SHORT STORIES / MINIATURE BULLET HELL

“Short stories do not say this happened and this happened and this happened. They are a microcosm and a magnification rather than a linear progression.” – Isobelle Carmody

Of course this also means more scrutiny. Even the smallest crack becomes a chasm when it is magnified. When I started studying film our lecturer gave us an assignment. It was simple, “Make a 5 minute movie.” Piece of cake, I thought arrogantly. This’ll be a breeze, walk in the park, easy as pie. You can guess what happened next. That little assignment kicked my ass. Turns out it was harder to come up with a worthwhile narrative that was 5 minutes long than it was to think of something four times that. It’s one of the lessons I’ve never forgotten to this day. Short stories are like that. Underestimate them and they will destroy you.

When I started writing I attempted short stories first just like everyone else. The stories themselves weren’t terrible, but they weren’t great either. It takes experience and hard work to write a truly gripping short tale. I’m talking about stores like I, Robot by Isaac AsimovDagon by H.P. Lovecraft, A Telltale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe,  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

There is the possibility that you have not read these stories, but I will wager that you’ve at least heard of them. Have you seen Battle Royale? No? What about The Hunger Games? You could draw a straight line from them to The Lottery without much difficulty at all. This is the power of a well written short story. It may be small in volume but its potential for growth is almost limitless.

On Monday this week I finally downloaded Aa Mujou Setsuna (or Metal Torrent as it’s known in the West)  by game developer/publisher Arika. If you know shmups then you know Arika. They’ve been involved in a bunch of Cave stalwarts, DoDonPachi Dai Jai Ou and community darling Ketsui amongst these. Arika also brought Ketsui Death Label to the DS and of course Metal Torrent to DSiware.

There are a fair amount of decent shooters on the DS and 3DS so far. Ketsui Death Label, Metal Torrent, Liberation Maiden, Space Invaders Extreme, Retro Game Challenge’Cosmic Gate and Bangoi-O Spirits (by the monolithic entity known as Treasure) are all available on one version of Nintendo’s little handheld or another. Old NES classics such as Gradius, TwinBee and Xevious have all been released on the eshop as of late allowing for some bullet dodging on the go. For those of you who like manic shooters there are only two options though and not surprisingly they’re brought to us by the Cave / Arika combo.

“Short fiction seems more targeted – hand grenades of ideas, if you will. When they work, they hit, they explode, and you never forget them.” – Paolo Bacigalupi

I’ve poured hours into Ketsui Death Label and still the beast living in that little cartridge demands more. It’s basically just a boss rush mode of Ketsui but does that make it bad? No not at all, not to me at least. Finding a review of Ketsui Death Label on the net is tricky. Vertical shooters simply do not command the same amount of interest here in the West as they do over in the East, and something like Ketsui Death Label even less so. It’s seen as a cop-out by many because they wanted a port of the original. Look around a bit and you’ll find one or two reviews worth your time but that’s about it. I love Ketsui Death Label for what it is; a scaled down version of the original that I can delve into whenever and wherever I want. It isn’t a DS port of the original arcade game but that’s ok since that exists on other systems more suitable for it. That doesn’t mean that this DS version of Ketsui doesn’t have content. Play hard and long enough and you’ll unlock extra difficulties, each one more brutal than the last. There’s even and Extra mode which lets you play through a single complete stage. Be warned though. It will eat you alive.

“My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and every one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart…” – Haruki Murakami.

I think of these games as short stories. They aren’t fully fledged novels but rather snippets, things that may never be whole. You could call them footprints left in a forest somewhere, shadows as Murakamiputs it. They are, in short, glimpses into the minds of their creators. Photographs which hold a fragment of creative thought captured and looped forever.

“A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” – Stephen King, Skeleton Crew.

It’s true that Ketsui Death Label and Metal Torrent may seem one dimensional to some people and I get that. If you look at the games as full-fledged releases they fail. Are we meant to look at them in this way? I don’t think so. These games are centered and built around a single, specific gameplay mechanic. Poe‘s comment on short stories hits the mark perfectly:

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” – Edgar Alan Poe

When viewed in this light both Ketsui Death Label and Metal Torrent exist and succeed perfectly.

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