Once upon a time, I had friends who did XBLIG reviews right alongside me.  There was Two Fedoras, Gear-Fish, and Armless Octopus.  Then my friends all left writing game reviews to making games, leaving me all alone to fend off titles about sperm by myself.  Well, now their games have all hit.  First was Dave’s horrid Pong clone, a game so bad it has now taken a place on the Wong-Baker pain scale.

“I don’t know doctor. This pick axe lodged in my skull hurts a lot, but I don’t think its quite as bad as Piz-ong.”

And now we have Aeternum, designed by Brooks Bishop of Two Fedoras, with an assist in writing from Nate Graves of Gear-Fish.  What is Aeternum?  Why, it’s a bullet hell!  See though, there’s a difference between this game and the Pong game that Dave made.  That difference is this is the type of game Brooks has always wanted to make.  My gut tells me that Dave never dreamed of making a Pong game.  As a kid, he probably did imagine making a game with rocking Genesis box art, but I’m sure his vision probably involved Mega Man fighting Saddam Hussein or something.

Personally, I hate bullet hells.  I know I’ve said that I don’t have any biases against any particular genres, but that was what can politely be described as a fib.  I just don’t get the damn things.  A challenge is one thing, but bullet hells typically cross the line over into digital self-mutilation.  Part of my disdain for them comes from the fact that I totally missed the 2D shooter era.  I didn’t grow up with Gradius, R-Type, or Raiden.  Maybe if I had spent my formative years hunkering down on those, I would have the skills necessary to make it more than five minutes in a bullet hell.   Alas, no.  I did have Ikaruga for the GameCube, but its a soul-crushing bastard that I barely spent enough time with to form an opinion at all.  Then I developed epilepsy at sixteen and had an excuse to never touch a bullet hell ever again, proof that every cloud has a silver lining.

So here’s the awkward moment: Nate and Brooks are my friends.  Nate and me have shared many amazing, emotional conversations.  Brooks designed my Sweetie character, a variation of which now graces a few games on the marketplace as my Seal of Approval.  I don’t necessarily want to hurt their feelings.  Then again, they wanted to hurt my pride and make me question my skills as a gamer.  How else do you explain them making a bullet hell?  Besides, I was so pissed at Dave for Piz-ong that I sent him to his room to think about what he had done.  And that was just for a bad Pong clone.  For a bullet hell, I think I’m legally entitled to water-board Nate & Brooks.

The dialog by Nate Graves is, um, hey look, a kitty!

Aeternum (Latin for “Eternal”, the amount of torment one can expect from this fucker) is a loving tribute to evil games with badly translated Japanese.  You play as some anime thing that has to shoot bullets at other anime things, such as things that look like strawberry milkshakes, or giant squids that go by names like Archibald the Cat Wrangler.  It’s quirky!  It’s Japanese!  It’s.. fucking impossible.  I’m sorry, but I put two separate one-hour sessions into this and I couldn’t get past the first stage.  I could get as far as a fight with some other flying anime chick thing, but she spams the screen with fast-moving bullets.  I’m going to be the laughing-stock of hardcore gamers everywhere, but I couldn’t make any progress at all.  And this was the normal difficulty!  But then again, I couldn’t even past her on practice mode.  I’m just not wired for this shit.

Here’s what I did observe: the controls seem responsive.  The graphics are well done.  And every screen-wide spamming is allegedly survivable.  I’m not personally willing to put in the time to learn how to survive them, but if you’re into this sort of thing, enjoy.  It’s not friendly towards people who don’t like the genre, and I outright didn’t get things like the focus mode, which slows you down but not the bullets.  I went through the tutorial a couple of times trying to figure out what benefit there was to it, or to grazing bullets, but the game fails to properly articulate it.

What I’m depressed about is there are now two games out by my former colleagues and I hated them both.  They’re my friends, you know?  I want them to do well.  When we talk about their games, I want to be able to do so lovingly, without having to change the conversation to a more pleasant subject.  Like whether or not they think this mole growing on the back of my hand is cancerous or not.

This is as far as I could make it. Shameful? Um, hey look, a puppy!

Props to them though.  I couldn’t make a game.  Nor am I likely to, say, hypothetically pay someone to make a game for me.  A broken one, designed to test how much effort is put into the peer-testing system.  A game that has at least one crash, one major play control issue, one major collision detection issue, two other evil checklist violations, and various spelling and grammar errors, which I would then submit for peer review just to see how much you dipshits actually try to find this stuff.  Yea, I wouldn’t even consider doing that.  See this —> 🙂 That’s a smiley face.  And it would not lie to you.

Oh, and Aeternum can put a gun to its own temple and send itself to bullet hell Hell.  Which I imagine is where bad bullets go, like the one that killed Bambi’s mother.

Aeternum was developed by Wasted Brilliance

80 Microsoft Points could be in peer review as we speak right now for all you guys know in the making of this review.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

18 Responses to Aeternum

  1. Better than I expected. Yet I’m sad that I couldn’t make a terrible enough game to give you more material for humor. 😦

  2. Pingback: IndieGamerChick Reviews Aeternum | Wasted Brilliance

  3. I knew, once you started posting on Twitter asking people if they enjoyed bullet hell shmups, that you were reviewing this.

    Only played the trial. The patterns on the first boss are brutal. The trial ran out before I could beat her, sadly. Music seemed a little quiet compared to the sound effects (I didn’t check to see if there was an option to change this), which oddly enough took away from some of the BANG you get from most shmups. I’ll try it again this weekend for my weekly xblig review vid…then probably buy it because I’m a sucker for dodging things.

    Also, my gripe with this review: Ikaruga is far from a bullet hell. Ikaruga is EASY compared to most any bullet hell. I had more difficulty with the trial of this than I had with the entire first two stages of Ikaruga. Not saying I’d rather play Aeternum than it, but hey, very different games.

  4. Oh, forgot to mention. The advantage of slowing yourself down is that you have better control in navigating the sea of incoming enemy fire. Believe me, it’s a huge advantage, and is probably as important in this game as being able to run is in Super Mario Bros.

    • CJ says:

      That’s the advantage of slow movement in bullet hell shmups, where bullets generally move slowly. But if your bullets go too fast, no point in using it.

      • I think it is still very much an advantage in Aeternum. When you get a handle on what is actually getting fired at you, I think you’ll find most of the really fast bullets are aimed directly at you.

        This leads to the technique known as “streaming” where you inch slowly in one direction as bullets are shot, because by the time they reach you, you won’t be where they were fired at any more. This allows you to collect many more Graze points easily, which are in turn used in calculating your score.

  5. MikeM says:

    Very high production values, but it seems like a niche genre game with confusing mechanics. The whole “Grazing” thing is really odd, and seems counter-intuitive (usually when an enemy bullet approaches me I aim to get as far away from it as possible, not near it). I think the fact that the developer has to come on forums to explain how to play the game and why you should play it in a certain way says it all ;(

    • Grazing is meant as a risk/reward thing. Much like the close shaves in the Burnout games where you get more boost by driving incredibly close to other cars without actually hitting them.

      I won’t disagree that bullet hell shmups are niche, but not every game is made to appeal to every gamer. For example, I’m a huge fan of fighting games (I attend and run tournaments and watch streams), but I know full well that they are incredibly niche as, let’s be honest here, fighters are made to be played with others and very competitively. That doesn’t appeal to everyone. Heck, some fighters don’t even appeal to me with how deep you have to dive in before you actually begin to “play” the game (i.e. high level Virtua Fighter or Guilty Gear). That said, I still look at those games and see how good they are. Too many gamers these days don’t know what a good game is unless it appeals directly to their own very specific tastes and oh boy watch out if it doesn’t because INTERNET AND KEYBOARD.

      tl;dr – Niche isn’t necessarily bad. Just niche.

      • CJ says:

        I understand the game’s mechanics perfectly, because I’m a shmup fan! 😀 But hey, does this game use online P2P scoreboards or replays? 🙂

        • I did have a good look at the available p2p score component, but amount of time implementing it would have added to development would probably have pushed release out another month at least, plus the fact I can’t really afford to leave my xbox on all the time to act as a seed server.

          I do wish I had built the engine to support replays from the start, but it wasn’t something I actually started actively thinking about until I was well into balance testing. So I’m sorry, no replay support here either. But I’m definitely building from the ground up with support next time I do something like this.

          The local leaderboards are saving things like timestamp information though, so there’s a good possibility I can add the p2p functionality in a patch.

          In the mean time, I’m really hoping to see some recorded plays posted to YouTube. In fact, Jesse has a bounty on the first Let’s Play that beats Demonic or Lunatic with an offer for a substantial gift box on the table!

  6. Pingback: Developer Interview: Aeternum « Indie Gamer Chick

  7. In games where most of the screen is bullets, quick movement can actually be a disadvantage. That’s what the focus mode is for. It appears in the Touhou games (of which there are about a million) plus Redshift, Vorpal and a few others. It’s pretty much essential to any degree of success in this sort of game.

    Also, in Aeternum I’ve found that judicious use of shields is very helpful. And by ‘judicious’ I mean ‘liberal’. Being reluctant to use them is more trouble than it’s worth.

    Anyway, I think Aeternum is a pretty good example of its genre. It has flaws but it’s generally solid.

    Incidentally, I’m curious as to what the title refers to. Since learning Latin I now always feel compelled to snoop around gratuitous Latin usage. :p

    • There is a much larger universe at play in Aeternum than we really get into in this first game. I had an idea for the setting, and Nate has been helping me flesh it out.

      So yes, Aeternum has a very definite meaning in the context of the grander scheme of things and it’s something I (and I’m sure Nate and Jesse as well) would really love get more into with more games (both shmup and otherwise).

      In a more direct way, Aeternum also refers to the name of the school itself: “Aeternum Academy.”

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