Advantage states have been very prominent in gaming. The easiest example of this would be how the bosses of Mega Man are weak to the weapon of another specific boss. It allows you to be stronger than the boss, provided that you figure out its weakness.
Pawarumi features its own take of the Rock-Paper-Scissors advantage states, but kicks it up a notch by introducing several other states.
Developer: Manufacture 43
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Jul 24, 2019
Pawarumi is a vertically scrolling shmup with an emphasis of using your weapons to your advantage. It features the entirety of the screen, unlike a lot of vertical shmups that use a narrower view that can take advantage of TATE mode.
So yeah, Pawarumi doesn’t support TATE mode (and if it would, it would be really awkward).
In terms of movement and firepower, Pawarumi has a very standard offering. You have a single life, but carry a sort of life bar which can be replenished by yourself… sort of. You also have a special bar that unleashes a heavy barrage on the enemies and also makes you invincible for a brief period of time.
Perhaps one of the things I like and wish many other shmups did is incorporate 360 degrees of movement using the analog stick. It helps a lot with the finer movements required to dodge the hard patterns. By holding ZL you can also reduce your movement for even higher control when weaving through the bullets.
For all the goodness in movement, there is one aspect which I dislike a lot: the speed. Pawarumi features a kind of cone based movement because of the camera angle. The higher you are on the screen, the more you can move horizontally because you are further away.
But that’s not the speed I was talking about. I feel that the movespeed of your ship is quite slow relative to the enemy and bullet speed. My favorite example of this is Xibalba’s boss, a spider that charges at you with minimal warning, and which will hit you unless you got out of the way within the first signs of an attack.
RPS on steroids
The main mechanic of Pawarumi is the Rock-Paper-Scissor mechanic. You have 3 different weapons, each represented by a color and an animal. “Y” will shoot a blue laser represented by the Condor. “B” will shoot green twisting bullets represented by the Serpent. “A”will fire red tracking missiles represented by the Jaguar.
In the same way you sport 3 different colored weapons, the enemies will come in the same 3 colors. By defeating the enemies with a specific color relative to theirs, you will gain one of 3 different effect. Hitting an enemy with the same color will “boost” and heal your shield. Hitting them with an advantage weapon will “crush” and deal extra damage. Hitting them with the “disadvantage” weapon will “drain” and charge your special gauge.
Everybody is a winner
During my first playthroughs there was a very persistent thought in my mind: it will get easier. Memorizing all the different strengths and weaknesses will take some getting used to, but the reward will be juicy. That was very true, as I am now able to crush, drain or boost at will. But I also found out something else very interesting: you don’t actually have to learn anything.
Think about this for a second. No matter what you do, your weapons will always have one of 3 positive effects. Like the laser? Play the entire game with it and some enemies will heal you, others give you special gauge and lastly some will die quicker. It is a win-win-win scenario! To further ease your learning curve, stick to one shot and shoot enemies with their same color if you ever need to heal.
The enemies in Pawarumi are just not well designed for the most part. This is probably a recurring theme throughout this review, but Pawarumi just places too much emphasis on its gimmick with the hopes it can round out the rest of the game.
Taking a look at the enemy ships, other than resembling groups of like-colored ships, they just don’t feel fun to play against. Enemies just fly into their position, shoot some non-contrasting bullets that just come at you, and then charge as if they were punishing you for not killing them on time, which is probably the actual reason. Even when using their crushing weapon, they all feel like a slog of just standing in place and shooting until it eventually dies. Ironically, the wide area of the 3 shots also increases the dullness by making standing still and shooting a viable tactic.
I’m really torn with the visuals on Pawarumi. On one side they look bright and vibrant with 3 colors that stand out. They also take a lot of inspiration from Ikaruga and the intro and mid-stage sequences where you see the ship flying through the map.
However, when it comes to gameplay it doesn’t do any favors. The colors and the effects are way to bright and mute the enemy bullet, which are purple-ish. If that wasn’t bad enough, remember that your mind will be focusing on colors for the most part, which makes dodging bullets extremely hard.
The funny thing is that the bullet patterns aren’t hard at all, well they do kill you every now and then just because of how stealthy they are and how the gameplay seems to work against you as a player.
There is also way too much in the way of special effects going on screen. Between the multi-colored enemies, the screen flashes, the rapid background scroll and even the effects of filling your shield gauge or special bar, there is way too much going on to accurately be able to see where to dodge.
I have to give credit to Xibalba for being probably the worst stage I have ever played on a shmup.
The first segment has you dodging sort of “mines” on the stage. While you are dodging, there is a variety of high HP ships attacking you. These ships will violently ship from edge to edge of the screen. If it wasn’t obvious, this is supposed to keep you on your toes by dodging mines and chasing the enemy. In reality it is more of a chore of just staying in-line of an enemy that is just being plain annoying.
The second part will have a large horde of ships being unleashed from the background. I don’t know who came with this idea, but the fact that enemies attack you from the foreground, but also fly on the background without having any real way of distinguishing themselves is plain cheap. It doesn’t even reach “eye test” levels of difficulty, just a mess of shiny colors.
Then there’s the giant rock that can only be slowed down by crushing the enemies that will appear and whose sole purpose is to be crushed by you. Ironically, this sheds light into the lack of surgical precision each weapon has. Ikaruga has a twin fire machine gun, but by pressing the button once you can shoot a single bullet to keep your combo. Good luck trying to single out that blue enemy with the jaguar chaser missiles.
Finally you reach the boss and think it all ends, but other than the standard boss design of just flinging bullets, you get to play a mini-game 3 times similar to that carnival game where you guess on which cup is the ball that they tried to shuffle. Aside from tracking where the ball is, you have to react to the boss’ prompt of either boosting, crushing or draining. Oh yeah, it also isn’t a ball hidden in 3 cups, it’s 3 colored orbs matching your weapons, hidden underneath the cups. I’ll admit that at first I thought it was dumb to have to memorize where 3 colors are being shuffled, but then I realized I only need to track one and react accordingly to the command.
Where is the polish?
Perhaps the most glaring problem with the game is how it seems to be overall lacking in polish. I already mentioned the afterthought the colors were and the sluggish movement but those are only part of the equation.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this before, but Pawarumi probably has the worst framerate of any shmup I have played. It seems to be 30-ish or maybe even slightly less. While it might be a combination of factors, the end result on gameplay is that movement feels bad.
There is a very clear conflict between crush and drain. Think of Ikaruga and how it rewards you with a very powerful attack if you take advantage of the polarity to absorb bullets. Pawarumi for the most part is designed around crushing. Enemies turning kamikaze if they don’t die soon enough. At this point crush and drain overlap as they both increase your DPS, when ideally you should be able to complement your bullets with special attacks.
The value offering
In terms of bang for your buck, Pawarumi offers an arcade mode with 3 difficulties. I encourage you to play through them in ascending difficulty to get the most out of the story. For every successful stage clear you will unlock that stage for the training mode, which lets you practice any given stage if they are giving you trouble.
Pawarumi also offers local and online leaderboards for every mode, should you desire to ascend to the heavens with the shmup gods.
There isn’t much in the game apart from that.
I want to be very clear in case the developer stumbles upon my review. These are the most glaring issues with the game that needed a lot more time in the oven:
- The color palette and the way enemies and stage blend together fails to differentiate one from the other. Just look at the Dunes in the beginning section and how the floor has red marking while red enemies are flying over them.
- Enemies are too tanky to be even challenging. Consider increasing the number of enemies while reducing the HP for a similar hit point count, but with higher diversity.
- Bullet patterns follow the simple principle of flying towards the user. There is no finesse to them or any sort of puzzle-solving to navigating them, just getting out of the way.
- Coupled with the last point, all main weapons shoot forward. Enemy seldom shoot downwards. This makes the dogfights non dynamic as you only stand in straight line from the enemy and move away when it fires.
- It takes 3 whole seconds to cross from left to right of the screen.
- Performance across the board is terrible. Cutscenes drop frames, cinematic transitions also drop frames and the frame rate of the game is way too low for a shmup. I’m curious to see if this is a Switch hardware issue or if its just the way it is.
- Over reliance on the RPS gimmick.
- The crush/drain dilemma.
Pawarumi as a game had me very excited. It takes inspiration from some of my favorite games and gives a unique twist on the formula by offering an engaging mechanic to take advantage of the enemies. Unfortunately the rest of the game isn’t good enough to support it. The levels and gameplay lack polish and there is little incentive to play other than to beat the game.
It breaks my heart because the concept is quite neat and I love the aesthethic of the style. I also respect the inspiration it draws mainly from Ikaruga, but there are way too many things getting in the way of fun and ingrained in the core design of the game.
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