End Effector

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For the very first Indie Game of the Month, I decided to choose a nice, simple shoot-em-up to get us rolling.

Shoot-em-ups, also referred to as shmups have been a part of gaming since some of the earliest arcade games, and yet they still remain quite popular because they offer a quick fix of gameplay for the casual gamer, yet remain difficult challenges to the hardcore player. But the best part about shmups is that the player is playing against themselves, gaining skill and eventually mastering the game. While the concept of a "High Score" is slowly disappearing in many more modern game genres, they are still around to provide us with a sense of accomplishment.

End Effector is an excellent example of how to create a shooter with a very simple play dynamic but keep it challenging for the player.

Story-wise, the player controls a space-ship and must use it to defend his home planet (assumed to be Mars) from the evil empire of an invading planet (most likely Earth.) It's a pretty standard shooter plot.

Screenshot 1
The first level

When it comes to gameplay, There are only two buttons to be concerned about. The first is the fire button, which shoots the standard machine gun/pulse laser weapon. With End Effector, the spread of the shots is pretty wide, but the main power is focused on the center of the shot. This makes it less cumbersome to take out small "popcorn" enemy ships, but still requires the player to actually target larger enemy ships to kill them off quickly.
The second button drops a ball of plasma at the player's location and starts charging it up. The player can move while charging, albeit at a slower speed. When the player releases the second button, the plasma ball is sling-shotted from its point of origin (where you dropped it) off in the direction of your ship, damaging any enemies on the way. This allows you to aim a rather large and powerful shot in any direction you want, as well as giving the player the ability to move slower to dodge between large numbers of bullets.

Instead of lives, the player has shields. Whenever the player gets hit, a point is taken from his shield until he has none and is subsequently dies. The shield recharges after each boss. This allows the player to use strategy, sometimes sacrificing a shield hit in order to get off a better secondary shot.

Screenshot 2
Charging up the plasma ball

End Effector's graphics look most like a Sega Saturn game. (Kind of like Thunder-Force 4 or Radiant Silvergun.) While it won't win any awards, the graphics do look quite nice, with varied backgrounds and foregrounds. The music is very catchy as well.

While End Effector gets my recommendation because it's a fun and challenging shooter, what really attracts me is how much precision and skill is involved with it. There are some curtain-fire aspects, and some levels have large numbers of bullets you have to dodge through. And then there's the plasma-ball weapon, which allows you to combat the enemies that attack from all directions. So it mixes the best of both worlds when it comes to accurate shooting and precision dodging.

In any case, I highly recommend End Effector for all shmup players, though casual players will certainly enjoy it as well. The game is freeware and is available to download at the website below:
Direct Download

Highly Recommended.