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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Manufacture 43
Release Date: July 24, 2019


Switch Review - 'Pawarumi'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 19, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Pawarumi is an arcade inspired shoot'em up with a modern twist and which stays true to the legacy of what made the genre popular in the early ages of video game history.

Of the many shooters out there, Ikaruga is certainly distinct. It didn't invent the bullet-hell shooter, but its color-changing mechanic, which grants the player different offensive and defensive capabilities depending on their color affinity, transformed the game from a twitch-based shooter to something more cerebral, as one had to be mindful of bullet spreads and what can or can't be absorbed based on the ship's hue. A few titles have imitated this mechanic, but Treasure's game still remains the best implementation. French developer Manufacture 43 is the latest to take a crack at the Ikaruga formula with Pawarumi, and the end result is solid.

While narrative isn't a prominent part of shooting games, it's always interesting to see what the developers have used as a framework for the shooting. In this case, you play the role of Axo, an ace pilot of the empire who controls a powerful ship named the Chukaru. The opening sequence finds her in an apologetic state as she regrets turning her back on the human race and blowing up major military installations. Her remorse turns to revenge as she goes on what is likely a suicide mission against the forces that took control of her mind and body. For something so few people care about, the sparsely told tale will throw you for a loop and may be reminiscent of the only other shooter to go this route, Sine Mora.

Pawarumi isn't a standard bullet-hell shooter. The base mechanics of the genre are present, such as only having one real weak spot on your ship and having every enemy capable of firing off a small volley of bullets that adds up quickly if you don't take care of them. Instead of going for tate mode like most vertical bullet hell shooters, this title embraces widescreen and fills the screen with movable space and enemies rather than relegate portions of it to stats. You only have one life in the game and no continues, so it can even be challenging to play the game on the Easy difficulty level. You also don't gain power-ups, since you have access to three weapon types, each with a dedicated button. You have a blue laser stream with a decent width, a green Gatling gun that shoots in a double-helix pattern, and red missiles that home in on their targets via the scanner that fans back and forth in front of you.

The colors of the weapons are important, as you'll quickly notice that the enemies are similarly colored. Unlike its inspiration, enemies aren't immune if you shoot at them with the same color, so players can simply use their favorite weapon throughout the campaign and be fine — provided they have the skill to reach the end. Those willing to think and experiment will find that the colors of your weapons and enemies play a big part in getting the most out of the game. Shoot at enemies of the same color, and you'll boost your shield, the one thing preventing you from dying with just one shot. Shoot at enemies of an opposing color, and you'll pelt them with much more damage. Shoot at enemies with what is considered a weaker color, and it'll take more shots to down them, but it also means you can increase your super meter up to three levels. As expected, activating the meter means using the super bomb to clear the screen — this time in the form of your own wide-reaching bullet hell barrage.

Once you come to grips with the mechanics, you'll employ more strategy than expected in a shooter. In addition to weaving through bullet curtains, you'll consider when you want to power up your shield and when you want to pay attention to the super meter. You may default to your most destructive guns, but you'll still switch to shields when you take a hit. Boss fights also become more strategic since you can aim directly for the weak spot for quicker kills or aim at the other parts if you want a super bomb flourish. Again, this is more of a "thinking" shooter, and in the sea of bullet hell shooters, this is a positive mechanic to work with.

One neat twist found in Pawarumi is in the difficulty levels. Unlike almost every other game out there, the selected difficulty level actually modifies the level order. Easy cheats a bit by only having you fight through four levels, compared to the five of Normal and Hard, but the order of the levels differs greatly between those difficulty gradients. Further, the narrative changes due to the level order change, a nice adjustment that makes each run feel distinctly different.

When you finally master the various color mechanics and beat the game, you won't find much left to do in terms of extra modes. Beating a stage in the given difficulty opens up a practice mode for that difficulty level. That practice mode comes in handy when you realize that there are online leaderboards, and the game does a terrific job of showing your overall placement on the leaderboards as you're playing. Those expecting co-op of any sort are out of luck, and those wanting the (almost standard) boss rush mode are similarly left out in the cold.

As far as presentation goes, Pawarumi is splendid. The game's self-described "retro-futuristic pre-Colombian" design feels fresh, similar to what the old anime Nazca came up with decades ago. Every enemy you face feels new thanks to this, and your ship feels distinct, especially if you select the exclusive Joyful ship so your craft matches your Joy-Con colors. Speaking of colors, everything is vibrant, so it is very easy to tell what the enemy color is, and every environment has the right amount of pop without masking any essential enemy information. The only flaw that may be noticeable if you're coming from the PC is that the Nintendo Switch version runs at 30fps instead of 60fps, but you might not mind due to the frame rate holding steady.

The Switch is already home to a variety of shooters, but Pawarumi makes a solid case for being a worthy addition to a shooter fan's library. The gimmick of having three different-colored guns and enemies makes the game more cerebral while also not punishing players who just want to stick with one weapon type. The three main game difficulties make it accessible to everyone, while the difficulty levels determining the number and order of the stages mean that playthroughs may feel familiar but not exactly the same. It could have used a few more modes to round out the package, but thanks to it doing just about everything right, Pawarumi is worth playing for shooting fans.

Score: 8.0/10

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