Evo moment 37. That one sequence where Daigo Umehara, playing as Ken in Street Fighter 3, perfectly parries Chun-Li’s super and counters with a winning combo. It is an iconic moment in FGC history that is recognizable even among non-gamers. It serves as a gateway into competitive fighting games. Similarly to that, shmups have a sequence which showcases shmups at the highest level. The game in question: Mushihimesama Futari, the sequel to Mushihimesama.
Although this isn’t the same game that is featured on that video, it is still a Cave shmup with all the glory and accolades the name entails. It’s a unique game about bugs and orange colored doritos. It is one of the classics of the genre that you definitely don’t want to miss!
Publisher: Live Wire
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: June 15, 2021
Tate: Hell yeah, and it’s the good kind too!
Mushihimesama is a vertical shmup developed by Cave in 2004. It follows the tale of Princess Reco and her golden beetle on a quest to save their people from the contamination. What’s neat about this game as opposed to other Cave games is that insect thematic. All enemies are the sort of insects you would find outdoors and the environments represent their habitats as well.
Buggy guilty pleasure
Mushihimesama has a lot of things going for it, but I’ll never stop being amazed at just how full of insects the game is. In a way, it feels like going on summer camp or camping and just finding every possible insect on a hike. Enemies, mini-bosses and bosses are all different types of insects. Even the backgrounds represent their habitats. I don’t really mean that every insect is a scientific replica of a real world insect, but you clearly see where the inspiration is coming from.
Now for the twisted part. Another facet of the game that I really enjoyed and maybe not feel to proud to admit is the joy of squishing insects. I’m not sure why, but there’s a sense of satisfaction to watching a horde of flies coming your way and promptly disposing of them to collect your score doritos. Although at some points the game takes it way too seriously, such as stage 4’s boss whose phase change is triggered by blowing up its head.
The true bullet hell
Buggy motif aside, the greatest feature of Mushihimesama comes courtesy of the majestic bullet patterns of the enemies. Even though most shmups in this style feature a sea of bullets the player must navigate, they eventually start to favor either combat, evasion or scoring more than the other aspects. In this trifecta of shmup styles, Mushihimesama clearly goes for evasion.
There is one aspect to evasion that I’m particularly fond of, and that’s the color of the bullets. All enemy bullets, without exception, are purple. This is really helpful when it comes to identifying on-screen threats. There is no ambiguity to what you see on screen, you won’t risk confusing a bullet for friendly fire because purple is always bad. Though this does mean that you can’t distinguish which enemy is shooting which bullet, which comes to play when going for high scores. Nonetheless, as a general design decision I’m all up for clarity on my screen.
Although good visibility doesn’t equate to easy gameplay. Quite on the contrary, the screen is a treacherous space to navigate, but never one that feels too overwhelming. Spaces open up where you least expect them. This is one of the aspects I love the most about shmups and getting better at them. That one moment where you see waves of bullets coming your way, you take a deep breath, and almost as magic you see the bullets settle up and open up spaces for you to navigate. Quite the feeling of “shmuper’s high”.
As hard to catch as a fly
Since there are no visibility issues, the evasion is 100% up to your skill. To aid you on that, Mushihimesama has a surprisingly small hitbox. It might as well be a single pixel, as I’ve seen myself survive some encounters that I really shouldn’t have.
To be honest, I always feel a little dazed and confused when I emerge through a wave of bullets that should have killed me. It makes me feel like I’m on borrowed time. I’m not sure if anyone else feels that way, but for me I always take some time before regaining my composure after I realize I didn’t actually die but fully know that I should have taken the hit. It’s both confusing and at the same time exhilarating.
I learned a valuable lesson about confidence in this close to death encounters. Some times you just have to confidently run into the bullets and hope everything turns out for the better. I’m not able to tell if that’s a natural evolution of me as a shmup player or if I’m just being a confident fool. Nevertheless, more often than not I end up victorious and that makes me happy.
Get those doritos
Scoring in Mushihimesama is quite simple in comparison to other shmups. For traditional gameplay, your objective would be to grab as many orange gems as possible to increase your score. These gems come from defeating enemies, so it’s something you can get without any extra effort. The other way of getting those gems is by the screen wiping effect when you kill a mid or above class of enemy. The more bullets on-screen, the bigger the reward when beating these foes. Thus creating the classic risk/reward scenarios of trying to have as many bullets on-screen without dying from said bullets.
Scoring gets a little more interesting on Maniac and Ultra modes. In these modes, all enemies have a counter that ticks down when they are are on-screen. Your objective then turns into trying to kill enemies as fast as possible to grab these score bonuses as high as possible. As you can imagine, knowing full well the layouts of the levels is the key to knowing when and how to clear the enemies as quick as possible.
The only caveat to scoring is that the score counters are too visually disruptive for regular gameplay. This is especially apparent on small enemies, such as the larvae that appear after killing a mid-sized enemy in the first level. Although, if you are playing for score then you already know where the enemies are, so in a way the reduced visibility is at most a minor inconvenience. Nonetheless, it does impact those who play the higher difficulties for the challenge instead of for the high scores.
A look for every season
Included in this release are 4 different ways of playing Mushihimesama:
- Version 1.5
All of them are versions of the same game with some key differences. Although, in terms of gameplay you will get similar mechanics and go through the same stages and bosses. Even the story remains unchanged.
Original contains the game as it was originally released on the arcades. It features 3 different modes which are Original, Maniac and Ultra. Think of them as a difficulty setting with Original being the easiest and Ultra being the hardest. Advanced scoring applies to Maniac and Ultra. Ultra also has an extra final boss for those good enough to make it all the way through. Or that’s what I’d say if the game was credit limited, but Mushihimesama has free play, so feel free to credit cheese your way to the end.
The extra boss is a fun encounter, although you have to be wary that it definitely doesn’t respond well to credit cheesing. Every time you respawn, the boss is shielded like you, so you can’t take advantage of your immunity to deal damage. It also reflects your attacks as a nearly undodgeable pattern, so no attacking either.
Although self-explanatory, Novice is an easier version of the original game. There’s less bullets and they move slower. A nice thing is that it also has the 3 difficulty settings, so you can climb your way as you improve your skills. I personally found Novice to be extremely accessible, with all 3 modes being simple to 1CC for intermediate shmup enthusiasts.
The new era
Arrange is a mode that retains the base gameplay experience, but adds some interesting twists to the formula. The most noticeable one is the existence of auto-bombs. When you are hit, instead of perishing, you will release all your bombs and survive. This adds an additional layer of defense when managing your bombs. Whether you use them to get out of a tight spot, or trust your skills and risk it all is your choice. Unless you are on your last bomb, at which point the best usage is to not use it at all and save it as a shield.
Unlike the other modes, there isn’t a difficulty selector when playing on Arrange. Perhaps it serves as a way to drive home the point that this is a remixed way of playing the game. Between that and the new BGM, it does feel like a fresh new way of playing a game you might already know by heart. It does have the extra boss though, so watch out for that final extra hard encounter.
Quality of Life changes
Version 1.5 is my favorite way of playing because it retains all the elements from the Original, but brings some nice quality of life changes and a new soundtrack. For one, you have a magnetic effect that helps you pickup jewels. This frees some space on your mental stack as you don’t need to worry as much about flying over gems and can have fun focusing on other aspects. It also adds notches of the boss HP bars to let you know when a phase change will occur. Now you know when the water insect from stage 4 will have its head blown off!
There is one significant addition to the game and that’s the MAX mode. When choosing your shot type, you can opt for the traditional way or the MAX mode. Traditional is your standard way of playing where you collect power-ups and improve your shot. MAX mode starts you at full power, but the enemies have faster bullets, although you do get the auto-bomb back. The new MAX mode definitely remixes some of the old challenges, as you need to have some quick thinking to survive. As if to taunt you, the enemy bullets have an afterimage effect, in case you needed a reminder that they are moving faster.
Remember that annoying score counters besides the enemies on Maniac and Ultra? Well, those receive a new treatment in 1.5 that makes them golden and also less visually disrupting. The perfect compromise between those who want score and those who challenge themselves to survival.
The cave slowdown
I really hope you are visualizing thousands of bullets by now, because that is definitely what you get on Mushihimesama. One of the most mesmerizing aspects of it, and most Cave games in general, is how the actions slows down on critical moments. Simply put, the higher the number of bullets on screen, the slower everything moves. To be honest I don’t know if this is intentional or just the game causing lag, but I believe it might actually be both. Nevertheless, there’s always a nice “fight or flight” response triggered by seeing these slowdowns. It’s your one cue that things will be hectic and that the worse is already coming to pass.
Though, watch out for the aftermath. Too many times was I killed after a hectic bullet wave because, as the bullets left the screen, the action returned to normal speed and I didn’t adapt to that. It was disorienting at first, but you kind of learn to accept it as part of the game (because it is).
A new porting challenger
By now it seems pretty clear that Mushihimesama is a fantastic game by itself, however, we also have to consider the quality of the port as a part of this equation. The porting team in this case is Live Wire.
As someone who didn’t play Mushihimesama originally, there only so much I can say about the quality of the emulation. In my opinion it felt extremely well done and very close to what I imagine is full arcade fidelity. Latency doesn’t seem to be an issue, although that’s something that might be better answered by someone equipped to measure it such as Mark MSX from The Electric Underground.
What I can definitely describe are the additional features brought by the team! One of the aspects that felt pretty barebones were the gadgets. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled too much by M2, but I found the included gadgets to be pretty basic on Mushihimesama. There’s isn’t much aside from score and zoom-ins on important parts of the screen like your bomb count.
However, these basic gadgets do have unparalleled customization options. By being able to manipulate size, zoom and even coordinates you can mix and match to create your ideal shmup battle station!
There also an option to rotate the screen to TATE and preserve the control orientation. This means you won’t need a flip grip, as you can rotate your Switch and the attached joy-cons will rotate with you as well! Truly the best and laziest way to change to TATE on the fly!
The missing links
Aside from the main modes, there isn’t much in the way of extra content for players to experience. Besides score attacks, replays and training, there isn’t much else to do. You really don’t need anything else to do, though, as Mushihimesama has plenty of fun to go around.
Despite this, it would have been well received to have additional game modes like boss challenges. All this might be riding on the tail wind of my ESP Ra.De. review, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel at time like just doing boss challenges or even attempting to spartan train some of the later levels.
Mushihimesama was always this mythical title that seemed to embody the epitome of shmups, but so far away from my grasp. There’s been so much fantasizing and idealization, that I felt anxious that it wouldn’t live to my expectations. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case and Mushihimesama ended up being every bit as amazing as I had expected. The combat and the patterns were a blast to learn and master. Squishing bugs was also surprisingly satisfying.
The real downfall comes from a lack of extras. This late into the Switch’s lifespan we are beginning to see extremely robust shmup packages that give us all the content our hearts desire and even more. And yet, in the presence of fully equipped ports, Mushihimesama ends up being carried a lot by the quality of the game and not so much by the porting gravy. At the end of the game, I’m very happy we can all experience such an amazing game, and I hope eventually everyone can rise up to a bar that M2 is raising by a lot.
THE RANKING SO FAR:
- Crimzon Clover – World EXplosion
- ESP Ra.De.
- Psyvariar Delta
- Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade
- Rolling Gunner
- Blazing Star
- Raiden V: Director’s Cut
- Darius Cozmic Collection Console
- Super Hydorah
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
- Sky Force: Reloaded
- Strikers 1945
- Black Paradox
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Sine Mora EX
- R-Type Final 2 (Switch version)
- 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)