With each passing day Nintendo Switch is becoming the go-to current generation console for shmup enthusiasts. Already offering plenty of old and new titles in the current library, plus the bonus of proper TATE mode being at a distance of a quick Switch flip, perhaps the time has come to turn things up a notch. Does Danmaku Unlimited 3 bullet hell extravaganza set the new benchmark? Don’t blink now…
You know a game that calls itself ‘Danmaku’ (Japanese for ‘barrage’) must have some true credentials within the bullet hell shmup variant. Such is indeed the case with this third edition of the series that is now making its way to Switch after gathering some stellar praise from both press and players on PC and mobile. Newcomers to the genre need not worry, despite the superhuman reflexes needed to tackle the game, people without them can still enjoy this title thanks to some useful, casual-friendly features.
The game mechanics are quite simple: You need not worry about power-ups to upgrade your firepower, you simply pick your drone formation type and focused fire type and you’re good to go. There are a few unlockable variants for both weapon types that require you to achieve certain feats in-game, offering replay value besides topping your last high score. The ‘A’ button will fire your regular shot while pressing ‘X’ at the same time will focus your drones fire into a single, high-power beam. The trade-off is that while you're focusing your beam, your ship moves at half-speed. Learning how to juggle both firepower and speed is the essential skill that will lead you to successfully navigate the game’s five levels.
There are two distinct features that are eloquently explained in the game’s quick tutorial: ‘Spirit Bullets’ and ‘Grazing’. As expected, it won’t take much time to have the entire screen filled with enemy bullet patterns but if you destroy an enemy, their bullets change colour to aqua blue and are harmless to your ship. Collecting these will slowly fill up your Spirit meter. ‘Grazing’ ups the risk-reward factor considerably since it requires you to fly as close as possible to enemy live beams or bullets to fill your Grazing meter. Once filled your ship enters a temporary ‘Trance’ state; Not only will your beams turn gold and do extra damage, destroyed foes drop diamonds that will help you score sky rocket.
Bombs are the last trick in your arsenal, limited and deployable with a press of the ‘B’ button. These last resort weapons will not only clear about 50% of the screen of enemies starting at the centre of your ship, but they'll turn enemy bullets caught in the blast radius into harmless Spirit ones. You can even set them to automatic so that they deploy as soon as one bullet is about to hit the core of your ship, essentially acting as life-saving, last second deployable shields, leaving you in one piece to continue the fight. A very nice touch.
The game manages to hold an impressively stable 60 frames-per-second on all levels in both docked and portable mode, no small feat considering the relentless barrage of light being throw around. Enemies and their bullets come in different shapes and sizes, along with huge, multi-part bosses fights at the end of each level. Considering the relatively small TATE layout you may fear to become overwhelmed by the levels of action going on the screen, but cleverly implemented game design means this is not the case.
Enemy weaponry is coloured using distinctive red hues so that you can always tell which parts of the screen are the least safe. Proportionally, light blue hues are used for Spirit Bullets and thus, safe areas. Despite your ship size, the only single point you need to focus on is the blinking yellow light that at the centre of your ship's frame. We find ourselves more than once completely assaulted by the spectacle of screen-filling chain explosions where we can't even see our ship, but we can always spot that blinking yellow light and navigate it among maze-like enemy bullet patterns to safety.
Those expecting the usual electronic soundtrack will be surprised to know that the game music is composed by Japanese indie band Blankfield so hard rock is on the menu this time. The distorted guitar riffs fit in perfectly with the action, rounding up the aural experience nicely with the already brilliant visual one.
Most bullet hell shmups only have one difficulty: the extremely hard variant. But as we previously mentioned, Danmaku Unlimited 3 might be one of the best examples of a customisable experience within the genre, leaving the choice of mission difficulty up to the player. Bonus modes enable you to tackle boss rush in order to better perfect your strategies dealing with these behemoths or play the whole thing with unlimited continues, ensuring that anyone can experience the entirety of the game they paid for. We could be picky and criticise the lack of a two-player mode, but we believe the whole game was tailor made to have a single-player controlled ship of enormous firepower on screen so implementing a second one would probably require a hefty redesign. This one is for lone pilots only.
Danmaku Unlimited 3 is a brilliantly executed ‘best of’ bullet hell shmup ideas wrapped up into a phenomenal package. It is the very best shmup money can buy in the whole Switch game library (plus it will cost you about half what it should!). Even if you don’t particularity like shmups - or if Japanese bullet hells are not your particular favourite flavour within the genre - exposure to the insane lightshows provided by this game might just turn you into a die-hard fan. We can only fault the new king of Switch shmups with one particular ‘glitch’: Every other shmup on the system now feels slow and dull in comparison.