching. For those that are familiar (or don’t want to look it up) a fast recap – you fly around the final boss while pressing a button in time with the music (as rings generated with the musical beats come into contact with your character).

Rhythm games aren’t exactly a new thing, and in a lot of ways it’s about dressing them up in an interesting coating. At a base level, it’s as easy as having a button to press in time with the music. Maybe you dress it up by having a dance pad, or a guitar with buttons on it. Usually the button has to match with a corresponding location or symbol on screen. That’s not entirely what this idea is about.

This seeks to blend rhythm and rail shooter – instead of pressing a particular button for a particular icon, you press it for a different attack (and maybe a button for defense). The timing element of rhythm is kept, as is the aiming element of rail shooter. Rather than maneuver the vehicle, defense should come from a rhythmic button press. To help illustrate the idea, we’ll look at a sample level – three enemy encounters on the way to the end of a set path.

You know what, since my favorite rail shooters are the Panzer Dragoon games, let’s say you’re on the back of a dragon, fighting weird biomechanical creatures. It helps me to have a visual when discussing these things, so I’m going to picture Panzer Dragoon-esque enemies. Okay, the first encounter: you fly through a valley, suddenly running into sound snails. Two creatures appear with spiral shells – a cap on the end of the spiral opening with the music. Not just with any aspect of the music – once they appear a new layer (is that the right term? – music is kinda outside my normal realm) is added to the music. The layer fades in as they draw near, and killing one of them cuts the volume by a bit (and impacts the way the sound feeds to speakers). You attack them by aiming and hitting one of the attack buttons in time with the sounds they make. One button fires a single orb that moves forward at blinding speed (hitting on the beat it’s fired on), the other fires a slow moving orb that hits on the next bar at the same time. The snails don’t attack – this is a chance for the player to learn how to interact with enemies in a totally safe environment.

Further down the canyon, you hit encounter two: audio argonauts. Similar to the snails, the argonauts have shells that open with the music layer they introduce. Unlike the snails, they take more damage to kill, and once per bar (measure? man, not sure what the right term is here) they fire a slow moving attack at you. You can’t move to dodge it – you have to press the defend button at the right instant to defend against it (summoning a shield around you that prevents the attack from impacting). Nothing too crazy, just building directly on previous ideas (they have an attack you do, that works the same way, and have the same weakness as a previous enemy).

Encounter three is where it gets different: synth slugs show up. The slugs have a series of antenna on their back. On beats one to three, they light up one by one. On beat four, they launch an instant attack – one that you need to block when it happens (the lights give an indicator of the coming strike). Strike them on each warm up beat, and they open up for an attack instead of launching their own. Rather different from the previous encounters, but a good way to telegraph the incoming instant attack so that the player can react.

It’s a very rough idea, with a great need for additional enemy types, a setting, combat variety, and all that jazz. I feel like a really interesting title could come out of it – one driven by the beat and the shooting, rather than just emulating beat while delivering the shooting (Rez). Sadly, my musical abilities are non-existent, and my game making skills near the same, so the odds of something like this being made are next to none. Shame.

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