Defeat Me (play it here. arrow keys & x to shoot) is one of my favorite SHMUPs of all time! But honestly, I don't have very many in my list. Ikaruga. Bangai-O Spirits. Geometry Wars. The mini game in Gameboy Camera. Some of the Wario Ware shmup style games. Despite being quite bare bones design and feature wise, Defeat Me is an incredibly innovative game that builds upon itself in layer. So I must analyze it in layers.
I can describe the core gameplay experience of Defeat Me in a single sentence; shoot all of the targets on screen without getting hit to progress to the next level where your previous actions are recorded and turned against you. This game takes the concept of "I am my own worst enemy" to a whole new level. One bullet eliminates a character (represented by the triangle), and it's your job to take yourself out on each level. Essentially, Defeat Me is like Cursor10 but with a gun in hand.
As you advance in levels, you will rotate between different bullet types from a single shot to various spread shots (see image above). Forcing players to use various bullet types in this way is quite genius. Basically, the type of bullet you shoot affects how you must position yourself to be effective. This is a matter of understanding the functional blind spots. What makes this design so interesting is that the more uniquely you move and shoot, the more interesting the game becomes because of the layered effect. For example, shooting and dodging single shots is easy. Soon though you'll wield a wide spread shot that forces you to move to the side to hit your marks. Afterwards, defeating yourselves while dodging single and spread shots forces you to move in new ways still. And it only gets more layered from here.
"With great power comes great responsibility" Uncle Ben.
I applaud shmups for implementing design features that discourage or limit spam. Just because you have infinite ammo doesn't mean you need to fly around with the trigger down. Bangai-O features targets and enemies that reflect your fire in addition to explosive triggers that set of chain reactions. Ikaruga enemies fireback an additional spray of bullets when killed on normal or hard difficultly. Ikaruga also encourages players to chain enemy kills by carefully shooting 3 of the same color in a row which limits spam. The incentive to control your firepower in Defeat Me is obvious; if you go crazy now and fill the screen with bullets, you'll regret it when you have to defeat your crazy self.
The difficulty design of Defeat Me is marvelous. Like Perfect Dark, one of my favorite examples for difficulty design, working up to difficult levels in Defeat Me is a gradual learning process. Each level gets 1 layer more complex giving the player a chance to reflect on their recent actions and how these actions complicate the challenge further. Essentially the game will move from too easy to wherever your limit is as a gamer. In other words, with Defeat Me you can go from a simple mini game to your own personal bullet hell. Personal being the operative term here. It's personal because the challenge is created entirely of your actions and because the game gets progressively harder until your skills are tapped out.
Having progressed past level 27 (see video above), I feel that I can offer a few helpful tips. The first thing to keep in mind is that you always need to think about how your actions will ripple into the future. This means holding out for as long as possible without firing will make it easier to take yourself out later. This design creates a dynamic between short term and long term survival. In other words, the harder you make it to survive now by holding your fire, the easier it will be in the future to kill yourself. Either way, the game will be difficult for you eventually.
You may be tempted to call Defeat Me a puzzle game with shmup elements, but it's not. Yes, the game has a lot of strategy. Yes, playing well involves being mindful of the record, playback, and difficulty dynamics described above. However, there's nothing to read/decode. Everything is presented plainly on the surface level of the game. One only has to simply look, dodge, and fire. Furthermore, Defeat Me is an action game in which the entire game challenge is created by the player. The game supplies no additional elements to consider or manipulate.
The only other tips I can give are spawn camping and creating gaps. Eventually, the most dangerous enemies will run out of their playback time and start the loop over again. Because you spawn in the same place on every level, you can create an effective trap. Otherwise, be sure to fire in such a way that creates patterns or openings in your offense so that you'll have opportunities to counter yourself later.
I'll close with 5 suggestions/repairs for this game.
- Color code the past versus present bullets/characters (see image above). Things get cluttered as your bullets visually mix with enemy bullets. If the game pits you against all of the past yous, it would nice to be able to distinguish between the two sides. You know, G.I. Joe/Star Wars style. It would also be nice if there was a little colored explosion to indicate when you actually hit an enemy instead of it simply disappearing.
- The player/enemy hitbox is a bit too precise. From Super Mario Bros. to Ikaruga, making the hitboxes slightly smaller than the character model gives the player just a bit of leeway to distinguish between near misses and direct hits.
- I like the organic timer of the lines dropping down through the screen that limits the player's time to defeat all enemies and the player's mobility. However, a numerical timer counting up could also be quite useful for coordinating and pinning actions to a time line. Perhaps I'm making this suggestion in response to a lack of visual fidelity and sound effects.
- Defeat Me has a lot of potential for sound design. When the game gets really hectic, relying completely on visuals becomes really straining. Perhaps if each bullet type made a different sound when fired it would be easier to key in on the intersecting patterns as bullets move across the screen.
Being design and feature poor, I thought that Defeat Me could be expanded with some clever mechanics, features, and modes including...
- bullet to bullet interplay (Bangai-O Spirits style)
- CHARGE mechanic
- absorb mechanic (Ikaruga style)
- bullet eater. ie not shooting a single shot and out lasting the game (Ikaruga style)
- "coins" you can pick up after killing enemies
- engaging movement types
To close, I present two alternative titles for Defeat Me: "You and What Army?" and "Me and This Army"