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Liberation Maiden review

Who says politics is boring?

Oh man, remember a year or so back when Great Britain was threatened by nefarious overseas enemies, so Nick Clegg and David Cameron climbed into giant mech suits and blew huge chunks of the world to pieces personally? No, neither do I, and although that's probably for the best as far as geopolitics is concerned, it may go some way to explaining why voter turnout is so low these days.

I bet voter turnout's unusually high in New Japan. In Liberation Maiden, when everyone's favourite futuristic superpower is attacked by some huge mechanical drilling things, the freshly elected President Shoko takes to the skies clad with huge robot wings and a devastating collection of lasers and missiles and sets out to avenge her murdered father and her fallen country all at once. (I suspect she's a shoo-in for re-election, publication of tax returns notwithstanding.)

That's the wacky premise behind this score-attack shooter, which brings together good old Suda51 and the people at Level-5. What have they made? A quietly likable blaster driven by a handful of smart risk/reward systems and punctuated with large, but fairly unmemorable, bosses. It's not a bad game by any means, but like President Shoko herself its nature is stoical rather than showy and - glorious anime cut-scenes aside - its chunky 3D environments make it feel bland and a little old-fashioned, too.

Liberation Maiden was originally part of the Guild01 3DS compilation - it's the first of the bundled games to make it to the West.

Liberation Maiden's an air-to-ground shooter at heart, with all but one of the game's handful of levels sending you sailing over a Japanese city, taking out a collection of tanks and other enemies and then destroying three Lesser Conduit Spike towers to open up the Greater Spike, which acts as the boss. Controls have you piloting your mech with the circle pad, strafing by holding down the left trigger, and using the stylus to aim and fire your weaponry. (It's a system that left-handers will find entirely unaccommodating, incidentally.)

Your main offensive options are split between rockets and a sizzling laser beam. The latter's a standard aim-and-fire set-up, while the former use a paint-and-release system that comes straight from Rez (suggesting that, should Sega ever get its act together, Mizuguchi's fractal classic would work rather beautifully on Nintendo's hardware). Blowing enemies away purifies the landscape, allowing nature to return in ugly green lumps, as is nature's wont, and it also charges up your blade gauge, which lets you trigger a one-shot special attack that unleashes devastating damage. Beyond that, the main complication - and it's a good one - is that shields and weaponry run off the same meter, so if you spam shots you're also lowering your defences. Plan your approach with care.

"Approach Liberation Maiden expecting another wonky blast of Suda51 charm and, President Mech aside, you're going to be a little disappointed."

The gallery unlocks act as a kind of achievement system, which is nice. The cut-scenes are great, too.

The shooting's pretty satisfying, all things considered, with a generous lock-on, a decent chaining system, and hectic levels that occasionally try to break up their rather basic structure - kill three sub-things to unlock the major-thing - with nice little twists. One stage sees you stealthing your way through enemy alarm systems, for example, while all of them have sub-missions for you to tackle as you head towards the final confrontation. Bosses fill the screen, but they're largely an opportunity to strafe and shoot at weak spots. They're a little dull, really, although their one truly appealing element is that you finish them off by zipping right into their core and activating your Sacrifice Drive - a spinning attack that sees you frantically scribbling circles on the touch-screen.

It's a rare moment of all-out flair in a game that otherwise tends to be rather understated. The short campaign encourages plenty of replayablity if you're interested in working your way onto the high-score table, but without online leaderboards - as far as I could tell, anyway - you're going to be keeping your bragging to yourself. Play Liberation Maiden because you're after an acceptable arcade shooter, in other words; approach it expecting another wonky blast of Suda51 charm and, President Mech aside, you're going to be a little disappointed.

6 / 10

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