After Wave Downfall cover art featuring cartoon gunboats

Shmuptember Journal 2022: After Wave Downfall – Review

Simple, yet delightfully strange, After Wave Downfall was an unexpected highlight of Shmuptember 2022.

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Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.

Overview

Something was sorely lacking from my Shmuptember 2022 lineup: 3D rail shooters. Thankfully, After Wave Downfall, an aquatic-themed 3D shmup came out just in time. In this game, you play as the pilot of a tiny gunboat and cruise up rivers and across seas teeming with hostile creatures. The game features a minimalist story about a comet landing in the ocean bringing with it aliens and dark energy that turns ordinary wildlife into vicious beasts.

An after wave boss battle against a giant eel - shmuptember journal 2022: after wave downfall - review
You fight all kinds of giant hostile creatures in this game.

Pros

Based on this game’s humble appearance, I wasn’t expecting much from it. However, once I got through the introductory levels, I was really impressed by the intense bullet hell action. This isn’t something I’ve seen many 3D games pull off. I also got a kick out of some of the boss battles; the first few are simple enough, but later on, they become some surprisingly engaging setpieces. My favorite involved a battle with aliens and a flying zombie whale; it was quite surreal.

Throughout the game, you earn currency to upgrade your gunboat. Since there are multiple boats to choose from and many types of upgrades, you have a lot of freedom to customize your approach to mowing down waves of enemies. In my playthrough, I opted for the flamethrower-based boat because there was something amusing about setting things on fire in an aquatic setting. Spending points on upgrades comes with a risk; the same currency used for upgrades is also how you buy continues. Overspend before a tough level, and your run could end suddenly if you can’t afford more continues.

Visually, this one is going to be a matter of taste, but I liked its quaint Dreamcast-like aesthetic. Similar to Skycadia, this style is effective at giving the game a unique look while still performing well on the Switch’s underpowered hardware.

While I didn’t have an opportunity to try it during my playthrough, After Wave features a co-op option for the campaign. I can easily see blasting through enemies with a partner being a lot of fun.

A tiny boat blasts a sea serpent while dodging projectiles  - shmuptember journal 2022: after wave downfall - review
The lower-poly look keeps things running smoothly on Switch.

Cons

The main negative aspect of After Wave is the way that its campaign is structured around the difficulty settings. The game has 3 difficulty settings and 10 levels. On Easy, you play through levels 1-4, on Normal you play levels 1-7, and on Hard you play through levels 1-10. For whatever reason, the game requires that you play through one difficulty in order to unlock the next. This means you’d have to play through Easy, Medium, and Hard just to see the full campaign. As much as I enjoyed my time with this game, I didn’t feel motivated to play through it a third time, so I set it aside after completing the Normal mode.

The other con is a minor quibble. However, as someone who really enjoys shmup music, this issue stuck out to me; After Wave Downfall has a minimal soundtrack. There are very few pieces of music in this game and you’re going to be hearing them a lot. The music that’s there is inoffensive but lacks the flavor and punch of tracks heard elsewhere in the shmup genre.

Difficulty select screen showing that you must start the game on easy - shmuptember journal 2022: after wave downfall - review
Locking the Normal difficulty at the start of the game was a strange choice.

Verdict

I could sum up my entire experience with After Wave Downfall with the term “pleasant surprise”. I wasn’t expecting much based on the game at the start but quickly got into a happy groove with it. One questionable design decision aside, there’s a lot to like here for shmup fans seeking something a little different.

Geek to Geek Rating: 4 out 5 Flying Zombie Whales

Rating: 4 out of 5.

To see this game in action, check out this highlight from my Twitch stream: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1638008687

Capsulejay

Capsulejay

Capsulejay wears many hats for the Geek to Geek Media Network: - Twitch Streamer - Games Writer - Commissioner of E-Sports - Anime Club Czar

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