SALES, EXPORT OR OPERATION
OUTSIDE THIS COUNTRY MAY BE
CONSTRUED AS COPYRIGHT AND
TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT AND
IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED,
VIOLATOR AND SUBJECT TO
SEVERE PENALTIES AND WILL
BE PROSECUTEDT TO THE FULL
EXTENT OF THE JAM
-Copyright warning Screen, DonPachi, 1995
To the full extent of the jam. A wacky little engrish phrase, but one that resonates pretty damn well with hardcore SHMUP(or shoot-em-up) fans. For this sort of warning is typical of games from Cave of Japan, a company known for fast paced shoot-em-ups (called "Manic Shmups" by some) featuring a unending barrage of bullets and unconventional power-up methods. Like any game company with versatility they make games in other genres, but their name has been made more often than not with twitch gamers.
The company is comprised of veterans from the now-defunct gamemaker Toaplan, famous for classics like the Bubble Bobble-influenced Snow Brothers and Truxton, and to be held forever accountable for the infamous Zero Wing. The first taste of the Cave style actually came in Toaplan's 1993 swan song, the great shmup Batsugun. The game was pretty moderately paced, but featured two of the future trademarks of Cave, namely level bosses that swamp the player with bullets that are damned near impossible to dodge, and a power-up system that differs from the normal item collecting. In this case it was a form of the experience point-building/level up system that was found in a lot of RPG's.
After Toaplan released the conversion kit Snow Brothers 2 and the company disbanded, the developers formed Cave and laid low through 1994, making news that year by sigining a distribution deal with established game company Atlus, who were reaping the benefits of success from the upstart parody fighting series Power Instinct in the arcades and the Shin Megami Tensei RPG's on the console game front. A side note about the Atlus/Cave deal: the first thing that Cave worked on was programming assistance on Atlus' already in-progress sequel to Power Instinct. 1995 saw the release of Cave's first game proper, DonPachi. The game served as a nod to their past, with ship, enemy, and power-up designs in the vein of Twin Cobra, Truxton and Fire Shark. Meanwhile there was a step towards future intentions, with even more bullets for players to attempt to dodge in futility, and a novel score system based on combos in fighting games, in that the more consecutive hits you made at a fast pace the higher your combo score would rise. It made for some pretty addicting gameplay, giving players more than just the high score itself to aim for and more frustration and relentlesness than any other shmup before. Suffice to say it was a massive hit in Japanese arcades.
The guys at Cave spent 1996, co-developing (with Victor Musical Industries) the great for its' time snowboarding game Steep Slope Sliders for the Sega Saturn, basking in the success of DonPachi, and developing a sequel that would blow it out of the water. DoDonPachi hit arcades the Saturn, and the Sony Playstation in 1997, and it was mania all over again in the arcades. This is where companies began to stand up and take notice of the stylistics of Cave's games, including Sega Genesis/Mega Drive legends Treasure, who developed Radiant Silvergun, one of the final classics for the Saturn. Seeing imitators nearly outdo them got the Cave staff eager to make more shumps, and not just with the conventional aerial warfare and space subject matter. They quietly finished Un Poko, a puzzle game with a cutesy feel, and handed the distribution rights over to Jaleco rather than issue it through Atlus. They then went to work on ESP.Ra.De., an X-Men/Blue Seed-influenced shmup involving teenagers with psychic weaponry being hunted by everyone in the world apparently. The game would appear in 1998 to up the ante for intensity in the genre. Also that year, they presented the comical Dangun Feveron (loosely translated by some to "Dance Fever"). The game was full of over the top disco imagery, replete with mirror balls and clubgoers you have to rescue from aliens. This was also issued through another company, this time Nihon System. My guess is Atlus passed on it because of the lightheartedness.
1998 and 1999 saw Cave expand their console development, with another snowboarding game, this time Capcom's Tricky Sliders, as well as a developmental hand in Atlus' Touge racing game franchise. 1999 also saw Cave's last game under the Atlus arcade distribution deal, the feudal Japan-themed Guwange. The game was well-crafted, with an even higher bullet count than previous games, wonderful-looking environments, and great character design. It also featured an odd plunder collection scoring system, even though there were no shops (a la Ordyne or Forgotten Worlds). Still, this was more than a fitting game to end the Atlus/Cave era.
Since then there's even been more imitation of the Cave style, most notably their former co-workers at Takumi and their 2000 masterpiece of strategic twitch, Mars Matrix. Since then, avid shmup scene followers have been waiting for Cave to make the next move. And in 2001, they did. But by some accounts it may have been a misstep. Departing from the top-down shmup design and taking on a side-scrolling motif, Cave released Storm of Progia (aka PROGEAR), distributed by Capcom. Sure there was the usual bullet flood, and the game did have an endearing and unusual design of a sort of (to quote Jon Chang of Destroy all Monsters) "steampunk World War 2" sort. But the game felt more like a leisurely stroll than a fight for life like Cave's previous shmups. Later that year, Cave released DoDonPachi 2: Bee Storm to little fanfare. The game used the IGS-developed PolyGameMaster(PGM) arcade system, which seemed to be the games main limitation, as there wasn't a secondary scoring system as in the other games. In 2002, Cave made their latest stake to reclaim the shmup throne with DoDonPachi DAI-OU-JOU. And from all accounts, it's a return to form in the best way, with plenty to make the gameplay fresh. It more than makes up for the missteps of the previous year, and a Playstation 2 Deluxe Version is forthcoming from Capcom offshoot Arika.
- DonPachi, 1995, Atlus/Cave, Arcade
- Steep Slope Sliders, 1996, Sega/Victor Musical Industries/Cave, Sega Saturn
- DoDonPachi, 1997, Atlus/Cave, Arcade/Sega Saturn/Sony Playstation
- Un Poko, 1998, Jaleco/Cave, Arcade
- ESP.Ra.De., 1998, Atlus/Cave, Arcade
- Dangun Feveron, 1998, Nihon System/Cave, Arcade
- Touge Max 2, 1998, Atlus/Cave, Playstation
- Tricky Sliders, 1999, Capcom/Cave, Playstation
- Guwange, 1999, Atlus/Cave, Arcade
- Touge Max G, 2000, Atlus/Cave, Playstation
- Snowboard Heaven, 2000, Capcom/Cave, Playstation 2
- Yanya Caballista: City Skater, 2001, Koei/Cave, Playstation 2
- Touge 3, 2001, Atlus/Cave, Playstation 2
- Storm of Progia, 2001, Capcom/Cave, Arcade
- DoDonPachi 2: Bee Storm, 2001, IGS/Cave, Arcade
- DoDonPachi DAI-OU-JOU, 2002, AMI/Arika/Cave, Arcade/Playstation 2