STAGE 2

♪ Underwater Rampart

So now the player has got enough of the game in ’em to understand what’s all going on. Which means it’s now time to explore what you can do with these systems.

Stage 2 begins with this medal carrier. Not only does it show that sometimes enemies have parts which always drop medals, the spike in bullet density reinforces that it’s important to aim wisely. Chances are the player will drop a medal here, and notice that they now revert to the smallest value. But since they’re currently not worth much, it’s a minor loss.

But that’s boring. Let’s talk about the flamingos!

Upon reaching the plateau you are greeted first by a formation of turrets and then by nothing at all. Just a couple small planes fly overhead while you take in the scene below, wherein a castle is perched majestically amidst the surrounding forest.

Let’s bomb it to the ground.

And upon letting loose you find that the castle’s been storing up a near endless supply of pink birds, who seem to be both immortal and incredibly lucrative for score. In fact, nearly all ships can easily bring their score to over a million points here, at which point they’ll be rewarded with an extra life.

An astute player may realize that they can throw away their excess lives for more bombs to use here. While all ships can gain back at least one of these lives, it’s still a risky proposition. Plus, it gets players thinking about where it would be most advantageous to drop these lives in the first place. Perhaps they might use one to get around the previous boss and destroy its hard-to-reach parts. Perhaps they might use one to get inside that medal carrier and collect the medals right as they spawn, rapidly increasing their value. They’ve discovered a valuable mechanic; now it’s up to them to figure out how to best apply it.

Oh, and now that you know that you can cash in your stage 1 bombs here, it adds extra pressure to the bomb collection minigame at the very start.

Past that point, some tanks roll over houses just cause they’re tanks and they can. Destroying them normally gets a bomb chip, while destroying them while atop a house gets a medal. So, sometimes enemies give different items under special conditions.

A little bit later, three things happen. First, a few tanks roll in from the left side of the plateau. With nothing else going on, it’s a nice chill break. Next, some planes come in from both sides of the screen. While you can focus on one side without trouble, trying to juggle the medals from both sides takes quite a bit of option finesse. A stray shot can be disastrous here.

Finally, as you’re getting readjusted, a giant tank rolls in down the middle, aiming to kill. This is perhaps the first underhanded move from the game, and since taking it on straight-up is surprisingly difficult, the game encourages you to respond in turn. Perhaps you’ll fly above the tank and watch its cannons fire helplessly behind you. Perhaps you’ll just bomb it out. Perhaps you might put those backwards options to use.

The stage closes out with two giant planes firing long walls of bullets. Easy enough to inch around and shoot off the wings, except that the wings drop a medal when destroyed. Unfortunately, the walls make it difficult to just swing by and pick it up. While controlling your firepower was useful before, here it is vital. And since your medals will likely be close to max value, dropping one here is heartbreaking.

♪ Stab and Stomp!

Lastly, you face the boss: Mad Ball. Already Garegga pushes the attached turrets theme too far, as this boss is now entirely turrets. Yet premature punchline aside, this also results in a boss that you can physically rip apart. Unlike the body of the last boss, which remains intact no matter how much fire you pump into the wings, nearly the entire mass of Mad Ball can be destroyed before the core itself goes up in flames.

However, while the previous boss was entirely deterministic, only changing in response to your actions, Mad Ball has a random element in play regarding the attacks it chooses to employ. While most of these are easy to handle individually, it does require the player to react on-the-fly and consider what might come next as they plan their attack. Fortunately, the boss’s logic is simple. Destroy an outer turret and an inner turret activates. Destroy all outer turrets and the core activates. And since the boss attacks in fixed on-off phases, players can focus or suppress their fire to control what it can do next.

Finally, as a side bit of trivia, one of Mad Ball’s attacks could be responsible for sparking the bullet-hell subgenre as we know it.