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Strania: Seisou Kouki, The Stella Machina G-Rev

It's good that there is a decent bunch of shooters on the XBLA, and that Microsoft is allowing them on the service.  Even the weird ones, like Triggerheart Exelica on XBLA, and Deathsmiles, which actually made its way to the retail shelves.  Strania: Seisou Kouki is a mech shmup, and reminds me a lot of the Raystorm/Raycrisis series, with shifting views, fast action, multiple areas where you will get confused or lost, or dead.  That is the sign of a good shooter, to many a shmup fan's delight.  Of course, there's a story, and of course, the style is uber-Japanese, and the characters are of the Chalk-Asian race (the odd mix of Caucasian skin tones and personality with Asian style everything else.)  Here's a shot of the characters and their "bios:"

An untested rookie with an apparent anger problem, and a strong bionic woman of some sort who has been "killed in action three times..."  Ok, then, now that we've cleared that one up.. Wait a second, three times?  I thought the limit was 2?  I've been misinformed.  Anyhow, Strania looks fantastic and the gameplay is smooth.  The major problem you will find is deciding on what weapons to pick up and which weapons you can equip.  There are 3 slots for weapons, and you can have 2 at once firing.  There is a sword option, and if you feel brave enough, you can go through sections or levels dual-wielding swords, which looks to inflict a lot of damage, but is a damned risky proposition with regards to your mech's health (which is adjustable.)  Other than the sword, the weapons available through power-ups include: a vulcan gun; a guided missile launcher; a rocket launcher; a directional shooter satellite (think the Lifeforce "options"); reflection shots that bounce off the edges of the playfield; an "overdose" weapon that covers your ship in a timed shielded egg looking thing.

Your mech's health is adjustable, but your score will only be ranked online if you play the default settings.  I find myself playing the easier difficulties and upping my shield power to take 5 hits before I blow up.  Since you have a health bar, you won't know you are about to die until you start seeing the red warning text until you blow up, and the game ends.  You can set continues up, but that's apparently not the way they want you to play, throwing in the "quarter muncher" card into the equation.  Thing is, now that I own the game, why would I want that card to be in the game?  I paid for the game, let me play the way I want.  It's not like the game is easy or anything, it's as hard as a mummy's stool!

There is both online and offline multiplayer, which is good if you have somebody with either skill or gamesmanship, so they don't try to shoot everything or pick up all of the power-ups.  The good thing about the online is that the sessions I've played have had perfect to near-perfect connections: no lag, no drag, just smooth sailing and lots of dying.


Game orientation is a Vertical/Horizon set-up, where you will travel from point A to point B by going from either the bottom to the top of the screen, or towards the horizon in the background (like a racing game,) depending on the section of the level.  The Horizon orientation is more of a cosmetic one, as there is nothing to really do in those sections but watch your mech wander around.  The first level will get you into the feel of the game, leading up to a fairly simple boss battle against a boss who doesn't fit on the screen, and has one of the more satisfying explosions I've seen and heard in a shmup.  Level 3 will throw you a curve, as its orientation is an endless scroll from left to right, I kept expecting to watch my ship go back and forth on the bottom of the screen.  The illusion of the enemies moving and your mech standing still was confusing for a bit, I thought my controller was broken.

Below: Horizon Orientation (left), Vertical Orientation (right)

 Strania focuses on destruction and racking up scores, and the scores for most targets will scroll on the outer margins of the screen, which should be distracting, but for some odd reason it's not.  There's a silly story, sure there's not much depth, but this is a $10 arcade title.  It's not like I was expecting Dickens or T.S. Eliott (both of whom I don't particularly care for.)  If you like shmups that are challenging and difficult, even almost to a fault, this one will not disappoint until you run out of continues.  The overloaded backgrounds and oversized explosions add to the insanity of the game, that is, after you've mastered what weapon you need to defeat what level, what section, and what boss.  Good luck, and have fun!

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