Progear is a gem of a game that was an early effort by Cave (one of the Gods of shmups). It is a steampunk-looking horizontal shooter with great graphics and typical frenzied-busy shoot-em-up action. Throw in some complicated scoring and you have the groundwork for all future Cave ambrosia.
Don't know exactly why Progear isn't more popular or well-known. See the note on game popularity below*.
You start out by choosing your old-timey airplane and one of three different gunners. This is important since when you shoot, you are either using the normal method or the gunner method. There are two buttons used in the game. The first button shoots your primary weapon. If you press it rapidly, you shoot normally. If you hold it down, you shoot "gunner" style - which depends on which gunner you chose but generally means it is guided.
The other button is for your bombs (relative to your plane and power-ups).
But it's not that simple. When you shoot enemies, they and their artillery turn into prizes - rings and gems. The ring and gem level increase as you collect them (they fly to you so it's easy to vacuum them up). Then, you score beaucoup points based on collecting the high level rings and gems. Rings if you are using the normal shot (pushing the button rapidly) - Gems if you are using the gunner mode (holding the button down). I don't need to say more because there is a GREAT description of the details of this scoring on a cool Cave fan site here. Just click to check it out.
Keep in mind that this is a Cave game. So the screen is FILLED with crap. Your fire, enemy fire, background art, enemy planes. It's absurd. And often it is hard to see the forest for the trees. The art in this game is spectacular, hand-drawn retro/steampunk stuff, but you don't get to enjoy it half the time because it takes all your concentration just to stay alive.
Luckily, the collision detection is somewhat forgiving. There are times I'm sure that I'm gonna be croaked yet I fly thru a ton of enemy fire unscathed. So, keep with it and don't give up the ship (plane).
There are a couple of other nice touches. The bombing system uses up/interferes with the gem/ring system so that it reduces your overall bonus scoring level. You can read more on the previous link I provided.
Also, there is some nice detail in that when you go near the top of the screen, the score scrolls off the top (out of the way) so you have a clear view. Simple, but thoughtful.
All in all, everything here is top-notch. If you don't like Progear, I feel badly for you.
*Note on game popularity/obscurity
*As I mentioned above, I'm surprised that Progear isn't more well known. By comparison, I have a list of 800+ favorite games that I scored based on their popularity given the criteria I have previously described here.
Basically I scored all the games based on how often they have been historically mentioned
on arcade Usenet/Discussion Forums and how often their ROMs are
downloaded on MAME sites. The max a game can score for
popularity on my spreadsheet is 16 (Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Simpsons).
Others can score as low as 0. And everything in between. Progear only
scores a 4. For reference, I only use games that have scored 6 or less
in my arbitrary system as Games of the Day - thus insuring there will be
some dudes not familiar with them. I'm looking for obscure-cool
games. Games that score more than 6 on my scale or probably already known by most players. For comparison, other GOTDs that scored a 4 on the popularity/obscurity scale
are: Tac/Scan, Toki, GunSmoke and Strike Force, to name a few.