What do you get when you mix Mikoshi (portable Shinto shrines) and top-down shooters? Oddly enough, you come up with Gamebridge’s newest DSiWare release, GO Series: Portable Shrine Wars. But is this bizarre combination a match made in yomi, or is it just too weird to work?
The goal in Portable Shrine Wars is to race your Mikoshi against other competing Mikoshi and hope to reach the finish line first. While the task may seem simple enough, things are complicated a bit by the multiple hazards along the track, attacking enemy Mikoshi, and even stage bosses. While the game refers to each stage as a race, the truth is that you’re not actually racing at all. Rather than speed, this game is about survival: make it to the end of the race and defeat the boss and you’re the winner. Regardless of how long it takes you, your Mikoshi is the only one ever to complete the race.
Spanning the gap of the DSi hinge, the track that you race on goes vertically from bottom to top, utilising both of the DSi’s screens for one large playing field. It's your job to steer your Mikoshi and avoid obstacles, such as pitfalls and falling rocks, all while destroying your opponents’ Mikoshi around you. Destroying an opponent’s Mikoshi can be done by either jumping on them, flinging your bearers at them or by ramming them into one of the edges. Destroying an opponent means that their bearers will land on the stage, and they can then be picked up by you; likewise, whenever you take damage you will lose some bearers of your own. Having more bearers allows you to travel faster and will provide you with more ammunition to fling at your opponents, with 16 bearers allowed at any one time, but once you’ve run out then your Mikoshi is destroyed and it’s game over.
There are three different coloured enemy Mikoshi, each with their own attributes. Purple Mikoshi are normal, green have extra speed and red have extra power. Each different Mikoshi will react differently when you attack them, but they are all destructible, nonetheless. Though the different enemies do add a bit of variety to gameplay, there is an unfortunate absence of items or power-ups to use. Different weapons or shield items would have added a great deal of challenge and variety to the gameplay, but, as it is, the gameplay is a bit repetitive and can feel tedious.
Each stage in Portable Shrine Wars features a boss at the end and at least one mini-boss throughout the level, and completing each stage opens up the next for play. All of your records are featured on the stage select screen, giving you the opportunity to see how you’ve done on each stage and allowing you to replay any stages whenever you want. If completing individual levels isn’t for you, there is also the option to play in endless mode, a more arcade style of play in which you are given one life, and you must travel for as long as you possibly can without dying. Just as with the stages, endless mode features boss Mikoshis, but defeating one simply means that you are allowed to continue forward on the same path. Endless mode is all about achieving the highest score that you can, but unfortunately there are no online leaderboards, so you will always be competing against yourself.
The control scheme is simple and works like a charm. The D-Pad is used to move your Mikoshi around, and holding Up will cause you to speed up. Pressing A jumps, and B allows you to fling one of your bearers. While the implementation of touch screen controls would have been welcomed, the hard-button controls get the job done.
The visual and audio style chosen for this game is very attractive and adorable. The character sprites are drawn in a chibi-like fashion and the sounds that they make are equally as endearing, even when they are being smashed to bits. The soundtrack, while a bit compressed-sounding, reflects traditional Japanese music, fitting the game perfectly.
One thing that should be noted about this game is that it does not tend towards the easy side of gaming. While it may start off manageable enough, the difficulty curve takes a sharp turn upwards just a few stages in. You are only allowed one life, and there are no checkpoints in any of the stages, so dying once means starting the entire stage over. While it may be wrapped in a cute and friendly package, Portable Shrine Wars is not child’s play.
While GO Series: Portable Shrine Wars may be a fun and interesting take on the top-down shooter genre, it doesn’t actually do much to stand out as a must-have title. Its repetitive gameplay and high difficulty level might turn some players off, but that’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had here. At 200 Points, Portable Shrine Wars is right for the price: if you’re looking for an engaging game that harkens back to a more arcade style and is fun in short bursts, then you might find this one to be right for you.