There’s one thing I’ve noticed throughout all the different entries on this list, and that’s a passion for shmup games. We know our genre is niche, and we don’t get as many games as other genres, but those games we do get are a product of love. However, love doesn’t equate to understanding of the genre, and we’ve seen many games suffer because of that. They didn’t have their lucky clover.
So what happens when an actual hardcore shmup player combines his passion with the depths of knowledge he has about the ins and outs of the genre? Well, the answer is of course Crimzon Clover. A game that is so masterfully handcrafted that it is really hard to put down! This is what a 10/10 game looks like.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Oct 29, 2020
Tate: Yes! The best implementation I’ve seen so far!
Crimzon Clover World EXplosion is a 2D vertical shooter that is heavily inspired by Cave games. Saying “inspired” doesn’t do it much justice, as this isn’t one of those game who copies and pastes elements from great games. Instead, Yotsubane displays an incredibly deep knowledge of why these games were great and used only the best of the best to create Crimzon Clover.
The golden standard
If you’re familiar with cave games, then the basic mechanics will seem very familiar to you, almost as if you were visiting home for the holidays. Your shot button will fire regular bullets in either a wide or concentrated spread. Your lock is a lock-on system that periodically locks onto enemies and fires when the button is released. Using your lock slows your ship, so it’s good for maneuvering tight bullet patterns. Finally, the break button will release a damaging explosion that clears the screen and briefly gives you invulnerability.
That was just a surface level explanation of the different systems, as you will quickly find out there is a lot of potential everywhere!
The lock-on works as a circular area that slows expands outwards from your ship. As it grows in size, it locks into several enemies, or even on the same enemy multiple times! You can only lock-on to a limited number of enemies and it takes some time to do so, so a good rhythm is necessary. The lock-on rhythm actually became one of the most enjoyable motions for me. Just hearing the audio cues and remembering the timing of the release is oddly mesmerizing. It’s one of those skills that feel awkward at first, but when you get used to it, it reaps enormous results!
A finger slip
The press and release motions of the lock-on have interesting implications on dodging bullets. As mentioned before, pressing the lock button will make you move slower for precision dodges. Your hit box is a shining dot on the center of your ship, which makes it possible to maneuver around tight patterns. However, releasing your lock also means you go back to normal speed, so there’s a neat little mini game of releasing your lock, but also being aware of how your ship will respond to full speed motion. I don’t think this is game breaking or mandatory as a skill, but I appreciate this finer skills that separate the good from the great.
I also felt it similar to Rolling Gunner in a way. Since the range of the lock-on isn’t infinite, you are going to get more mileage if you can be closer to your target. Similar to how Rolling Gunners charges more of its break gauge by being closer to your enemies.
The true potential of the game is best exemplified by the break meter. I described it very similarly to a bomb, because it is to some extent, but there’s more. Your break will be shown as a bar that fills slowly as your kill enemies and collect medals. Your bar has a small indicator at around 1/3rd of the bar. Once you go past this threshold, you can unleash a powerful bomb that clears the screen and makes you briefly invincible. The catch is that once you bomb, the indicator moves further to the right. This means that the more you bomb, the costlier it becomes. It’s a nice penalty against bombing your way through the game. Of course, the indicator returns to normal upon death or by collecting a reset power-up.
As a nice little tough, the legend “Bomb ready” appears below your ship when your bomb is ready. It’s one of those little details that convey a lot of information without having to look at the bar. It’s also one of those details that show how much Yotsubane understands the nuances of a great shmup.
As nice as bombing might be, the bar is called break, not bomb. Once you completely fill the gauge, you can activate break mode. Breaking will clear the bullets on the screen and turn them into medals for you to collect. Your firepower will also be greatly increased and your number of locks will increase as well! Breaking will also drastically increase your score multiplier, so mastering break will not only boost your damage and survivability, but also become the key to reaching the upper echelons of the leaderboards.
But there’s more! Below the break gauge there is ANOTHER break gauge! If you manage to fill the gauge enough to break during a break, then you will trigger a DOUBLE BREAK! This will further increase all of the perks you get from breaking! I’ll be honest, there’s nothing in this game that gave me more of an adrenaline rush than a double break. Everything becomes so overpowered and the effects are greatly exaggerated, which makes for an incredible experience that makes you feel invincible! The HUD even opens up as if a limiter had been disengaged and you were in full power mode!
Just like the bombs, you also get a message by your ship that let’s you know when break is ready.
Simple and clean
As most vertical shmups, it has a decent amount of available real estate at the left and right edges of the screen. This space can be customized with several panels. The right side can be customized with scoring panels. This could be one of 3 panels: one that shows the breakdown of scoring type per stage, one that shows the breakdown of scoring type as a total, and a third one that displays the score history of each of the 5 stages. You can only display 2 out of those 3, but there isn’t any other restriction beside that. In fact, you could display the same panel twice. Or you could not display anything at all.
The left side is a little bit limited. It can only display the controls and your medals. The controls panel is a graphical representation of the buttons you are pressing. It shows the stick motions and the buttons being pressed. The medals panel displays the highest medal you’ve earned per mode per ship. For example when playing on Novice, you can see 8 medals: 1 per ship on Boost mode and 1 per ship on Original mode. Arcade mode shows 16 medals, 8 more for the 2 additional modes available.
Personally, I found the medals panel to be my absolute favorite. Sure, it it very similar to how Ikaruga shows achievements, but in Crimzon Clover it appeals to the completionist in me. It helps me keep track of my high scores with each ship and play style and seeing it encourages me to play again.
While the panels are quite basic, they do look nice and clean. They might not have M2 Shot Trigger levels of information, but the HUD remains easy to read and avoids clutter.
An addition to the World EXplosion edition is the newly created ARRANGED mode! The best way to describe this is as a cave version of Gradius. Instead of collecting medals to increase your score, you collect them to increase a power-up gauge. The gauge has several notches, so you can cash-in at your desired point the collect one of several upgrades. If you fill the gauge, it goes back to the beginning.
What’s amazing to me about this mode is how it gives you complete freedom to upgrade yourself. In a way it breaks the mold of several shmups where you collect the power-ups as the game provides them. This free form style lets you go for whatever you consider the most important in the game. Maybe you go for speed or extra options. Perhaps you want breaks to get maximum score. You could also be defensive and go for shields. The choice is yours to make!
If this sounds like it takes extra presence of mind, it’s because it does. Crimzon Clover offers a semi-auto mode to ease you into ARRANGED mode. This mode will automatically redeem power-ups without you having to do anything. This lets you play the game as usual while making occasional choices of upgrades. If not, the system will simply do it for you. Eventually you will feel ready to go full manual and that feels awesome! Of course, you don’t really need to do it at all, there’s no penalty or downside other than sometimes upgrading something you didn’t want to upgrade yet.
Some of the power-ups include:
- Speed up
- Increased lock-ons
- Increased lock-on range
- Formation toggle for your options
- Break and double break
As usual, the gauge will be handily displayed above your ship to make it easier to see and reduce the need to gaze at other parts of the screen. Once again showing Yotsubane really does know how to design for the player.
Objects in screen are closer than they appear
If everything I’ve said so far has painted a picture in your head, it probably is one with a screen full of bullets and medals. The thing is, you are not wrong! There’s a lot of stuff going on in the screen, however, Crimzon Clover does an excellent job at making sure everything is visible and easily identifiable!
This is achieved with several different design choices, but one of the more prominent ones is layering. Simply put, layers of objects will appear on screen based on importance and a little bit of “real word” logic. For example, the bullets will always be on the top layer while the ground tanks will be at the bottom. Medals appear in-between. Your ship is, as expected, a layer below the bullets but above all else to make it easy to dodge.
There’s maybe one element which you might miss amidst the chaos: the ground enemies. Between the bullets and the medals, the ground enemies tend to be well hidden beneath everything, and they do shoot to kill from the shadows. Fortunately, there is a really clever solution in the form of the lock-on system. Even if you can’t see the enemies, your lock can highlight them for you to remind you they’re there. The more I think about this, the more I’m convinced Yotsubane is a genius with how there’s a clever or elegant solution to every common shmup nuance.
There’s another element, which is lasers, which might be hard to see. Lasers have varying speeds, but thankfully they are always preceded by a charging animation and a very distinct sound cue. Sounds are as informative as visuals, so everything plays along nicely in conveying information.
Usually I keep TATE as a one line in the intro or limit myself to brief mentions, however the approach taken by Crimzon Clover is something I’ve been hoping to get from developers for years! I wish I was exaggerating, but I fantasized about this implementation as early as Danmaku Unlimited 3.
TATE brings in the familiar 90 degress of rotation of the screen on either side. What makes this so great is the way it maps the controllers.
When you rotate the orientation of the screen, the buttons are rotated as well to allow you to play with the joy-cons attached as normal. This means that, for the first time, TATE is literally just rotating your Switch and gripping it sideways. I know this might sound like a minimal detail, but I can’t help but be amazed that it took this long for TATE mode to reach this degree of simplicity. A flip grip is no longer necessary to play sideways!
Although, there are some caveats to this approach. For one, as much as the buttons are rotated, the should buttons aren’t. This was super awkward for me because I remapped the break button to ZR, so you can imagine that it ended up completely out of reach in one rotation, and very awkward in the other one. The other issue is that holding a vertical grip required more grip strength than usual. Your hands will get tired much quicker as a result. It also seems to be harmful for your wrists, so take care and take time breaks. Also remember to stretch your wrists every hour.
Novices are welcome
Other then ARRANGED, Crimzon Clover features 2 major gameplay modes which are NOVICE and ARCADE. Gameplay elements are similar in both of these modes, so it really boils down to easy and hard difficulties. All modes feature unlimited continues, so feel free to play in whichever mode you like without fear of failure.
Novice is the perfect difficulty for beginners and intermediate players. I know many people usually think of the easier modes as an insult to their skill, but I encourage everyone to give it a go. I did and what I found was that the pacing and difficulty was very similar to traditional non-danmaku shmups. It is accessible, but also poses a decent challenge for anyone looking to have a good time.
Further breaking down difficulty, in Novice you can choose to play in Boost or Original difficulties. Original is your regular difficulty, not much to say about this one. Boost mode is a special mode where the difficulty adapts to your play style. The way this works is that break is changed to be permanent. Once you break, you keep your break state until you’re hit or you bomb, however, you keep accumulating points depending on how long you were able to keep your break state. The game is also harder the longer you spend in break state.
Arcade mode is the standard difficulty for shmup aficionados. Apart from offering the Boost and Original mode, Arcade features Unlimited and Time Attack modes. Unlimited is your expert difficulty for those looking for the maximum challenge. Time Attack is a caravan styled mode where you play for 3 minutes and shoot for the highest score.
Although I mentioned how good Crimzon Clover is with visibility, I gotta say that this is a beautiful game all over. The bullets, medals and explosions all look amazing. The ships and enemies are also quite smooth and easy on the eyes. What’s more is that the ongoing symphony of bullets, medals and explosions is quite artistic and definitely worthy of style points.
Perhaps what stood out the most to me is the enemy graphics. I apologize if this style has a proper name, but for me it looks like Dreamcast styled sprites. They look pixely, but also detailed. They convey the picture of the enemy, but don’t quite reach HD status. The style also reminds me a lot of Rolling Gunner, although I’d have to give the advantage to Crimzon Clover, as their sprites look better.
The backgrounds are way too good, though. They depict several different scenes, and I found all of them to be very memorable, as opposed to other shmups where they all blend together. The coloring is bright. My personal favorite is Stage 4 which has a city with its nightlights and a very chill vibe. It’s what I could describe as a level situated in the background of the LoFi girl image.
With Crimzon Clover being quite the experience for both the eyes and the ears, I have to talk about its great soundtrack. It comes in 2 flavors: original and arranged. I didn’t play any previous releases, so I’ll just hazard a guess and say original comes from before Crimzon Clover got the subtitles and arranged comes from either World Ignition or World EXplosion.
Either way, the soundtrack marries the visual style perfectly! The background music is great and the sound effects are also extremely fitting. Stage 2 in particular feels like an 80’s VHS movie soundtrack and I love it for that. My favorite were definitely the boss themes, so I’ll just let you hear them for yourselves. Oh yeah, I’m assuming you will be buying the game because this really is a shmup you must have!
In regards to both soundtracks, I definitely prefer the arranged soundtrack. I found the original one to sound very tame in comparison to the arranged. Arranged feels closer to the adrenaline inducing shmup genre as a whole, so my vote goes to that one.
For super players and super survivors
Part of the expectation of having a shmup designed by a shmup super player is that it might cater to super players only. Luckily for the rest of us, this isn’t quite the case. While there are intricate scoring systems and strategies that I don’t understand myself, there’s also plenty to go for people like me to like to play and not die.
A very interesting decision that perfectly depicts this comes after every boss fight. As a reward, you can pick one of 3 or 4 bonus items depending on your difficulty. These bonus items can be a 1UP (Novice only), 10,000 stars, resetting your bomb gauge or increasing your break gauge. Your choice depends on which type of player you are, with survivalist like me going for the 1UP or gauge resets for bombing. Super players might opt to increase their gauge for break shenanigan multipliers.
I think this choice is the true beauty of Crimzon Clover! It doesn’t matter which type of player you are, you will find out that the design and the various systems could easily push you to either style. The many choices you might make are not mutually exclusive, so you could either alternate with both styles in the same playthrough. This kind of crossover is a “walk in someone else’s shoes” kind of deal that lets you experience the game as a super player or as a 1CC hunter. Who knows, maybe you’ll find that you actually enjoy the other style as much, if not more than your current style.
The finishing touches
To wrap up this package of a shmup, there are the complimentary modes. Most are pretty self explanatory, so I’ll just list the various options you have at your disposal:
Replays, in particular, are a bit basic when compared to more robust replay systems. You can playback any run, but the playback only supports fast forward modes. It does feature the button inputs in the handy display panel. There is also a crazy amount of slots to save recordings, so you can at least record a run in every single mode.
The best shmup out there
To round up this review, I want to say what you’ve been meaning to read since my opening paragraphs: Crimzon Clover World EXplosion is the best shmup you can play on the Switch as of 2020.
The time I spent with Crimzon Clover has easily been the best time I’ve had while playing shmups on my Switch, and this entire ranking is proof that I’ve been playing a lot of them. Not even once during my play time did I feel frustrated or angry at the game, because even if I failed, I did so in a shmup that is so beautiful and masterfully created, that I couldn’t help but smile and just play again. When the elements are taken as individual, most of them would come out as #1 when compared to other shmups, but as a whole it is by far the best shmup you could have in your collection.
You might have noticed that this replay took a longer time when compared to my other reviews. There is a reason for that and the reason is quite simple. The reason is that I was too busy playing Crimzon Clover. Time went by so fast and I never noticed because I was having way too much fun. Funny enough, I probably spent most of it on Novice because I got so entangled in my quest to 1CC and get a trophy in every mode.
So whether you are a complete novice to the genre, or you are a grizzled veteran, you should know that Crimzon Clover is the best of the best and one game that you might love as much as I do.
THE RANKING SO FAR:
- Crimzon Clover – World EXplosion
- Psyvariar Delta
- Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade
- Rolling Gunner
- Blazing Star
- Raiden V: Director’s Cut
- Darius Cozmic Collection Console
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
- Sky Force: Reloaded
- Strikers 1945
- Black Paradox
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Sine Mora EX
- Shikhondo – Soul Eater
- Freedom Finger
- Ghost Blade HD
- AngerForce: Reloaded
- Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
- Q-YO Blaster
- Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Red Death
- Task Force Kampas
- Switch ‘N’ Shoot
- Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)