Over this weekend I came across a little game over on Xbox LIVE Arcade listings that I knew I had to buy and play. Of late, I’ve been playing quite a bit of the so-called “shmup” (shoot ‘em up) arcade shooters. While I’ve played such games in the past the niche shmup titles of the gothic lolita variety which have become quite popular in Japan was still new to me. My first introduction to this subgenre of the shmup was when I bought a copy of the gothic lolita arcade shooter Deathsmiles for the Xbox 360. Less than a year later I’ve bought a second game which improves on the previous one I bought. Trouble Witches NEO from SNK was seen, downloaded and soon played for countless hours over the weekend.
Trouble Witches NEO (developed by the doujin team from Studio Siesta in conjunction with Bouken and SNK) is quite similar to the many shmup arcade shooters now coming out of Japan and being discovered by Western gamers. Like Cave’s Deathsmiles series (there’s two games released for the series and plans for more), this title is bullet hell taken to the next level. It also uses the popular trend of using “moe” (overly cute) character designs that usually range means all characters will look like gothic lolita in design. While Trouble Witches NEO does have it’s gothrori look it does share lots of similarities with the cult shmup series Touhou Project. That series is pretty much a “mahou shoujo” (magical girl) smorgasbord and Studio Siesta’s own title bear’s similarities.
Sure, one would say the game is very cute to the point of sickening (for some but not to me), but is the game any good they would ask. I would happily declare that the game is quite good. It boasts three different difficulty levels that should allow for all sorts of gamers to try from the pathetically newbie to the shmup genre to the hardest of the hardcore who have mastered all the shmup titles Japan has to offer. The game also offers several game modes from the title’s Original version which pretty much ports the Japanese arcade version straight to the console as seen by the 4:3 aspect ratio gaming screen. There’s also the “Arrange 360 Mode” which updates the game’s graphics for the Xbox 360 and gives it widescreen gaming window. It’s in this newer mode that one can play single-player, multiplayer (offline with another controlled and player), Story Mode and an online co-op through Xbox LIVE. There’s also the usual Score and Boss Attack modes which should challenge even the most hardcore shmup gamer.
It’s in the Story Mode where one can unlock two other maid-witches (the term generally used for the playable characters in this game and others of its kind) by playing through the mode with each of the 6 available playables. For 160 MS Points a player can download a 9th playable character. It’s not necessary to buy this playable, but for 160 points it’s not bad and she’s actually much more powerful then the other 8 which should help in trying to rack up a major high score in the Score and Boss Attack Modes. The former just needs a player to score as many points in the time allowed (3 or 5 minutes). The latter mode just has a player fighting the 6 bosses in the game over and over until all their lives are spent. So, as you can see this game doesn’t lack for replayability value. Just trying to go up in the online leaderboard ranks should occupy a gamer days if not weeks to try and accomplish.
The gameplay itself is not to difficult to do. The left analog stick or the D-Pad ( I recommend using the analog stick option) controls the player’s maid-witch while the A-button fires her basic attack. The B-button activates one of three Magic Cards a player can buy in a floating magic shop. Each card gives a player different attack options. Some are as basic as a 7-way fire which fills the screen to a decoy that attracts enemy fire to the ultra-powerful Fire Bomb which literally takes out everything it touches on the screen. The shop itself also sells extra health (lives in this game) and a magic potion which will increase the time a player can use the all-important Magic Barrier.
The Magic Barrier (activated by pressing the X-button) creates a circular barrier around the player which slows down incoming fire by turning them a purplish-pink. To make it even more interesting, if a player destroys the enemy whose fire has been caught in the Magic Barrier those very enemy fire turns into Gold Coins (Star Coins if a Magic Card ability is used to destroy the enemies) which can now be used to buy replacement Cards or buy new health/increase magic level. The Magic Barrier lasts only as long as the player’s total amount of magic which begins at a default 120. One can remove the barrier at any time by pressing the X-button again which will allow it replenish on its own. Gamers will soon learn to use this Magic Barrier strategically. It’s best used when there are a lot of enemies on the screen who give off tons of fire.
Overall, Trouble Witches NEO is another shmup arcade shooter which has made its way into the Xbox 360 and one that is worth the 800 MS points needed to buy it (960 points if one buys the 9th playable). It’s a fun game that’s readily accesible to all levels of gamer, but still very challenging to the veteran shmup gamer (I’d dare say even those would have a hard time mastering this title). While only a couple of these shmup titles have been available to North American Xbox 360 users there’s many more available to Japanese Xbox 360 owners and hopefully those other titles will make the jump to the West just like Trouble Witches NEO.
PS: As a treat to fans of this type of game Trouble Witch NEO comes not just with the localized English-language voice acting (which is hilarious in it’s awfulness when heard during the Story Mode cutscenes), but with the original Japanese-language voice. Just my preference I always switch the setting to Japanese language. The game retains it’s “moe” factor in that setting and definitely loses it when the English-language was picked.