This was a review (which on reflection is quite a simple review) of the arcade JAMMA board that I purchased 7 years ago and published on my now dead website dedicated to manic shmups (also 7 years ago on plasmablossom.net). It has recently been released by Cave on XBLA for 800pts, so I thought I would stick it back up here unaltered. I may put up the rest of my shmup reviews on here if you want to read them. However the rest of the games are only available either in MAME, import JPN PS2 or arcade boards. If you want to see more or just generally love shmups then give me a shout. I truly don't expect anyone to read this though.
DEVELOPER: CAVE 1999
In the late 90s Cave's high quality titles propelled them to becoming the forefront developer in a rapidly niche genre, overtaking the great Raizing and Psikyo. Their previous titles – Esp.ra.de, Dangun Feveron and Dodonpachi received rapturous acclaim from fans of arcade shooters and critics alike, and so begun the speculation as to how they could possibly follow up on such highly esteemed titles. The fans didn’t have to wait long. In 1999 Cave released their fourth title - Guwange. It was to feature kabuki demons, young assassins, hypnotic music, an intricate score system and a pulsating giant foetus for a boss. It was also to be Caves finest work to date.
Cave based Guwange around the folklore of the medieval Japanese Muromachi period (1336-1573). These involved tales of great demons, fox spirits and noble warriors in a time of great upheaval. Cave used the art style of that period to create a game that is as visually arresting and as timeless today as it was upon its release. The variety of enemies is as breathtaking as they are monstrous. Kappa’s, ghosts, ogres and beastlings to name but a few, charge and fire at the player from all directions in their eagerness to see the player perish. The backgrounds are beautifully realized and detailed, depicting such scenes as an idyllic village to the snow covered forest and temples. The bosses are at once memorable and often repugnant. There is no forgetting the cat headed demon, the giant millipede or one of the final boss forms – a giant foetus whose boils erupt into a swarm of venomous arachnids. Repulsive yet very satisfying when all your efforts in battle result in their demise. The fountains of blood that erupt from their bodies a particularly pleasing touch.
The music in Guwange, like the graphics, is nothing short of astonishing. It is a leading example of how music should be in this genre, as the music not only sets the atmosphere and tone of the game, but also compliments the on screen action beautifully. Traditional Japanese string, wind and percussion instruments fit wonderfully together with the modern bass, synth and dance beats. Sound effects are a suitably meaty affair with bombastic explosions and grunts of pain from your enemy and the main protagonists.
Like all Cave games (with the possible exception of Ketsui) the scoring mechanic in Guwange is quite complex. This is an all to brief summery. Holding down the fire button will unleash your spirit companion, who will now be controllable by the player. Your spirit companion is highly affective at destroying enemies and slowing down the acceleration of oncoming fire, however, player movement will become significantly slower and more cumbersome. When the spirit destroys enemies and items the coins they leave will automatically gravitate towards the player. There is also a skull meter that increases the more enemies you kill with your shot or your spirit. Keep your meter filled by chaining your kills and your score will begin to rise exponentially. Guwange differs from other manic shooters in the fact that your avatar does no flying. All the main protagonists are on foot, which has caused some to complain about the difficulty in traversing the level and being stuck in scenery. To an extent this can be true, but after a few plays, where you have some idea as to know what to do, this becomes a somewhat trivial point. Of another note, there are no typical 3-lives/ game over mechanic that is so prevalent in shooters. Instead you have a health bar, with available health pick ups along the way. This is an excellent solution as enemy bullets are particularly dense in this game.
With Guwange, Cave has lovingly crafted one of the most beautiful, imaginative, absorbing manic shooters that have ever been created. Game play is fast and involving, the music is a delight and the atmosphere positively enthrals. A legend of a game that is truly breathtaking.
Please be aware that this is a 7 year old review, and that things have changed with the XBLA release. The graphics do not look so good now with HDTV's (I would have loved an HD makeover like Mushihimesama Futari or Deathsmiles) and I haven't gone on in detail about the new arrange and Xbox Blue modes. However my opinion still stands. In an arcade environment with a standard definition television/arcade monitor, the game is still beautiful and I truly think it is one of the finest shmups out there. It does something different with the genre. Anyway hope you enjoy the review and the game.