The Only Good Bug is a Dead Bug!
Publisher: Live Wire
Release: June 15th, 2021
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
I've always had an affinity for arcade shoot-em-ups. From Galaga to 1942 in the arcade, to home console classics like Life Force and Darius Twin, these kinds of games hold held a special place in my heart. Now with the Switch, we have a cavalcade of classic arcade shmups (almost as many as we have Metroidvanias!). The only downside is that we get so many shmups that it can be easy to lose track of any real gems that hit the system. But hey – that's why we have reviews!
Case in point - Mushihimesama. This shmup is one of those games that can easily fly under your radar (pun intended). I'll be honest – I never heard of the game until today. So for the unaware, Mushihimesama is an arcade shoot-em-up that released in the arcades in 2004. It also hit the PS2, Xbox 360, and now it's on the Switch.
Whereas most games in this genre have you piloting a spaceship and blasting other ships, Mushihimesama places your character on top of a giant beetle as you battle other insects. It's an interesting take on a shmup, but bullet hell veterans should feel right at home. Throughout the game, you'll be blasting baddies while avoiding an onslaught of bullets, collecting power-ups, fighting gigantic bosses, and vying for a high score. It's pretty standard fare, but enjoyable nonetheless.
So like any other vertical shmup, you're at the bottom of the screen, blasting away at baddies while avoiding fire. And, like any other vertical shmup, if you get hit once, you're dead. You do get three lives and unlimited continues, so it is entirely possible to beat the game in one sitting; but that's not the point of these games. It's all about that tough-as-nails gameplay and constant strive to top your highest score. In addition to the addictive gameplay, Mushihimesama looks and sounds beautiful. The animation is super-smooth. The music is upbeat and toe-tapping. The enemy design and movement are decidedly “bug-like.”
Don't think that this is just a straight-up arcade port with no bells and whistles. While the arcade game itself is only five levels, Mushihimesama includes a lot of options. There's three modes: Original (a basic mode), Maniac (a lot harder), and Ultra (which includes a “play at your own risk” warning).There's three different types of ships (or beetles) that you can choose from – each with their own power-ups and formations. There's also Score Attack, Training (modify options within the game), and Replay (watch replays). And all of these options are available in the four different versions of the game (Novice, Normal, Arrange, and Version 1.5). So no matter your skill level, you'll find a mode that suits your needs. Finally, there's an online leaderboard coming that will let you post your scores and download the replays of any top scorer. And yes, purists – there is a TATE mode for when you're playing your Switch in handheld mode. Now that's quite the “swarm” of options. Bug pun.
Now, as much as I love a good shoot-em-up, that is not to say that I am any good at them. In fact, I'd wager I'm not a strong bullet hell player. Those are just way too intense for me, and I only last about 30 seconds before getting that “CONTINUE?” screen. About the best I can handle is “bullet purgatory.” That's one reason why I enjoy this game so much. Mushihimesama can be very forgiving to the player. Your character's hit box is so small that only a precise, direct hit will cause death. There's been plenty of times playing this one where I said to myself, “how the heck did I get out of that one?” Doing some online research led me to this nugget of information. And I must say I truly appreciate it. When designing the arcade game, Cave deliberately made it easier in order to bring more players into the genre, and they did a fantastic job of it
One of the other things I enjoyed about this game was that it is easy to tell where the enemy bullets are. They're bright and purple, and don't get blocked by anthing in the foreground. I've played one-too-many shmups where I got killed by the stray bullets without even knowing they were there. Additionally, if you defeat a big enemy, their bullets die with it – I LOVED that touch!. Same thing when you use your bombs; it clears the screen of enemy fire. These small touches in the game made a world of difference to me, and only made me enjoy it even more.
Honestly, I cannot think of anything technically wrong with this game. It's fun, it's challenging, and it's a great starting point if you're looking to get into the shoot-em-up genre. Honestly, the only complaint I have is actually a big plus: the slowdown. Like many games of its time, Mushihimesama slows down when the on-screen action gets really intense. Normally that's a turn-off, but I appreciated and enjoyed the slight breather that the unintentional slowdown created. It helped me to regain my composure and plan my next move.
Final Grade: A+
So the next time you are perusing the eshop and looking for a new type of game to play, be sure to check out Mushihimesama. If you're looking to get into shmups and aren't sure where to start, this is a perfect pick-up. You can get your feet wet, learn from your mistakes, and through the game's wealth of options, tweak the difficulty as your skills improve. It's also different from a lot of other games in the genre, so it's also a breath of fresh air if you're getting bored of the same old, same old. This is 100% worth the $19.99 price tag.
Now go squash some bugs!