Garden of Colored Lights: vector-based blaster with a weapons-management component

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Garden of Colored Lights is a free, fast-paced vertically scrolling shoot em up. It offers excellent production qualities in the form of a quirky soundtrack and sound effects and colorful vector graphics, and employs an interesting innovation in gameplay where players can choose the weapons with-which to outfit their ship.

I’ve been wanting to post another interesting vertical scrolling shoot em up, and “Garden of Colored Lights” not only satisfies the “furious, frantic blaster” requirement but adds an interesting game innovation where it offers you the option to select your preferred combination of weapons.

And although this may at first not seem too revolutionary, in practical terms you will find that your choice of weapons can in fact result in completely difference experiences of the game, depending on what combination of weapons you choose. More notes on this game:

  • Weapon types: your ship can be equipped with 3 different weapons and there are 9 different weapons to choose from. Weapons belong to three different categories: “Slow Weapons” are powerful but take a while to recharge, so they cannot be used continuously; “Fast Weapons” are continuous and effective against small enemies, but require many multiple successive hits to destroy larger enemies; “Special Weapons” do cool things like hit enemies beside you or behind you.
  • Weapons selection: in general it may be a good idea to have a “balanced” setup whereby you have one of each type of weapon that you like (Slow/Fast/Special). The game provides a handful of preset “types” to choose from that have that sort of balance. However if you really like a certain kind of weapon that, say, takes a while to recharge you can equip your ship with up to three instances of that weapon, such that you can use one while the others charge up (note: this is probably not the best idea in practice, but makes for some very interesting gameplay). Also, I might add, using multiple instances of the same weapon apparently causes the damage each one of them inflicts to be split between the two.
  • Weapons management: three bars on the top left show you how much time before your each one of your weapons recharges. Generally speaking destroying enemies causes your weapons to recharge proportional to how much damage each of them did to the enemy. Sounds complicated? It gets even more so: killing bosses or their escorts apparently does not recharge your weapons, and the total amount of damage that you can do is split across your weapon that are firing at any one time, i.e. you always have a fixed amount of damage you can mete out at once, although when you’ve done enough damage with any single weapon it levels up and becomes even more potent.
  • Difficulty: the game is not easy but is perfectly playable and fair (I only played “normal” difficulty although there are two higher difficulty leves). Two things (1) the “tracer” lines that drag behind enemy fire are harmless, and (2) only the white block at the center of your ship is vulnerable; making contact with enemy shots on the periphery does NOT kill you.
  • Default controls: arrow keys and z/x/c to shoot each one of your 3 weapons, while left shift slows your ship down for finer maneuverability. Supports joystick as well.
  • Installation: none needed; unzip and play. Also be sure to read the readme.txt file for game instructions.

The verdict: originally created as an entry in the www.shmup-dev.com 2007 competition, this is a very nice game that is highly playable and quite interesting in terms of the whole choosing and managing your weapons aspect. At the very least it will have you thinking not just about dodging and shooting but also about how best to dispense of your opponents and to maximize your firepower.

I am a sucker for vertical shooters and even more so when they offer original twists in the gameplay; having said that I must confess that in the process of writing this review I found myself wishing that the weapons recharging system had been made a little less complicated. Nonetheless overall this is a very nice effort and a very engaging game!

Version Tested: 1.02

Compatibility: Windows. Source code available for download.

Go here to download the latest version (approx 2.41 megs). Also visit the game forum page.