Let's think about some of the conventions we've grown accustomed to seeing in a standard ship-based (or airplane, or penguin, or whatever you want) shoot-'em-up game for a second. Usually, you'll control a plane or something that has to negotiate (read: blow up) swarms of lesser enemies before making it to a climactic boss battle. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Now, try rRootage, which throws you into elaborate, multi-stage boss battles - the kind that tend to be the most challenging and most interesting part of the shmup genre - and nothing else. If you're bored with your smart bombs, rRootage gives you alternative gameplay modes that can have you absorbing same-color shots for additional firepower a la Ikaruga, or charging up your shield meter by flying dangerously close to enemy bullets. Or, give Gunroar a shot; as it turns out, being in a boat instead of a spaceship makes all the difference. This, you see, is because Gunroar leaves the rate at which the game scrolls vertically through the level almost exclusively to the player.
Be as cautious as you want, but you're not going to get the high score without a decent score multiplier, which only increases if you light a fire under your ass and book it through the level. Suddenly, the ability to control the direction of your weapon independently of the direction you're moving in is critical - all your enemies are behind you. Well, maybe that's not such a big deal. Try Gunroar's Dual Stick mode, then, where you have to control two boats, one with each hand, and the direction that they collectively fire at is determined by the right angle that runs perpendicular to a line segment drawn from one boat to the other. Yeah, that's what I thought.
Things only get more interesting from here. Tumiki Fighter has you piloting a toy airplane through a cartoony looking toy land where everything is made of blocks. Don't expect enemies to merely explode and vanish when you're done with them, though, because you're supposed to catch them with your own plane. That's right - once disabled, you can graft enemy planes (even bosses!) on to your own ship to turn into a gigantic, awkward, flying katamari-esque ship, complete with significant score and firepower bonuses. Or try Torus Trooper, which borrows a little bit from shooter-on- rails shmups and a little bit from Tempest to get you hurdling through vector-tunnels as fast as possible without colliding into enemy craft.
It is Kenta Cho's intimate knowledge of the internal risk/reward mechanisms employed in the shmup genre that, somewhat perversely, reawaken the hardcore arcade gamer in anyone who plays his games. Maybe it's something about surviving a seemingly impossible barrage of bullets, or hovering oh-so-close to a lethal laser beam to charge up your super meter, or breaking that high score barrier by staying planted right at point-blank against an rRootage boss because you know that's the quickest way to beat it, or encountering any one of hundreds of other equally death-defying experiences that manage to instill an appreciation for the shmup, in all its masochistic glory, in the breast of even the most grizzled gaming veteran. It's one thing to make a game that is merely difficult, I think, but it is another thing entirely to be able to make games that make me want to be a better gamer.
Pat Miller has been doing this for way too long.