Japanese developer Team Ladybug is really good at homages. Its output so far has been dominated by titles with a Metroidvania theme, with the excellent Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth drawing massive inspiration from the game that helped coin the genre's name – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Wonder Labyrinth recently came to Switch (along with fellow Metroidvania Touhou Luna Nights), and we dearly, dearly hope that Team Ladybug's next project follows suit.
Its title suggests that Drainus is a playful take on Konami's Gradius, but it's very much its own thing with its own unique ideas – the most obvious being the ability to absorb incoming projectiles and lasers and fire them back at the enemy in the form of lock-on missiles. The more fire you soak up, the more aggressive your response will be; the caveat here is that you can't absorb fire indefinitely, and timing when to use this power is of vital importance, as getting it wrong means incoming bullets will damage your ship. You also have to contend with bullets that can't be absorbed; these are denoted by their red outline.
Drainus isn't the first game to adopt this approach – you could absorb projectiles in Treasure's Ikaruga, of course – but the system is particularly well-executed here. Enemy attack patterns are built around challenging you to use the absorption ability as expertly as possible, making sure you anticipate the short-but-significant recharge time before you can use it again.
On top of this, there's an upgrade system which can be accessed at any time by pausing the game. Using items collected in-game, you can purchase better weapons, shields and other extras in order to level the playing field; the range of upgrades is quite dazzling, although having to dive into the quite complicated menu system to apply them does break the immersion somewhat.
Thankfully, Drainus doesn't put a foot wrong when it comes to the bosses, which are often multi-stage behemoths that call to mind the very best of Treasure's work. These beasts are visually stunning and, just when you think you've got them licked, fight back with one final, visually striking transformation. They're so well-designed and a real thrill to fight against, it's almost a shame to finish them off.
Also of note is Drainus' above-average storyline, which is set up perfectly by a tutorial mission where you assume you're being coached by the good guys, when, in fact, the instructor is conversing with an enemy pilot and you're sneakily listening in, using the comms system of the powerful Drainus ship you've stolen from the bad guys. The game's cutscenes are of superb quality and match the equally brilliant in-game visuals. Like Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, this is a delicious game to behold, with stunning animation and detailed sprites. The music, too, is decent; while there arguably aren't many tracks that stick in the memory in the same way as those in Gradius V or Radiant Silvergun (both the work of the untouchable Hitoshi Sakimoto), the soundtrack more than does the job.
If there's one big failing with Drainus, it's the fact that it's over quite quickly and isn't that hard (the same could be said of Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, in all honesty). Beating the game unlocks a bunch of bonus content, however, and it's such a wonderful experience that you'll want to revisit it multiple times.
Drainus is currently available on Steam and costs $14.99. If you have the means to play it, we'd highly recommend you do so – but a Switch port is a very, very real possibility, as publisher Playism recently told us that "a DRAINUS Switch release is currently being considered."
Let's hope we don't have to wait too long for that to happen, because this is one of the finest 2D shooters of recent memory, and deserves to reach as wide an audience as possible.
- Further reading: Best Nintendo Switch Shmups