Thanks to Digerati for the review code
Title: Shikhondo: Soul Eater
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 09/06/2018
Shikhondo is a vertical shooter presented in the middle of the screen, not unlike the ports ZeroDiv have released for their own vertical titles. However, while this is a modern game not made for arcade displays in mind, there’s still no option to adjust the borders or screen in any way, shape or form, since the big border with the UI would be a lot more visible if the border background was easier on the eyes. There’s also no option to make the entire game play vertically, probably because of how impractical it is to do in handheld mode, (yet) which means you’re stuck with a border and the UI elements being placed on the side of the game whether you like it or not.
The in-game visuals don’t look too terribly bad, taking inspiration from Asian mythology with the backgrounds even using a similar art style to old paintings, but the game still leaves a lot to be desired in this department, since the whole game looks rather static and uninteresting, and I felt that only the bosses took full advantage of the game’s art style, since they’re better animated than most enemies.
Bafflingly, the sound design in this game is really, really bad, but not due to awful sounding music, since it only sounds average at best. No, the main issue I had with this game’s sound design came from the awful audio balancing of the sound effects and music. I kid you not, the first few rounds I spent with this game convinced me that there were no sound effects when firing your weapons whatsoever, since the music and enemy sound effects still played just fine, but my own shots were muted.
It wasn’t until I went to the game’s options menu and muted the music that I was able to notice that yes, your character does make sounds when firing their weapon, but they’re so quiet in comparison to everything else that they’ll be drowned out by the music if you leave the BGM on. This sound design really comes off as unimpressive and a bit cheap, not leading to any reasons for you to leave the music on to begin with since none of it is memorable or impressive and it mutes some of the sound effects.
Shikhondo is a vertical bullet hell where dodging bullets and remembering your hitbox is the key to survival in this game. Like with most games in the genre, you have a main weapon that’s a wider shot, a stronger weapon that helps you move slower, and a bomb that clears all bullets off the screen. The two playable characters have slightly different attacks, but they still control identically, and both of them are capable of using the titular Soul Eater gauge that causes your normal shorts to become extra powerful. (While also absorbing enemy projectiles upon activation)
Like in Danmaku Unlimited 3, this powerful shot is gained by staying as close to the oncoming bullets as possible, which raises your Soul gauge that circles around the player. Once the circle is completed, activating Soul Eater mode is performed by pressing the same button as the bomb, so timing the usage of this right is key to defeating the bosses of each stage, which tend to have multiple forms with lots and lots of health points, especially on higher difficulties.
Unfortunately, the base game modes, (Normal, Novice, and Hardcore modes) even with the different difficulties available tend to all suffer from a problem that just makes the overall experience not fun to play. You see, while this has all the elements of a bullet hell, along with the challenge, it doesn’t really have the hook needed to get you in these games. Levels, even on Extreme difficulty are just littered with enemies with no interesting background or stage elements to deal with whatsoever, and the whole experience is absolutely boring on the easiest settings, making extreme difficulty the main way to play if you want to remotely pay attention.
There are high scores and online leaderboards, sure, but none of the leaderboards allow you to see beyond a few placements of your own score, making the whole feature pointless if you can’t scroll through them or compare with friends on your friend list. It’s nice that the score resets upon continuing, though, to encourage the closest to a 1CC run as possible, even on the game modes that allow for continues.
By far the most enjoyable mode of the game is the Boss Rush, which you surprisingly do not need to beat the game in order to unlock. Here, you just fight all the bosses one after another, and since their patterns offer the most variety and fun, (along with plenty of challenge) this was the mode that kept me the most engaged during my time with Shikhondo, even it’s a by the numbers inclusion. There’s also a two player local co-op mode, but I wasn’t able to test it out for this review.
In conclusion, Shikhondo is an incredibly average shooter that lacks in a lot of areas. From an incredibly dull presentation, to an equally dull score chasing experience, this is easily a shooter to stay away from if you’re looking for a new vertical shooter to challenge you, especially with so many superior options available as part of the Arcade Archives series and ZeroDiv’s line of Psikyo ports for only $8. I did enjoy the inclusion of online leaderboards (Even if they’re beyond basic) along with the boss rush mode being available from the start, but when the only good part of a shooter like this is the boss encounters, that doesn’t bode too well…
I give Shikhondo a 4 out of 10, and can only recommend it to die hard bullet hell fans that have exhausted most other shooters on the Switch.