First Impressions: Aa Mujō Setsuna

Lots of flash; not much substance

Nintendo isn't exactly known for publishing shooters, much less shooters of the "bullet hell" variety, but that's exactly what we have here. Developed by Arika and recently shown at the Nintendo Media event in North America as Metal Torrent, Aa Mujō Setsuna is certainly one of the most graphically impressive DSiWare games we've seen, but the gameplay is less compelling.

Everything is 3D, from the backgrounds that make it look like you're ascending through a shaft in some alien complex, to the ships and screen-filling bosses which litter the screen with glowing yellow-orange bullets. The central mechanic is shooting enemies to collect cubes which contribute to your score and charge your special attack.

The game's problems become quickly apparent: there's not much variety in the enemies, and you have to make an effort to die. We're not sure if we're missing something, but despite filling the screen, enemy shots don't actually appear to hurt you - unless the game feels like it. There's no apparent shield or any other counters to suggest a shot absorption limit and we experimented many times with just sitting in one spot or moving directly into the path of fire taking over a dozen hits before our ship was destroyed; this is true regardless of whether you choose to play one of the two game modes with Easy or Manic difficulty.

If you choose Easy difficulty you can play through all 8 "Phases" in about 15-20 minutes, noting on the way how short and repetitive they are with the same boss appearing at the end of all the even-numbered ones and a gauntlet of other enemies on the odd. If you've ever played a shooter in your life, you won't bother with that difficulty, but instead choose Manic. Still you have the apparently random presence of a hit-box on your ship - in fact you'd almost think that as long as you hold down the fire button you're immune to anything bar a collision with an enemy ship.

If you want to reduce the monotony a bit you can play Random mode instead of Pattern, which changes the order of different enemy waves (though you'll still see the same four or five types in every phase), but unless you're a die-hard fan of the genre or a score attack junkie, you're probably better off buying a couple of 200 Point games instead.

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