The Last Canopy


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The Last Canopy

PsychotronicWan Hazmer and his talented team at Easy Only! Games showed a lot of promise in our 4th Casual Gameplay Design Competition with their game Ballistic Wars, an original take on strategic combat that took home 3rd place and won enthusiastic audience approval. But entertaining as it was, time constraints had obviously kept Ballistic Wars from reaching its full potential. The Last CanopySo it was very gratifying to play The Last Canopy, Hazmer's entry into Casual Gameplay Design Competition #5, because this time he simply knocked it out of the park.

The setting is a ruined world where a single tree—the last canopy—still stands, protected by a race of butterfly-winged fairies with the power to absorb energy from their foes. You control one of these fairies on his heroic quest to return a fallen bird to its nest. This mostly nonsensical story serves as an excuse for you to battle an army of hostile vehicles through four bullet-drenched levels, each capped off by an intense boss encounter. Move the fairy around with the mouse or the arrow keys, fire with [Z], and absorb firepower from your enemies with [X].

Competition first place award winnerA brief history lesson: The Last Canopy is a specific variety of shoot'em-up called a Manic Shooter (or a Bullet-Heck Shooter, with respect to our all-ages audience), which has a lot of modern conventions, but basically means that a whole lot of firepower is being exchanged. Wan Hazmer was partially inspired by the Touhou series, which pretty much defines the PC manic shooter niche market with its gorgeously complicated bullet patterns and uncompromising difficulty. Touhou draws inspiration from the Shikigami No Shiro arcade games, among many others; which in turn follow in the footsteps of Competition audience award winnerE.S.P.Ra.De. and DoDonPachi—arguably the greatest arcade-style shooters ever made—by Japanese developer Cave, who is virtually unknown except by shooter devotees.

Cave deserves credit for establishing the guidelines for this sub-genre. Those include a tiny collision box for the main character, so you can weave in between tightly-spaced bullets; a complicated point system, so those who have mastered the game have reason to go back and maximize their scores; titanic bosses who change their attack pattern multiple times; an unbelievable number of on-screen bullets; and unrelenting, breathless difficulty.

This is not to say that Wan Hazmer's effort is unoriginal. To my knowledge, a satisfying manic shooter has never before been made in Flash, so The Last Canopy is a landmark game nonetheless (Since writing this sentence, Kei Mesuda's impressive Arcanacra has been brought to my attention. Thanks, Dragoran! Arcanacra is indeed a satisfying manic shooter programmed in Flash, but it is also a serious step up in terms of speed and difficulty, so casual gamers beware.) What makes The Last Canopy special is the incorporation of the "upgrade" theme for the competition. Your fairy's main gun is pathetic by itself. Fighting one of the game's bosses with it is like trying to stab a great white shark to death with a carrot. But you also have an eager group of 5 Gradius-ish orbs following you, waiting to be upgraded.

When you hold down the "absorb" button, a pink laser fires, locking-on to any enemy it hits, stealing its power and granting it temporarily to one of your orbs. Every enemy in the game can be plundered this way, and each one, remarkably, grants you a different type of firepower. The littlest ships might allow you to fire a single extra bullet, but if you take the time to absorb the energy from a boss, you can really start to fling some fireworks. The orbs gradually lose their strength, fading from green to yellow to red to empty, so you have to constantly refresh them by stealing new powers.

Analysis: A good shoot'em-up is like a symphony. The enemies are the musicians, the bullets the notes. And the player is the soloist at center stage, riffing a melody over the chaos, flirting with death, performing miracles. Wan Hazmer is the conductor, who must have a deep understanding of the rhythms that bind everything together.

The Last CanopyAnd The Last Canopy is just awesome. The natural ebb and flow of the gameplay keeps it from ever getting boring. You must stop shooting in order to absorb powers, but that pause allows more enemies to fill the screen with bullets. The better powers take longer to absorb and thus make you more vulnerable, but you must take that risk in order to have a chance against the bosses.

One might say that the Last Canopy is not really a casual game, but I feel that a casual game is anything that casual gamers can enjoy, and this game walked away with the audience prize as well as the judges' 1st-Place Award. Anybody can play at the easiest difficulty setting, but the hardest level is a decent challenge for even the most twitchy caffeine-blooded bullet rider.

The team at Easy Only! has done its very best to make The Last Canopy look and sound impressive. The graphics are a bit subdued and blocky, but they do the job more than adequately, and many of the enemy designs are interesting. Most of the ships on the first level, for example, are based on construction equipment; if you're not yet convinced that the game is cool, you're sure to come around when the first boss shows up with a giant wrecking ball. The scrolling background manages to suggest a whole world of cities and wastelands with just a few simple shapes, and the way it circles around like a crazy '78 when you're about to kill a boss is amazing. The excellent techno music establishes a distinct mood for each level and pumps up the intensity for the boss battles.

My only significant criticism is that dying takes too much power away from the player, especially during boss encounters. It takes a long time to absorb energy from a boss, and it's a pain having to start from scratch each time an errant bullet strikes you. I would have liked to see some smaller enemies fly by during the boss fights, so you can grab a quick power-up. That, and the controls should be configurable. It's weird not being able to fire with the mouse button.

But it is hard to find fault anywhere else. Hazmer and crew made a spectacular effort during the competition to keep their fans happy with updates and difficulty tweaks, and the result is an essentially hardcore game that a wide audience can nevertheless enjoy. The Last Canopy feels dramatic and entertaining from beginning to end, which is a testament to the level of detail and professionalism that Easy Only! Games is capable of. I anticipate great things from them.

Play The Last Canopy

17 Comments

Loved the game, brings back Touhou memories :)

This is an absolutely amazing game, and I knew, the first time I played it, that it would win first place. It feels complete, and even after you've beaten every boss, you still want to go back to play it again. And to think that they finished this in two months! Seriously awesome job, Easy Only!

It doesn't load for me any more! *Panics*

its kind of amazing how much i love this considering how much i suck at it.

There's no doubt that this is an amazing game, but I'd like to point out that Arcanacra's been out for a while. I, for one, find both games satisfying. This is the first shmup I've seen to use the absorption mechanic, though, which I thought was really well done.

I think Psychotronic had been reading through the dictionary during a boredom period, when he wrote this review, and felt inspired.

But this review sums up why I visit Jayisgames every day. Not just to play awesome games, but learn about them, both in terms of making games myself, and in history terms.

And he really sums it up perfectly in that last sentence. "I anticipate great things from them."

I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly. I haven't played this game, but I played Ballistic Wars, and it is obvious that there is enourmous potential amongst you guys, enough potential, I believe, to actually go out and make commercial games, should it be needed/wanted.

Good job to everybody at Easy Only! Games.

Yes! I always wanted to be a butterfly-dude with powerballs! No, wait...

Umm..anyways.. quite an amusing shoot-em-up, and I dig the "absorb" mechanic. One little complaint, though - quite often it is very hard to discern what is it that you should be avoiding, what with all the trailing balls, different-coloured projectiles flying all over the place and whatnot.

But I DO love the small touches - pauses in boss fights where you can "refill" your powers, story elements (such as they are)...

I was glad that the character's shots were of different colours than the shots aimed at her; meant I never mistook my own shots for the other kind and crashed into something.

The crashing I did do was mainly during boss fights: I'd lose while attempting to absorb it, and would have to start off absorbing it again, which killed me because I couldn't really shoot it until I'd absorbed it.

After losing once on Normal, I'll probably play it again; just not now. It looks hard, but not too hard, so even when I lose, I'll come back later after I'm ready again. Its challenge works with its ability to hold my interest, instead of against it.

This game is great. Like baba44713 said above, it's got a lot of little touches that make it clear the developers were thinking about playability, especially the fact that if you die during a boss fight, the boss will stop shooting for a few seconds, allowing you to get at least most of the way through a powerup.

I played through on Easy because I just wanted to enjoy the game without the frustration of dying, and I still had somewhat of a tough time. The final boss's second stage was the hardest; it was a struggle to avoid the bullets long enough to absorb enough power to make a dent. Regardless, that made it all the more satisfying to finally beat it.

wow this is so cool...congrats...can we get some more celebration pics...you guys rule

did not like the game. thought it was over-rated. character design was lackluster at best. space on screen was tight and uncomfortable to move in. graphics were dull. proportioning of the enemy and butterfly designs held little substance for me.

not sure what all the hype is about.

Sorry for the late reply, been busy with work lately :P

Wow... me, a conductor? Now that's what I call an awesome write-up! XD My team just read review and we just can't tell you how happy we felt after reading it. Thank you so much, Psychotronic and team!

As if that wasn't enough, the comments added more praise, so to all the fans, thanks so much! Again, I'm glad that you enjoyed the game, and I hope you would play our future games which will be coming out in the following months.

I'm going to treat Aidi and Dzaid to some Japanese buffet, so we're gonna take a celebration picture tomorrow. So treser, look forward to it ;)

well,it didnt load but the pictures look COOL!

Wow, just yesterday I tried this game and I was hooked on the first time I tried it! P.S. I got to the 3rd boss.

Now I finished the game! I beat every enemy!

I wanna know how many lvl's does it has? I got to lvl 4.. I hope it's not like 10 freaking lvl's or more.. -_-

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