Twenty years ago, shoot ‘em ups were one of the most prolific genres on the market. Since then, they’ve fallen into decline and become something of a rarity. Now, fans of the venerable genre always have their eyes on the horizon, on the lookout for the next slice of bullet heaven to waltz their way.
A couple of months ago that might have meant the British colonization of Mars on PC, but this week you might want to set your sights on Nintendo’s WiiWare service. If you enjoyed Ikaruga (how could you not) and its unique polarity mechanic, you may just want to check out what Microforum has in store.
What separates Kyotokei from your average shooter is a polarity mechanic, shamelessly pilfered from critically acclaimed shooter, Ikaruga. Enemies come in two colors, light and dark, each of which shoot bullets of their same color. The player has the ability to switch between light and dark. Bullets of an opposite color polarity will cause death, while same-color bullets are harmless. Rather, these bullets are absorbed and converted into stored energy for a homing attack.
The polarity mechanic leads to some challenging gameplay. Kyotokei may start off slow, but after a few minutes the challenge amps up considerably. Soon enough the screen fills with bullets of both shades, and throws patterns of increasing complexity at the player. Unfortunately the difficulty isn’t balanced in the slightest. You’ll spend the majority of a level mindlessly shooting harmless enemies only to periodically hit walls of uncharacteristic difficulty or have enemies fly in from off screen without warning and skill you instantly.
Frustrations aside, it all works well enough from a technical standpoint. The controls, enemies, weapons, are all solid but unimpressive. There’s nothing particularly bad about it, but nothing terribly good either. Everything Kyotokei does has been done before, and done better. Borrowing gameplay from one of the most respected and innovative titles in the genre doesn’t draw flattering comparisons when your product is decidedly average and uninteresting.
Microforum may have good taste when it comes to drawing on other games inspiration, but that good taste doesn’t really extend towards Kyotokei‘s art style. Visually, it looks like a mediocre SNES game. Character models and environments aren’t particularly inspired either. And when you consider the decent but forgettable soundtrack, you just have to wonder if they were trying at all.
It’s only five levels long, but a shmup’s longevity never truly lies in its length. Even on the easiest difficulty setting you’ll see several “Game Over” screens as you’re learning the ins and outs to Kyotokei‘s levels and bosses. If you need a reason to come back for more, there’s three difficulty settings and an option for two player co-op to help flesh out the package.
If you’re a Wii owner looking to spend five bucks you could certainly do worse. There’s some fun to be had here, but by no means does Kyotokei join the ranks of essential WiiWare titles. It will surely get a lot of attention purely for the fact that it draws so heavily on Treasure’s 2001 masterpiece, but in doing so it just serves to highlight its own shortcomings and lack of originality. Talk about living in the shadow of greatness.