Most people who frequent the site and are anything like me probably look forward to the next snippet of news regarding shooters, maybe it is the next port to XBLA, an original game, indie shooters, the next big arcade hit, a sequel or even oddball stuff like KOF:Sky Stage. Needless to say, I eat up every bit of news I can get. The people who actively follow this stuff are almost certainly aware of the Donpachi series by CAVE, this is their debut game. I remember when I started getting into shooters hardcore I downloaded a LOT of shooters for MAME, I already had Giga Wing for my Dreamcast so that game was like my gateway drug. Of those few titles I downloaded, the one that really grabbed me was Donpachi, I adored this game. It kicked my ass so hard, yet I was utterly addicted to it. It played so differently from the others. It didn't feel like the Psikyo/Raizing/Compile shmups I was used to. Something about it gave it the edge, but what is that edge? Just telling you won't be enough, you will have to download it and play it for yourself. For the sake of this review I will be keeping comparisons between Donpachi and it's sequel Dodonpachi to a minimum. Also, this review will cover my playing experience on the normal/hard difficulties and not the second loop of the game.
Story: You push the shoot button, uh, there is an enemy and you don't like them. They outnumber you 300-1 so it is obvious that you are the good guy in this whole thing. All I really know from the story seriously is that there is some giant robot bee named Hibachi who I guess is a big shot or something.
Gameplay: The gameplay is manic, not as manic as say, Batrider or Mars Matrix but it does a very good job of keeping you on your toes at all times. The controls are simple, tap the shoot button to shoot or hold it down to fire a solid powerful beam. Using the beam cuts your speed by 1/2 or more depending of the ship you choose. There is a bomb button, pressing just the bomb button will drop a weaker screen clearing explosion. Pressing it while holding down the shoot button fires a crazy super powerful beam that only fires straight ahead.
There are 3 ships to choose from, type A, B, or C. My personal craft of choice is type A, it is more mobile and fires straight ahead. B type shoots straight ahead while side guns rotate depending on which way you move. C type is extremely slow no matter what firing type you are using, but it's 3 way shot covers most of the screen. Not worth it in my opinion.
This game is a textbook example of a bullet hell shooter, CAVE would go on to trump this game more and more with every new game they put out. One thing always stayed the same though, that signature gameplay style found in this game. Even when I jump into one of their later games, there is always that sense of familiarity from my time with this game. I guess you could say it gives me confidence.
What I love about the difficulty is that it never feels impossible, I have been playing this game almost exclusively for a few weeks now and with the exception of a few very challenging parts nothing about it gives me a feeling of helplessness. It just takes a sharp eye and a fuckton of practice. Every time I play it I can feel myself improving (despite the countless times I have died at that very same spot).
Graphics: This game looks amazing. While obviously not as crisp and sharp as playing it on MAME it still looks great, bullet patterns are easy to see without straining and that is all I really care about when it comes to stuff like this. Things run at an almost constant smooth framerate, only when the screen is absolutely flooded with enemies and bullets while they are exploding do thing slow down, I would say that besides the slight barely there slowdown when things get hectic it is arcade perfect. There are multiple ways of viewing the game, even giving the option to zoom in, it lowers visibility somewhat but the resolution is higher, making things easier to see. This game set the standard for future CAVE releases, the level of visual polish here is as evident as in any of their other games. A.
Sound: I will be honest, the music in this game while good, can be pretty drab. Nothing about it really grabs me. The harder guitar filled soundtrack of Dodonpachi made me feel more on edge and perfectly complimented the action. Here it just seems...plain. I will forgive it though, while the music doesn't get me as hyped as the sequel it does a serviceable job.
The sound effects are meaty and loud and sound perfect. The gun sounds, the little explosions, the BIG explosions. All of it works together perfectly to give the player a very satisfying feeling when they wade through seas of enemies.
One of my favorite things about this game is the announcer. He is the Wing Leader and I guess your commander. He sounds kinda like Erik Estrada and that makes it so much more awesome. He gives the game its personality, I look forward to hearing him encourage me. Dodonpachi dropped the Wing Leader in favor of the uber-generic robot woman voice, lame. He is probably my favorite announcer in a shooter, ever. Such classic lines as:
"Don't you just LOOOOOOVE the sweet taste of victory!?"
"WHOAAA! Look at the size of that battleship! Keep your finger on the trigger rookie!"
"Well lookee what we got here, a multi-assault tank! Watch yourself kid!"
"This is it, enemy headquarters. Let's blow it and get out of here!"
He calls you kid, like you're the new guy on the team. Rookie? I just destroyed hundreds upon hundreds of enemy ships, dodged thousands of bullets and you call me rookie!? He is clearly a badass. I dare not talk back to him, his wisdom knows no bounds. A-.
Overall I absolutely love this game. It is a perfect example of the bullet hell genre and a must play for all shooter fans. For a first game CAVE succeeded in making a game that has style, polish, replayability, fantastic visuals and an incredible challenge. I would say this is the perfect place to start if you haven't explored this style of shooter, along with Giga Wing. It is challenging but by no means hopeless. PLAY IT IMMEDIATELY!