Bullet hell shooters/Shmups can be a terrifying and beautiful genre. Guiding a small ship through a harrowing gauntlet of energy blasts and bullets can lead to an overabundance of stress and yet I find it difficult to not admire the sheer creativity and complexity of such patterns. They may look impossible to traverse, but there’s always some pathway designed to keep the player safe not to mention small hitboxes which makes each narrow escape an absolute thrill. Mamorukun Curse is another entry in a longstanding genre that plays as expected and despite the interesting twists on the formula, its pretty much a straightforward experience.
Mamorukun Curse begins with the death of Mamoru, a young teen who finds himself in the afterlife with other lost souls who have also been released from their mortal coils. Left wondering what they are supposed to do, a cute and cheery spirit collects the characters and sets them on a hastily put together quest to help her rid the underworld from the forces of darkness, lest they take over. The story is as light as it is breezy and merely serves as a backdrop for the different stages you’ll play around in.
The structure of Mamorukun Curse offers a few unique twists that make it a bit different from other shmups I’ve experienced. At the start of a level the player can choose three characters, each counting as one game “life,” who are interesting not for their personalities but for their unique shooting styles. For example, while certain characters can only shoot in straight lines others can cover more ground and hit more targets with wide, curved arcs. Picking up power-ups dropped by enemies will increase the number of gun pods that hover around the player, providing for a comical amount of firepower occupying screen at at any given time (so much that it causes significant framerate drops). Apart from a primary fire mode, each character has a special curse attack that serves two purposes. By charging the curse to its maximum level, firing and hitting a target will result in a large area of attack that offers a continuous, yet timed, stream of damage to surrounding targets. While a lesser charged curse shot can perform the same function, it offers weaker damage, the main reason to do so is to unlock your character’s special ability. By stepping into the cursed zone, attack damage doubles and special missiles accompany each shot. This attack mode doesn’t last long but its certainly a useful skill for dispatching tougher enemies and bosses The only downside is the sometimes terribly annoying sound effect the characters make for the duration of the mode.
While the conflicts in most shmups will often take place high in the skies or in the cold vastness of space, Mamorukun is mostly grounded. However, this doesn’t necessarily make things easier. In any given stage, the player will face a large army of enemies that exist along a wide spectrum of strength and maneuverability. Flying birds, menacing toads, robots and giant flaming skulls are not the only dangers the characters will face in the underworld. At times the player will be confronted by environmental obstacles and traps lying in wait that are just as devious as the bullets being fired at you. To make things even more interesting, each level is timed despite the amount of freedom afforded to the player to traverse the stage. While certain power-ups can increase the amount of time, you certainly won’t want to dawdle. The recipe of numerous enemies, obstacles, time limits and “one hit, you’re dead” mechanic and a timer results in a game that has the potential to be pretty hard, especially on higher difficulty settings.
Mamorukun Curse is broken up into a handful of different game modes. The main adventure itself can be tackled a number of different ways. You can either play each level individually, allowing for short bursts of gameplay, or as one long set of levels. Outside of the main game, there are variations of an arcade mode as well as a chance to practice the levels before taking them on. If I can blast the game for one thing, it would be the bizarre miscommunication regarding the controls. The tutorial was adamant about telling me to use the X button to fire, only to discover that X doesn’t do anything. I was trapped in a hurricane of confusion as my character deftly moved across the field of battle, yet left without the means to defend herself against the evil horde. It wasn’t until my thumb brushed against the right stick and the subsequent burst of fire did I get myself on the right track while muttering, “What the hell, man?”
For shmup aficionados and lovers of Japanese anime culture, Mamorukun Curse is a worthwhile play because it contains all the trappings of the genre with a few interesting twists. It’s not a particularly long game but those who crave top score spots and harder difficulty will find a reason to play. It’s also wrapped around a sugary layer of saccharine cuteness that is a nice thematic change of pace from darker shmups like Sine Mora. Mamorukun Curse isn’t anything particularly special, but it does offer a nice short term diversion.