If you think kids these days have it too easy with their save points and their health meters and their self-esteem not left in tatters from a digital villain, then this is the game you've been waiting for. Merubyiusu, from H. Inada, is a retro side-scroller shooter straight out of the mid-nineties. You play a winged fox flying through a forest, trying not to get blown up by blowing up your enemies first. Why? Who cares! At only three stages so far, each with its own boss fight, Merubyiusu is short enough to whet your appetite and pique your nostalgia, and just difficult enough to erode your soul. (It itches!)
Only the start menu is in English, but that's all you'll need to play. Select "Start" by hitting [space]. Merubyiusu controls by flying with the [arrow] keys, firing with [X], and swapping between your available weapons with [Z]. There are four to get in all, each dropped by enemies, and each fires in its own unique way. You can hold down the [X] button the whole way and spray a weak stream of fire without stopping, or you can hold off and give the gauge in the lower-left corner time to fill, and find your next shots that much deadlier. Just don't spend too much time watching it; enemies are quick and numerous, and one hit takes away one of your three lives. Once all of them are gone, it's game over. (Although you can continue from between levels once you've finished one.)
Still, as simple as it is, Merubyiusu does occasionally seem a little unbalanced. Enemies can take dozens of hits but I can only take one? And the green weapon with the homing projectiles seems like a cheap and easy way to victory at first... until it starts locking on to enemies behind obstacles it can't reach instead of targeting the closest death-bot. Is it really hard, or have I just become soft from a decade of auto-targeting and clever AI? I'm not sure, but just as some people will rejoice at the difficulty, others may be turned off by it.
However, enemies appear in set places in each stage, and once you've gone through it once or twice you'll find it's easier to stay, you know, non-dead when you know which direction your intended demise is coming from next. If you're looking for something short to hearken you back to the days of Nintendo Power Gloves and Red Ryder BB Guns, you'll probably enjoy the game's arcade feel. Merubyiusu has a lot of expanding to do, but in the meantime, saddle up your fox and ride on out. It's something to cheer those of us up who die a little inside every time we talk about Gradius and the 12-year-old kid with his DS says, "What's that?"