Once in a while, a game releases without many people noticing. Bullet Soul recently arrived on Xbox 360 and it's a pretty interesting shoot 'em up so let's take to the skies and see if it has enough soul to be a worthwhile shooter.
To be honest, I don't quite know what the story in Bullet Soul is all about. That's probably because this game arrived in the North American marketplace without being fully translated. In fact, the only English to be found is within the menus which is really the only place it's necessary. Anyway, you play it like any other shoot 'em up where you dodge bullets and blast away enemies with your stream of projectiles and stocked bombs. However, Bullet Soul implements an intriguing system that does a decent job of freshening up the decades-old formula. Basically, whenever you take down an enemy, that enemy's projectiles become souls that you can collect to increase your score multiplier. I found this made destroying enemies much more satisfying as clouds of bullets would suddenly become collectible goodies as opposed to dangerous life-ending hazards. Overall, this new mechanic is fantastic and very well implemented.
Bullet Soul looks like your average flashy Japanese-made shoot 'em up. The projectiles pop off the screen and will leave a mental image of neon bullets whizzing by for hours after you put it down. Considering it's a vertically-scrolling shooter with a narrow playfield, character portraits occupy the sides of the screen along with some valuable information. Everything looks decent although it's really nothing to write home about. However, the audio is awesome with an early-2000s arcade-style soundtrack and gratifying sound effects. There are constant low-frequency explosions, high-pitched zaps to let you know that your bullets are landing, and delightful dings whenever you collect a power-up. On top of all that, you'll also hear your character spout the odd Japanese phrase whenever they do something cool. I must say, even though the visuals aren't anything special, the audio definitely enhances the action.
Before you start shooting, you have to choose a character. Bullet Soul includes three who each vary substantially from one another. Yun uses powerful lasers, Zenichi has a wide array of projectiles, and Sadahl can lock-on to enemies. The variety of gameplay styles makes switching between them rather enjoyable seeing how unique they are. However, I also found them to be extremely imbalanced. Playing as Zenichi makes things a lot more difficult than the other two. Simply being able to take down bosses with him is a chore because he doesn't seem to do much damage. Sadahl, on the other hand, is way too powerful and takes a lot of the challenge away.
Speaking of which, there's a fourth character included, too. Now that I bring it up, I think this release of Bullet Soul includes some DLC seeing as it contains 1500 Gamerscore worth of achievements. Anyway, the fourth character (a grappler named Loop) is playable in Version B mode. I found her to be the most powerful of all as I completed most of the campaign without dying once. If you want to make the action even easier then you can play cooperatively with another local player. Doing so lowers the difficulty to the point where it's far too easy. However, don't think that this is an easy game because it can get incredibly challenging. Being able to weave through suddenly-appearing enormous clouds of bullets is a must-have skill if you want to emerge victorious.
Seeing as it is such a challenging game, it's surprising that there is no difficulty select. Obviously, you could choose a powerful character and play cooperatively with a friend if you want to make it easier, but the fact that difficulty relies on such factors as opposed to a simple option is kind of annoying. Casual gamers will be left in the dust while hardcore genre enthusiasts will thirst for more of a challenge. My final complaint is that there are only five stages to master. Even though there are a bunch of different modes, it all boils down to primarily the five stages. Bancho mode allows you to tackle them individually, Version B is a slightly altered campaign, and Caravan mode consists of a separate survival stage. Therefore, there isn't much incentive to keep playing after you master the short campaign.
Bullet Soul is an impressive shoot 'em up due to its projectile-converting mechanic, top-notch audio, and fun cast of characters. Although it's short-lived and has inconsistent challenge, this is one shmup that you shouldn't miss out on.
- + Interesting bullet transformation mechanic adds a layer of satisfaction
- + Awesome audio enhances the action
- + Characters offer unique gameplay styles
- - No difficulty option makes it less appealing to both casual and hardcore gamers
- - Only five stages to shoot through
- - Characters are incredibly imbalanced