I have always loved the bullet hell genre of games. For those of you not familiar, bullet hell games are typically games that involve the player controlling some manner of flying antagonist (space ships, mechs or even witches) who spews bullets, laser beams and bombs at enemies while simultaneously attempting to dodge dozens upon dozens of bullets at the same time. The genre is really fun and over the years there have been great and innovative gameplay methods used in this type of game! I recall one in which your ship had a shield who’s color could be changed from black to white with the push of a button. While a particular color was active you would be immune to that color bullets, but not ones of the other color. This was your only defense! You would sometimes have to shift between colors so fast you could easily lose track of what you were doing, but that was part of the skill of the game!
Today, however, I am going to talk about one bullet hell game in particular, the Squaresoft classic, Einhander. Einhander translates from German as ‘one hander’ and typically refers to a sword. In this case it references the single, large manipulator arm equipped on your space fighter that is used to snatch and use enemy weapons.
Developer: Squaresoft; Release date: 1998; System: Sony PlayStation (PS1)
The story tells of a war between the inhabitants of the earth and the moon. You play as a fighter for the moon forces gathering resources and intelligence from various locations. Apparently the forces on the moon have a nasty habit of sending kamikaze fighters down to earth to wreak as much havoc as possible before being wiped out, and you, good friend, are that pilot.
The Einhander comes in a couple of different flavors, each a slight variation of the next. Overall, however, they are all the same. One button on the gamepad controls your agility by adjusting your boosters (and, yes, you CAN move too quickly), while two others cycle your weapon selection forward and backward. The Einhander is equipped with a machine gun that has unlimited ammo, but is fairly weak.
The REAL power of the Einhander is its ability to snatch weapons, mid-air from enemy gunships. Blasting one of these guys out of the air will cause it’s weapon to become airborne, enabling you to grab it and equip it on your ship. The weapon can be flipped around to fire above or below, and some weapons have different firing modes depending on their location. These weapons also have a limited amount of ammunition, so you will want to grab more as they pop up to keep replenishing your supply. If your ammo stock drops to zero, the weapon is released. Weapons include a Vulcan cannon, a Spread shot that works like a shotgun, a wicked-cool laser Blade, a Cannon and others. Resource management and weapon selection can make or break you when it comes to gunning down bad guys.
You also, as a player, have a kind of “combo meter” on screen that increases every time you destroy an enemy. The more you destroy the higher your combo counter and the greater your score. High scores don’t do much other than let you say you got a high score, though.
Surprisingly the game is rife with secret zones you can find only when you fulfill certain requirements like destroying certain enemies when they are at certain locations and such. Though they don’t really affect gameplay they can lend you a weapon you wouldn’t normally get, or sneak you past an area.
Naturally dodging all the bullets, lasers, homing missiles, giant robot arms and such can get hectic fast, and you can only take a couple of hits before your ship goes down.
The graphics are typical PlayStation fare and the whole game is rendered in 2.5d, meaning it plays from the side, but everything is rendered in three dimensions. Occasionally during a “cut scene” you will get different views, but for the most part its side scrolling. The setting is a somewhat dystopian future, so you get a lot of industrial looking areas. It’s a clean look overall, but the first stage, which takes place in a large city, is slick looking with its large neon signs and cityscape. The game does a great job of using the foreground and background planes to move enemies in and out, though you cannot attack enemies that aren’t on the center plane unless you have homing missiles.
It being the PS1 the Einhander itself and the smaller ships are pretty decent as far as models go. They look good, but nothing super spectacular. Back in the day they were really cool, though!
Boss enemies are large and in charge, with some taking up at least half the screen. Detailing on the bosses is good, and each one has at least a couple of target points on it that you can blow off. You get a really good feel for the scope of the world when you slide on up next to a very large, very fast moving supply train.
(If you watch the preceding video you can fast forward through data creation into gameplay after the intro movie, at around the 3:20 mark)
Sound and Music
Sound-wise the game is super fantastic when you have it piped through something other than your TV speakers. If you have a good external sound system the constant drone of the machine guns broken up by the occasional badguy going BOOM is very satisfying. Still, it’s pretty standard fare.
Where the game REALLY shines is the exceptional techno/IDM soundtrack! Composer Kenichiro Fukui delivers a great selection of industrial type techno tracks that really amp up gameplay! Sometimes intertwined with voice tracks or lyrics they do a great job of setting the hectic mood of the game, and, again, on an external, quality sound source it REALLY sounds incredible!
If you happened to miss this PS1 classic I highly recommend you find it in emulator form or pick it up if you have a PlayStation 3 or 4, as I think its downloadable from the PSN. Though not as “hellish” as some other games in the genre, it’s a fun and sometimes frustrating play, as you find yourself occasionally overwhelmed by how much is on the screen, and realize that the only thing that’s going to save you is your own spatial awareness and quick fingers. It’s one of my most favorite games out there!