Game Review

Castle of Shikigami III Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Sean Aaron

Shooting things and shooting the breeze...

The Castle of Shikigami series is one of the more recent shooting franchises to appear in Japanese arcades and subsequently home consoles. Castle of Shikigami III is the first to appear on Wii with Aksys providing the localisation for North America. Combining good looks, humour and challenging gameplay, it's a welcome addition to the Wii's shooter library.

There's a back story regarding a castle appearing in the sky over modern-day Tokyo and a bunch of adventurers of various stripes going to it for various reasons, but it doesn't get a mention anywhere in the game and it isn't terribly relevant (there are manga and novels based upon the games if you're so inclined). The player chooses one of ten characters and sets off to defeat a series of ten bosses in five stages.

Castle of Shikigami is part of the "bullet hell" shooting sub-genre with numerous enemies filling the screen with shots that must be avoided in gameplay that's often akin to navigating a maze. Like similar games, getting close to shots without getting hit confers bonuses, both to score and to the damage inflicted by your primary attack, referred to as the "Tension Bonus System." The closer you are to enemies when you destroy them the higher your score and the more bonus coins are worth. Whilst getting grazed by shots your attack will increase in range and power. You can also sacrifice one of your special bombs to enter a "High Tension Max" state which confers the same effect for a limited amount of time regardless of your distance to enemy shots.

In addition to your primary attack you can hold the fire button to perform a "Shikigami attack" which makes you less manoeuvrable and is radically different from your primary attack; requiring different play tactics. Destroying enemies with the Shikigami attack confers still more bonuses to scores that are already comically in the nine-figure range. Each character has different primary and bomb attacks and then a further choice between two different Shikigami attacks to decide upon before starting the game, providing a lot of variety and much to master.

Whilst the cannon fodder you deal with between boss battles is pretty much the same throughout the game the bosses are the real highlight. Unlike boss fights in other games where they may or may not have a life bar showing the amount of damage being inflicted and how close you are to destroying them, Castle of Shikigami III bosses have a minimum of three life bars: each time one is eliminated bonus coins are released and the enemy's attack changes, making the encounters challenging even after multiple replays. There is a ship-like boss in the first part of the stage and then another character as the main boss at the end of the stage. If you like you can play through the boss fights alone as a separate game mode, though this sadly strips out the story bits.

Each game has only four continues (use of which hurts your final ranking, which can be from F- to SS) and voluminous statistics relating to score, bonuses, number of bombs used, number of times 8x Tension Bonus was achieved (equivalent to High Tension Max without using a bomb) and number of health points earned (like the bosses the player has three health points). Despite only having five stages the game is quite challenging, though there is a three stage Easy Mode and Practice levels for honing your techniques outwith the normal game.

The aspect of the game that most sets it apart from other shooters is the fact that the player controls not ships, but the characters themselves, all of whom have monologues recited in cut scenes before and after stages and, most amusingly, dialogue with the stage-end bosses. This Puyo Puyo-like aspect to the proceedings greatly enhances replay value as all characters have separate dialogue with the bosses. There's also a "Dramatic Change" mode where you can swap between two characters who will speak with each other and have three-way conversations with the bosses. They're all different with a claimed 55 dialogue combinations possible. The voice acting is pretty good, even when the sometimes poorly-translated dialogue makes no sense. Conversations are often self-referential, but quite funny: in one instance the first boss mentions being so good as the fourth boss in the previous game they got a new job, only to have it pointed out that being made the first boss is a major demotion!

The graphics are sublime. Characters are fully 3D in nature, flying through the air with their hair and clothing visibly rippling in the wind and shifting posture when moving in various directions. The action takes place over impressively high polygon-count landscapes and interiors which are flown over at great speed with shifting camera angles. There's good use of lighting effects on player and enemy attacks and the large ship bosses are nicely animated. The audio tracks are of good quality and you can listen to the full soundtrack and sound effects in a gallery "jukebox." There's the option to have remixed music from Castle of Shikigami 2 as the game soundtrack if you so desire and there's a full range of options available allowing you to adjust the volume of music, sound effects and character voices independently.

The basic game alone offers a lot of replay value, but on top of that you have the aforementioned "Dramatic Change" and "Boss Battle" modes, the arcade mode (featuring different enemy patterns), three "Extreme" play modes, five different difficulty levels and the option to play simultaneously with a friend. Characters have different costume colours depending on which side of the screen they're on and solo players can choose to play "left side" or "right side" for variety. There's even the ability to play the game in vertical mode, should you have a vertical monitor to hook up to your Wii for the real arcade experience (otherwise the game is played pillar-boxed with character art to the side). There's a full range of control options with Remote, Remote + Nunchuk, Classic Controller (though annoyingly navigating extras still uses the Remote buttons) and GameCube controllers all supported. All functions can be remapped as you see fit with separate buttons for auto-fire, normal fire (hold to activate the Shikigami attack), High Tension Max, Bomb, character swap (Dramatic Change mode only) and pause.

There's extra content to view in the form of galleries featuring still pictures of the characters that are used in the cut scenes (you can pan and zoom, play audio clips and change costume colour) and fan art from Japanese contest winners. You can even view the various conversation bits separately after you've encountered them in-game.

Conclusion

Castle of Shikigami III is a great Wii shooter with appeal for those who enjoy quirky anime characters chatting in their games. If you have a North American Wii you should be able to find this title for a budget price so go out and get it! UPDATE: PAL gamers can take heart that PQube Games is publishing this title in Europe with a planned release date of Q3 2010.

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User Comments (46)

CorbsAdmin

#1

Corbs said:

A bit on the easy side for a bullet hell shooter, but fun just the same. :)

Sean_Aaron

#2

Sean_Aaron said:

Yeah, that's why I like it so! I haven't managed to get past the stage 2 boss in Ikaruga yet; the fact that there's 18 stages is a bit demoralising. This I can get down with!

CorbsAdmin

#3

Corbs said:

LOL. Great review Sean, as always. I need to drag this one out and run through it again. It's been awhile. :)

Sean_Aaron

#4

Sean_Aaron said:

Ultimate Shooting Collection is next! If I'm not mistaken you have the actual arcade boards for some of the games on that disc?

outrun2sp

#5

outrun2sp said:

Excellent review mate.

I hope to get that in some guise in the future. good to see this site giving games like this props so as to hopefully get the attention of publishers. (I noticed someone from Rising Star Games on here the other day.).

People in Europe who play rabbid games / wii fit / fifa / COD (and think thats where it ends) etc may not have heard of Cave / Raizing / 8ing / Taoplan etc. Look at the games on the web and the youtube hard play videos and you will see that these games are worshipped and played at a high level. The Wii has some of this library available in the US / Japan already and we have no access to it.

I have much love for shooters at the moment. Last night played one of the most beautifull games that Ive ever seen Mushihimesare Futari 1.5.

More games like this have to come out in europe or at least not be region coded.

RIsing Star Games youve got a sale here if you pick this up.

JayArr

#6

JayArr said:

Those visuals are the definition of eye-candy! Good review, Shaun. I will go out and get it.

nix

#7

nix said:

It is a shame they blocked freeloader with the wii update, as this would have been a definite buy for me.

Zammy

#9

Zammy said:

I'm also a sad European. Oh well, I'll just import this on my AmeriWii.

JamieOStaff

#10

JamieO said:

I'm a happy European, 'cause like @Zammy I also have an import US Wii. I've had Castle of Shikigami III for a while, but I am such a bullet hell rookie, that I "lar-dee-dar" my way through short blasts of this one without displaying any real skill or understanding of the specifics of this genre. I was able to get into the colour mechanics of Ikaruga, because the system was so clearly presented, but other bullet hell games have eluded me a bit. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I often play them with unlimited credits, simply as a sweet little tour of explosive 2D visuals. This review is just what I needed, as a bit of a kick up the backside, so if it is one of the easier bullet hell shooters, I may use this game as a training ground to practise the basic skills. I think I will read the third paragraph over and over to get my head around the "High Tension Max" or "Shikigami Attack" and I will head off to play it and consciously graze bullets for the "Tension Bonus System" to gain those stronger attacks.
This is a great read Sean, cheers for the education. Are you having a bit of a shooter marathon at the moment? ;)

Virby

#11

Virby said:

I'm looking forward to this game. I hope they'll release it in the EU too.

Sean_Aaron

#12

Sean_Aaron said:

@JamieO: Well, it's just been a convergence of shooters recently and this and Ultimate Shooting Collection are two of the NA/JPN exclusives that I had on the list of games to get when I decided to add the 3rd Wii.

UFO is bringing another Japanese shooter to North America next year called Ilvelo, but it's not really grabbing me. I may get it just because it's a budget release and I like the fact that there's little publishers willing to take a chance on localising niche titles like this. It really reminds me of owning a Playstation having the Wii: yes there's a lot of crap, but there's just so many gems too!

JamieOStaff

#13

JamieO said:

@Sean_Aaron I will wait for your Ultimate Shooting Collection review to see if it is worth importing, I can get it for about £26.
I think that it is great that these games get a full boxed/ disc release and are not confined to being downloadable games on XBLA or PSN. I wonder if SNK Playmore will ever bring King of Fighters: Sky Stage to Wii? I would buy it, especially if it was a disc release. I do love the accessibility of digital downloads, but I am becoming increasingly attracted to collecting boxes on shelves, I have this niggling feeling that tangible formats may become obsolete in the next ten years. :(

Orgone

#14

Orgone said:

great game, better than saint or monkey king. I can get to the level 3 boss in Ikaruga and level 4 in Einhander at my very best. They could have gotten rid of the side panels if this game was tailored more to the wii.

greyelephant

#15

greyelephant said:

Great review Sean. I've been interested in this game for some time now. It's dirt cheap to buy anymore and thought about just picking it up. Now I think I will. Love me some shooters!

Orgone

#16

Orgone said:

void has some bullet hell parts too, Lords of Thunder still has better music and graphics

outrun2sp

#17

outrun2sp said:

Sean Ikaruga has 5 stages.

Do you think its worth me getting a US Wii. Im tempted too.

Sean_Aaron

#18

Sean_Aaron said:

Obviously it's worth getting an import Wii or I wouldn't have imported two of them! Cheers on Ikaruga though, I don't know where I got the idea there were 18 stages...must have been false advertising on the back of box using some creative maths adding them all up across the different difficulty levels -- either that or Wikipedia strikes again!

I do intend to play it again someday!

outrun2sp

#19

outrun2sp said:

Hmm im mulling over it. Looks a hassle though.

By the time Tatsunoko VS Capcom comes out I might abort the idea.

By the way it has 5 stages broken into parts totalling 18 so we are both right lol. Didnt want to damage your credibility,

Sean_Aaron

#20

Sean_Aaron said:

It's not a hassle -- especially a Yank one. I see them on ebay all the time. I got mine with a component cable and UK power supply included for £105 with P+P.

DjPhatskillz

#21

DjPhatskillz said:

EXCELLENT REVIEW OF AN EXCELLENT GAME! flawless victory, mr. aaron! thank you for holding it down for the shump heads!

Noire

#24

Noire said:

Hmm, I don't ever play bullet-hell shooters, but there's a cute green-haired girl in the banner, and she's winking at me...I am zetta intruiged. I'll have to keep an eye out for this one, especially since it should be pretty cheap.

bro2dragons

#25

bro2dragons said:

i bought Ikaruga a while back for more than a gamecube sells for, and LOVE it. granted, i'm not any good.... but it's great all the same. i may give this a shot (heh heh, get it? :P) if i find it used for $10 or less at some point.

DazzaAdmin

#26

Dazza said:

I remember the looks I got at work when I imported Shikigami II on the cube... it came with a toy figure of a cat in the box. It did not help to convince my Xbox loving work colleagues that the cube wasn't a kiddies console! haha

Great game though, I will have to invest in this sometime soon. I love this sort of thing. Nice review Sean.

SwerdMurd

#27

SwerdMurd said:

@Corb--someone wasn't playing on hard and triple bullet speed/firebacks :) This is one of my all-time favorite non-Arcade shooters due to how well they allow you to customize the difficulty--just don't use Roger Sasuke. He is game-breaking. This game owns though--one of the few games I can use with my X-Arcade GC adaptor.

Adam

#28

Adam said:

Phoenix, it's very novice-friendly, so don't be put off by the off-putting genre name "bullet hell." I can count on one hand the shoot em ups I've beaten, and this is one of them. The story is hilarious in a completely nonsensical anime way, the winking girl being probably the funniest.

Rerun

#29

Rerun said:

I love SHMUPs! It's good that the Wii is releasing its fair share. I wonder if playing it using an Aracade stick would add to the experience?

Noire

#30

Noire said:

Really Adam? Sweet then, I'm sold. Difficulty was my biggest concern going in. I don't like to buy games and then have them sit in a pile unfinished because I suck at them, especially games that appeal to me visually and aurally like this one does. The Composer knows I love a quirky and hilarious anime-style storyline and look. I think I really will pick this up sometime. Should be a good change-of-pace gameplay-wise for me.

BecomingTHE_MAN

#31

BecomingTHE_MAN said:

Anyone else think this game will become incredibly expensive in the future? I saw the sales figures for Castle of Shikigami III on NPD, and the sales figures for the game were over 3,000 units sold. Ouch!

y2josh

#34

y2josh said:

Beautiful looking game. I wish these games weren't so bad on my nerves or I'd try it out. I suck majorly at any shmup.

3230ru

#35

3230ru said:

This game is simply EPIC!.... yeahhh. and yes it is good even for beginners in genre

Kafei2006

#36

Kafei2006 said:

I own the collector edition of shikigami 2 for GameCube. It was agreat title !

I'm planning to import this one someday. I've just ordered Milestone Shooting Collection for Wii already.

Wolfo

#37

Wolfo said:

I saw this game one time, but i don't have money to buy it (and did't have my Wii already at this moment), now i'm looking for it without success =(.

JamieOStaff

#39

JamieO said:

Regarding the Ultimate Shooting Collection most of my decision to purchase will be based upon how well Karous and Radio Allergy are received in Sean's forthcoming review. I already have Chaos Field for the GameCube, you see.

Ricardo91

#41

Ricardo91 said:

I think I'll get this one. It looks like a good place to start for bullet hell shooters.

SwerdMurd

#42

SwerdMurd said:

@Jamie - Radio Allergy and Karous fared extremely well. Chaos Field was garbageport, but the other 2 play perfectly, despite a slight screen-zoom issue (can't quite see the top of the GUI), but if you play in Tate mode and use the code to use regular controls, the screen is fine. Both games are fantastic--Karous is easier but ungodly amazing, and Radirgy/Radio Allergy gets pretty vicious, although I must admit I like the leveling gameplay in Karous more. You'll love USC, esp. if you don't have to play the included version of Chaos Field (slowdown galore, the entire game long)

Sean_Aaron

#44

Sean_Aaron said:

I've submitted my review. To be honest I don't think any of those games hold a candle to this one, but they're decent and the collection is certainly worthwhile. I didn't really have issues with Chaos Field, but I've never played the arcade game, so I have no point of reference for comparison. It's bloody hard and looks nice though!

RyuZebian

#45

RyuZebian said:

Ah... I saw MarzGurl on thatguywiththeglasses.com reviewing this game as well as discussing it's RATHER weird past. Seems weird but pretty cool.

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