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In the CS lab at the college from which I recently graduated, newly discovered games sometimes take over as popular amongst the entire department and all the leaves thereof. One person finds it, installs it on their home directory and plays with it and suddenly everyone is playing it. One day, working on some horribly overtaxing AI assignment, I noticed a little white ball on someone's screen firing little yellow bolts of light at flying squares and causing the eyes at the center of the flying squares to explode. This seemed odd to me. On investigation I found that they were playing a fairly new shmup going by the name Clean Asia.

The Game

As shoot 'em ups go Clean Asia is fairly straight forward. There are two ships, both exactly the same except in abilities. And there are three levels each with different themes and differing levels of difficulty. As it happens the levels are named: Thailand, New Korea, and China. Ostensibly this is because of the story which I will get to later on. This shmup is vertically oriented as well, if you care to know.

Thailand is the first level, though you can do the missions in any order you please. The background is filled with snaking rectangles criss-crossing the otherwise black screen making their way down to signify that you are making your way up. The snakes melt with ever-changing color. Upon entering you are immediately attacked by a boss-like creature. Five squares, in an assembly that looks like a plus sign. It weaves across the screen and spins at the same time. Every few seconds it shoots out a barrage of little red plus signs, each of which is immediately deadly to your little white circle of a ship. Destroying each of the squares causes 36 little multicolored squares that, for one ship, fly into you and increase the power of your weapons. Every hundred "debris" increase your power by one level. The play here is simple, take each boss apart with your guns, don't get killed. Each boss has a different attack and each will offer different challenges. The third boss is actually three small plus signs that shoot at you making maneuvering and shooting very hard, the boss after that is a large fast spinning object which shoots eight beams out in cardinal directions every few seconds. As it goes, there are 7 enemy/bosses in this level. All together this level is very organic, very fluid.

New Korea is another matter, everything here is more technological, more mechanical. The boss attacks in Thailand all came from the central eye, with one exception. Now all of the bosses have turrets on them to shoot at you with and only resort to firing on you with the eye once those are all gone. This leads to interesting strategy on this level because the eye weapons are far more potent than the turrets. Also, if you are playing as the Attractor ship, then you can catch the turrets as they fall of the enemy and use them to attack. The background this time is a white grid that is forever scrolling down and white boxes, like buildings zip past below, over the same black background. All the bosses in this are also white, so this level gives a very homogeneous view of things.(also of note is that the falling grid pattern will remain once you leave this level, so if you do Korea first then it stays for the other two)

China is very different from the other two levels. Now the enemy is the Chinese military. Where the bosses in Thailand and Korea would weave about in random patterns, the military comes through in the same manner on any play of the game. The background now are octagons in a pattern with squares like some strange military complex. And behind you are 5 machines producing debris to give power to your ship as none is available from the enemies here. This gives an entirely different feel from the other levels. And this is also where you meet what is arguably the final boss in the game, but I won't give anything away.

The Story

'You'll all regret
what you've done to me,
the day your eyes
turn against their masters'

Clean Asia has easily got one of the weirdest stories I've ever seen in a game. It goes that humanity was doing just fine until their eyes decided to rebel en masse. Everyone's eyes leave them, flying away to the moon where they have constructed a secret base from which they plan to conquer Earth. Ten years later they have returned and are invading Asia. The world's only hope are a pair of psychic twins: Mackey Dole and Mickey Dole. They, in their specially constructed spaceships, are the only force capable of fighting the eyes, as everyone else on the planet is blind. Choosing one spaceship you go forward and must defeat the eyes forces in Thailand and Korea and fight your way through the Chinese military to stop the final weapon of war.

On winning the game you are congratulated by a drooling boy who now has eyes. As well as a cityscape and congratulations.

The Art

The level design in this shmup is excellent. Very pretty, very well programmed and procedurally quite good. The rest of the art is...interesting. There are a number of places where drawn human faces are seen, specifically the splash screen and the end screen. In each case they are drawn in a manner that smacks of MSPaint, well done for MSPaint, but Paint nonetheless. I try to see it as amusing, though at first it was rather jarring. Either way, this game is pulled off with a great deal of style, panache if you will.

The Music

Clean Asia's techno was composed by John Marwin. It is excellent. Each level has its own music and each is individual and great. The Thailand music is a sort of vocal techno, pulled off on synthesizer. It compliments the game fully and is another thing about the game that gets people's attention. Marwin, it may be pointed out, works with the game's maker Cactus a good deal. My other favorite is the final boss music.

Final Notes

This game is more than simply good is well regarded. It was entered in the AutoFire 2007 Shmup development competition and took first place. Along the way it was featured in a number of magazines. The maker, Cactus, has been hard at work since then and has made a number of games. This was actually his most in depth work ever, taking him more than a week to create. Given the quality of his work generally, he'd a developer anyone interested in shmups should keep an eye on.

If you enjoy games, shmups and/or weird things, this is the game for you. You will find it to be an enjoyable experience and if you aren't already it may make you a fan of shmups in general, or rekindle a lost love. It is also free, so go and try it out.

http://www.cactus-soft.co.nr/