I'm not sure if there's a sub-genre name which can really cover this one's bases. It's a top-down bullet hell cute-em-up, but this game is to bullet hell shmups as bullet hell shmups are to say, fruits of the forest. It's bullet hell hell. Emphasis on the hell, In fact it should be capitalised thusly: HELL. Creating bullet hell HELL. Got it? You might want to pop another couple of hells in there at the start just to jab that motif home.
Alright, so it's not that bad on the lesser difficulty levels of which there are numbered three, but we don't play there, do we, kids? That stuff is for the ladies (no offense ladies, just swap that with men if it makes you feel better and gets me out of dodge, I'm merely illustrating my point with well-worn generalisation. Don't hate me, please). Us seasoned seaside arcade veterans are used to pumping several hundred, thousand coins into shmups so ludicrously hard and unfair by design, difficulty levels beneath "hardest" are laughable dalliances best left to youngsters. Or indeed ladies (see above).
The forth difficulty level is most definitely where it's at. An experienced shmuptard may well make it far into the second level on their first goes, it's no big thing right up until the bosses start tweaking the nob on the thermostat clockwise. Now, at this point I should probably prattle on about the lush graphics, the smoothly scrolling 3D backdrops, the saccharine cute, even chocolate box artwork of little Japanese girls who exchange cheeky and indeterminate Japanese gibberish with the little girl bosses prior to a fight. These cutesy bosses will then dart about the screen raining, nay, frenetaspewing (a little word I just made up, combining frenetic and spewing and should probably think about swapping for something less unfortunate at a later date) brightly coloured and randomly directed bullets by the MILLION.
I say million, in all probability there's not more than say three, maybe four hundred bullets on the screen at any one time. Five at a pinch. Which swirl and whip about in any number of hypnotic, perfectly choreographed geometric patterns while you, holding the secondary fire to slow yourself down to a precise dodging speed and make visible your little circular collision spot, pale at this mind boggling onslaught while you wish that you could lick your eyes like a lizard because there is no way in hell, sorry HELL, that you're going to be able to blink for the next few minutes.
If by some implausible accident you survive this uber-flood of oddly beautiful projectiles then you probably used one of your spell cards. These are, for all intent and purpose, smart bombs which clear a portion of the screen of bullets and anything that might be hosing them at you, you get a bonus if you play your cards at the right time in the right way. Killing stuff lays on points and prizes aplenty. There are various collectibles, or medallions, of various function which drop down the screen from the death throws of successfully dispatched girlies and if you're near the top of the screen for some reason, probably to avoid an unavoidable frenetaspew of bullets, then you'll find that the dropping powerups and bonuses flood back up the screen to you with a tap of the secondary fire much like in fabo arcade bullet hell shmup, ProGear. Handy as the more generic early sections between bosses are survivable, but increase in intensity with each successive level.
While you can't change your chosen characters default weapon with any of the power ups, you can beef it up quite nicely.There are about half a dozen characters to choose from each with their own unique style of attack and you can even tag-team them, having one character to zip around for medallion collection then switching to the other for the secondary fire and slow dodging speed, each with their own particular shooting abilities intact.
It's a great game, and while the hundreds of levels are strikingly similar, each has a uniquely attacking boss with hundreds of millions of bullets to painstakingly and eye-dryingly dodge in some unique, yet consistant patterns of their choosing. It's all accompanied by some of the best pseudo-classical music to be found. Give the demo a whirl and while you're there, take a look at the other Shanghai Alice shooters, they're all quite similar in many ways, but offer unique challenges. This one is arguably the best in my opinion and should give those die hard shmupites something new to dig into while we wait for this magnificently evolved mainstay of genres to become a mainstream cult once again. Not much more to say, so I won't bother.
8 / 10