Saturday, January 2, 2010

Games for pros: Varia (freeware)

Top-down shoot em ups, or short SHMUPs usually take place in space, with the objective of shooting down alien spaceships with your devastating lasers. Varia is very similar to these typical games, with a little difference that you're not on the way to a foreign planet, but into the core of a computer.
This unusual setting has a great influence on the graphics style, giving the game a futuristic neon-look.

Gameplay of Varia

There are three basic elements you'll find in most shoot em ups: flying, shooting, and upgrades. You move with the cursor keys, shoot with Z, X puts you into slow mode and freezes options and C lets you discard an ability picked up with your options (more on that later). You can also use the slow mode to dodge bullets. Let's get to the upgrade system.
The way to get them and the powerups themselves are very similar to those in the popular arena shooter Fraxy. To get a powerup you have to shoot down a certain type of enemy, after it's destroyed 3 bonuses appear and you're free to choose whichever you like.
-The red powerup increases the number of bullets you can simultaneously fire with your basic gun.
-Green ones give you a shield (not accumultative)
-Yellow adds an option (a green floating orb, similar to the ones in the NES classic Gradius) that follows your ship and has the ability to absorb an enemy projectile and copy it. More on that later

-If you can stay long enough in between these upgrades you'll get all of the above. Otherwise the rest disappears once you picked one of them.

You can own a maximum of 4 options and 4 upgrades for your vulcan gun at the same time. To use an option make it touch an enemy projectile. Once it absorbs the shot it'll copy that enemy's ability. Simple, round bullets are the most common in the game, they're not too strong but don't be afraid to pick them up, you can discard abilities absorbed by options by pressing C. You can collect most kinds of projectiles this way, but some enemies, especially bosses have weapons thats bullets can't be absorbed.
Shields protect you from a shot, you can't use multiple shields at a time. If you die all your upgrades will appear on the screen, you only have to collect them again. Weapons absorbed by your options will be lost though, so be careful not to die when you can't find strong weapons.
There's also an in-game tutorial that explains the basics fairly well, if you have any difficulties take a look at it.

Further info

-Staying in the middle of the powerups dropped by some ships in order to get all of the upgrades is a lot easier in the slow mode. You activate this by pressing X. This will also keep your orbs in the same place related to your ship, which makes collecting new weapons a lot easier, too.
-Bosses usually consist of multiple parts that can be destroyed seperately. Always go for the one first that you find hardest to dodge.
-You can discard any unwanted weapons you picked up with your option by pressing C. If you have multiple options you can select another one by pressing up or down.
-You can use an empty option as a shield if you freeze it right in front of your ship. Beware of projectiles that cannot be absorbed though!


Varia is a fast (and with only 5 levels maybe a bit too short) action shooter with many great features, some known from other similar games, but a few very innovative ones too. Tricky bosses and lots of different abilities you can collect from your enemies make the game fun and give it a good value of replayability. Higher difficulty settings might be frustrating for casual players, but offer real experts just the challenge they'd expect. The flashy and even spectacular effects manage to make a distinction to other games with this common graphics style.

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