Last Canopy, The Wan Hazmer / Easy Only! Games 2008

This entry into Jay Is Games' Casual Gameplay Design Competition #5 got a first place award and also the audience award. The setting is a ruined world where a single tree - the last canopy - still stands, protected by a race of butterfly-winged fairies with the power to absorb energy from their foes. You control one of these fairies on his heroic quest to return a fallen bird to its nest. This mostly nonsensical story serves as an excuse for you to battle an army of hostile vehicles through four bullet-drenched levels, each capped off by an intense boss encounter. Move the fairy around with the mouse or the arrow keys, fire with [Z], and absorb firepower from your enemies with [X]. It's a specific variety of shoot'em-up called a Manic Shooter (or a Bullet-Heck Shooter, with respect to our all-ages audience), which has a lot of modern conventions, but basically means that a whole lot of firepower is being exchanged. It was partially inspired by the Touhou series, which pretty much defines the PC manic shooter niche market with its gorgeously complicated bullet patterns and uncompromising difficulty. Touhou draws inspiration from the Shikigami No Shiro arcade games, among many others; which in turn follow in the footsteps of Competition audience award winner E.S.P.Ra.De. and DoDonPachi - arguably the greatest arcade-style shooters ever made - by Japanese developer Cave, who is virtually unknown except by shooter devotees. Guidelines for this sub-genre include a tiny collision box for the main character, so you can weave in between tightly-spaced bullets; a complicated point system, so those who have mastered the game have reason to go back and maximize their scores; titanic bosses who change their attack pattern multiple times; an unbelievable number of on-screen bullets; and unrelenting, breathless difficulty. A satisfying manic shooter is rare to be made in Flash. It's special in the incorporation of the "upgrade" theme for the competition. Your fairy's main gun is pathetic by itself. Fighting one of the game's bosses with it is like trying to stab a great white shark to death with a carrot. But you also have an eager group of 5 Gradius-ish orbs following you, waiting to be upgraded. When you hold down the "absorb" button, a pink laser fires, locking-on to any enemy it hits, stealing its power and granting it temporarily to one of your orbs. Every enemy in the game can be plundered this way, and each one, remarkably, grants you a different type of firepower. The littlest ships might allow you to fire a single extra bullet, but if you take the time to absorb the energy from a boss, you can really start to fling some fireworks. The orbs gradually lose their strength, fading from green to yellow to red to empty, so you have to constantly refresh them by stealing new powers.
Browser-Playable Free Flash Game (uploaded by Jay Is Games)

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