Gundemonium Recollection review
Brutal Bullet Hell
Bullet hell shooters are relatively rare from Western developers but Japan - especially their indie scene - certainly has no shortage of them. While we may be waiting forever for the ever popular Touhou to find an actual release over here, Rockin' Android have seen fit to pick up a different set of games to tempt English speaking audiences with. Gundemonium Recollection is the first of these games.
The setting provides us with an interesting alternate 18th century world where alchemy has allowed mankind to progress further (aka welcome to steampunk). But this power comes from a dark source and the world becomes victim to a demonic army pouring out. When an artificial being designed to counter them is subsequently captured and turned against humanity, the Rosenkreuz Foundation step in.
While the back story is nice, you might be hard pressed to fully take in the story during the game. Other than the blurb in the manual, the rest of the story progression is handled purely in text blurbs that crop up in intermission screens that appear between levels and these more tend to be "something happened, go there now" sort of thing. I found it hard to really get involved in the plot, leaving me to focus entirely on the action.
The graphics level is reminiscent of the 16 bit glory days. The developers opted for overly large sprites for its characters which has allowed them to flesh out a lot of detail, helping to craft some impressive character designs. Watching your character alternate fire handguns or grab hold of a comically oversized canon shows the level of attention lavished upon them and this kind of thing extends to the enemies too. You have the basic but interesting pumpkins and bunnies flying around the screen, and then you have the bosses that follow the "cute girls are all trying to kill you" scenario. The effects are similarly good, with the game filling the screen with all sorts of projectiles ranging from bullets to missiles to lasers.
However, despite this praise the visuals do suffer from some issues. The game definitely looks somewhat dated now as even the indie scene has become more used to a more advanced visual setup. This is reflected by the game only running at 640x480, although at least this means it should be friendly to any hardware setup.
In terms of music the game features the tracks used in the original game and all new arrange versions of them. While players might find some nostalgia value in the original music, I found myself too blown away by the arrangements to stick with the originals for long. The new tracks are a treat for the ears as they pump out high energy tunes to go hand in hand with blasting everything on the screen that might even think of blinking.
Just watch and listen to that.
So let's get down to the real business here. Gundemonium Recollection is a bullet hell shooter where it's you against legions of enemies that can think of nothing better than filling the playing area with bullets, lasers and whatever other obstacles that force you to fly around them. As that suggests, you're capable of moving freely pretty much wherever there isn't something to hurt you and thus the main focus comes down to two aspects: kill everything and avoid the storm of everything trying to kill you.
There are several characters available that differ in movement speed and available weapons. In all cases you have access to some form of primary gun, secondary weapon and bomb weapon. The primary weapon is the basic one and the most used as it consumes no form of ammo. You have a number of different rates of fire, with one purposely designed to fire ridiculously fast at the cost that extended use will overheat your weapons and leave you unable to attack for a short while. This encourages tactful gameplay so as to not screw yourself over. Bombs work pretty much as they do in any other bullet hell shooter - they serve to dish out a lot of damage and turn all onscreen projectiles into collectable gems but you only have a limited stock of these so must be used wisely.
The secondary weapon is an interesting option. As well as providing a more powerful attack than your primary weapons they also cause a "planeshift" if the attack connects with an enemy. Which basically means everything slows down for a brief period making it easier to dive through openings and makes for a very welcome game mechanic. This weapon does use up mana, which recharges as you pick up gems from defeated enemies, which avoids players abusing it too much.
Friction also exists in here too. This is where your fly close to a projectile without it actually hitting your fatal point. As well as being used to rack up some extra points getting so many will cause a friction break that turns all enemy projectiles into gems. It's used to great degree in a couple of spots but for the most part it's a showoff thing you could go through safely ignoring. It's nice to get rewarded for it though.
The game is split up into 5 levels that are further split into 4 sub areas. Each area typically throws a myriad of basic enemies at you that nevertheless lay on the challenge as each contribute their bullets to the scene. Then there are the sub bosses and bosses of each area that come to attack you, which include the likes of a monster moon with a girl inside and a collection of swords that fire lasers.
What's impressive are the set pieces some of these places can provide. How about barriers that disappear when you shoot a specific coloured enemy? Or enemies set up bullet walls that limit your flying space and send enemies in at you? The big bosses too throw out some cool bullet patterns that you have to learn in order to survive.
Difficulty is partly handled as an option and partly handled as a dynamic game system. Actions ingame affect your phase level which is what affects the difficulty of the game. Do well and the game increases the challenge; do poorly and the game tries to go easier on you. All the initial difficulty choice does is affect the maximum phase level you can reach (aside from Novice, which also turns on automatic counter-bombing where you lose a bomb upon getting hit instead of a life). It's an interesting system especially as the player can choose to cap the level to whatever they feel comfortable with. Players can also choose to up the risk themselves with a "demonic shift" that instantly pushes the phase level up to 11 until they are either hit or use a bomb, letting players to push their luck in the hopes of netting high scores.
That said, difficulty is one of the downer points of the game. Despite including settings such as "novice" the game is intense even for those used to the genre, and utterly chews up and spits out those that aren't. Even on novice things can become overwhelming quickly and if you do happen to lose all your lives in any given level you can continue but must do so at the very beginning of the level. So tough luck if you made it to the last sub area of a level, you're doing all the sub areas again. Even notching the life counter up to five has difficulty helping with this. I can understand the upper settings ripping players to shreds, but when even the novice setting shows no mercy I think something went wrong.
Another issue is that it can be hard to really know where your fatal point is when in a hailstorm of projectiles. Essentially only a small part of your character can actually be hit, which is noted by an accessory they are wearing, causing bullets to pass through the rest of the sprite harmlessly. But with the resolution used, the design and sheer intensity of the action it can be easy at times to lose sight of it precisely in relation to projectiles. This isn't as major an issue as the unfriendly difficulty though.
The final issue is that, well, there's nothing really here that stands out a whole lot from other bullet hell shooters. Planeshifts have been done. The bomb system is pretty standard. Means of increasing points at great risk is common. The dynamic difficulty is an interesting tweak but it doesn't really seem like enough to make it stand out enough from the rest of the crowd.
So my final thoughts? It's a fun game that throws up some interesting scenarios and a wonderful setting. It's just so terribly brutal, especially if you're not used to such games, and if you are used to these kinds of games then it probably isn't going to wow you with anything you haven't seen before. Still, it's pretty cheap so if bullet hell sounds like your kind of thing it might well be worth your time.
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