A few months ago, Japan received the 3DS game Guild01, essentially a compilation of four specially developed games, each created by different well-known designers. Instead of simply releasing the collection in the west, Level 5 has chosen to instead publish the individual games as eShop titles — though it seems that only three of the original quartet are coming our way.
The first of the trio to be released is Liberation Maiden, perhaps the game with the highest profile out of the four, as it has been designed by Grasshopper Manufacture's Goichi Suda (better known as Suda 51), who is well known for creating many other unique titles like Killer 7 and No More Heroes.
Liberation Maiden is a quite unlike the rest of Suda 51's output, because as far as plot goes, it's not nearly as wacky or outlandish as what he's offered previously. You play Shoko Ozora, newly appointed female president of an organization trying to restore natural beauty to New Japan - which has been completely ruined by invading forces from an enemy country. To do this, you'll have to fly around inside your Liberator - essentially a flying mech suit - and blast all of the enemies you encounter with your fearsome arsenal of weapons.
The game is pretty much a free-roaming shoot 'em up in a three-dimensional space, with bullets, lasers and missiles flying everywhere. Your objective in every stage is to locate and destroy three "Lesser Spikes" - which are like large energy cores - in order to gain access to a Greater Spike, which is, just like its name implies, a much bigger core. The destruction of this will bring the mission to a successful conclusion.
When you begin, your only weapon is a set of homing missiles. As you slide your stylus around on the touchscreen, a reticule will appear on the top screen which can be moved over enemies in order to mark them as a target. If you've played Rez or Panzer Dragoon then this 'lock on' system will be immediately familiar. Lift the stylus from the touchscreen and you'll unleash a barrage of missiles on all enemies you've marked.
However, before long you'll also gain access to a laser weapon, which is much simpler in use - you just fire a continuous damaging beam wherever you hold the reticule. The trick is to not hold the touchscreen for too long at a time - yes, you'll mark enemies or fire the laser, but the longer you hold it, the more vulnerable to enemy fire you become, so it's a good idea to periodically release it so you can react to incoming threats.
Various other mechanics come into play as well, like a "suicide" attack in order to finish bosses (which bizarrely involves repeatedly drawing circles on the touchscreen), and a counterattack when your health gets critically low, but you won't use these very often during each mission. Shoko also has the ability to strafe by holding the L button, which might cramp your hand a bit, but it can be quite useful when tackling some of the harder sections of the game.
The game's graphics are commendable and despite all the amount of stuff going on, it never suffers from any slowdown. The definition is a little off, with some of the 3D models appearing quite blocky at times, but when you consider the amount of action on display, this is forgivable. There's also some nice animated cut-scenes which do a decent job of immersing you deeper into the storyline. Sonically the game is also impressive, with action-packed songs (including some with vocal backing) and some high-quality voice acting.
Unsurprisingly for a Suda 51 title, Liberation Maiden is dripping with cool, but it does suffer from repetition after prolonged play. Every stage is practically the same, but with only five stages to face, you could argue that the game is over before it has chance to outstay its welcome. Even when the credits have rolled, there's still some replayability, with three different difficulty settings and a gallery in which you can unlock additional background story and other things by completing certain challenges. Despite these bonuses, it's impossible to escape the fact that Liberation Maiden is short and sweet.
Liberation Maiden offers a surprisingly short experience, but if it were much longer the sense of repetition would probably become quite irksome. For all its flashy visuals and instantly gratifying action, this isn't a game that boasts a tremendous amount of variety or depth. Despite these shortcomings, Liberation Maiden remains an enjoyable eShop title with some interesting gameplay mechanics which pay tribute to classic blasters like Sega's Rez. It's just a shame that there's not more to it, but while it lasts, it's good, wholesome fun.