Thursday, March 3, 2011

Quick Gamer History Lesson: What's A Rail Shooter?

I recently learned of a remake of the classic Atari 2600 game Yars' Revenge for XBLA and PSN. I was excited about that, but then I learned what type of game it would be and got even more excited. If any genre of game fits what this new vision of Yars' Revenge is, it is a rail shooter. For the uninitiated, rail shooters are games where you don't control where your character moves, just where that character aims and shoots. It's an extremely simple concept that if done correctly can make for a deceptively deep and incredibly fun gaming experience. The first example of this type of shoot em up is arguably it's greatest. Sega released Space Harrier in 1985, and it was groundbreaking in looks and mechanics. The game was capable of running at an extremely high frame rate, scaling was seen for the first time in a video game, and Space Harrier used Sega's "super scaler" technology, which allowed sprite scaling at very high frame rates. This allowed characters to virtually fly from the extreme foreground of the game environment until they are right in the player's face. it also handled quite well, and nearly 30 years later, Space Harrier stands the test of time with fast exciting gameplay. Sadly though, rail shooters seemingly never caught on beyond Space Harrier, at least in the US they didn't. Other notable rail shooters include the Panzer Dragoon series, which added an excellent narrative to the typical "shoot everything that moves" gameplay, Rez, which combined solid shooter gameplay with a soundtrack that blends techno music with the games visuals for quite the unique experience, and the Sin and Punishment series which takes the best parts of Space Harrier and combines it with the almost frantic pace of Contra or Gunstar Heroes. While this brief post wasn't meant to give readers the full history of rail shooters, I am all about feedback in this space. If you can think of any other rail shooters, feel free to include them in the comments section.








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