The shooter games of yesteryear, no I’m not talking about Doom or Blake Stone (never wanted to see a Blake Stone reference again did you?). The games I’m talking about are ones like Gradius, Galaga, or more specifically the 194X series. But wait, those games don’t exist anymore. Or one would think. Castle Shikigami 2, also known as the sequel to Mobile Light Force 2(remember that game you passed over for at the bargain bin with three chicks on the cover?, that one, but its a decent game too, trust me), is a great…little shooter. It expands over its ancient roots and provides a satisfying link to your childlike experience with video games and expands fairly well into the next gen console.
As mentioned previously, Castle Shikigami 2 is a vertical shooter, so one would expect these graphics to be somewhat near a NES & a PS1 at best. Well, it certainly fits about the last days of PS1 graphics; but these are really pretty. Most impressive is the moving backgrounds as you play. Full of color, full of well rendered locales, are these backgrounds, trying to give the illusion that this is a 3d shooter when it isn’t. It still is a 2d shooter with lots of fancy camera tricks.
The bosses are nicely detailed and the anime style art is a pleasure to play with. However, my main issue with the graphics is the enemies’ shots. The little green or red(or other colors) shots that come from the enemies can be at times indistinguishable from all that is going on and extremely difficult to dodge because you don’t realize it until the last second. Or maybe I’m too slow in my old gamer age. However, despite that the graphics are well done for an old style shooter and a pleasure to fly around in.
Any game that is imported and the language has to be dubbed appropriately, I kinda wait in baited breath and worry that it will become a Godzilla movie. This means lots of slow moving dialog that doesn’t quite fit what is going on. Unfortunately that is exactly what is going on here. The dialog is unexpressive & read in a form that would drive a man on Mountain Dew to sleep. The style it is read is in phrases and mere words rather than comprehensive sentences. Honestly, sometimes, the words they say do not match exactly the subtitles on the bottom of the screen. It’s comical at best.
However, the background music does save this score. It’s peppy and upbeat, and true to any good shooter its tempo increases where appropriate and draws you into the game. It definitely has a Japanese pop feel, but it does its job and keeps the action from ever feeling slow.
The story is basically nonexistent, but here is the best I can figure. Essentially you are one of seven characters trying to reclaim Tokyo back from evil rulers. In order to do this, you fly through various stages and defeat bosses. That’s it. Hey, it is a shooter, you were expecting depth? Anyhow, this is accomplished by your character and his or her attack forms. This equates to a normal shot, a Mobile Light Force attack (2 types for each character, selectable at beginning of game), & a special attack.
The Mobile Light force or Shikigami attack is usually an attack that can do various things ranging from absorbing shots and redirecting them towards the enemy to abnormal attacks that cause heavy damage. This shot is unique in the sense that you frequently use them to thwart the enemy. In addition, some bosses require you use that type of attack, in order to create damage. The other attack is your special attack or bomb attack. There are a finite amount of bombs you have, and you can only gain more every 250 million points or when you die. These attacks tend to be more pronounced, but usually only amount to blowing everything up or creating a force field around you to block enemy fire.
The difficulty level on this game is pretty substantial, depending on whether or not you have actively played shooters (vertical or horizontal) in your lifetime. If you have, then while this game is still a challenge, you can apply many of the techniques you use in other similar shooters. If not, then you will have a serious time getting off the first couple of levels. But once you do; expect to spend a lot of time playing through the levels until you get excellent with each stage (since there are only a fixed number of continues), and hopefully completing the adventure. My main gripe with the difficulty is that they want to include an endless string of enemies sometimes and the screen gets littered. This means that your shots and their shots sometimes look the same and worse, the background is non existent, you only see enemies.
To begin with, you have seven different characters to try and beat the game with. They each have different attacks and looks, so there is some speculation of which ones are easier or harder to complete the game. Honestly, it is about the same. In addition to that; there is a Boss Attack mode which is neat in that it goes over the bosses you have beaten to date and lets you just go through those one by one with any selected character.
Also, there is a Gallery mode which inserts new pictures based on what you beat and with what character. The neatest thing, but perhaps the most useless; is the ability in the options to change to Horizontal mode. The idea, is that you are supposed to tilt your tv on it’s side to play the game. But if your TV can’t support it, then it might damage your television. Honestly; the only way I can think of this working is for this to be used on an table-top arcade screen setup (maybe like an old Galaga screen hooked up to a PS2), or perhaps a very lightweight widescreen TV, that can be flipped around. But again, I’m guessing at best.
A true shooter (horizontal or vertical) in this day and age is a pleasure. It is even more of a pleasure when it is done right. This is true on both counts. Castle Shikigami 2 provides constant firepower and thrills while including beautiful landscapes and many characters to choose from. It does have a tendency to be hard when the screen becomes littered with enemies and their shots tend to camouflage yours. However, this can be overcome with frequent gameplay and introduce a wonderful experience. Don’t let the terrible voice acting fool you, it’s a polished game. Oh, and if you made it to the end of this review, I congratulate you, and your reward is that this game is only ten bucks. You read it right, ten bucks MSRP. So get out of here pilgrim, and go donate something only semi vital (like blood or semen), and then run off to your local game store. You’ll enjoy yourself I’m sure.