(PlayStation 3 Review) Mamorukun Curse!

Developer: G.rev / Gulti
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Genre: Shooter
Players: 1
ESRB: Everyone
Reviewer: Philip Smith

Overall: 7.5 = Good

Mamorukun Curse! is a new top-down shooter from developers G.rev and Gulti. Well, “new” to North America. Our Mamorukun Curse! is actually an enhanced re-release of an arcade shooter originally released in 2008 and later ported to Xbox Live Arcade in 2009. The PlayStation 3 version was released back in 2011 in Japan, and subsequently received several rounds of downloadable content. Unlike its Japanese release, the North American version is not being sold in stores but through PSN as a download-only title. However, that’s not the only thing that’s different. Publisher UFO Interactive has dropped the price down to $19.99 and included all Japanese DLC released to date, which includes two courses, two characters, and alternate costumes for the entire roster. For the price, Mamorukun Curse! makes for a solid shooter.

Save for the likes of Sine Mora, there are few shooters with a story worth discussing. Still, that doesn’t stop companies from wrapping their vignettes of insane showers of bullets and explosions in unnecessary exposition that can generously be described as “something.” Mamorukun Curse! is no different, with a group of teenagers being taken into the Netherworld to save its inhabitants from the World of Darkness’ nefarious forces. A Story Mode goes into more detail, for what detail there is, but all of the teenage hijinks and otherworld adventures boils down to the same basic tenet that developers always fall back on: go forth and shoot. Fortunately, there’s more than Story Mode to blast, including Arcade Mode, Arcade Practice, Netherworld Adventures, Netherworld Adventures Practice, Ranking, and Gallery.

The number of modes implies a great deal of variety, but in fact, they are repackages of the same handful of time-limited levels and enemy types. The degrees to which the gameplay modes mix the various elements vary, such as the number of characters available for use. For example, Arcade Mode restricts players to one character but allows that character to be hit multiple times, while Netherworld Adventures allows for three characters to play in the selected order, but each will fall after being shot once. Some modes offer more straightforward, arcade-like experiences, while others mix world levels and difficulty levels to create the kind of slowdown-requiring, frenzied moments that define bullethell shooters.

At the heart of the game is its cast of seven characters and their ability to harness Curse Powers. Each character has the same attacks, but they all have different attack spreads. The spreads work as both methods of differentiation and means of adding difficulty, as some are designed with novices in mind and others for more advanced players. Both the regular and special attacks offer different spreads. The special attacks are only unlocked once a cursed bullet is launched and the player curses themselves by stepping into the circular formation that appears, which powers up their regular attacks and unlocks their options’ full power. Some options shoot out at a wide spray, others straight ahead, and others fire homing projectiles. After collecting several power-ups, the more numerous and powerful regular attack can make for some unbelievable carnage when unleashed in conjunction with cursed shots. Blasting away at everything that moves with cursed bullets seems to be the way to go, but that’s only if score isn’t important. Keeping in mind how to maximize the points earned by the number of given enemies on each level is where the real challenge lies.

Cursed shots aren’t just for powering up options. If the curse shot is charged before being released, a massive round is fired that blows through weak enemies and curses medium and stronger enemies, steadily damaging them and absorbing projectiles fired within the formation’s radius. There is a trade-off, however, in that those same enemies become more dangerous by being cursed, firing faster and more dangerous salvos. Formations created by either a weak shot that lands on the ground or a stronger one that hits a stronger enemy also curses any weaker enemies that wander into the area, which also makes them stronger. The upside, and a key component in point and combo maximization, is that enemies destroyed in those areas release more candy, the items that represent points. But there’s more: firing a cursed bullet causes all on-screen enemy fire to disappear. This makes it more tempting to hold back from unleashing the powerful rounds, since it would allow for more opportunities to wipe out enemy fire, but that means not being able to completely wipe out the smaller enemies in a single blast and receive limited protection against stronger foes. Restraint is also required in order to collect all of the dropped candy, as the items slowly fall to the bottom of the screen and can easily be missed in all of the mayhem, unless the attack button is released in order for them to congregate onto the character. Self-cursing also requires a longer cooldown time than cursing enemies, and in combination with having to hold back in order to absorb all point items while also deciding which cursed shot to use, the game quickly becomes a series of gambles on when to maximize the characters’ offensive and defensive capabilities for both survival and the highest score possible.

Two control options are available, one offering a single analog scheme and the other offering dual-stick control.  Going with the single-tick scheme will lock the character into the direction they are facing when they fire, while the dual-analog option will allow the character to swivel around. The ability to swivel is important in Mamorukun Curse! because much of the game takes place on the ground, which means that enemies will attack from all directions and not just head-on, making it at times feel like a twin-stick shooter. Don’t get me wrong: this is a traditional shooter. A game feeling like a twin-sticker shooter does not mean it is a twin-stick shooter; and despite the cutesy graphics, it will unleash pain very quickly on newcomers who stumble too far ahead in Netherworld Adventures.  Interestingly, the ability to walk around is taken advantage of in several levels. Players can not only take side paths to fight through new routes and find candy-filled chests, but they can also dodge environmental obstacles, using curse bullets to slow down traps in order to circumvent them. There are some really great ideas at play here, and while there aren’t many levels for their potential to be fully realized, the developers are still able to frequently deliver on them.

Graphics are bright and fanciful as those in Mamorukun Curse! are sure to catch the eye, despite the basic character and enemy models, but they can also be too distracting. As with Sine Mora, there are times when the numerous visual flairs obfuscate enemy fire, which can be really frustrating. The characters themselves are also not terribly interesting, and as they serve as the game’s ships, I didn’t find the saccharine approach as strong as a hook as the more traditional science-fiction or alternate timeline designs found in other shooters like Dodonpachi Resurrection and Akai Katana. Even when putting style aside, the enemies, and the bosses in particular, are uninspired from a mechanic standpoint; it’s odd for a shooter to have bosses so lackluster, and for the most part easier than the stage they lord over. For those unsure if that sort of over-the-top twee style is something they might be interested in, keep in mind that UFO Interactive has aptly dubbed the game a “cute ‘em up.”

Mamorukun Curse! is a solid shooter with interesting mechanics that happens to be set in an uninteresting world. The hypercolorful art style will no doubt appeal to many fans of the genre, but even for them, the enemy designs won’t provide much of a draw and the various bullet-masking effects and flourishes will be just as frustrating. The biggest drawback is that the mechanics, level design, and attack patterns serve best as short-term experience, but lack the depth to sustain dozens of hours of play. It’s priced right, though, and it’s fun while it lasts.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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