ES is an exquisite gaming experiment that injects endless creativity into a beautifully polished two-stick shoot-em-up. It seems it took Mak a fair bit of personal reflection to end up working from his heart instead of purely from his brain, and we're lucky enough to have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of both.
The comparisons to much-beloved psychedelic shooter Rez and its puzzle-happy cousin Lumines are easy, but it's more important to understand why that's the case -- after all, this is an entirely different genre. Simply, ES takes equal advantage of videogames as both a visually and emotionally expressive medium, inextricably fusing its aesthetic and its game mechanics. The rules couldn't be simpler -- shoot everything, collect the resulting dots for points, avoid everything else -- but the details are finessed to perfection; it's as much about when not to shoot as when to go for it.
The reason is twofold: Your tiny "ship" travels much more quickly when you're not firing, and each one of the eight stages has its own combos to find and patterns to exploit. If the screen is filled with 40 enemies, shooting the only flashing one may take care of them all. It's not always so straightforward, though, and takes a keen eye and ear to discover all of the tricks. There are certainly ways to maximize the scoring for each stage, but with the majority of the enemies placed randomly (though their entrances are still precisely timed) there's always a welcome unpredictability. And though the pivotal shooter mechanics -- timing, hit detection, control -- are expertly tuned, memorization will only get you so far.
Each stage is constructed as a single track of a larger album, with only the tiniest narrative thread between them. Despite looking and feeling completely different from one another, they're nearly perfectly paced with the highs and lows usually reserved for more traditionally musical media.
Mak and his guitar accomplish an incredible range of moods and tonality, transitioning smoothly between serene strumming and nervous, fidgety rock riffs. The visuals keep pace, casting an endlessly busy palette of striking shades and imaginative shapes. Some stages have more literal themes -- a stark summer sky and rain-dappled swamp come to mind -- while others revel in their more experimental chaos of sound and color.
Alas, considering its otherwise welcoming nature, Everyday Shooter might frustrate more casual-shooter enthusiasts with its unrelenting difficulty. There's no last-ditch single bomb to use or power-ups for brief boosts of firepower. Both are admirably decisive design decisions, but there are times when some will simply wish for an easy way out of the particularly numerous swarms of enemies. Some of the stages give the impression that they're impossible to beat without losing a life or two, and only with a huge amount of practice will you get through several in a row unscathed.
Mak seems well aware of the difficulty, though, and has implemented a clever reward structure whereby every single play session earns points toward increasing the number of lives you can start with. You can also spend points to unlock several visual filters, from straightforward black and white to effects that dynamically manipulate the background in time with your actions. It's a great way to lay out the game that successfully inspires a "just one more try" mentality, and having an extra life to work with after every few games only increases the addiction.
Though the sometimes frustrating difficulty and occasional pacing misstep taint the experience slightly (it would be nice to have longer moments of respite between the busier levels), Everyday Shooter succeeds wildly as an engaging shooter for the art-house crowd, and a creative change of pace for the hardcore-shooter crowd. It's the first must-buy game on the PlayStation Network for anyone with an inventive bone in their body, with rock-solid shooter roots to dispel any pretense of non-gamelike artiness-for-the-sake-of-it. And make sure you read the notes.
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