BORDER DOWN / G. Rev / Dreamcast
Space shooters have never been one of my top favorite genres, but I actually liked quite a few of them going into the 32-bit generation. After that, it seemed like the market shifted to cater almost solely to hardcore "sh'muppers" who enjoyed "bullet hell", levels built entirely on memorization, and other such punishing attributes. That stuff isn't for me, so I kind of left off shooters for a long time, almost even developed a distaste for them. I'm happy that I gave Border Down a chance, though, because it's a lot more in the mold of the old 16-bit console and early 1990s arcade shooters that I used to enjoy.
It was released in Japan only, and though they tried to include an English translation for a lot of the text, it's so Engrishy that I can't make heads or tails of the story. Apparently, at least according to Wikipedia, it takes place in a future where Earth has colonized Mars, but in the process of mining nearby asteroids, they encounter some sort of hostile alien life that attacks en masse with a space force. So humanity develops a remote-controlled space fighter called R.A.I.N. to send against the invading threat. The game is divided into five levels - the first three have you testing R.A.I.N. in a simulation, then the last two are the real deal as the aliens Get Selious in their attacks.
The gameplay twist that gives the game its name is that each level is divided into three segments. Three different ships are actually going through these levels, sometimes taking divergent paths. You start out with the Green ship, but if you asplode that, you "Border Down" to the Yellow Ship, and then finally the Red Ship. If you die while controlling the Red Ship, it's game over. Aside from sometimes going through different stretches of level with different backgrounds and enemies, the different ships also represent different difficulty levels - as you go down farther, enemies appear in greater numbers and fire a lot more frequently, meaning the game actually gets harder as you die! The game also lets you start as the Yellow or Red ship if you want, which ups the difficulty, but also increases your point-gaining potential. And if you score enough points in a level, you are allowed to "Border Up" when you go into the next level.
The thing I enjoy most about the game is that "memorization" and "bullet hell" segments are rare to nonexistent throughout the game, but it's still a very solid challenge. The difficulty mode is adjustable, and Easy mode makes for a forgiving but still challenging introduction to get the hang of the game with. You can then up to Normal or Hard once you need to. You can play fluidly without being absolutely perfect, and I also like the weapon system. Holding the fire button down concentrates all your ships guns in front of you in a narrow but powerful beam, while tapping shoots them out as homing lasers. You also have a "break laser", kind of like a giant vulcan cannon, which has an energy reserve that must be recharged via catching power-ups and blowing up larger enemies. It's super powerful and makes you nearly invincible while firing, but also drains out very quickly. Bosses have their own variant of the "break laser", and if you can line up your laser with theirs at a direct angle, you can have a Schwartz Battle where if you outlast them you get to do massive damage to them as they sit helpless.
Unfortunately this is another of those super-limited print runs - only 15,000 - so the game regularly fetches over $100 used, when it even shows up for sale. There's always MAME, but unique to the Dreamcast version are a "remix mode" that reshuffles levels, enemy placement and music, plus unlockable videos of some G. Rev programmer owning each of the levels. But there's a nice .CDI floating around that packages this and Ikaruga together on one disc, if you don't mind getting Piratey with it.
* Gameplay Video