Just a few months after releasing Deathsmiles in the US, Cave’s Feudal Japanese themed vertical shooter, Guwange was released yesterday on XBLA. Has Cave crafted another fine port for it’s dedicated fans, or is this decade-old trip to bullet hell a bit musty? The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Guwange is a bit unique in that unlike most shooters, your character is not in a craft or flying, but on foot. Levels scroll not just vertically, but diagonally around obstructions. This is a somewhat interesting element of the gameplay, but ofttimes the game feels extremely claustrophobic because of the narrow paths you have to take through the stages.
This problem is exacerbated when trying to maneuver your shikigami while dodging countless bullets. Enemies can attack from above where normal shots won’t reach, this is where your special power, or Shikigami, comes in. Your Shikigami is a phantom which serves a multitude of uses. Firstly, your Shikigami can attack enemies your normal shots are unable to reach, aslo, enemy bullets that come in contact with the shikigami slow down drastically until they pass the shikigami. Bullets touched by the shikigami also turn to score increasing coins when caught in explosions. The key to Guwange’s scoring system is to maintain a constant stream of coins by utilizing your shikigami’s abilities properly.
Graphically, Guwange is a bit rough around the edges. Sprites appear very blocky, and the colors are significantly muddier than Cave’s other releases. There is a smoothing option, but this only makes the game slightly easier on the eyes. It’s not atrocious by any means, it just doesn’t impress after playing Cave’s other, more graphically impressive games. Enemy designs are also lacking, with the majority of which being your typical foot soldiers, samurai, and demonic creatures. Bosses themselves seldom impress as well, though they still offer a decent challenge and some interesting shot patterns.
The music in Guwange is also pretty uninspired. Traditional Japanese instrumentation juxtaposed with a few, more interesting electronic tracks make up most of the soundtrack. There are a few standout pieces of music, but for the most part there’s nothing that’ll leave you humming a tune after you turn your system off.
Apart from the standard arcade mode, Guwange also features online cooperative play, savable replays, an arranged mode, as well as an exclusive Xbox 360 mode. which in my opinion is the selling point of this package. The Xbox 360 mode allows for dual-stick control, allowing you to control your shikigami independently from your character, an option which is lacking from the original PCB release. This feature makes the game much easier to play, and in my opinion, feels like the way the game was meant to be played.
It’s worth noting that Guwange cannot be played on a standard 4:3 CRT without glaring borders on each side of the screen, which is annoying to say the least. Also, for some strange reason you’re unable to input your initials for your high score, which is a disappointment.
While it may sound like I didn’t enjoy Guwange, that isn’t the case. Shooter fans looking for a fix could do far worse than to spend the $10 on Guwange. It’s a fun and competent shooter, even if it feels a bit rough around the edges. It’s just a shame because if Cave spent a bit more time cleaning up the game and included some of the basic features they chose to omit, Guwange could have been a significantly more enjoyable experience.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Xbox 360 (reviewed) ; Publisher: Atlus ; Developer: Cave ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: November 10, 2010 ; ESRB: T for Teen ;
This review was based on a copy of Guwange purchased by Hey Poor Player.