THE SEARCH FOR THE GREATEST SHMUP: EPISODE 23 – Red Death

Sometimes you can describe different games in the same genre as cookies. There is a huge variety of shapes, flavors and presentations for cookies. There’s your typical pack, the huge 3 or 4 serving packs and even the rare and coveted “20% more” pack. Aside from the caloric quantity of the package, there’s a variety of flavors to cater to different shmup players. I know I already described shmups as burgers, but bear with me for one more paragraph.

In the vast realm of cookies, how would I describe Red Death? I’d say Red Death is the equivalent of those sample packs that are marked as “not for individual sale”. It’s everything you know and love about cookies, but it’s over before you know it.

Developer: eastasiasoft, Panda Indie Studios

Publisher: eastasiasoft

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Release date: Mar 19, 2020

Price: $4.99

Tate: Not this time :/

Red Death is a vertical bullet hell shmup with a unique 4-tone palette. You play as a pilot on a mission to stop a full-scale invasion on planet Earth.

Back to the basics

If I had to pick one word to describe Red Death, it would be “basic”. Now, don’t think I mean this in a negative tone. Red Death is the definition of a shmup that is following the basic playbook for shmups.

In terms of gameplay, this game is all about shooting and dodging. I know this may seem redundant, considering we are talking about the shmup genre, but it really is all there is to this game. There are 2 mains actions which are moving and shooting. Red Death is a game where success is defined by the truest measure of your skill as a shmup player.

Overload

There is a little bit more going on in the shooting department. As you progress, you can collect power-ups to strengthen your firepower. Not only that, but also there are alternate weapons such as the missiles or the laser.

As you fight, you will gradually fill up your overload gauge. When it’s full, you can unleash a devastating attack that decimates everything. Let me put it this way: overload is, so far, the single most overpowered shot in this entire list. Not even bosses can survive more than a second versus the overload.

To be fair, it does take quite a long time to fill the gauge. It’s also lost on death, so you may want to be wise as to when you want to unleash your trump card.

Prologue to Project Starship

One notable thing about this game is that it is a prequel of a game that is already released. I wish I could comment more on the world building, but I unfortunately haven’t played Project Starship yet. What I can say is that it does seem to be setting in motion the events of Project Starship.

If the intention was to bring attention and curiosity towards the previously released Project Starship, then it is working! Full transparency, I had a chance to review Project Starship but I passed as I was currently occupied with a previous entry of this list. I am now regretting that decision a little bit, as it really left me wanting to see how the events unfold in the future.

4 tones are enough

One of the more distinctive aspect of Red Death is the 4-tone palette. In case it wasn’t obvious, the dominant color is red. Limited tone games are usually created to emulate old consoles like the Game Boy. However, I didn’t get that vibes from Red Death. Rather than feeling like a de-make, I felt like it managed to make the 4-tone style shine in a unique way. It feels really clever. It’s also very gentle to the eyes.

To top it off, there’s another aspect I want to bring to your attention: the animations. I felt like most of the animations were on the higher side of sprite count. What this ends up doing is highlighting movement in a very fluid manner. You’d be wrong to think a 4-tone game was easy to make, as it shows the visuals are top notch.

Zen patterns

I never thought I’d say this, but dodging boss patterns actually feels pretty relaxing. They are not easy by any means, but I found most of them to be zen experiences. Perhaps the difference was in the puzzle solving aspect of the shmup equation. Usually all patterns have a “solution”, or a specific movement that will get you out of trouble. Red Death’s patterns aren’t hard to figure out, but they also give you ample time. Simply put, you are very likely to figure them out on your first go and it feels really good.

You may be wondering if a 4-tone style will be hindered by the choice of enemy bullet colors. I’ll have to say yes and no. As you might expect, the enemy fire shares a red color with your own bullets. However, I never mixed them up, not even in high pressure situations. There’s something about them that I can’t figure out which eases the visual identification of friends or foes.

Shortevity

The biggest thing Red Death has going against itself is its length. Even by shmup standards, Red Death is a very short game. The main story consists of only 3 scripted levels. However, most of your play time is meant to be spent on the arcade mode.

Arcade mode features an interesting twist on randomization. Rather than being a gauntlet of stages, Arcade is an endless mode. Every stage is randomized from pieces of other stages, to the point where you’ll go through the same set of obstacles and bosses countless times.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes to figure out that it doesn’t get any better. There aren’t meaningful goals to achieve or milestones to accomplish, unless there’s something after multiple stages.

Last words

At the end of the day, Red Death really is a sample cookie pack. I enjoyed the game and had genuine fun, but ultimately it was over too soon. I liked the flavor, but when it’s all said and done I’m still hungry. Red Death didn’t satisfy my hunger, what’s more, it left me wondering if there’s a full package somewhere out there. It’s a good cookie, but I just wanted more of it.

THE RANKING SO FAR:

  1. Ikaruga
  2. Psyvariar Delta
  3. Devil Engine
  4. Rolling Gunner
  5. Blazing Star
  6. Jamestown+
  7. Tengai
  8. Steredenn: Binary Stars
  9. Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
  10. Sky Force: Reloaded
  11. Strikers 1945
  12. Black Paradox
  13. R-Type Dimensions EX
  14. Sine Mora EX
  15. Shikhondo – Soul Eater
  16. Ghost Blade HD
  17. AngerForce: Reloaded
  18. Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
  19. Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
  20. Pawarumi
  21. Red Death
  22. Switch ‘N’ Shoot
  23. Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)

Author: Alex

Editor and owner of AzorMX Gaming. I would say that writing is my passion, but it would be a lie because my actual passion is gaming, but writing about gaming is a close second.

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