Castle of Shikigami 2 Review - Screenshot 1 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Shikigami no Shiro, or Castle of Shikigami in localisation, is a shooting game series by Alfa System, a studio that once upon a time pitched in on the likes of Wonder Boy III and several Ys ports for the PC Engine CD-ROM.

Castle of Shikigami’s main series spans three games, and, despite the third entry’s intriguing Hi-Tension bomb mechanic, the second remains the best overall. Port developer Cosmo Machia and publisher Degica, who is no stranger to revamping shooting games, have pulled out all the stops to make this re-release the absolute best version available.

Part of the bullet hell sub-genre, whereby the screen is flooded with enemy fire, Castle of Shikigami 2 stands out thanks to several original and well-implemented ideas. Unusual for the genre, it features a large cast of seven characters, each beholden to a genuinely well-developed set of play characteristics based around shot type and the properties of their accompanying familiar. It’s a carefully calculated roster, and learning how to apply their different attack styles is a large part of the game’s appeal. Some have familiars that will home in on nearby enemies, others a temporary field that damages anything it collides with, and certain types even offer extra bullet cancelling capabilities. Additionally, each of these familiars has two modes of behaviour, toggled from the character menu.

Castle of Shikigami 2 Review - Screenshot 2 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

It sounds complex, but if anything it encourages experimentation by considerably broadening the game’s scope. You might get comfortable with one character, only to find another extends the game’s life by offering completely novel ways to approach thorny sections, scoring, and boss battles.

Castle of Shikigami also relies heavily on the superficial appeal of its cast, featuring a comprehensive story mode where every interval is punctuated by exchanges and anime stills. To improve things, Degica has gone to the trouble of adding a much-needed all-new translation, which makes the reading bits far more interesting to hop through. If you don’t enjoy the preamble, though, there’s a quick option to turn it off entirely.

Aesthetically, it still looks near-identical to its Gamecube, Dreamcast, and PS2 iterations, albeit cleaned up and with a crisper resolution. It doesn’t do too badly for a 20-year-old title, with some genuinely nice visual elements and especially attractive explosions, but little in the way of lavish background detail. That said, there’s so much happening on-screen that the relative crudeness of its 3D becomes far less obvious.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Castle of Shikigami’s gameplay appeal is manifold. On one hand, the large cast and their varying attributes alter the way you approach the challenge; on the other, the power-up and scoring system is hugely enjoyable to toy with. As bullets flood in, thick but at a leisurely pace, your primary shot will dramatically leap in power the closer you roam to incoming fire, boosted until whatever projectile you were hugging moves out of range. This promotes a risk and reward factor that’s key to victory, as it’s not just useful for adding digits to your scoreline but integral to taking down bosses quickly.

You’re therefore encouraged to thread the maelstrom knee-deep, seeking out evolving tributaries and chicanes to needle through while unleashing volleys of hell upstream. Grazing bullets to power up also produces a score multiplier for every enemy destroyed, maximised at X8, and extends to taking out the segments of each boss’s life bar at just the right moment. Increasing scorelines also bestow the player with extra lives, making the dance all the more necessary.

With the basics down, you can focus on learning each stage, usually comprised of a first leg, a mid-boss, a final stretch, and then a final guardian. And it’s a blast. The slower pace of the bullets coupled with the grazing mechanic makes for a rewarding adrenaline rush. It’s thrilling to skim through a field of multicoloured pastel fire, unleashing your familiar at strategic junctures, before ripping the screen up in high gear. It’s stylish too, with both inimitable anime character art and fantastic boss designs. There’s an element of cool about it all, whether clashing with stage one’s feisty demon lolita or stage three’s twin knight assault and their tandem attacks. Like its predecessor, certain stages contain mild puzzle elements too, where you’re forced into mazes and pitted against mid-bosses that demand use of both your familiar and shot to carve a clear path to breathing space.

Castle of Shikigami 2 Review - Screenshot 4 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Although the series is generally fun, this second entry feels the most complete. And, as well as spitting out clever patterns and standout boss battles, it’s buoyed further by a superb soundtrack. Some of the bigger confrontations are footnoted with drum and bass motifs and dark riffs that really kick when you’re in the heat of things, getting the adrenaline pumping and the senses spiked.

There’s much to like in Castle of Shikigami 2, and it’s absolutely stuffed with modes. There are practice and novice options, and an Extreme Mode that ratchets up the challenge, spitting suicide bullets everywhere. But the Switch’s all-new modes are where fans and newcomers can get really enthusiastic. New Entry Mode — essentially a totally arranged game — changes the placement of enemies and patterns and forms new hurdles to overcome. It’s rather excellent, too, upping the ante, re-jigging pivotal junctures, and creating an all-new buzz with increased challenge and thicker bullet sprays.

Castle of Shikigami 2 Review - Screenshot 5 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Additionally, Dramatic Mode flips the original arcade game on its head by allowing you to choose two characters and instantly switch between them during play. While they still share bombs and life stocks, you can utilise their individual shot types and familiars for sections and bosses where you feel they hold an advantage. Being able to wield two characters rather than one plays to the strengths of the cast’s tactical diversity, opening up whole new dimensions of play. In terms of story, this mode also allows you to enjoy the extended cutscene dialogues present in a two-player game. And, to top it all off, online rankings are present, as well as the ability to tailor button configurations.

It’s not all flawless, of course. The initial two stages become slightly mundane once you have them mastered, and your character’s glowing hit box can be tricky to see in busier bullet hails, leading one to occasionally misjudge their proximity in condensed patterns. This is a shooting game where, because of its grazing mechanic, you spend a lot more time focusing directly on your character rather than the preferred middle point of the screen, and that takes some adjustment.

We have always felt, too, even since its original release, that some of the characters move too quickly when in shot mode, meaning even short taps can accidentally have you colliding with enemy fire. Still, it’s by no means the hardest of its ilk owing to reduced speeds, and, like any game in this particular sub-genre, practice remains integral to successful runs. While you only get three continues initially — and that’s still enough for you to easily see most of the game — extended play unlocks more of them and eventually culminates in an unlimited Free Mode.


Degica's work here is commendable. Not only is this the best of the series, but it’s now the ultimate version out there. Castle of Shikigami 2 comes easily recommended to fans of bullet hell shooting games, and while it might not be up there with the very best, it’s certainly original, deviously devised, and layered like crazy. With all the characters, their individual assets and stories, as well as all-new modes to toy with, this is how we like to see publishers handling re-releases of arcade titles, rather than slapping out another no-frills port-of a-port.