Bullet hell shoot ’em ups, eh! When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. In an attempt to shake up the genre, Spacewave Software and Degica Games have added a new twist to the familiar vertically scrolling gameplay. What if, instead of just dealing with the waves of enemies, there was a PvP element introduced? What if the screen was split vertically, and in addition to firing straight up, you could aim attacks at your rival on the other side of the screen? Welcome to the world of Rival Megagun, where these features are front and centre as you try to survive an alien invasion.
The story is the usual throwaway fluff you’d expect in a game of this type, with an alien race called The Harvesters appearing above the Earth, defeating all the forces sent against them, and finally being appeased by rockets full of garbage being fired at them. Eventually, the Earth begins to run out of rubbish to send to the bad guys, and so a competition is organised to find a champion to send against the fleet. This is where the PvP side of things comes into play, as even the single player arcade mode will have you facing off against enemies controlled by the AI, in addition to the Harvester forces.
What this translates into is choosing a character from a list of likely candidates, before blasting off into outer space. The characters are all slightly different as you’d expect, ranging from a young kid who has trained extensively by playing games, through a robot who is corrupted by the Dark Web, all the way up to a card carrying Super Villain who has decided to do a good thing for a change. Each character has a different attack, as does their ultimate form, the Mega Gunship. Helpfully each attack and transformation is shown on the character select screen, so finding someone you like the look of is easy.
After choosing a character, Rival Megagun is primed for action. It’s a familiar vertically scrolling shooter for the most part, with forward firing cannons and screen clearing bombs being present and correct. In this game however, chaining kills is very important, as they fill your transformation meter at the side of the screen. Killing more enemies keeps the chain going and allows you to not just fill your meter faster, but also to change into your boss form and invade your opponent’s screen when its full. It will also allow you to snipe at your rival from your side of the screen. Once the meter has some charge in it, you can fire at the other player, hopefully doing some damage as it does so.
Each sideways attack is also different, ranging from laser bars to homing rockets; picking your moment can certainly add some chaos to the other side. Of course, your opponent can also fire at you, and as the AI difficulty climbs, they become much more fond of doing so. Just to add that little bit of spice, you can’t shoot at your enemies on your own screen while charging, so trying to find the perfect moment when your side is quiet and your rival’s screen is hectic is very difficult.
All this shooting and surviving is building to one moment – the deployment of your Mega Gunship. This is a genuinely exhilarating moment, as your ship transforms and moves onto the other side of the screen, allowing the target of your attacks to be that of your rival. Taking out your AI opponent, or destroying a real live person in multiplayer mode is awesome fun, and can result in a little joypad throwing if the ribbing and gloating goes over the top. Playing couch co-op is where this game comes to life, and the intense competition is really honed to a fine edge when playing against another flesh and blood opponent. There is also a matchmaking system that will allow you to find matches over Xbox Live.
Having managed to just about play a few matches over Live, I’m happy to say that the game is still up to scratch. The speed is unaffected, there is no lag to speak of, and shooting a friend in the face is infinitely more satisfying than killing some AI opponent. The net code for Rival Megagun is certainly decent, and so multiplayer is still possible if you can’t find a buddy to play against on the couch.
Graphically and Rival Megagun is presented in an appealing retro style, more reminiscent of that found in consoles of yesteryear, with the story in the Arcade mode presented as a series of static screens with subtitles, and each character presented with a portrait in a cool anime style. Transforming into the Mega Gunship has a great little cutscene that plays, and generally the whole vibe is very 1990s. The sound is as you’d expect as well, all swooshy lasers and period correct music. It almost seems to be a homage to the golden era of shoot ’em ups.
All in all, Rival Megagun manages to bring something new to the table; a rare thing in this day and age. Adding PvP to a shmup is a bold move, but it’s one that works very well and beating a real person gives a buzz that is quite addictive. If there’s any criticism to be made, they are minor, mostly revolving around the difficulty in keeping a chain going and the rather quiet online multiplayer sector. Other than that though, Rival Megagun is actually really good fun.
Grab a mate and try it out!