Despite the insistence of hardcore gamers that the iPhone isn’t a ‘proper’ games system, 2D bullet-hell shooters have found a highly receptive audience on platform.
Titles such as DoDonPachi Resurrection and DeathSmiles would normally have been the preserve of truly dedicated otaku who think nothing of selling a kidney to import the latest limited edition box set from Japan, yet they're now playable on a mobile phone at a price point which is only slightly higher than a pint of beer.
Encouraged by this success, French developer int13 has launched its own homage to the genre in the form of Shogun: Rise of the Renegade.
Although it hasn’t been coded in the Land of the Rising Sun, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. From a cosmetic point of view, Shogun looks every inch like a product concocted within the walls of Cave’s esteemed Japanese HQ, and it boasts some amazing 2D artwork.
Shogun’s gameplay mechanics are refreshingly unique for a Western shooter. At its core is an ingenious weapon-select system built around the touchscreen. When you lift your finger from the display, time slows down and a semi-circular menu appears around your ship. This allows you to switch weapons with the minimum of fuss.
Pick your weapon
There are three weapon types to choose from, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
The Laser is the most powerful, but it fires straight ahead and therefore leaves you exposed to enemies attacking from the sides. The Spread shot is your standard choice - it's weaker than the laser but offers a wider arc of fire, meaning you have better defence from marauding foes.
Homing is your final armament option, and automatically locks onto enemies. The trade-off is that it doesn’t possess a great deal of stopping power, and the inability to control the direction of your shots can cause headaches when you’re surrounded by hostiles.
While most traditional blasters use a one-hit kill system, in Shogun you have a shield which slowly depletes the more bullets you come into contact with. When it reaches zero, you use up one of your shield capsules - which essentially act as ‘lives’. Thankfully, you can restock these capsules by flying your craft close to enemy fire.
This risk and reward mechanic is borrowed from an old arcade shooter called Psyvariar, and grants the gameplay an additional level of depth. It’s extremely exhilarating to steer your ship through a maelstrom of enemy fire, grazing your wings against projectiles while simultaneously doing your utmost to avoid fatal contact.
Capsules are also consumed by your EMP special weapon, which emits a massive shock-wave that repels enemy fire. You can also use capsules to deploy smaller support craft, which fly alongside your ship and lend their firepower to yours.
It’s worth mentioning those lush visuals again. Shogun uses a combination of 3D backgrounds and pin-sharp 2D sprites. Even when the screen is packed with enemies and projectiles, it never stutters or struggles. There’s a decent degree of variety between each stage as well, with new opponents to fight and eye-popping 3D vistas to appreciate.
No coins required
Because it’s a Universal app, Shogun also runs on the iPad. It’s here that it truly shines - the visuals look astonishing on a larger display, and built-in support for the iCade controller grants a truly authentic arcade experience.
Although Shogun is offered as a free download, you only get the opening level to mess about with. Further stages are unlocked via in-app payments, with the full cost being (at the time of writing) £1.49.
While it might appear misleading, it’s actually a very sensible way of selling a game. You can experience the first level free of charge, and therefore be totally sure you're going to enjoy it before stumping up the full entrance fee.
With dazzling visuals, pulse-pounding gameplay, and a weapon system that manages to surprise and entertain, Shogun rises effortlessly to the top of the iPhone shooter pile. It’s a wonderful game that arcade addicts will devour eagerly, and it should hopefully attract the same audience that have thus far found Cave’s iOS output so compelling.