Intro to Shmuptember
For the past year on my Twitch channel, I've been playing games with different themes/genres every month. For the month of September, I'm focusing on a genre that I've always loved to dabble in but never dove deep into; shoot 'em ups (aka shmups). Throughout this month I'll be streaming two shmups per week and gathering my thoughts here in a weekly journal update.
In this week's roundup, I actually managed to beat both games over the course of two streams. Thus, I felt confident providing reviews of each. For my starting games, I went with two scrolling spaceship-based shooters; probably the most iconic type of shmup.
Geek to Geek Media was provided with review copies of both games.
Crimzon Clover World Ignition (PC)
Crimzon Clover is an indie bullet-hell shooter that was released in Japan for Windows and arcades nearly a decade ago. This review covers the 2014 worldwide “World Ignition” release for PC. There is also a 2020 “World Explosion” version for Switch which includes an additional game mode.
For those not familiar, “bullet-hell” is a subgenre of scrolling shooters in which enemy projectiles rain down in intricate patterns that the player must observe carefully in order to keep their character within the narrow safe routes. In Crimzon Clover, players fly one of three types of spacecraft through 5 vertically scrolling levels, each culminating in a massive boss battle. In addition to basic blaster fire, each ship has a homing attack that can target multiple enemies at once. Making effective use of these weapons charges up the ship's “Boost Mode” attack which releases a massive barrage of bullets, effectively turning the tables on the enemy.
This game's maximum resolution of 1280×768 may seem pretty low by modern standards but it looks gorgeous in motion, especially if you are playing on a screen than be swiveled into portrait mode. In screenshots, the sprays of colorful projectiles may look like chaos, but during gameplay, it all twists and swirls together like a mesmerizing kaleidoscope. This effect is complemented nicely by a bumping EDM soundtrack.
Mechanically, Crimzon Clover is quite simple to grasp but challenging to master. With how much is happening on-screen at any given time, simple mechanics are definitely a good thing. Also, as someone with only middling shmup skills, I appreciated that the game offered a novice difficulty level and options to use infinite continues. This allowed even a newbie like me to make it through the whole game.
The only negative aspects of Crimzon Clover that I can highlight are quite minimal. On PC, some features of the game feel quite dated. One such issue was that the game only seems to support direct input controllers (i.e. not Xbox controllers). Another inconvenience was that adjusting the game's resolution and aspect ratio requires quitting back to the main menu.
With only 5 levels, Crimzon Clover is a very short game. In under three hours, I played through the game's campaign twice (once in each of the game's modes). If you're a high score attack-oriented player, you'll get plenty of replay value out of it, but if you just want to see what the game has on offer, you can do so a single evening. However, at an asking price on Steam of only $10 (US), I still feel like the game represents a reasonable value. The Switch version at $20 offers an additional Arranged Mode to the campaign, but I didn't have an opportunity to play Crimzon Clover on Switch to see what this adds. (I'll provide an update if I get a chance to try the game on Switch.)
If you can pardon the pun, I had a blast playing through Crimzon Clover. With its simple mechanics and newbie-friendly difficulty modes, this game is a good starting point for new bullet-hell players while still satisfying genre veterans.
If you'd like to purchase Crimzon Clover while also supporting Capsulejay, you can use this Humble Bundle partner link!
Link to stream video: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1147044610
Geek to Geek Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Colorful Explosions
Wings of Bluestar (PC)
Wings of Bluestar is an indie horizontal scrolling shmup for Windows. The majority of the game's content was created by a solo developer over the span of four years. The game features two playable characters with unique abilities. Aya's spacecraft emphasizes defense with a shield that can also be used as a battering ram. Zarak's ship sports a charge beam that destroys both enemies and oncoming bullets, which can get him out of sticky situations. Unique by shmup standards, this game features a story mode that includes visual novel scenes in between the action stages. The player character you choose and dialog options you select can change the outcome of the story.
This game has a lot of cool ideas. Genre mash-ups are all the rage these days but shmup and visual novel is not a combination you see very often. While the story of Wings of Bluestar is fairly standard sci-fi anime fare, having it peppered in throughout the action provides extra replay value for players that aren't as interested in chasing high scores. Similarly, I felt that the mechanics of the two different player characters significantly changed my playstyle; which is more than I can say for a lot of other shmups where character/ship selection options seemingly only offer a change of stats.
In terms of difficulty, I initially found Wings of Bluestar to be quite tough, even on the easy setting. The game also poses a challenge with how tight the bullet barrages can be and the fact that enemies can come at you from all sides. However, the game offers some relief from this by allowing you to spend points to increase your pool of lives. The story mode also lets you save and restart between missions (a feature many shmups lack). Once I figured these things out, I found the game to be much more forgiving.
From an aesthetic standpoint, Wings of Bluestar has a decidedly budget look but it has a visual cohesiveness that I found quite appealing. The art direction reminded me of classic games and anime such as Phantasy Star and Macross. Every asset in the game was hand-drawn by the developer, with each drawn piece layered on top of each other to create the enemies and stages. The end result looks kind of stiff but feels like sketches from an anime fan's sketchbook escaping from the page. The gameplay is accompanied by some very catchy tunes by Big Impact Sound; I definitely wouldn't mind incorporating tracks from this game into a mix on my next jog.
This game's level of ambition and the fact that it was mostly made by one person comes with some drawbacks. Throughout my playthrough, I encountered several glitches and bugs. Most were only minor inconveniences such as text being cut off or dialog boxes advancing faster than I could be read. However, I also experienced a glitch that locked the game and required a reset. I lost some campaign progress as a result. That being said, the developer has stated that they are still actively updating the game, so these issues may be addressed in a future patch.
The other issues I ran into were more quality-of-life related. It took me a while to figure out how to increase my number of lives and how the controls worked for each character due to unclear tutorial and menu language. In the story mode, if I died during an action sequence, I couldn't directly retry it; I had to click through the visual novel scene that preceded it first. While you can fast forward the visual novel scenes, I would have appreciated a way of skipping them entirely after reading through them the first time. On a similar note regarding the visual novel parts, it would be nice if the game supported multiple save files. That would make it much easier to explore the different routes of the story.
Considering that Wings of Bluestar is the product of a single person's passion project, I found it quite impressive. However, in its current state, it definitely has some rough edges that a player would need to work through to fully enjoy it. Overall, I found it to be a worthwhile experience despite its shortcomings. I would encourage other fans of shmups and visual novels to give it a look, especially since there is a free demo available on Steam.
Link to highlight video: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1147065797
Geek to Geek Rating: 3 out of 5 Amesiac Anime Protagonists
Shmuptember Week 1 Closing Thoughts
This week I found that even the most traditional-looking shmups can offer a lot of variety. For week 2 of Shmuptember, we'll be moving on from spaceships to a different type of shmup protagonist, witches! Stay tuned for magical and explosive action!
Acknowledgement: Most of the monthly themes for my Twitch channel come from the Community Game-Along calendar.