If the prevalence of a genre on the platform is anything to go by, the shoot-'em-up's new home seems to be the PC. It also helps that some genre developers like Cave, who did DoDonPachi Resurrection and other classics like Raiden IV: Overkill, have been recently released on the PC, giving the genre some mainstream recognition. On the indie side of things, the Danmaku Unlimited series has been at the forefront of modern shooters, a feat that's more impressive when you realize that this is the work of one person and it was originally built as a mobile title. After playing the third entry in the series, it's clear that the series won't slow down anytime soon.
For the most part, the core mechanics match up with what you'd expect from a game that takes on the "bullet hell" shooter designation. Loads of smaller ships and some mid-bosses appear, each one firing a volley of bullets in small clusters. They're generally easy to avoid, but when enough of them appear on-screen, it can be a daunting task to bob and weave through the field. Luckily, only the core of your ship is susceptible to damage, so tiny gaps in the bullet patterns that would normally destroy any other craft present you with a window to eke through the carnage. Each of the five levels ends with massive bosses that have wild bullet patterns, and the patterns also change during each phase of the fight.
The game gives you some equally verbose firing patterns. Armed with satellites, you can opt for a few automatic firing phases, from a straightforward shot with a wide berth or a spread pattern that almost encompasses the entire screen. You can also use the fire button in conjunction with a beam button to produce a stronger, more concentrated column of bullets (regular or enemy-seeking), albeit at the cost of your maneuverability speed. You also have screen-clearing bombs that get you out of a pinch but have a smaller blast radius than in other titles. While you can manually detonate those bombs, they'll also automatically go off if you're hit with a bullet, so it acts as a limited shield of sorts and makes each life last longer than normal.
Danmaku Unlimited 3 introduces two new gameplay mechanics that'll please both genre newcomers and veterans. The first is the idea of the spirit bullet, where bullets launched from enemies are safe to touch once the enemy that shot them dies. It's similar to the bullet color idea from Ikaruga, minus the need to change your ship color for safety. The other new mechanic is grazing, which comes normally to genre masters that show off by getting as close as possible to a bullet without having it hit. Both grazing regular bullets and collecting spirit bullets fills up a meter, which makes your shots extremely strong for a limited amount of time. It also ensures that bullets from destroyed enemies turn into gems to help players attain high scores for the various online leaderboards.
Both mechanics are given their due in the campaign, depending on which mode you select. Spirit mode gives you multiple difficulties and the various features mentioned earlier. The difficulty levels vary in terms of how many bullets the enemies are able to pump on-screen; the Normal difficulty is considered perfect for genre beginners. Meanwhile, Graze mode reduces the difficulty selection to two, Hard and True. It also reduces the effect of Spirit bullets by eliminating them unless bombs are used, so bullets from fallen enemies remain deadly. Getting hit by a bullet still automatically deploys bombs, but all of them are detonated at once instead of only using one at a time. Finally, the meter for your super-powered shots has to be manually activated instead of automatic, like in Spirit mode.
Beyond the dual ways of playing the main campaign, there are a few extra incentives for fans to keep playing. Aside from the online leaderboards, there's also a boss rush mode and a practice mode for those who want to learn specific stages or bosses before diving in. Completing the game or hitting specific milestones, like grazing a set number of bullets, also opens up different firing patterns that effectively change the way the game is played.
Despite all of that, the main reason that people will be more patient with Danmaku Unlimited 3 than most other bullet hell shooters is because the game is difficult. It isn't outright impossible like most bullet hell shooters seem to be, but it also doesn't let you get away with burning through an endless supply of continues. The difficulty of gaining more continues means that you have to develop some skill to get further and see the end of what is otherwise a short campaign. It also helps that the tricky patterns used by main bosses and mini-bosses provide enough incentive for players to want to improve their skill so they can see the creative bullet patterns that will come next.
Just like before, the presentation is very well done. The graphics present both interesting ship designs and the ability to throw lots of items on-screen without struggling. The graphics also scale well to many monitor resolutions, so there's no issue of the main playfield being too small or elements being hidden. Elsewhere, the sound effects are fine, but the real highlight is the soundtrack. Composed by Japanese indie band Blankfield, the game is littered with hard rock that does a great job of accentuating the action without becoming too much of an assault on the ears.
Danmaku Unlimited 3 is a gem of a shooter. The frantic action you'd expect from a bullet hell shooter has been improved with interesting attack patterns and mechanics that reward quick kills and exhibiting some flair. There's a nice balance for veterans and genre newcomers, with the latter being served especially well since the difficulty level and lack of continues foster a need to get better while ensuring that death isn't as immediate as in other games. Topped off with a great presentation, Danmaku Unlimited 3 is a watermark in the genre, and fans shouldn't miss it.
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