There was a time when Japanese-developed side-scrolling shooters were commonplace, but these days, the traditionally hardcore genre is more of a nostalgic novelty for gamers with a masochistic streak.
It's that classic appeal that led Sony Online Entertainment to sign a deal with Los Angeles-based localization company Rockin' Android. The partnership will bring to PlayStation Network three games in the Gundemonium "shmup" series: Gundemonium Recollection, GundeadliGne and Hitogata Happa.
"The uniqueness aspect is going to be a big driver for these titles. These titles are highly nuanced in ways that are uniquely Japanese. It's a unique offering, a unique experience," said Micah Loucks, producer at SOE.
Rockin' Android, founded in 2008, licenses "doujin soft" -- or Japanese games developed by indies -- for U.S. release. All localization duties are done under the Rockin' Android roof.
The company has already released other doujin games on PC, including Flying Red Barrel and Suguri. Both games are distinctly Japanese with an anime aesthetic. Rockin' Android has partnerships with digital distribution sites like Direct2Drive and GamersGate, and also sells boxed versions of some of its titles, including Gundemonium.
But this is the first time that any Rockin' Android game has appeared on console. Company president Enrique Galvez said, "One of our game plans was to get these games on a console system, because we always believed that they were meant to be played on a gamepad. Sony came in at the perfect time."
Loucks said that he first came across Rockin' Android's games at Comic-Con last year, and from there he learned more about the localizer and the Japanese indie game community. "We thought this stuff deserves to be on console, we think its native home is on the console," he said.
In the context of the increasing Westernization of video games, the Japanese 2D games do stand out as unique offerings. But there is a question of whether these Japanese throwbacks can relate to the average gamer today, if there is a cultural barrier that could impede commercial viability.
"We carefully picked these titles because there wasn't that much of a barrier," Galvez said. "They have basic game mechanics, and these games are amazing, and they're unlike other games. They also have a tradition behind them that will appeal to many audiences."
It's unclear if the SOE-Rockin' Android deal will create many new doujin soft fans, but "shmups" fanatics appear ready to welcome Rockin' Android to PSN.
One forum-goer on shmups.com said, "Nice. Maybe now Hitogata Happa will get the love it deserves." Another stated, "About time PSN is getting some shooting love!" One fan said, "Holy crap, I can't believe it. I'm really excited. ... I'm surprised they didn't go the way of the 360 though."
The shmup fan may have a fair point. With SOE bringing Rockin' Android games to PSN, there are still two other consoles on the market with digital storefronts -- why not bring Gundemonium and other titles to Xbox Live and the Wii Store?
"Well, you put us on the spot there," said Rockin' Android producer Jody Mahler. "Right now all of our energy is focused on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Network. And to be honest with you, we're fans of Sony, we're fans of the PlayStation 3, and we always felt that the games would be good on a console system. And we felt that Xbox had some Japanese shooters already, we felt that Sony didn't really have those on PlayStation Network, so we thought that [PSN] was just the perfect home."
He added, "In a sense, personally, Xbox just didn't feel like a home for this type of genre. It felt better on a PlayStation controller, and that's one of the main decisions from my side, that they just felt better on a PS3."
Rockin' Android isn't just about bullet hell shooters like Gundemonium, although they are currently the company's main concentration. The firm is looking at all genres within doujin soft, such as one-on-one fighting games and 2D adventure games to localize and bring overseas.
And although Gundemonium is the only series that's part of the new SOE partnership, more Japanese games from Rockin' Android are destined to hit PSN. "There's going to be more," said Loucks. "I can't speak towards when or which titles yet, but yes, there's going to be more."