DoDonPachi Resurrection HD+
All killer, no filler
DoDonPachi Resurrection HD+ is a shoot ‘em up where you fight enemies that fire so many projectiles it feels like you’re in bullet hell. But it isn’t just a masochistic test of reflexes and memory: the swirls of enemies and blossoms of bullets that burst across the screen create patterns so mesmerising they verge on the sublime.
The controls are easy to understand. Your ship shoots automatically, so all you have to do is steer, and switch between your main gun, which fires a wide spread of bullets, and your laser, a more powerful, narrow beam that can “parry” enemy laser beam. You can also fire bombs to destroy everything on the screen, along with your Hyper Cannon that does more or less the same thing but, if used correctly, gets you lots of points.
Since DDP Resurrection was originally an arcade game, you can reach the end in under 30 minutes, but mastering all the game modes and spaceships and the smartphone-specific “SM scoring system” that rewards you for piloting into bullet storms takes much longer. Most won’t have the patience for this given the existence of Vampire Survivors-likes that are both more approachable and offer deeper gameplay, but there’s an intensity to DDP Resurrection’s arcade roots that remains unique.
DDP Resurrection has too many variations and game modes to recount; I played on an iPad, mostly in Smartphone Mode on Normal difficulty. I suspect the game is much easier with touchscreen controls - dragging a finger to move your ship is a lower level of abstraction than pushing a controller stick.
You begin by picking one of three spaceships that vary in speed and range of fire, then you progress through five stages in order, going from Earth to space. There’s no story of note; the sole cutscene comes at the very end, where you learn you’d been sent into the past to prevent a war, except maybe your superior actually wanted the war to happen. Or something.
Stage 1 is set in 2008 Tokyo, and its enemies are tanks and boats – feeble stuff compared to what’s coming, and only a few bullets to avoid. You get your first taste of hell a couple of minutes later when the mid-stage boss appears, firing fans of bullets at you; and then the end of stage boss gets really wild with spinning lasers and clouds of bullets.
Here is why this isn’t infuriating to play:
Bullets only harm you if they hit the very centre of your ship (technically speaking, your hitbox is far smaller than the outline of your ship).
Bullets move slowly
They’re really easy to see
While some enemies aim bullets at you, they don’t home in on you
Most enemies and bosses can be killed pretty quickly
Don’t get me wrong: I still died a lot, just not every ten seconds, as you might think from these screenshots. In fact it’s not that hard to learn the patterns of enemy bullets and avoid them.
When a bullet does hit you, your ship automatically fires one of your limited supply of bombs. Not only does this destroy the incoming bullet but almost everything else on the screen, plus you remain invincible for a few seconds. When you’re out of bombs, the next hit will destroy your ship and subtract a life. You start with three lives, each coming with three bombs; you can collect one more bomb or life toward the end of each stage.
What happens when you run out of lives? You can get three more by opting to “Continue”, as if you’d shovelled in more coins. This can be done as many times as you like, perfect for those who just want to get to the end, though it resets your score – a fate worse than death for serious players.
The surface level strategy is simple: use your main gun against weaker enemies that are spread out, only switching to your laser when you’re up against tougher opponents that need more concentrated fire. The laser is also essential to parry enemy lasers. These come in all kinds of arrangements, including laser grids, horizontal laser gates that need to be pushed back in both directions, like mini-puzzles; and best of all, concentric, rotating circles of indestructible enemy ships firing outward and inward with lasers and bullets that grow and shrink, a scene so remarkable I threw away more than a few lives just marvelling at it.
Destroyed enemy ships and buildings leave behind star-like “items” that give you more points. Enemy items tend to float toward you, unlike the more valuable ones from buildings that have to be collected at some risk. The screen is often showered with so many items, bullets, lasers, ships, and buildings that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart, especially as the background begins moving sideways, diagonally, and even backwards. Charmingly, the game deliberately slows down and stutters in these moments, extending and heightening the drama, and because you can always move slightly beyond the confines of the screen’s viewport, it never feels too claustrophobic.
The bosses at the end of each stage are a touch underwhelming compared to the exuberant bedlam preceding them. These huge ships change form as you chip away their health, deploying increasingly fine interference patterns of bullets and lasers. Memorably, one boss threw exploding basketballs at me. Less impressively, they all morphed into robotic women before exploding.
DDP Resurrection HD+’s “SM scoring system” extends the game by encouraging risky piloting. When you destroy lots of enemies in a row, your Slaughter (S) gauge will fill, increasing your weapons’ power and letting you pick up more items. The downside is that your score multiplier is reduced, making this entire strategy undesirable for high score chasers. For them, the goal is to boost Menace (M) by “scraping” bullets – that is, deliberately flying close to them – since a high Menace gauge raises your multiplier and charges your Hyper Cannon.
Accordingly, the best strategy is to pilot toward bullets and avoid destroying enemies for as long as it takes to max out your Menace, then fire your Hyper Cannon, which destroys everything on the screen and “cancels” enemy bullets, yielding lots of points. Even better, firing your Hyper Cannon charges your Slaughter gauge without reducing your score multiplier. The very best moment to fire it, therefore, is when the screen is full of bullets – in other words, the riskiest parts of the game.
I did not try this strategy. The game is so hard I’m just proud of myself for surviving ten seconds during intense sections, let alone trying to get any kind of high score.
Shoot ‘em ups like DDP Resurrection are a rare breed now, seemingly an evolutionary dead end. Arcade games, by dint of how they make money, are designed to be short, intense, and repetitive. They don’t have memory; high scores are the sole recognition of players’ progress and skill. In our era of roguelike games that leaven repetition with random variables and incrementally reveal new mechanics and story and areas to explore with each play, DDP Resurrection’s scores feel a little too spare, if not miserly. This is not just a question of taste: incremental progression really does help players learn and master mechanics one by one, which most evidently prefer.
It’s said that evolutionary dead ends “result from traits that are selectively advantageous in the short term but ultimately result in lowered diversification rates of lineages.” For the DonPachi series, those traits might include the game’s punishing difficulty, the overwhelming visuals, the incomprehensibility of the scoring mechanics. All of these traits must have originated from player demand – one can imagine shoot ‘em up aficionados in the 90s tiring of games they felt were too easy or simple, rewarding developers who kept turning the bullet hell knob higher and higher until it reached a point where it became impossible for the games to attract newcomers. Lowered diversification + an inability to adapt to changing environments and competitors = extinction.
And yet DDP Resurrection HD+ exists. The arcade game it was based on was released in 2008, and the first iOS “HD” version came in 2012; the “HD+” version I played arrived in 2021, a year after Hades brought roguelike principles to the masses. DDP Resurrection HD+ isn’t remotely a roguelike but its many gameplay modes, scoring systems, weapons, and ships reflect an understanding that people now want multiple ways to play the same game. Even the game’s time loop conceit, present in the original version, gestures at the narrative justifications used for roguelikes’ repetition. And many of the game’s traits – ultra-powerful “bullet heaven”-style weapons, risk/reward scoring, autofire – have spread far and wide to Vampire Survivors and its progeny.
It’d be a mistake to draw too many parallels, though. Practically all modes and ships are unlocked at the start, generosity that’s the flipside of incremental progression. And DDP Resurrection’s ingenious gameplay and imaginative level design are tightly packed into barely enough time to play a single run of a Survivors-like game. It’s one set piece after another, every second a thrill and a delight when you come across factories building enemy tanks or the shifting columns and grids of lasers, or when the background begins circling around rings of enemies.
I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly. Some experiences are better left as memories. But if it’s a dead end, it’s the finest of ends.
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