Espgaluda II’s originally a 2005 arcade game by legendary developer Cave, responsible for the already-released Switch ports of Mushihimesama and Progear (via Capcom Arcade Stadium), the upcoming Deathsmiles I & II collection, and before that a string of high-quality arcade shmups stretching all the way back to the '90s — there’s an expectation this release (essentially a straight transplant of 2010’s Japan-only Xbox 360 port) will be not just good but great, capable of standing out from the crowd even on a format graced with as many high quality examples of the genre as the Switch.
And it makes a positive impression right from the start, players presented with no less than six types of Espgaluda II to pick from (with a seventh bonus style as fully-featured as all the rest soon unlocked) and a total of four characters; each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and shot type quirks to master.
The differences between these modes are drastic. The in-your-face red/blue bullet cancelling of 'Arrange' is bound to bring Treasure classic Ikaruga to mind, and 'Black Label' features a chain meter used nowhere else in the game. The home-exclusive Novice modes for both Normal and Black Label greatly reduce the number of bullets on screen without simplifying the special “Awakening” mechanics at the game’s core, giving those wishing to learn the ropes a chance to experiment without fear of being immediately blown away or lost in a sea of blue/purple/red bullets — everyone gets a realistic chance of saying “I cleared a shmup without using a credit”.
So different are these options from one another that in terms of both scoring and survival, being good (even “Watch my 1CC replay online” good) at one doesn’t make anyone even close to being any good at another — they may as well be completely separate games.
Purists will be happy to hear the original arcade game has been faithfully preserved, with a high-resolution alternative on hand for those not fond of the highly-pixelated look — and for once “high resolution” means exactly that, the upgraded sprites are literally the original CGI designs re-rendered to better show more of the detail that was already there, not “smoothed” or upscaled or redrawn.
All game types have access to the same plentiful range of screen customisation options, enabling the screen to be rotated in any direction or providing customisable close-ups of important gauges as well as detailed score trackers added to any otherwise unused space at the side of the screen. Just about everything can have its size or position adjusted, and the main view window is so adjustable that if anyone wanted to have it squished down to half the usual height while horizontally stretched to oblivion and off-centre, then there’s absolutely nothing stopping them from indulging in their madness (vision-saving default settings are thankfully just a menu option away).
Non-interactive tutorials are accessible from the main menu to help players get to grips with the many differences between the Arcade/Normal, Arrange, and Black Label modes, each one further split down into separate instructionals covering everything from the most basic of basics (“how to shoot”) to more specialist topics involving alternative player-activated modes dependent on not one but two different collectables. It’s still a lot to take in — Cave shmups as a whole tend to be enjoyably intricate games and Espgaluda II is complex even by their standards — but at the very least it makes it clear that there’s far more to the game than brainlessly shooting things until the credits roll.
...Or it could have, with a little editing. The translation is often rough and inconsistent; so much so that it takes no effort to find in-game text still written in Japanese, and some of the English sentences are in desperate need of less workmanlike translations. The tutorial’s likely to be the first place a new or frustrated player’s going to be turning to for help and clarity, and yet all the good done by its use of correctly-translated English words such as “Ascension'' (to refer to your time-slowing special mode) are undone by everything else. This includes the button layout in the config menu, opting for transliterated Japanese terms instead (“Kakusei”, in this instance), severing the link between what could have been genuinely useful advice and the rest of the game for anyone other than those who didn’t need either a translation or an explanation in the first place.
The same can be said for the game’s unexplained use of the term “zako” — it’s the right word to use when describing one-hit-kill enemies, but you won’t know that if you’re not the sort of person already waist-deep in imported Japanese shmups. There are, of course, plenty of legitimate technical reasons why a full and polished translation might have been unworkable beyond the additional cost/effort involved, but that doesn’t stop what’s here acting as a very real barrier to anyone hoping to dip their toe into the genre’s depths for the first time.
Other avoidable issues lurk elsewhere. At the time of writing online leaderboards are greyed out and non-functional, with only a simple “Preparing for ranking! Please wait until it is held.” message to serve as an explanation (yet another example of the game’s stilted translation), Until this arrives, Score Attack mode — a core feature and focus of past, present, and no doubt future shmups — is rendered utterly pointless. We assume this will be fixed sooner rather than later, but the fact remains that at this moment in time people are buying a shmup with a common key feature missing.
Luckily for publisher Live Wire, its bare-minimum localisation work and stumble out of the online gate aren’t destructive enough to drag the excellent Espgaluda II down too much, and underneath it all the game feels as fresh and well-designed as ever. The flexible risk/reward scoring system allows long-time fans to decide for themselves (to a certain extent) how much trouble they want to get into while still allowing newcomers enough leeway to enjoy an intense and visually spectacular shmup experience.
Paid through the nose to get this one on xbox 360 years ago but very happy to double dip! Here’s hoping the first one gets ported as well.
This really makes me wonder what options are hiding in the Japanese menus of my copy of ESPrade. I'm able to play it, but I have no idea what mode I'm playing or really what I'm doing. I should probably work on that...
Glad this got a localization even if it is somewhat broken. I'm practically drowning in shmups right now, but this is still a very welcome addition.
Shame about the translation, hope it gets patched!
Still gonna pick it up.
I low-key enjoy the broken translation as a reminiscence of the older "somebody has set up us the bomb" days.
How did they put so much attention to detail into the game, while still forgetting to translate half the game??! Like....that's a new level of weird, that's for sure.
how many frames of lag
At last, someone giving shot triggers a run for their money. Great price too.
How is the performance on Switch?
I really like this game on the casual level, but it's my least favorite Cave shmup regarding trying to master it for high scores. Its scoring system feels insanely convoluted.
Pretty sure I’ll be picking this up at some point.
I love a good shmup. I’m pretty terrible at them mind. I love the Darius games. They seem less impossible than most. ESPrade on easy is about my level of competence. I’ll get this before long. You can’t beat the buzz of a good shmup 👍🏻
I 1cc’d both novice modes like a boss!
If you have a access to a smartphone, the Google Translate app works really well. You just point it at the text and it starts populating the translation before your very eyes.
I haven’t noticed any issues. Menus and stuff are a bit clunky, but no worse than Hamster. Mostly a result of them porting a port. So there’s “in game” options from the start menu and then separate options before entering the game. If that makes sense.
Ah good. Have this on my wishlist awaiting such reviews. Think I will go ahead and DL. Thanks for the review.
@jobvd 4 frames of input lag (measured by The Electric Underground in his YT review)
@robr Ah yeah, I’m familiar with that nonsense. If the game itself runs fine I don’t mind. Thanks for the reply!
@Asciidan ow wow that's too bad
@JasmineDragon Download a translation app then.
@DESTROYYYYYY That's very cool, thanks for the link.
Those graphics look very disgusting especially with those numbers cluttering the screen. It probably is a good shmup but I'll pass.
Great review, I learned stuff about the game that is useful. Also, I've really been enjoying Espgaluda ll. It's a really fun shoot em up with awesome music, great graphics, and satisfyingly fun gameplay. Such a fun addition to the overflowing Switch shoot em up library.
@jobvd 3-4 said shmupsonswitch
@jobvd For a frame of reference (pun unintended), the original 360 port had 3 frames, one more than the original arcade version. Not everyone realizes that most arcade games have built-in input lag. I mean if you think about it, it sort of helps the arcade operator get more coin drops. Now 4 frames here isn't that bad, it still feels responsive. And in CAVE games, most of the time it's the player that's leading the shots, so even with that much lag you won't notice. At least, not until you have to start tap dodging. And even then, the bullets move slow enough where you don't necessarily need split second reactions, you only need to be able to read the patterns in order to deal with them.
@Asciidan I haven't seen it yet, but I'd take any of Mark's opinions with a grain of salt. He's too used to playing zero/1 frame lag that not everyone has access to. He plays at lag levels that surpasses the original hardware. So by this point he probably shouldn't submit any official scores because he's no longer playing at the same spec everyone else is at.
@masterLEON facts are facts
@jobvd Yes they are. I'm not a computer, and neither are you, also facts. If 4 frames makes that much of a difference, pay attention to the bullets and dodge ahead of time to compensate.
@masterLEON why would I want to do that?
Since there’s a pre-existing 360 port, let’s cross our fingers and pray that Livewire brings over Ketsui since M2 couldn’t be bothered.
@robr I'm not into Ketsui, but I hope that it comes so you can enjoy it. I'm wishing for Futari Black Label, that needs to hit Steam and Switch already.
Futari should be a no-brainer (also 360) if publishing these other titles proves to have been worthwhile. The more of these games get ported, the more they sell, and the more publishers want to publish them. I’d love to see some publishers hiring M2 to port CAVE/8ing/Compile/Toaplan games instead of M2 taking on the publisher/producer/director role. We’d get some great ports instead of waiting 10 years per game because someone feels it’s necessary to include some pervy schoolgirl dating game as an easter egg or whatever. Anyone notice I have a bug up my anus over M2’s management decisions? 😂Also ran: nobody sleep on Razion on Thursday.
@jobvd I dunno, maybe to get better at playing shmups? I guess you think you can only play your "best" under "perfect" conditions. That's a placebo. Memorizing the game and enemy shot patterns, and establishing a route that lets you deal with the bullets better and get your score is the most important strat.
@masterLEON nah. I don't play under those circumstances.
Since the flip grip appears to never be re-stocked anytime in the near future, does anyone know about alternatives on the market so that I can rock that TATE mode?
@robr buy a CRT
Excellent canceller from Cave. There's something about a screen-full of giant gold numbers. It's like a fruit machine.
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