Version tested: iPhone
"Just got in the zone with DoDonPachi Resurrection and scored 120 million. I'm gonna one-credit this bitch."
That really doesn't sound anything like me. That's not something I'd usually tweet. I'm not competitive, I don't care about scores and I've never wanted to "one-credit" any bitches. I haven't dreamed of finishing Resident Evil 4 with just the knife or five-starring Freebird while submerged in a vat of custard.
But, to be fair, I was still in the depraved state of figuring out how to win big in DoDonPachi. I could still hear the zany electro-J-pop echoing around my brain box and I was seeing faint pink and blue dots when I shut my eyes. I'd worked out the trick to get the biggest scores, and the most massive multipliers, and had survived for five zones without clunking in another virtual coin. It felt good. It felt worthy of a tweet.
And that's just how the most exquisitely designed bullet-hell shooters make you feel. Scoring high is not just about submissively dodging, weaving and banking through the enemy's fog of electric death-dots. And it isn't about offensive pixel genocide, either. It's about carefully balancing the two, gaming the score system and making the frantic blur of overwhelming neon work for you.
Take the iPhone Mode, a style of play designed exclusively for your Apple gadget. It has this so-called S/M gauge, a tiny meter that teeters between the extremes of pure survival and outright aggression. Narrowly avoiding enemy bullets increases your Menace rating which propels your multiplier all the way to an obscene x1000. On the other hand, destroying enemies with deadly efficiency rocks the meter to Slaughter, where downed foes ooze loads more loot.
They need to be worked in unison: grabbing glittery gold loot is only effective when your multiplier is in the triple digits, but your chain will subsequently sink if you're not perilously scraping past enemy fire. You have to work the game like a pendulum, moving between defence and offence like a champion boxer. It certainly takes far more concentration than either meekly dancing around bullets, or assertively firing them into the enemy's ships, turrets and schoolgirl-shaped juggernauts.
You also have to swap weapons on the fly, switching to the laser beam to counter the enemy's own concentrated radiation blasters. This is mostly to stop you getting complacent and lazy, and to encourage you to keep your headphones on to listen for the tell-tale sound of a laser charging up.
It's not all intensive score-keeping, weapon-swapping and zig-zagging between strategies, though. You're offered a brief respite with the aptly named hyper cannon, an unavoidable tidal wave of destruction that you get to fire after filling your hyper gauge (another meter, yes). To charge it up, you spin your finger around in circles on your iPhone like a nutter. It's the most ludicrous gesture you'll ever subject your sexy rectangle to, and really shouldn't be found in a serious, hardcore, bullet-hell shooter.
But boy does it feel good. It's best used to finish off a boss, in the face of millions of bullets and thousands of lasers, and you'll damn near shred your phone to pieces with your fingernail. There's just something about the absurd physicality of the gesture, and the immense, orgasmic pay-off of the screen-filling destruction, that really works.
You also get Arcade Mode, ostensibly squeezing the famous DoDonPachi Dai-Fukkatsu Japanese cabinet - rules, weapons, scoring system and all - onto your iPhone. There's no S/M gauge, no scraping close to bullets like a fearless bullfighter, no swinging between strategies like a boxer. A nice inclusion, sure, but not the main event.
The iPhone mode is where it's at, then. It also offers up a wholly remixed score, orchestrated by a fleet of Japanese composers you've never heard of. It's really the worst of music: pappy, fluffy, synthesized J-pop, better suited to anime montages and uber-Kawaii YouTube dance routines than the systematic destruction of beautifully placed pixels. Catchy though, I'll give it that.
The game, much like Cave's previous mobile offering Espgaluda II, shrinks manic bullet-overloaded mayhem onto Apple's slabs with remarkably little compromise. Touch-screen control is effortless, pin-point accurate very responsive, for manoeuvring your space ship at least. Jabbing at the screen to switch weapon, on the other hand, can be a pain at best, a life-losing frustration at worst, without the tactility of a proper button.
The only real compromise is that DoDonPachi Resurrection shuns the odd handful of millions who don't have the latest Apple gadgets. With this many bullets, enemies, lasers and numbers on the screen, anything but the most recent and expensive devices will likely evaporate when the app tries to sync across. And yet it doesn't offer "retina" visuals (high-res graphics for the iPhone 4 and new iPod Touch) or even a native iPad app. Luckily, the iPhone edition plays beautifully when blown up for the tablet's ample screen real estate.
Assuming you've got the hardware to run it, DoDonPachi Resurrection is an absolute masterclass in mobile gaming. Not just because it manages to squish a manic arcade game onto your phone, creating an utterly faithful, 21-billion gun salute to a favourite franchise. And not just because it controls so superbly.
But most of all, because it's just so devastatingly addictive - and the fun doesn't even truly start until you've got some competitive friends on the in-game leaderboards. Once you're locked into point-grabbing competition, good luck tearing yourself away to eat or sleep.
9 / 10
DoDonPachi Resurrection is available now on iPhone.