Castle of Shikigami III continues the proud tradition of vertical shooters interested mainly in how many different ways they can fill your television screen with bullets. There is a pretty specific audience for games like this, but those that appreciate the skill they require won't be disappointed by this offering. Shikigami III doesn't innovate the way a game like Ikaruga
does, but what it shoots it shoots well. It's quirky, provides a great challenge, and fills a gap in the Wii's software library.
The Shikigami series has been blasting Japanese arcades and home consoles worldwide since 2001. Don't worry if you haven't played earlier entries in the series -- all you have to do here is shoot everything you see. Some characters have returned, but don't bother trying to figure out the wacky premise. Just sit back and delight in some of the most hilarious Japanese-to-English translations ever. Some of the insanity is purposeful, like self-references to this and previous games in the series, and some of it is just awkwardly translated. But it's all golden.
There are 10 characters to choose from, each with a different attack, bomb, and two types of "hold" attacks (where you hold down the "fire" button). In single-player mode, you can play with just one character, or choose two to switch between on the fly. While I appreciate all these choices, not everyone's attacks are actually useful and some move too slowly. You'll probably only want to mess around with about half of them.
The characters take up a good chunk of real estate on the screen, but they have a large soft zone and won't take damage unless a bullet hits them square in their center. The closer you are to an enemy, the more damage you do. When enemy fire is too close for comfort you'll unleash red "high-tension shots" for maximum damage. These also act as a kind warning that you're about to get your head blown off.
Once you're in the game you'll find a pretty standard top-down shmup. There are five stages, each divided into two chapters. The mid-bosses are large vehicles with multiple damage points, and the stage bosses are all humanoid enemies. While the 'noids are small for shooter bosses, they have pretty inventive attacks. They'll fling giant swords at you, jam your weapons, or slow you down with arrows. The normal enemies, unfortunately, are quite generic and are often reused from level to level.
The visuals are a mix of slick, hand-drawn character artwork used in cut scenes and to border the playing field, and 3D-rendered shooting galleries (limited to 2D movement). The 3D environments allow for some cool, swooping camera work, but the areas are pretty jaggy and lack detail. Explosions (of which there are a few) look great and there are lots of flashy effects popping everywhere.
There isn't much to the gameplay: you shoot stuff, dodge bullets, and memorize patterns. But if you're into this sort of thing, Shikigami's action doesn't get old fast. While it provides an intense challenge it doesn't feel frustrating, and you'll find yourself getting a little farther each time you play.
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