Thanks to Doragon for the review code
Title: Danmaku Unlimited 3
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 03/09/2018
While most vertical shooters from the Psikyo/CAVE Era were filled with lots of variety in the stage designs and flooded stages with projectiles, Danmaku Unlimited 3 goes for a very generic-looking 3D art style, all while using the top-down perspective and small screen size those shooters were known for. (Likewise, you are free to change the game’s display to vertical mode if you want to play the game sideways in handheld mode, or make it a bit wider in horizontal mode, although the former can make things look quite fuzzy) The bosses, background and enemies feel very generic until right before the end of the game, and the music is incredibly forgettable, with the only aspect of the presentation I appreciated being the design of the main player ship, which makes your hit box (the center core) nice and bright, guiding the player to learn the crucial nature of avoiding the bullets in a way that also teaches them that not every bit of the ship is vulnerable to enemy fire.
Taking inspiration from the hardcore Bullet Hell shooters that entered the Arcade and home computer scene in the late 90s, Danmaku Unlimited 3 introduces you to all the mechanics in a very helpful tutorial. The main goal of the game is to master the art of avoiding the waves of enemy fire, using your two weapons to make it to the bosses of each stage, crush every single transformation and get the highest score! The controls are basic, with the left stick being used for movement, the A button being used for your main weapon, holding X being used for your secondary, stronger weapon, and the B button being used for detonating bombs.
The game offers a helpful tutorial for newcomers to bullet hell games, along with an easy mode known as “Spirit Mode” that also offers lower difficulties than in the harder “Graze Mode” of the game. Bullet hells such as this one tend to appear near impossible at first with so much fire on the screen, but one key aspect of those games that makes mastering them very important comes from the nature of a hitbox, and as mentioned in the Presentation section, Danmaku Unlimited 3 shows the player the nature of a hitbox in a beneficial way by having it be the most visible aspect of the ship. If you get hit in that area when you have a bomb on hand, the game will even auto-detonate your bombs to prevent death, making it crucial for you to learn how to avoid the enemy fire in order to save them for tough boss fights.
Once you have selected your weapon layout, it’s off to fight, and unlike other vertical shooters, your weapons don’t really upgrade throughout the course of the game, instead remaining as the same weapon types throughout the entire adventure, with more options unlocking only when you beat the game or complete other challenging tasks. The only way that you can get any sort of upgrade to your weapons throughout the course of the stage is by filling up the “Graze Meter” which fills up whenever you just barely avoid enemy fire, or whenever you detonate a bomb and transform enemy fire into energy that you can grab to fill the meter up. Staying next to lasers shot from a boss or grazing predictable patterns is the quickest way to fill the meter up, and once it’s completely full your shots will turn golden, dealing more damage and causing enemies to explode into golden crystals to award more points than the usual green crystals that they’d give otherwise.
It can be very tricky to get this to happen in the later stages of the game, but it’s also rewarding if you manage to get this to happen right as during a boss battle, as nearly every major boss in the game has multiple forms, each getting more and more ridiculous with how much projectile spam fills the screen, especially in the final stages of the game where the easiest difficulty still seems like the hardest challenge in history at a glance. Still, patience will pay off, and playing the game many times will cause the amount of continues you have on offer to increase gradually, meaning that if you dedicate enough time on the lower difficulties then you will beat it eventually. Unfortunately, this system of awarding continues to the player is a bit grindy and can be lead to having to go through the same stages over and over again, which makes me wish there was some caravan mode to play in order to kill time and sharpen your skills that way. There is indeed a boss rush mode and also a mode where you can tackle the bosses individually, but the former is locked behind beating the game, so the amount of stuff you can do until you finally conquer the main game is a bit lacking, and the game doesn’t come off as an addictive “One more try” shooter like the Star Soldier series.
In conclusion, Danmaku Unlimited 3 feels a bit flat. Lacking any sort of online leaderboard or stage variety, the game feels really generic, and the only thing the game has going for it is the solid enemy placement and the brilliant way the game teachers newcomers to bullet-hell games the importance of hit boxes and dodging enemy fire. Still, considering how so many vertical and horizontal shooters courtesy of Zerodiv and HAMSTER are available on the eShop for two dollars less, most of which featuring co-op, (And the HAMSTER offerings having online leaderboards) Danmaku can only really be recommended to those who like the more frantic style of shooters, and also to those who won’t mind the basic look of the game. It’s also a great starting point for bullet hell newcomers, but I also feel that without some sort of Caravan mode or any real bonuses outside of a free play stage select mode or the unlockable boss rush, this game won’t really hold your attention as much as the other vertical shooters on the market.
I give Danmaku Unlimited 3 a 6 out of 10.