What do you get when you push an inherently limited genre as far as it can go? Probably something like Progear, a 2001 Capcom arcade “shmup”, the classic Gradius-type arcade game where you control a little spaceship moving around on a scrolling field. Only this “spaceship” is a World War I-type fighter plane, and the game has a very dieselpunk theme that I like. The graphics are very good, being (or at least looking like) beautiful sprites in an age of polygons.
The story is utter nonsense, and I have to wonder how much of it is due to iffy translations and how much is due to just limited information. Basically a group of young pilots have to fight off a conspiracy of posh Victorians led by a lion-man, and I’m not making that up. It feels like you only got ten seconds of a thirty-minute show and had to piece everything together from there. But this is a classic video game where such stuff was par for the course.
The gameplay is nothing to write home about, as it’s the same “fire away, use limited power ups, and try and dodge at least some of the impossibly large number of projectiles heading your way” formula. But that’s a fun formula for a reason. And whether by accident or design, one boss seemed to mock the formula. In a game where your ship faces right and only right, the boss tries to counter by…. moving to the left of the screen. Too bad you have homing missiles.
This is not a deep game, even by the standards of arcade classics. It’s not the most polished or fair game. But it is quite the fun game, and a sign of how far “handmade” graphics could go.