Rolling Gunner + Over Power
The Danmaku Doujin Dream Lives In Rolling Gunner
The term "Doujin" is a complex one when describing Japanese media. Outside of gaming, anything that is a fan project based on existing genres and media uses "Doujin" as an umbrella term. Within gaming, it's often synonymous with the term "indie." The doujin scene is as alive and well in Japan as players wish to recreate the glory days of titles they grew up playing. A week ago we looked at Cotton Fantasy as a revival of a beloved shoot-em-up series. Rolling Gunner is an entirely new IP from a small studio with big inspirations and bigger dreams.
Rolling Gunner takes the horizontal shoot-em-up we saw in Cotton Fantasy and amplifies the "danmaku" craziness up to eleven. Danmaku, or Bullet Hell as it's affectionately known here, is a genre where avoiding waves of enemy patterns grows increasingly difficult the better the player performs. The Touhou series is a modern example but classics such as Cave-developed shooters are also included. Due to the unique gameplay elements that Rolling Gunner provides, players need to watch out for enemies in front and above, behind, and below. Nowhere is safe and that's what makes this console shmup impressive.
R[olling Gunner] Type: Over Power
I played two different playthroughs of Rolling Gunner, the original release and the updated Over Power release. Before I decide which is the better of the two, I'd like to begin with my thoughts on the initial playthrough. The story behind Rolling Gunner is your standard space warfare plot. You are humanity's last hope and your fights will range from the skies to the city, and space beyond. As with most shoot-em-ups, the gameplay is what matters the most. I mentioned R-Type as an influence as you don't fight alone, but rather you have a "rolling gunner" beside you.
The "rolling gunner" is a companion shooter that fires in a 360-degree radius. Its position depends on where the player moves their craft. For example, if the player wishes to have their rolling gunner in front, they would have to position themselves to the left. Every direction the player wishes to have their rolling gunner is inverted. This becomes tricky when enemies start firing from angles aside from "in front of the player," as the main craft can only shoot forward. This means that more often than not, players will need to be nimble and address every situation that may occur.
Rolling Gunner's Original Mode Is Very Overwhelming
The button layout for "Original Mode" consists of a firing button, offering two different firing patterns depending on if the player is holding or tapping the button. There's a Bomb button that clears the screen of all enemies and bullets while giving the player a brief moment of invincibility. The Bomb also doubles as a "limiter release" button. As the player collects emblems from defeated enemies, an invisible gauge will fill.
Once it reaches its max, the player can enter "limiter release" mode, clearing the screen of all enemy bullets as the player enters an empowered state. During this mode, as they collect more items, they can enter a bonus mode that does even more damage and fills the screen with the player's rain of bullets. This offers a layer of strategy that's present in both the Original and Over Power, as the Limiter Release is the player's trump card. Using this at the right time will clear difficult patterns and counter them with your own. The player runs the risk of losing their combo so continuing the streak is important
Over Power Is The Best Way To Enjoy Rolling Gunner
Over Power takes my complaints with the original Rolling Gunner and improves upon them tenfold. Using the left stick to control the craft and the rolling gunner is a challenge as you have to force yourself into an awkward position to fire enemies behind you. Over Power makes the simple change of turning the game into a twin-stick shooter, allowing players to control the rolling gunner separately from the craft itself. This means that the player can fire from all directions in any way they desire. Instead of a Bomb system, it's replaced with a Shield instead. In the original, if the player got hit, an "Auto Bomb" would activate, protecting the player from damage at the cost of using all of their bombs. Instead, the player gets a shield that recharges over time.
Lastly, the Rolling Gunner now has a shield that protects the player from enemy bullets in relation to where the bullets are. Like R-Type, the extended unit has a shield that absorbs bullets so long as it's in the general direction of traffic. This makes plowing through intricate patterns far easier while keeping its intended challenge. If there was a mode I'd say to play, Over Power would definitely be the mode of choice. The gameplay and levels are the same, but the QoL changes make an already great game, amazing.
One Of The Better Looking Doujins In Recent Memory
The graphics are up to part with other shoot-em-ups, including Dariusburst, while maintaining its 16:9 aspect ratio. Colors are vibrant yet not too colorful that it becomes blinding. There are some general slow-downs but I feel it works well with Rolling Gunner as it makes it easier to see where to squeeze my craft during an intense pattern. The incredible slowdown when a boss is destroyed is hilariously nostalgic and I felt it worked in this game's favor.
Rolling Gunner's music is a synthesizer delight thanks to composer COSIO, an artist who is perhaps well known for his contributions to many TAITO games. This also includes Groove Coaster, an arcade rhythm game that he heavily contributed to. The Over Power arranged soundtrack includes remixes done by other well-known video game composers including Yamajet, Yack, and Ryu*. Bemani fans who are questioning if I meant that Ryu will be happy to know I do indeed mean Ryutaro Nakahara. For a sample of the game's soundtrack, definitely give it a listen.
Overall, fans of classic arcade "bullet hell" shmups will find great enjoyment in Rolling Gunner + Over Power, especially now that it's on the PlayStation 4. The more platforms available, the wider pool of people who can experience this classic for themselves. There's a lot of replay value involved, with multiple endings and different crafts each performing uniquely from the others. Once you've played Rolling Gunner, be sure to give Galaxy Frontier a try as well! Thank you once again to ININ Games for the opportunity!
Rolling Gunner + Over Power is available on the PS4 and Nintendo Switch.