The scrolling shoot ’em up. It’s one of gaming’s original concepts, and while modern tastes may have shifted to more three dimensional pursuits, but that hasn’t stopped some development teams from keeping the genre alive. Ikaruga, Raiden, Resogun and Galak-Z are amongst those that have proved we still need shooters in our lives, and the Switch has quietly become home to a fantastic library of them. Pawarumi, from Manufacture 43, is the latest and frankly one of the greatest to make its home on Nintendo’s brilliant hybrid console.
The game’s main concepts revolve around its differently coloured weaponry. First up, you can Boost your shield by shooting enemies with one of three similarly coloured weapons; the Green Serpent Gatling, Blue Condor Laser and Red Jaguar Missiles. Using a coloured weapon against the same colour of enemy at the right time means the difference between survival and destruction. Your shield has three charges – three lives, in essence – and you need to fight to keep it fully stocked otherwise you’ll be seeing the Game Over screen rather a lot. You probably will whatever you do, though.
On top of that, you’ve got to juggle the fact that certain colours will deal extra damage. This Crush mechanic means that the Green Gatling is more powerful against Red Jaguar enemies, Red beats Blue, and Blue crushes Green. It’s a simple rock, paper, scissors format (or the Fire Emblem weapons triangle as my stupid brain kept telling me), but means there’s more than a hint of Ikaruga at work here. The jump to three diametrically opposed weapon and enemy types over two was more than enough to throw my addled mind for a loop.
That’s before you factor in the third and final concept, Drain, which is that doing the opposite of Crush damage and firing with the weaker colour charges your special attack, so Red against Green, Green against Blue and Blue against Red sees your Super gauge fill. Once it’s charged you can unleash a screen’s worth of homing missiles, with three different levels available to you.
Overall, and certainly to begin with, it’s mental. The thing is, before you know it, suddenly it all makes sense. Pawarumi goes a little easy on you by highlighting what colour you need to crush the majority of enemies in front of you down at the bottom of the screen, but the whole thing magically becomes second nature within no time at all.
You’ll soon settle into the rhythm of Crushing enemies until you take a hit, at which point you’ll frantically try to boost your shield back to full strength before you take another shot. Within that you’ll likely save your super for the moments where it threatens to completely overwhelm you, and then you have to balance recharging that into your cycle as well.
As far as modern shoot ’em ups go, it’s a heady and thoroughly enthralling mix. Thanks to the joy of scrolling shooter score-chasing you’ve got a nigh-on infinite time sink here that perfectly fits portable play, though you’ll have a tough time making your way through all of its five levels in one sitting, especially on the highest difficulty. Thankfully as you progress you unlock each level in the training mode, so you can take your time learning how to finally make it that step further, and there’s an Easy mode to get you started with the game’s concepts.
There’s something of a narrative, with some beautiful character art, though there’s little else to be seen. You take on the role of Axo, the Empire’s best pilot, and while it’s clear that you’ve not exactly been a saint in the past, you’re all set to avenge the people that have been swept away by the evil forces plaguing the spaceways. To be honest, everyone seems like they’re a bit of a mess and it’s all just an excuse to blow spaceships up anyway.
The core game itself looks utterly fantastic, with neon-infused, Aztec-influenced ship designs that really set Pawarumi apart. They are 3D – as proven by the fly-by at the opening of each level – but this is a 2D game through and through, and it all runs flawlessly whether you’re docked or on the move. It’s backed up by Grégory Desmurs seriously cool soundtrack that shifts between ambient electronica, heavy metal and martial drumming. Somehow, much like the rest of the game, it still makes sense.