The shooter, it is said, is a dying genre. Debatabley the first video game created, Spacewar, was a one on one shooter, so it is also a proud and essential genre. News of its demise has not fallen upon hardcore gamers’ ears lightly. The shooter is an odd genre in some respects. Many critics of current games complain that games are too long, too involved, and too complex. To reach a bigger audience, games should be shorter and simpler. The shooter tends to be both shallow and quickly completed, yet it is not embraced by the general populace. Is this because they are far too hard for the average person or because companies refuse to publish and advertise this type of game? It may entirely be the former, but I doubt it. In a world of 3d graphics magic, publishers often do their best to shun anything 2d, indiscriminate of quality and possible profit.
Castle Shikigami 2, a game that will not save a dying genre, is a somewhat obscure shooter by the company Alfa System. These guys were also responsible for Elemental Gearbolt on the Play Station (which was pretty well received, I haven’t played it but Working Designs published the game so it probably is at least good). Amazingly, Alfa System also did Castle Shikigami 1. To confuse matters, The Castle Shikigami games seem to also be known as Mobile Light Force games. I think the American publisher, XS Games, may be to blame, and if not, we can at least blame them for making absolutely no effort of translating Shikigami 2.
This game has one of the best scripts I’ve seen. Any fan of poorly done Japanese to English owes it to himself to play the game solely for the dialog. The voice actors seem to notice that what they’re saying is nonsensical so they deviate from the words written under their character. This only makes it funnier because although the voice actors can tell the script doesn’t make sense, they don’t seem to know enough English to actually fix it. Bless them for trying.
A skim through the manual will reveal there actually seems to be a detailed plot. Each character has a connection to other characters and NPCs. Someone in Japan put a lot of effort into making this game’s plot stand out and all for naught.
Besides the script and plot, there is also some other stuff to this game, like graphics, music, and gameplay. The graphics are nice but this game is a shooter so graphics aren’t all that important, unless they manage to hinder the gameplay. Too bad this games graphics do hinder the gameplay. The bullets come in multiple colors and have different properties (green bullets, for example, can be destroyed) but some bullets are very hard to see against the game’s background. It may have been a design decision they went with on purpose, in which case they were lazy. Deriving challenge from cheap crap like not being able to see the bullets is a sign the designers just gave up. The graphics of your ships firepower also make enemy bullets and ships very hard to see at times. This appears to have been another conscious design decision by Alfa System. I can tolerate it a little better than not being able to see enemy bullets due to the background because the decision of when to shoot is the players but it still seems like a pretty lame way to make the game harder.
I enjoy the game play mostly because of the different ships. Seven different characters are offered, and each has a unique standard shot, two variations of a unique uber-shot, and a unique bomb. Besides all of the firepower options, the game encourages you to get as close to enemy bullets as possible (without dying) by making your standard weapon stronger any time a bullet skims your character (they call this buzzing in the
Standard shots that differ depending on character is a cool idea and each of the shots is far more than single bullet. There are no power ups, but that’s fine because your standard weapon starts pretty powerful. You can also use your better than standard attack as often as you like, which is another mechanic I really enjoy. Instead of limiting use, they designed a way to make it infinite and still fair by slowing your ship down any time your super weapon is being used. Besides being slower than usual, most characters damage range is significantly reduced as to make it impractical to constantly use the power weapon.
Power weapons themselves are pretty diverse and each come in two flavors. One character emits three giant swords, for example, in one variant and in the other only two swords. The two sword version is more powerful but of course you only have two. Most of the super move variations play along this theme of ease of use versus damage potential. In a unique to me move, the game even allows you to play defensively. Two of the seven characters have special moves that absorb or destroy incoming enemy fire, which makes a two player game with one offensive and one defensive person a whole lot of fun.
The bombs are limited, like in most shooters, and they tend to damage or kill everything on the screen and at the same time destroy all enemy firepower headed towards your character. And the bomb mechanic is really what I don’t like about the game. Shikigami 2 reminds me of
Gunbird because both games throw an insane number of bullets at you and essentially force you to use your screen clearing bomb attack to survive. I prefer shooters that allow you to weave in order to stay alive. This is often the case in Shikigami, but there are the times when a bomb is mandatory. Perhaps I just suck at these games (I did beat Darius Gaiden without continuing, which I have been bragging about since ’02) but I do not believe there are human players who can actually navigate safely past all of the bullets that some of the bosses shoot.
Speaking of Darius Gaiden, that is a good example of a shooter that uses bullet clearing bombs well. Bombs were to be saved and savored, and unleashed only in the most dire of circumstances. Contrast this to Shikigami or Gunbird where to survive a boss battle you need to use a bomb every two seconds until you run out, die, and get three more bombs.
The idea of buzzing is interesting, but if I remember has already been done (I checked, it has). Either way, I always try to get close to bullets but the game is difficult enough without making that effort. It also feels like it isn’t fully planned out. When you are facing minions who die with a shot or two, having an extra powerful standard weapon is pretty useless. Of course when you’re fighting a boss it’s near impossible to skim bullets because you’re either fighting for your life or using a bomb, which destroys all of the bullets. Maybe with a lot of extra practice the fun of skimming bullets will reveal itself to me.
The enemies in the game do not stand out in my mind at all, so I assume they weren’t particularly interesting or I was drunk while playing (which would explain the game’s difficulty). The bosses, for the most part, were not particularly interesting. Just some schmuck floating around shooting candy colored bullets. Your character is also just some guy or woman floating around, too, so don’t get too full of yourself. Apparently space ships or fighter planes were too expensive for this crowd.
With a lot of extra practice this game won’t be so damn hard, I hope. Or maybe I just need to figure out all of the options. Whatever the culprit (the designers or my stupidity), I cannot get past the third level boss. After some experience and memorization, the first two become fairly easy, causing me to die only a few times, but at the first part of the third level the game is near impossible. The background comes alive and suddenly all the walls and boxes that litter the screen can be crashed in to. This board, and its vicious but original boss completely kick my ass. By level 3.2 the game calms down again but I never have the number of lives needed to survive the final stage boss.
So the game is frustrating, but fun, yet annoying, and oh so hilarious. I recommend it, despite its flaws because overall, especially with a friend, I find it to be a lot of fun. It is not a deep game, it is not a work of art like some other shooters, and there is no plot (that makes sense) but in a genre of games so few and far between it is still a worthy purchase. If you like shooters, you probably already have the game, if you don’t like shooters, I can recommend better games to seduce you. If you have never played a shooter (what are you, 12?) then this is as good a time as any to pick one up and see what all the bitching and moaning about a dying genre is about, just don’t let this game be the one to convince you all shooters suck. In other words, if you like it that’s because shooters are great and if you dislike it, it’s this specific game’s fault because shooters are great.
53 out of 74 nearly invisible bullets.
A second opinion by Pat:
My experience with shooters is limited to the arcade games I played growing up, and an Ikaruga import I have for Dreamcast. Fun genre, but one for which it is increasingly difficult to find quality titles. Castle Shikigami demonstrates both why the genre has survived so long, and why it may be in its death throes. The speed and precision which are necessary to progress in the game definitely make success fulfilling. On the other hand, there will be times when you have to rely on either luck or trial and error. The graphics are somewhat drab, even to the point of obscuring necessary information. The coins the player is supposed to collect are nearly indistinguishable in color, size and speed from certain bullets that are lethal to the ship. A wide variety of different ships, and a few different weapons for each ship allow for a good amount of strategy and keep the game replayable.
The game really shines in the dialogue department. The translation is so bad that you can and will laugh (even at the same lines) time after time. The large number of playable characters help here also, as different combinations will yield different conversations, all of which are terrific. All in all, a fun budget title, accessible enough for players new to the genre (although difficult) and challenging enough to keep experienced players interested.