by sunburstbasser

DoDonPachi is a vertical shmup which may have a story involving blowing stuff up. If you read Japanese and beat it twice, you do get some text.

Cave was formed by some of Toaplan's programmers after that firm dissolved. The last game Toaplan created was Batsugun. Batsugun featured a reduced player hitbox and increased bullet counts over previous shooters, effectively making it proto-danmaku. Cave tried to one-up Batsugun with DonPachi, though in my opinion Batsugun is the better game. After playing Battle Garegga, Cave programmer Tsuneki Ikeda got the inspiration to take the gameplay of DonPachi and give it a big dose of style like Garegga. Thus, in 1997, DoDonPachi was born.

The influence DoDonPachi has had on shmups is staggering, effectively doing for the manic shmup what Gradius and R-Type did for the horizontal shmup. No previous shooter had a bullet count as high, and the creation of intricate webs of bullets has become one of the primary elements of shmups. Enemy chaining is now also a standard scoring method, seen in games as diverse as Battle Bakraid, Ikaruga and Space Invaders Extreme 2. Most important, the reduction of the player hitbox to just a few pixels allows bullet counts to skyrocket.

Controlling DoDonPachi is easy. Tapping A fires the standard Shot. Holding A fires the laser, a powerful waterfall of destruction that still looks cool more than a decade later. The B Button uses a bomb. If pressed alone, it clears the screen of bullets in the usual style. If dropped while A is held it stretches the laser out wider than the player sprite and options, nullifies bullets, and is so powerful it actually pushes your fighter backwards. If tapping A for standard shots gets on your nerve, a setting in the Test menu allows button C to act as a full-auto shot with faster firing rate than tapping allows. Collecting a P icon powers up both the Shot and Laser, collecting a B adds a bomb with the maximum increasing per player death.

When selecting a ship, you will have the choice for one focused on Shot or Laser. Shot types have more bullets on screen at once, but the laser doesn't penetrate enemies, isn't as strong, and the ship slows down. In Laser mode, the Laser is wider, penetrates enemies, and does more damage but the Shot is much weaker. In both modes using Laser activates an aura around your ship which does the same damage as the beam and allows you to hit enemies behind or beside you to a short distance. The game can be played with any combination, but some ships work much better with one than the other.


Type A has concentrated forward power. All of the bullets in Shot go forward in a narrow line. While Shot mode makes them stronger, Type A is best used for Laser mode. It retains it's speed in Laser mode, and the weaker Shot can be used to pick off tanks and popcorn enemies.


Type B has the gimmick of rotating options. Move to the left, and the left option will rotate to fire left. Move right, the right option does the same. The result is a fighter that is useful in either Shot or Laser, depending on how you play the game. However, the actual scoring potential is actually lowest using Type B. The side options don't do much damage using the Laser type, and the laser slows the vehicle down bad in Shot type. Still, I usually play with this one.


Type C has the wide shot pattern. Much like Type A seems designed to favor the Laser mode, Type C seems designed for Shot mode. At full power the spread is wide enough and strong enough to hit any part of the screen with very little movement. The tradeoff is that when using laser in Shot mode, Type C slows to a crawl.

Unlike games where one choice is clearly best, Cave designed DoDonPachi so that all combinations can be used and beat the game with enough skill. If you don't know where to start, try Type A with Laser and Type C with Shot.

The scoring system is a little complex to describe, but very easy to use. When any enemy is destroyed, a bar next to the score indicator in the top left with fill up and quickly drain in about one second. Destroy another enemy before it empties, and you will create a chain. The chain is a multiplier and each enemy killed while the chain is active will yield a larger score than the previous one. In addition, the chain will slowly rise by concentrating Laser fire on a larger enemy like a midboss. If the bar empties, the chain is over. At bosses, the chain goes up like Lasering a midboss, but it counts down if you stop hitting the boss rather than reverting to zero. Many of the levels can be chained right from beginning to end, which the best players can do to build a chain in excess of 1,000.

On top of the chaining, each stage has 16 bees. Some bees fall out of destroyed enemies, the rest will flicker when your Shot passes close. Hit them with the front of the Laser to activate them. As long as you don't miss any, each bee has a higher point value up to number 15 at 80,000. The 16th will be worth 100,00 on the first stage, but collect all the bees in subsequent stages and the last one will award more points.

DoDonPachi uses a military theme for the graphics, with lots of tanks, helicopters, and more unusual devices like robo bees and massive flying contraptions. The pixel art here is very nice, and a huge step up from DonPachi. After playing through Guwange and Progear, I don't think DoDonPachi quite reaches those levels of artistic mastery. Besides the bullet counts, the screenshots may not look at all exciting. They look good and do the job, Cave just got better over time.

The sonic portion of DoDonPachi is as bombastic as the gameplay. Cave traded in the synth orchestral sounds of DonPachi for straight-up hard rock, appropriate for a shmup. Lots of screaming guitar leads backed up by rumbling bass and aggressive drumming. Explosions are deep and crunchy except for your own death, and big enemies actually drown out the music when they die. Sound effects, like the missiles fired by the first boss, sound very threatening. The weapons all sound like they are powerful, really. Your Laser has a floaty, electric sound to match the graphic.

DoDonPachi begins with a launch sequence, as your selected fighter is dropped off mid-flight by a large carrier craft. With little time to hesitate, the cliffs in front of you are swarming with tanks ready to be destroyed. Check out the ruins in the background, under the cliffs. This is one of the few instances of multi-plane backgrounds in DoDonPachi. Right ahead is a large red enemy that fires a cloud of bullets quite quickly at your current position. Get used to seeing globs of little bullets like that. Continue on past more cliffs and destroy dozens of tanks. When the cliffs end, hold down the A button to keep the Laser going. Time it right and you'll keep your chain through the midboss. This stealth bomber fires tons of bullets literally all around. None of them are aimed, and the patterns seem to be chosen at random from a pre- determined set. Not hard, good practice for what awaits. The green enemies that appear right after should be killed near the bottom of the screen to release lots of little stars or one big one for more points. One last cliff remains behind them, before the first boss.

I'd like to point out that the DoDonPachi boss music is some of the best battle music in any video game.

This first boss shouldn't pose much threat. As he moves into position, cursors appear over his weak spots. In this case, it is the main body and the two turrets. Unlike Battle Garegga, DoDonPachi bosses tend to have just a couple large weak spots instead of dozens of small ones. The bullet patterns fired by this boss are aimed. My suggestion is to use small movements to get between bullets rather than going around arcs. DoDonPachi allows you to pull this off fairly smoothly. Concentrate fire on the turrets until they explode (they explode at the same time), then keep the Laser going and avoid bullets. When the announcer says "Just a couple more shots," you can use a bomb while holding A to more than double the combo counter. I'd actually recommend saving bombs, as you get huge bonuses if you collect a bomb and your counter says MAXIMUM, much bigger than you'll get from destroying the boss. I'm not too good at chaining in DoDonPachi and I can usually get out of Stage 1 with a score in excess of 2 million. You'll need high scores to get those extends for later stages.

Stage 2 opens over a red desert, dotted with craters. It looks like Mars, but this is another portion of war-torn Earth. Immediately on the left is a bee in a crater. Tanks roll in from both sides. On the right hand side is a very large crater. Shoot over it to reveal stars. Each star also counts towards your chain. You will quickly have a chain in excess of 60 if done right. To the left of the star crater is a large machine that generates equally large vehicles. These can throw out enough bullets that the careless player will be killed. After another of these generators, you'll come upon multiple large gun turrets on a parking lot. Destroy all of them, then hover over the lower right device while firing the Laser. The top will pull back and reveal flowers, which award points, before exploding. Right after this parking lot is a very large machine on the ground. Concentrate on the part that shoots at you. When it is destroyed, all bullets on screen are cancelled and the top of the structure is blown off. Hover over the middle while firing the Laser to activate more flowers. This also allows you to get early hits on the huge tank midboss. Don't sit right in front of him as his spreads will cross the center of the screen. The midboss itself rarely kills me, but the turrets on the sides of the screen do a good job. Once this guy is dead the final stretch is fought across what looks like a ruined city. The turrets on the buildings, the buildings themselves, the helicopters, and the tanks all rolling out make it possible to get a chain of over 130 just in this stretch, and chaining the whole stage can lead to chains in excess of 400.

The boss is a huge tank that rolls in from the side and plays reverse Space Invaders. It can only move left and right. On each side of the turret are a handful of targets, including missile launchers and bullet turrets. Take out one side completely, then work on the other. The primary attacks this boss uses are thin blue bullets and a charge attack. The thin bullets blanket the screen but most are slow, use small movements and edge around them. You can tell the charge is coming when you see pink mist in front of the main turret's barrel. The barrel will fire a mass of pink bullets at you, and blue bullets in a pre-set pattern will launch from the back of the turret. In my playing it seems that if all the side targets are destroyed the blue bullets are greater in quantity. Move quickly once the attack is launched to get away from the pink bullets and between blue streams as best as possible.

Cave didn't really put a huge battleship fight in DoDonPachi, but Stage 3 comes close. This one is set high in the clouds, no ground enemies here. While Stage 2 started getting hard, I notice a pretty big jump in difficulty right in the beginning of Stage 3. The stage can effectively broken in two. In the first part, the main targets are large purple ships with many turrets. Use the Laser, destroy the turrets and concentrate fire on the front to destroy them. Each one will drop a bee if destroyed. Beware the popcorn enemies coming from the sides, even little enemies gang up to create bullet spreads that are dangerous. The Stage 3 midboss is an absolute bastard. He flies in and fires two little puff balls. They sit there for a moment and burst at high speed all over the screen. Each particle is fatal. The pattern looks to be randomly generated, meaning you can't sit in a guaranteed safe spot and are required to dodge. Try staying vertical with one, and moving to the least dense angle you can as soon as they burst. The second portion of the stage starts with a whole fleet of those flying green turrets from Stage 1. The main portion is made up of small green ships that materialize in midair and larger yellow ships. Let the yellow ships live for a little while and destroy them when the bullets from the green guys get thick, as the destruction of these yellow ships cancels bullets. The final section is the huge battleship, except it isn't much of a fight. About halfway across, you'll see a turret on each side of the middle portion. Completely destroy each one, then blast the middle portion. If done correctly, you'll trigger the extend in the wreckage.

The boss of Stage 3 looks a little Compile-esque to me. A huge pod, mounted with tons of turrets. The turrets on the extreme left and right will drop bees when destroyed. Take out the rotating side turrets quickly as well, they can create very thick bullet clouds if both are active. Once all the turrets are taken out, the four behind the main weak point will be vulnerable. Just slightly move to the sides with the laser to hit them, or let the boss move and stay still if no bullets are coming your way. The blue bullet spreads fired at the end here aren't too hard to dodge. I have fit between these blue bullets, but the error room is tiny so go for the gaps between spreads.

Stage 4 looks to be the urban zone. You can murder civilians in their cars on the highway at the beginning to start a chain. If video games make people do crazy things, at least they'll be doing it in the name of high scores. Most of Stage 4 is set amidst the rubble of a ruined city, with tanks crawling out from behind smashed buildings and under roads. A few large enemies appear, but no real midboss. A chain can be carried all the way from the beginning to the end of the level, with a lot of practice. One thing I notice starting in this stage is that some enemies will fire a nearly continuous stream of bullets vertically. It may be possible to fit between bullets but I got killed trying to do it. These vertical streams effectively cut off a portion of the screen, and if caught in front of an enemy firing two of these kill it quickly or your dodging space will be limited to nearly vertical movement. Across another highway filled with tanks instead of cars is what appears to be a small military complex. Use Laser on the right side to destroy the turrets or they will blanket the screen with blue bullets very fast.

The Stage 4 boss has no extra pieces and is one giant weak spot. His first attack consists of multiple bullet patterns overlapping. The thin blue lasers cut off the sides. The blue and pink bullets have a pre-determined shape but are aimed, and the way they cross can cut off movement. Don't get too low, move up when the chance arises. When the boss stops firing, his signature attack is coming up. The two big boxes are not intakes, they are lasers. Each one gets a short charge animation and fires a white laser. The laser moves far faster than you do, if you are in front of the barrel you will die. Follow his movements, try to stay on the outside. When destroyed, the boss will begin firing rings of bullets and aimed arcs. Interestingly, by glitch or design if the lasers are destroyed at a certain point in the movement pattern the boss will freeze and can be destroyed or nearly so. I've never managed to pull this off, but watching super plays it seems that if the lasers are destroyed after the boss sweeps the bottom of the screen and is moving from the right to the left, the effect is triggered. Getting to this point isn't easy, but it does make the rest of the fight much easier.

Stage 5 looks like an industrial complex, full of steel grate floors and cold machinery. Make the machinery warm by blowing stuff up. By this point in the game, enemies are so numerous that by simply holding A and dodging, I got a chain of 120 on a level I honestly haven't played in about 18 months. Small enemies still fire aimed bullets, by this point usually one aimed at you and one aimed off to the side. Admittedly, the bullet count is so high by this point that it isn't always easy to tell where a bullet originated and I might have some patterns wrong. Like Stage 4, smaller enemies will roll out from underneath the structures in the background. In this case, the lines seem nearly endless. I was still hitting enemies with my aura behind me as the screen scrolled them away.

The Stage 5 boss uses aimed spreads not unlike the Stage 4 boss. I didn't notice as much eye candy in the patterns here, they tended to be more directed and deadlier. Take notice of the missiles underneath the boss. Once the patterns stop it starts firing those off. They explode into huge fireballs. I find myself dying more easily in the middle, try staying to one side so you can move between the big fireballs and the small ones. While the fireballs are the more unique part, I find the bullet spreads harder to dodge.

I'm not really sure what Stage 6 is supposed to be, if anything. It looks like Stage 5, with lots of industrial designs, but then has roads and bees that teleport in. The colors are brighter than Stage 5. I believe I saw enemies from every previous stage in Stage 6, including the Stage 3 midboss. Two of them in fact, at the same time. And they aren't midbosses here; you still need to fight off smaller enemies underneath at the same time. from Stage 3 and the little turrets popping out of holes in the ground from Stage 4. The bees fling a wide bullet spread all over the screen and take a little punishment before exploding. Ground enemies really let the lead fly in this stage. Red turrets early on spray bullets all over, kill one and move to get the other before it's too late. The enemy count is higher than I can even hope to keep track of, and even staying alive for a few seconds I was getting chains of 80-100. A good player can get over 900 in this level. In MAME, this stage actually seems to slow down due to the number of bullets on screen at once. In classic shmups I don't often like slowdown, but in DoDonPachi it actually helps dodging bullets. And when the sprite count nears or exceeds 1,000 at once, a little slowdown is OK.

The boss rotates in with a neat light show. No gimmick lasers or bombs this time, all bullets. To go along with the light show, the boss dances all over the screen. The side closest to the middle fires sprays of pink bullets while aimed blue arcs emanate from the center. Not only is bullet count high, but the variety of positions they are generated from makes tracking bullet paths even more difficult. When the boss gets tired of that it switches to twin shuriken spirals, and eventually to very fast laser streams. Some very good players beat this boss simply by bombing until they win. The very best players can get by without so much bombing, I just don't see how.

Once that boss falls, you receive a congratulations from your general. If you get here dying less then two times and either score 50 million points, collect all the bees in at least 4 stages, or have a chain over a certain number, the second loop is unlocked. The general does explain what is happening, in the only real bit of story in the game. Apparently, that army you just destroyed was the defense force, not an invading alien fleet. Impressed, the general sends his strongest force after you. In gameplay, this is the second loop.

The second loop's general rule is to take the first loop, and double the bullet count at any given moment. I've personally never even seen this loop, and my only exposure is through super plays.

Beat the second loop on that same single credit, and you'll get to meet the true last boss, Hibachi. Hibachi is a giant bee because Cave likes bees. The first form is a giant mecha bee, the second is about the size of the bees in Stage 6 but on fire. The purpose of Hibachi is to fill the screen with projectiles. He is immune to your bombs, so if you manage to get here you'll need actual skill to beat him.

Cave themselves seem quite fond of this game. In fact, for the most recent incarnation of the series DoDonPachi Dai Fukkatsu the first five stage bosses become midbosses. All with heavily increased firepower, of course.

Even at it's most chaotic, DoDonPachi manages to be fun. The chaining system is flexible enough that you can pick your way through a level and not be forced onto a predetermined path. The bullet counts are high, but at no point is the situation unwinnable. Even when I lose a life, I can see open spots that I should have been in. Later levels have lots of fast aimed bullets but unlike Shienryu I never feel like I'm struggling just to play the game. Having lots of firepower helps. Among manic shmups, DoDonPachi is the one I recommend people start with. I honestly think this game is good enough that even non-shmuppers will be entertained. The only reason I won't give it a perfect score is because I think Cave got even better not long after DoDonPachi.

Go play it.


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