Since its initial release in 2011, indie Japanese shoot ‘em up Crimzon Clover: World EXplosion has been re-released on several different platforms, now coming to grace the Nintendo Switch. While there may be reservations regarding the performance of a bullet hell shooter on Switch, I can tell you right out the gate that this release delivers a rock solid shmup experience.
As is the norm with the genre, Crimzon Clover puts players in control of a sci-fi airship tasked with blitzing through waves of enemy ships and machinery. There’s a standard automatic blaster weapon and a secondary lock-on weapon, and you’ll be trying to dodge incoming enemy fire while blasting away. What sets Crimzon Clover’s gameplay apart is the Break feature – a decidedly clever mechanic that has large ramifications in regards to how it shapes a player’s approach to the game.
With Break, the player can gain access to a selection of enhancements depending on how much progress has been made in filling the Break gauge overall. Once you hit the halfway mark, the player can activate Break, which clears the screen of oncoming threats momentarily, imbues the ship with more significant firepower, and increases the amount of score gained for the duration of Break’s activation. Filling the gauge fully before activation will grant the player even more of a boost in firepower and score.
This feature simultaneously lowers the skill floor while heightening the skill ceiling. Less experienced players will rely on using Break in its weaker form as a way to quickly inflict more damage on the enemy, and potentially empty the screen of oncoming projectiles, but more experienced players will be incentivised to wait for the higher level of Break to maximise their score potential.
Giving rookie players even more of an advantage is the Bomb system, which also relies on partially filling the Break gauge. It doesn’t take long to amass enough points to earn a screen-clearing Bomb, however the cost of Bomb’s increases after each subsequent use, meaning that each potential Bomb use is met with a split-second decision between getting an instant screen clear, or trying to preserve their use for a more essential moment. The Break mechanic is a genius way to imbue Crimzon Clover’s gameplay with an additional layer of strategy without diminishing the immediate simplicity that makes the shmup genre so appealing.
Another crease to the gameplay is the aforementioned overall score. While it’s entirely possible to brute force Crimzon Clover, with the game giving the player unlimited continue options after they lose all of their lives in a run, continuing the game resets the score back to zero. The challenge of Crimzon Clover doesn’t come from reaching the end of the five stages, but attempting to reach a point of mastery where the game can be finished without the use of a single continue. This becomes further incentivised by the content locked behind the defeat of the stage five boss without using a continue.
There’s a substantial range of different gameplay options with three different versions to choose from, and within those versions are an additional four modes, with the self-explanatory nature of most of the variations keeping things simple. The Arrange version, which offers some modifications in the gameplay and the functionality of Break, feels somewhat superfluous, only really serving to infatuate those who want to stomp through the stages and hit a higher score than they typically would. The Novice and Arcade versions are where the intended experience is found, with the former acting as a great gateway for newcomers to the genre, and the Arcade version delivering the game’s core challenge.
Arcade version is definitely one for those who have plenty of shmup experience. While the first stage starts with some pretty manageable foes, the intensity quickly ramps up, and by the end of the second stage the screen will start to become progressively more filled with a daunting number of bullets and lasers to tightly manoeuvre around. Unlimited mode – an even harder modifier – ups the density of foes and projectiles to almost comical absurdity, and provides a challenge that will take ample practice to overcome with confidence.
The game’s performance on Switch never dips, maintaining a wondrously stable frame-rate despite the chaos that can kick off on screen at any given time. All of the visual noise that erupts from the projectiles, the explosions, and the stars that burst out of enemies can work to the game’s detriment though, with the player-controlled ship easily being lost amongst the insanity, leading to a few infuriating moments where you lose track of your place in the action, leading to a swift death. This becomes even more apparent in handheld mode, which can feel borderline incomprehensible in the later stages. There’s certainly admiration to be found in Crimzon Clover’s shameless spectacle, but when it fogs up the clarity of the tight gameplay it can feel like a slight liability.