31/01/2022

๐Ÿ’ฅ SHINORUBI | PC | Review | 4/10 | "I Am A Basic Bitch When It Comes To Shmups" ๐Ÿ’ฅ #IndieGame #GameDev #SHMUPS @LastBoss88 @PixelHunted

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I am a basic bitch when it comes to shmups. I’ve played Treasure classics Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga, Jeff Minter’s neon ungulate work, and dabbled in a few Cave shooters. This is like being into music and only having listened to The Beatles, and vast swathes of bullet hell games have passed me by in a blizzard of neon, clashing colours, and J-rock soundtracks.

Consequently, bullet hell is a genre I admire from a distance. Deep in my bones I know I’m never going to be good at it but I can appreciate what works and what doesn’t.

All of which brings me to indie dev Last Boss 88’s SHINORUBI, a new early access title “inspired by classic shooting games”. You know the drill, pick your ship and jump into a vertically scrolling battlefield teeming with enemies, power-ups and thousands of bullets. The developers promise “all the best aspects of Japanese bullet hell games” in super shiny Ultra HD.

First up let’s bear in mind that this is early access, though in its current form feels relatively complete. The tried-and-tested mechanics all work, there are no obviously unfinished gameplay elements, and there’s a whole bunch of alt-modes to explore.

But - and as much as I hate to say this about an indie game that’s clearly had a lot of love and effort poured into it - right now SHINORUBI doesn’t cut the mustard.

Some flaws are fixable. For example, there’s not much to differentiate between each of the five stages. You don’t come to bullet hell for the story, but even so, having some kind of visual changes as you get closer to the final boss gives the illusion of narrative progression. SHINORUBI just recycles the same pre-rendered forest backdrop over and over again and enemy and building designs don’t convince as the plausible actual location.

The same can be said for the bosses. One of the best things about Treasure’s shmups is that each boss has a personality, even if that’s limited to the many varieties of ways they’re trying to murder you. SHINORUBI’s all feel extremely similar - just large generic ship designs that slowly move from left to right spewing bullets.

There are also a couple of minor and easily fixable gripes. SHINORUBI sticks to the shmup rule of having enemy bullets be one shade, in this case, a pinkish purple. The problem is many of the score-based bonus crystals are the exact same colour, making it hard to spot the bullets you’re avoiding. I usually die in games like this because of my own incompetence, but it’s frustrating to get hit by a lone purple bullet camouflaged against a background of purple pick-ups.

But hey, all that stuff can be fiddled with and I appreciate that this is early access and the developers are actively requesting feedback.

Unfortunately, there’s one glaring problem that may not be fixable. SHINORUBI is a vertical shooter in a 16:9 screen ratio, which means it differs from the traditional Japanese “tate” ratio that’s taller than it is wide. This, in combination with large sprites and a big HUD, makes it difficult to plan ahead when it comes to weaving through enemy fire.  It all feels a bit cramped, which is at odds with a design that puts so much stock in careful evasion of danger.

The aspect ratio is an especially strange decision given the developers’ obvious passion for the genre. They must know all too well how much stock the bullet-hell community puts in the vertical screen layout, to the point where the Switch has become a popular home for the genre because it’s easily flipped sideways.

It’s arguable that a full-screen HD presentation makes the game a bit more marketable and gives it some visual oomph, but the sacrifices to gameplay coherence don’t make it nearly worth it.

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