In terms of the gems Nintendo and their third parties have unearthed for Virtual Console releases, Summer Carnival ’92 Recca is probably the most obscure one of all. Sure, you’ve had cool games that never made it out of Japan (Sin and Punishment, Cho Aniki), as well as super-rare games that initially went under the radar, but ended up having massive cult followings (Ogre Battle 64, EarthBound). Recca actually has shades of both. This NES shooter came out in 1992, and was only released to certain gaming competitions by its publisher, making copies of this game extremely rare. Now, retro shmup fans who own a 3DS and don’t want to shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a mint NES copy can download it for a mere $5 on the eShop.
But, with that price of admission, is this cult favorite for you? If you like your shmups fast, furious, hard and hardcore, as this reviewer does, then you’ll get your money’s worth with Recca. This 21 year old NES game has not only aged remarkably well, but also gives even newer shooters a run for their money in straight-up speed and difficulty. Recca‘s Japanese title, seen on the opening screen, is 烈火, which literally means “blazing fire.” And, considering how many bullets fly at you in ridiculously insane ways, that’s an apt description. Whether you like your games fiendishly difficult or not, you will curse at this game at least once. Yet, the overall feeling of this game is pure bullet heaven.
There actually is a bit of a story in this competitive shmup, but, as you’d expect, it’s mostly in the manual, and takes a backseat to the hardcore shooting going on. In the year 2302, just after man has made peace with the inhabitants of the galaxy Andromeda, a group of vicious aliens takes down the galaxy and sets its sights on man. Our only hope is the special starship Recca. And, considering that almost every vertical shooter not developed by Cave or Project Shanghai Alice has a story like this one, it doesn’t go further than that. On the other hand, what Recca lacks in story, it more than makes up for it in graphics and sound, and both are among the best you will ever see in an NES game. Better still, they’re emulated fantastically on the 3DS hardware.
Any hardcore fan of vertical shooters can attest that games of the genre often suffer from slowdown due to ever-increasing amounts of bullets, enemies and what have you. Not so in Recca, where lead programmer, later Raizing and Cave developer and gaming cult figure, Shinobu Yagawa, gets absolutely obsessed with speed, and makes the enemies fly hard and fast. Not only that, but the sprite detail and moving backgrounds are so high-quality, I actually thought this was a SNES title. Only some minor and inevitable (but not distracting) flickering, as well as a lack of finer 16-bit details, led me to think otherwise.
The soundtrack, composed by Nobuyuki Shioda, is replete with chiptune techno that easily fits the game’s ridiculously fast nature. Think Yuzo Koshiro’s fist-pumping music in the Streets of Rage trilogy, but on the NES. Yep, it’s that glorious, taking every sound channel one could find on the system, and adding crazy bass lines, booty-shaking drumbeats and more. Although the soundtrack’s awesomeness is occasionally drowned out by the sounds of gunfire, that is to be expected coming from a shmup, and it still gives quite the adrenaline rush. The entire soundtrack was even released on an equally limited-edition CD. Check out the eponymous opening title theme below.
In spite of its breakneck speed, Recca is actually fairly simple in setup, with four levels that each have two bosses. and the game always keeps you on your toes as far as enemy waves and boss fights go. Recca pulls no punches in the power-up department, either. In addition to the five blaster options you have, you can also have up to two secondary weapons of the same type, and, aside from little medals that can increase your score, enemies occasionally drop 1-ups, as well, of which you can carry up to seven lives. Cue even more frantic shooting.
Another innovative thing Recca toys around with is the charge shot. In instances where you’re not shooting other spaceships, you slowly charge up energy until you can press the B button again, bursting forth a glorious blast of energy. The more you wait and recharge, the less time it takes to do so, which is absolutely imperative to fighting the game’s sadistic bosses, even by genre standards. I am a huge fan of old-school shmups, and have blasted through the likes of Cave’s Guwange and Ibara (the latter also a Yagawa game) without a single continue. Conversely, it took me several hours to get the timing just right in Recca…to defeat the first level’s major boss. Not only does that giant spaceship fire lasers in four directions, but even when you try to get away from it, it fires four missiles in your direction. Other bosses even fire bullets that act as magnets, pulling your ship closer to their direction.
Adding to the replay value are three completely different modes. In addition to the Normal Mode, which I ended up playing through in full (and in fits of rage), there’s also the Score Attack Mode and Time Attack Mode. The former lets wannabe experts see how many points they can rack up in the span of 2 minutes, while the latter tests their ability to rack up 1,000,000 points in 5. Even better, once the regular game is over, there’s actually a second quest with not only beefed-up versions of the game’s four levels, but also three new ones for you to die in – er, try.
With that said, Recca‘s straight-up difficulty is, to some extent, a double-edged sword. If I haven’t even mentioned this to you yet, Recca is hard. Hard, hard, hard, hard, hard. And, unless you’ve won your fair share of top-down shooting competitions, you will die a lot in this game. If you get tired of this genre, as many have (and do), Recca is not the game for you. But, if you’re ready for some sweet shooter masochism, Recca will be right up your ally. It took me a good six or seven cumulative hours to get through the main game, and I still have not made it past the first level of the second quest. Brutal? Yes. Addictive? You bet.
Recca may have aged a bit thanks to its NES heritage, but the fact remains that this fast and furious Famicom shmup was still way ahead of its time. Sadly, aside from your average Cave game, they don’t make shooters like this anymore. While the breakneck speed and punishing difficulty make this one for the hardest of hardcore shmup fans, Recca can be summed up as a complete package: four completely different modes, with graphics and sound far beyond the limits of an average NES title, incredible boss fights and some twisted tricks up its sleeve. To fans of this genre looking for a thrilling and brutal game, Recca is the best way to spend $5 on the eShop, period.
Review copy purchased by author