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Mushihimesama BUG PANIC Review: A new and welcome take on bullet-hell

Japanese developer Cave has become well-known in the app store for ports of its arcade bullet-hell shooters Dodonpachi Resurrection and Espgaluda II. For its third foray in Apple’s sea of apps, however, the company has produced its first native iPhone title: Mushihimesama BUG PANIC. Go on, say that five times fast. While the title may be incomprehensible, the game is a new, iPhone-exclusive entry in Cave’s Mushihime-sama (Insect Princess) series of action titles previously appearing in arcades, and on the PlayStation 2 and XBox 360 in Japan.

Despite the apparent popularity of Cave’s two previous titles, I must admit that I was not overly impressed by either Espgaluda II or Dodonpachi Resurrection. While I am most definitely a fan of top-down shooters, the games just rubbed me the wrong way. And so I came to Mushihimesama BUG PANIC with a great deal of skepticism. To my great surprise, however, I have found myself thoroughly impressed by the game, and feel it to be Cave’s finest effort to-date on the iPhone.

Mushihimesama BUG PANIC effectively blends the dual-stick shooter and bullet-hell genres into one highly entertaining game.

The giant insects of Shinju Forest are exhibiting strange, violent behavior. As the titular insect princess — the pink-haired hot-box, Reco — it is up to you, dear player, to put down the insect unrest using “seeds” (bombs). And while this may not be a politically sound method of quelling civil unrest in our current global climate, it certainly makes for good gaming!

Rather than spraying bullets as in most dual-stick shooters, the game’s right-stick is instead used to set trajectories for lobbing bombs at opponents. On paper, it sounds like an insignificant departure from the norm, but its effect on gameplay is huge and lends the game a feel all its own. By moving the targeting reticle onto foes, Reco may lock onto as many as three opponents at once, lobbing bombs when players release the attack button. The longer the player holds the attack button before releasing the bombs, the stronger the attack and the greater the blast. Releasing the attack quickly fires weak bombs with small explosions, while charging the attack gauge allows Reco to volley more powerful explosives — Cluster Seeds — capable of creating chain reaction blasts in additional foes nearby the target. Reco can also stock up to three Explosive Seeds, the blast from which can wipe out enemy bullets and do significant damage to enemies. To throw an Explosive Seed, simply charge the attack button even longer — while having seeds in stock — before releasing the attack.

Unable to spray bullets in a constant stream as most dual-stick protagonists, Reco must take into account the downtime between attacks, and attempt to maximize each strike by carefully lobbing her charges for greatest effect. Evasion becomes of paramount importance, as you simply cannot fire fast enough to wipe out your foes, and also because the game inherits much from its more traditional bullet-hell brethren. As a matter of habit, larger insects will spray a barrage of projectiles in your direction which must be avoided to have any hope of success.

Likes:

Presentation: Mushihimesama BUG PANIC draws upon games of the 16-bit era for presentation, and looks great doing it. While I might have preferred a cell-shaded approach to the visuals, the 16-bit sprites are well animated and detailed, and lend the game a certain mid-nineties charm reminiscent of some of the SNES’ best titles. The story is told via comic panels between stages, with excellent anime artwork.

Controls: The controls are smooth and responsive, and the bomb-lobbing mechanic works fantastically. Not only is it effective on its own, but it also allows Mushihimesama BUG PANIC to stand apart from the pack of dual-stick shooters already inhabiting the app store. Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is at once very familiar and very different, and feels just fresh enough to be exciting while not requiring your to wrap your head around obtuse, unfamiliar gameplay.

Style: Mushihimesama BUG PANIC piles on the anime appeal, being cute enough for children, but charming and attractive enough to rope in adults as well. The game has an excellent sense of style, and reminds me in many ways of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, one of my all-time favorite animated films.

Game Center: Despite its retro digs, Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is clearly on the edge of iPhone gaming with leaderboards and achievements tied into Apple’s Game Center social gaming service.

Extras: Apart from the main story mode, Mushihimesama BUG PANIC includes unlockable timed and endless score trials, and a jigsaw puzzle mini-game for which pieces are unlocked by discovering hidden “kabutan” in the game’s story mode. If you can complete the puzzle, something special might happen …

Dislikes:

Aging Devices Need Not Apply: As with Cave’s other games, Mushihimesama BUG PANIC requires Apple’s newer hardward and will not run on older devices. According to Cave, the game will run on the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPod touch 3rd Generation and up (iOS 4.1 and up), and iPad devices (iOS 4.2 and up). Gamers still relying on the iPhone 3G, 1st or 2nd Gen iPod touch are out of luck.

In the unlikely event that I’ve been unclear, I will just come out and say it: I’ve been really enjoying Mushihimesama BUG PANIC. In fact, I can’t think of a single thing to dislike about the game. In fact, I’ve not even touched upon the numerous hidden areas to be found in each stage of the story mode, nor the manual targeting option that allows you to lob bombs willy-nilly without having specific targets. You can easily switch between lock-on and direct attack modes by tapping your attack gauge.

Cave has seemingly considered all details and has delivered a unique, original experience for the iPhone that should not be missed. Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is an exceptional game, walking the fine line between depth and accessibility, hardcore and casual.

Despite my initial reservations stemming from my impressions of Cave’s previous games, I have no qualms standing behind Mushihimesama BUG PANIC. It is easily among my favorite new app store releases.

Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is developed by Cave Co., Ltd. and available for $4.99. Reviewed on an iPhone 4 at version 1.0.0.




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