If an unwelcome infestation of ants in your kitchen is the worst bug-related disaster you’ve ever had to endure then you should consider yourself incredibly lucky, because cute forest resident Reco is forced to deal with much worse.
During the course of twin-stick blaster Mushihimesama Bug Panic, she has to resort to aggressive tactics which go far beyond laying down some ant powder or pouring boiling water over a nest.
In Reco’s fantasy world, bugs – also known as Koji - are giant creatures that live in harmony with nature. However, events have taken a turn for the worst and the usually amiable insects have turned violent, prompting Reco to hurl all kinds of exterminating bombs.
Stop bugging me
Reco is controlled by the virtual analogue stick on the left, while a selection of explosive seeds are thrown using the right stick.
Unlike other twin-stick shooters, where the right-hand stick effectively decides the direction of your fire, the game employs a crosshair which can be moved around the screen and locked-on to enemies by holding your finger down on the screen.
You can lock-on to up to three foes at any one time. It’s possible to switch off the targeting system entirely if you prefer directing your own attacks, but to be honest the game is more fun with it enabled.
Three seed types are available for use: incendiary, cluster, and exploding. The basic incendiary explodes on impact, damaging only the selected target.
The cluster seed detonates in a shower of deadly gas, obliterating not only the intended victim but also any other enemies unfortunate enough to be in close proximity. Judicious use of this particular seed can trigger astonishing chain-reactions that boost your score considerably.
The third and final seed variant is the most powerful, and as a result comes in limited quantities. The explosion seed delivers a massive cloud of damage that also neutralises enemy projectiles. The catch is that it takes a while to charge up and Reco can only carry three of these seeds at once.
Seed of doubt
The game's main quest is spread across five worlds, each divided into several sub-levels. You face a tricky boss at the end of each world requiring fast reflexes, precise aim, and inventive use of your stock of seeds.
Each world is bookended by attractive anime-style story sequences, which do an admirable job of propelling the story forward. Yet, Adventure mode is only half of the picture: CAVE’s previous titles have always carried a heavy focus on score-chasing, and Mushihimesama Bug Panic is most definitely cut from the same cloth.
Game Center integration not only brings with it unlockable achievements, but also online leaderboards. All completed worlds are available in the game’s Score Trials section, where you can attempt to achieve the best score possible in Timed and Endless modes.
Score to settle
It’s here that the game’s complex and multifaceted scoring system shines. While in the Adventure mode you focus purely on getting to the end of the stage, in Score Trial you realise that every single shot counts.
For example, you learn to reserve cluster seeds in order to ensure that the maximum number of enemies is eradicated by the resulting blast. Finding ways to boost your score is surprisingly addictive and is guaranteed to keep you coming back to Mushihimesama Bug Panic.
Whereas CAVE's previous releases suffered from ill-defined visuals – an unfortunate consequence of the conversion process from coin-op to iPhone - Mushihimesama Bug Panic has no such shortcoming. It’s been designed with the platform expressly in mind, so everything looks a sharp as a knife.
Such aesthetic brilliance comes with a hefty price tag, though. The game only runs on third-generation (or better) hardware. If you’re still forlornly clinging to your pre-3GS iPhone, then you’re sadly not invited to the party.
Still, Mushihimesama Bug Panic demonstrates that CAVE is just as comfortable working on iPhone and iPod touch as it is on any other system. This title is proof that Apple’s devices are just as much for gaming veterans as it is for casual users.