Drainus. Whether a ham-fisted portmanteau of Darius and Gradius, or relating to the game’s core mechanic, it’s a silly name any way you look at it. Japan-based developer Team Ladybug, more recently known for the rather good Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, has had the Switch shooting game hardcore waiting eight months since the game’s Steam release, but does it live up to the hype?
Drainus pays homage to many genre classics; a touch of Border Down in its ship functions and styling, a nod to Einhander in the aesthetic of its stage-two train assault, and plenty of Gradius V in its transforming boss phases. The one influence that’s been touted heavily in previews, inexplicably, is Ikaruga, as if it’s the only other title in the genre the mainstream gaming press has ever heard of. While Drainus features a system of absorbing enemy fire that can be returned in a flurry of homing lasers, the execution here has far more in common with Takumi’s Giga Wing than it does Treasure’s puzzle-shmup hybrid, making it a largely erroneous comparison.
Drainus features the odd typo, has a tutorial that fails to teach you about your laser bomb, health, or quick access ship speed adjustments (engaged with the left shoulder button). While initially confusing, it’s nonetheless a remarkable piece of work: bold, brash, exhaustingly creative, and utterly beautiful.
While the absorb and reflect function is simple enough to understand, perfecting its timing takes practice, especially when you’re looking for a spot to inhale amid a curtain of bullets. A constant, satisfying, rhythmic engagement, the overarching stage design takes into account every aspect of its possibility, requiring its use not just to sweep enemy fire, but to navigate through laser wheels, interior mazes, and for survival against large cannon strikes. Boss appendages open up, revealing laser bonds and bridges to draw upon or manoeuvre through, and stage obstacles regularly require its timely usage to survive the forced scroll. For tighter segments that require precision movement, you can slow the ship down using the right shoulder button. This inventiveness is what makes everything tick so effectively. Equally, Drainus is pure action, requiring reflex and muscle memory rather than rote strategising to overcome.
Visually, it’s a work of art, running a smooth 60 frames both handheld and docked. Rarely has a 2D shooting game been blessed with such spectacular visuals - and it’s high time. Modern hardware has the capacity to create a graphical showcase without being overblown or using crude, misplaced assets. Drainus, like Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, spins sharp detail and beautiful animation into an incredible spectacle, its styling not dissimilar to Phalanx on the X68000.
The first stage has you charge from a frayed sand pipe, the landscape spinning 360 degrees, before you rip across a desert surface and headlong into a Fury Road-esque dust storm. From there you ascend to rainy skies, water droplets rippling across the screen, and then space, where the planet beneath is nuked into oblivion, leaving you to navigate a smouldering asteroid field in its wake. It’s quite something.
Bosses and mid-bosses are fantastic assemblies of mecha-dragons, transforming fortresses, and even a 2001 monolith, many of which offer appendages to strip and multiple phases. Not since Radiant Silvergun have we seen such a creative tour de force of large-scale enemies, and Drainus doesn’t shy away from borrowing a few ideas. There are typical shooting game tropes, such as the giant mothership assault, where you punch your way inside to destroy the core, but it’s done in a way that feels wholly fresh.
In terms of gameplay, however, there are a few particulars that won’t sit immediately well with shooting game purists. In terms of scoring, there are certainly methods to claw more digits than the next best player, but at the same time overlooked opportunities to flesh out a dedicated system. Additionally, your score counter only takes a dent on continuing, and there’s no sign of an online leaderboard (yet).
Drainus also features a weapons upgrade structure that requires pausing the game mid-run. While halting the action is usually frowned upon among shooting game diehards, it is time to accept a new way of doing things, and the ship-fortifying characteristic lends a unique dimension to the action. Arcade Mode, however, which restricts upgrading to mid-stage intervals, should probably have been a default option rather than locked until you clear the game’s two loops.
Energy canisters accrued during play act as a form of currency. Within your pause screen lies an enormous menu of bolt-ons and power-up options. Initially, your ship has three slots, and you can apply newly acquired weaponry to the available spaces in an order of your choosing. In-game, picking up power-up icons triggers each slot in ascending order, engaging their applied weaponry automatically. These slots also double as your ship’s health, meaning eating a bullet will drop one slot and fall back to the next weapon. When you’re teetering on the last active slot with an underpowered pea-shooter, you’re in the precarious position of being one collision away from death lest you can power up again. It’s a system that encourages you to go unscathed, especially if you have your best weaponry sensibly applied to the highest possible slot. There are shot power and laser upgrades, option formations and plenty of other trinkets to purchase and configure, and half of the game depends on how and when you spend your currency. It is quite possible, depending on skill, to go several stages without purchasing anything, and then grab a hefty bounty all at once. Every player will define their own personal preferences, but it will take plenty of playing before you know what suits you, and, owing to rather limited descriptions, a while to figure out what it all does.
Perhaps one glaring issue for purists is that the default and even hard difficulties are too leisurely. Although admittedly seasoned in the genre, we achieved a two-loop, single-credit clear on our sixth attempt. And, while the second loop comes on harder, it’s softened by retaining all of your lives and power-ups and gracing you with even more powerful weapon options. Saying it’s too easy might not be entirely fair, but for some it certainly will be. Finishing both loops and the true final boss does unlock additional modes, however, including a “Ridiculous” difficulty setting for high-level players to get their teeth into.
Drainus never quite reaches the adrenaline highs of Andro Dunos 2, partly because the music — while still good — isn’t on the same level, and the overall climactic nature of things doesn’t quite hit as satisfyingly. Where it excels is in its desire to impress. When you’re needling through mothership internals, detonating enormous structures, coasting on power-ups and bolstering the heat, it really takes hold. The visual feedback is sufficiently heavy-duty, and the constant pressure to work with bullet absorption creates a layered sense of involvement that feels more engaging than most shooting game gimmicks.
Team Ladybug is really demonstrating its programming expertise with Drainus. It’s both dangerous and brave to attempt a shooting game on the scale of Gradius V or Einhander, yet for the most part, the developer pulls it off in convincing fashion. It’s not entirely perfect, arguably overly easy, and various aspects will sit better with some players than others. But, at the very least, it’s a spectacular sci-fi action epic that constantly evolves, creates, and showboats. To that end, Drainus will land well with both hardcore and casual players alike.
Just to add a quick addendum to this, as I didn’t quite have space to expand the word count much more. Arcade Mode is truly superb, and it’s something of a shame it’s not presented as a default option rather than being locked behind a clear. It’s still on the easy side perhaps for those really well-versed in shmups, but it offers a sterner challenge with more bullets to dodge, upgrades that can only be applied at set points, gets rid of all the story cutscenes, and even wraps the whole thing with an Insert Coin dynamic and name entry screens. It has three difficulty options, two of which demand far more actual dodging (something not really required too much in the default game), and it has a new scoring aspect where a timer appears on certain enemies and boss appendages that reaps higher scores for faster kills.
It’s a really great mode that will satisfy a lot of arcade-geared players and well worth unlocking.
Very easy? Sign me up….I have played games in this genre that are too hard, even on easy mode. I will keep an eye on this for sure.
Waiting on my physical copy!
I'm a pretty seasoned shmup player so it being easy is concerning, but the occasional breezy playthrough should still be fun!
You’ll love the breezy play through, it gives you time to learn the weapons upgrades system, and then dive into arcade which will be right up your street.
It’s perfect for those who prefer their shmups at a more leisurely pace and no less spectacular for it. You’ll love it!
I'm probably one of the most boring shmup fans there is as the easy of this game is probably right up my alley. I just like to shoot all the things, which is probably my downfall lol, but that's how I prefer my shmups.
Some what complicated shop and accessory system to fathom. That puts me off straight away. Shooters just need easy power up mechanic's not messing around breaking the flow. Andros dunos done that perfectly. Probably get this when it's on offer.
I keep reading the title as Drainius. 😬
Drainus sounds like a euphemism for the squirts.
Please don’t let that put you off. It does take a little thought and practice to get to grips with, but provides a genuinely interesting dimension to the game.
Agreed that it's a bit too easy for a shmup. I played through it on my Steam Deck last year, and it's very good though. Highly recommend it!
@Diogmites If the title is the worst thing one can say about this (or any) game, however, that's probably a good thing.
@Axelay71 I was thinking the same thing. Shmups are definitely not in shortage. We don’t need something like that breaking up the flow.
Thank you so much for this wonderful shmup coverage. I really appreciate it a lot.
@SonOfDracula I love the classics like Thunderforce 3 and 4 true master pieces.
@ZZalapski Agreed, but the worst thing that can be said for this game its apparent lack of difficulty, which is why i won’t bother playing it. Nothing worse than a boring shmup.
@Bunz You’re very welcome. Thank you for reading!
@Axelay71 Replayed Thunderforce 4 last week, and it's such a masterfully crafted experience. Truly one of the great!
@SonOfDracula unfortunately they don't make em like that anymore. Yes there are plenty new ones out there but they just don't have that something. Or it's twin stick shooters !! Might pick up Drainus when it's on eshop sale.
@Axelay71 Yeah, maybe on a sale!
Just bought it and I’ve really enjoyed it. I suck at shooters so this being easy really helped. It took me a little while to fathom the power-up system, but by the end of the first loop I’d sussed it. I enjoyed the story too, especially the twist at the end of the tutorial and the whole idea behind the second loop.
This has to have some of the best 2D sprite work I’ve ever seen too, especially that first shot as the Drainus takes off and all the elements of it are moving around using parallax to simulate it being 3D. Awesome.
Hehe sounds like anus.
A less challenging shmup sounds like a dream come true in a time when it seems everyone and their mother who makes shmups goes the bullet hell route. I believe a great shmup should be epic and enjoyable, reward skill, but not be impenetrable for people who just want to have fun. Weird title aside, sounds like a great modern shooter.
Will pick this up, but also wondering how long before a superior version lands on PS5.
This game being on the easier side of the genre is definitely a plus for me too so I'll definitely get it at some point, thanks for the review and addendum!
@Satan Is there news of a superior PS5 version? This runs at full resolution 60fps on Switch and seems features plenty of content. I’m not sure how it could be improved upon.
@rockodoodle very easy for hardcore players, i play a lot of shooters and found the challenge to be fine and absolutely not too easy.
@Tom-Massey No mention of one yet, but I've been caught quite a bit with this, lately. The most recent being Neon White.
It seems to me at least that with this market research, publishers are hoping Switch owners double dip by releasing on Switch first as with G'nG Resurrection/Capcom Arcade Stadium/Rolling Gunner/Neon White (all of which run better or are enhanced on PS5 with Rolling Gunner including the Over Power DLC).
Since for many Switch owners (myself included), it's their secondary console and naturally, given the choice, would choose the version for their lead console first.
Can’t wait to get it as soon as it’s up, but man am I super bummed about the scoring system and no online leaderboards (thanks for mentioning it!) ugh :-/
@Satan has nothing to do with double-dipping and all to do with (paid-for or in exchange for marketing aid) timed exclusivity (GnG, Capcom Arcade Stadium) and with small devs prioritizing their finite resources for platforms (Steam and Switch) where they’ll sell the most. Also, Rolling Gunner on PS5 costs the same ($29.90) as RG+Overpower DLC on Switch (19.90+9.90$), but the DLC is awful anyway and at least on Switch you have a choice of not spending money on it.
Also, you say most people’s choices is to go Ps5 and have we NSW as their second platform, when we literally have plenty of evidence of the contrary, most people who own more than one console and/or PS5+NSW will still prefer to purchase the Switch version when that version is competent and all versions are day and date. We know that because the vast, vast majority of these titles have sold MUCH more on Switch.
@DashKappei Is this fevered irrational Nintendo fanboy leakage or have you got this evidence you speak of to back all of your assertions? Rolling Gunner inc Over Power on PS5 not only performs better, it's cheaper also. I happen to like its DLC since having the OG the day it was released on the Japanese eShop. It gave it a new lease of life. On a par with Crimzon Clover's World Ignition update.
@Satan I see. I’m just wondering what possible improvements or additions they could add at this point, but if you prefer to wait and see that’s fair enough. Keep in mind as a Horizontal scroller the Switch’s portability does make it a compelling option for having it on there.
No online scoring system yet. I also found the absence strange and dug around looking for one, as it’s usually a pre-requisite for shmups. But we have a pre-release copy for review, and it might mean that after Feb 2nd they’re patched straight in when the game is actually available to the general public.
@Tom-Massey Who knows. I haven't seen the PC res. I'd imagine the PS5 would run it at equivalent to PC at highest settings. Maybe some interesting use of the controller?
G'nG Resurrection has a frame less lag. The poorer performing Stadium games on Switch run better on PS5.
Some by as much as 2 frames.
Neon White has a higher res, higher frame rate and very well implemented haptic feedback on PS5.
The controller feedback really adds to the experience. I loved it on Switch, but abandoned it when the PS5 version was released.
I'm not here to slag off the Switch. I love the thing - look at my collection. I just suspect there's a bit of marketing fuckery at play as with most things.
And 1080p looks a bit ropey on new TVs. A new BC console that upscales Switch games would be amazing. It's time.
The game it's actually called 'Dr Anus'. It looks like an 'i' but it's not.
@Satan lol the fevered Nintendo fanboy would be me? Hilarious cause I’m usually attacked by such fanboys. Anyway, sure everything I’ve said is easily verified, from the timed exclusivity up to sell numbers that are there for you to check on with financial quarterly reports and straight from the horse’s mouth regarding the choice to focus on Switch and Steam first because of finite resources. On the opposite I see you keep getting your facts wrong, I don’t want to flame, please just inform yourself better, Rolling Gunner is not cheaper on PS5, on the contrary, it is cheaper on the eShop where you can buy it sans the Over Power DLC and base game + DLC costs the same as the PS5 release that is $29.90.
For the rest, I mean what are we talking about here exactly? That PS5 games perform better than on Switch with higher res? Well duh, such a discovery! 😂
Removed - flaming/arguing
@Satan omg meltdown
First, it’s telling that you keep saying “PS5” version: There is NO specific PS5 release, lol. It’s just the PS4 version in BC. Considering all the stubbornness you’ve put on display here, you should get your facts straight first.
Also, you’ve heard it here folks, UK = the whole world. And even in the UK it is not cheaper at all, on the contrary it’s more expensive on PS5 at £25 while on Switch it’s £18.
Only if you decide to buy the (awful) DLC (that has nothing on the awesome World Ignition content for Crimson Clover) DLC then it costs 2 quids more on Switch, but on PSN you’re forced to spend more without having a choice. Furthermore, in the US the whole package costs the same, while in EU it’s 1 Euro more. Basically, you’re wrong, but there was no need for the name calling, profanity and meltdown, it’s just videogames mate. This will be my last reply, you don’t deserve another honestly.
@Tom-Massey Fingers crossed! It wouldn’t be the first “important” shmup release lately to come out with no online leaderboards :/ I’m a bit worried because that is a huge deal for me (although reading your thoughts on the scoring system being disappointing and underdeveloped make it less enticing to battle on the leaderboards… and I hate when shmups have score farming “cheats/glitches”.
Hopefully they’ll put out a patch or two in the future! But I’ll grab it day 1 anyway, it seems great and looks incredible! Thanks for the review:)
@DashKappei Read the addendum regarding that (first comment under the review). The arcade mode that you can unlock actually fleshes out the scoring system considerably (by adding timed destruction features to almost everything in the game). It does require unlocking, which for me is sort of a bad move, but it's definitely worth it.
Don't think too much about this one though, it's awesome. You'll love it!
I have this on my wishlist and this has me convinced a fair bit. Cheers for the review.
@LEGEND_MARIOID You’re always very welcome, thank you for reading!
Somewhat high-falutin prose for a shmup review!
I always do my best! Thank you very much for reading. Please look out for the forthcoming Akai Katana review if you're shmup fan, it'll be up fairly soon.
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