On The Level

Einhänder

The Sound Of One Hand Zapping

All it takes to complete Einhänder’s first level is a blissful release of conscious thought.

By Anthony John Agnello • June 18, 2013

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?” asks Lisa Simpson in a vintage episode of The Simpsons. “Piece of cake,” replies Bart, slapping his fingers into his right palm. “No, Bart, it’s a 3000-year-old riddle with no answer! It’s supposed to clear your mind of conscious thought!” says Lisa, losing her cool. Bart makes with the finger slapping again.

The Simpson kids’ dissection of the old koan springs to mind while playing Squaresoft’s long lost space shooter, Einhänder. As those down with the Deutsch will note, einhänder literally means “one-hander.” It’s the name of your blue ship. Shaped like an open hand, your little craft is the most devious weapon in a future where the now-colonized moon is at war with Earth. When the Einhänder guns down opposing ships, it can literally snatch away their weapons as they fall out of the sky. It’s the sound of one hand kicking ass.

As an old school shooter in the style of R-Type, playing Einhänder requires the same sort of mental clarity as Zen Buddhist meditation. Its first level in particular is built to draw you into a meditative state. Stage one is an all-out fight against the forces of Earth, but it’s also a furious escape from one of Earth’s capital cities. Like a koan, it evokes opposing impulses in your mind, and success requires you to enter a trance.

Einhänder

The opening seconds of the stage simmer. The Einhänder rushes through enormous gray and green skyscrapers while you endure an operatic of blaring sirens and authorities yelling in German. Flying police cars chase you into the city, trying to prevent your escape after a nighttime raid. Yet even these first few moments provide a certain tranquility. You can control your ship’s position to a degree, moving slightly in cardinal directions, but you can’t alter your constant path forward through the city itself. There are only so many things in your life you can control. A couple of minutes in, after you plummet straight down to almost street level, the stage pauses in front of a billboard of a nude woman. It reads, “Leben?” (“Life?”) before the woman decays into a skeleton and the word changes to, “Fallen?” Death is inevitable, so all you can do is live well.

The slow burn transforms into a trial by fire. The heat from the fuzz amps up as you try to hide out in the city’s lower levels, blasting through billboards as you go. Even your perspective changes, as you go deeper into the meditation of the level. The camera moves, shooting the action from slightly behind your ship rather than directly from the side, giving you a better look at what’s ahead.

In actual meditation, the key is to bring yourself to a place where thoughts can’t penetrate your conscious mind. It’s not that you stop thinking. That’s impossible. Instead, you learn to let thoughts slide away without allowing them to take over. Einhänder captures the essence of that practice in how you fight. The ship has a basic firing mode, shooting out little bursts of yellow light from the front end, but the only way to take out the heavier ships that bear down on you is by taking their gear. Cannons, rocket launchers, even an “Ark Gun” that shoots lightning—these can all be wrenched away from your foes.

They’re impermanent, though. The ammunition in your newly acquired toys always dries up almost immediately, so you move from one to the next, never settling into a single mode of resistance. One second you have a spread shot that fires slowly in five directions, the next a rapid-fire “Vulcan” gun that fires in a straight line. Become reliant on one mode of attack means the end of your ship, so you have to let every new stratagem flow away as soon as it arrives. Meanwhile, the authorities keep on encroaching in greater numbers, so you have to be even more nimble dodging them and their unusually slow bullets.

Einhänder

When you finally blast your way out of the city, flying over long stretches of highway and passing through a red tunnel, the small cop cars pull away. Those little distractions give up the chase, and you escape into the wasteland where there’s only one obstacle standing in the way. The stage’s boss at first looks like a sort of mechanical dinosaur, with an elongated neck and a claw for a head, but opening fire on the screeching hulk severs that appendage pretty quickly. What’s left, the bulk of the boss, looks like a camouflage-colored, bipedal brain. It’s a blunt but effective metaphor: All that stands between you and the freedom of the desert beyond is your mind. If you stay nimble, maintain steady fire, and keep your mind flowing, the fight’s over in seconds. The Einhänder flies out into a dark wasteland, surrounded by silence.

Einhänder doesn’t erupt into some nirvanic paradise after that first level. This opener is only the beginning of a taxing quest with a killer soundtrack and some devious, ingenious fights waiting on the other side. None of the levels that follow are as arresting as that first one, but they don’t need to be. That level is there to put you in the state that’s required of you to actually get past the challenges beyond. Revelation isn’t the point. Like Lisa said, it’s just the riddle meant to clear your mind as you pilot your one hand through the rest of the game.

(Screenshots courtesy of Emuparadise.)

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  • aklab

    Hey fellow gameologicalers! The Gameological Society Steam group is now voting on proposals for the first ever GS-made game! Go to http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JV6YZKQ to vote for your favorite. While you’re at it, join the Steam group and join in the fun!

    • Ryan Smith

      Good god, that was an amazing list of game ideas. As someone who took Russian in college and always had a thing for Zangief, some were in my wheelhouse. Can I choose all of them? 

      • PaganPoet

        I’m not sure if this is what you meant or not, but I find it pretty funny that Zangief could very well be the poster boy for bears. This coupled with the fact that he hates “pretty women” according to SF2 is enough to raise an eyebrow (or more.)

        If that’s NOT what you meant, then allow me to apologize for planting the idea in your mind.

        • djsubversive

          I know you mean the non-claws-and-fangs-and-salmon-eating bears, but those bears are awesome.

    • Kyle O’Reilly

      I’m gonna be soapboxing for the house spirt/village game because it sounds like a beautiful mixture of Sim City, Animal Crossing and Chibi Robo.

      Though my heart was also being pulled towards the Olga game and the Hazmat one.  Why are their so many great ideas.  Let’s just Kickstart them all!!!!

      • aklab

        Kickstarter: Gameological: All the Games

        • HobbesMkii

          We need $400,000 to hire some talented developers, and $1,000,000 for a throne room for Soupy.

  • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

    I can’t play these kinds of games anymore. I liked them well enough when I was a kid but I just suck at them now that I’m older, have crappier reflexes, and less time to practice. Too bad, I think I would have liked this game back in the day.

    Also, how come GS updates in the wee hours Eastern Time?

    • George_Liquor

      Einhänder’s a merciless bitch-goddess of a game even if you still sport the reflexes of a hyperactive 6-year-old. 

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      So you have something to read when you wake up in the morning.

  • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

    It’s also worth mentioning that Einhänder features multiple pathways through some levels.  The descent into the ruins of the old metropolis, for example, are conditional on beating that blue police mecha in a certain amount of time, I believe.  Otherwise, it just transitions you right onto the highway, bypassing that underground bunch of extra points and weapon options.

  • Nudeviking

    Why are there signs for “Shoes” and “Dragon Dream” in Korean?

    • PaganPoet

      Targeted marketing to Korean women ages 5-35? Although why they wouldn’t just get Super Junior to endorse their product is  mystery…

      • Nudeviking

        These days its all about EXO baby!

  • PaganPoet

    What was with Square’s fascination with German in the PS1 era anyway? Between this, Ergheiz, the characters of Xenogears and the SaGa Frontier 2 OST, I swear I was eerily prepared for German diction my first year of music school.

    • George_Liquor

      It goes back at least to the 16-bit era and Herzog Zwei

      • Marozeph

        And Metal Gear Rising continues the proud tradition by giving us the Doctor (creatively nicknamed “Doktor”) who throws in the occasional german phrase/curseword for no real reason.

      • blue_lander

         Don’t forget the original Herzog on the MSX. Actually go ahead and forget it, it wasn’t very good.

    • neodocT

      Japanese animes also have a weird fascination with German culture. Now, I’m not saying it’s because of the association with the nazis in WWII, but I’m not not saying that either. 

  • Kyle O’Reilly

    Oh my god, Einhander.  This takes me back to the days when my loyalty to Squaresoft was so great that I bought this game and the wonderfully weird Ehrgeiz based solely on the fact that they were published by Square.  I never did finish this game as my friend had a similar-style game for his playstation that just jibed with my tiny middle school brain, called Omega Boost.  It was from the dudes who made Gran Turismo, and let me tell you, they know how to make shiny things.

    • Kid Gruesome

      I also was a mindless drone when it came to Squaresoft. Einhander, Ehrgeiz, both Parasite Eve games, Legend of Mana, Chrono Cross…if it had Square in the name, I needed it. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one.

      • aklab

        Yup, me too. Don’t forget Tobal No. 1 that sold pretty much exclusively on the fact that it came with a Final Fantasy VII preview disc!

        • Kid Gruesome

          Hell yeah, Tobal No. 1 and I even imported the elusive Tobal 2, despite my complete ignorance of Japanese.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Those were heady days when Squaresoft could do no wrong. Squaresoft and Capcom’s allegiance to the PSX were able to pull me away from my beloved Nintendo systems and years of indoctrination by Nintendo Pravda magazine, and both companies were just cranking out greatness at the time (well, some of those later MegaMan X games were pretty janky…).

  • lusciousdrunk

    Freshman year of college for me was spent at shutting down the Student Union two or three nights a week once again trying to get through R-Type. When this came out it hit all the receptors.

    I have never gotten all the way through either of them.

  • maidi646

     http://tinyurl.com/kwgl7yv