Switch is the place to be for excellent shmups and there have been some recent offerings from CAVE so let's check out Espgaluda II.
After thoroughly enjoying the great shoot 'em up Mushihimesama a few months back, I was thrilled when I saw that Espgaluda II was finally getting a console release in the west. Over the years since its initial arcade release back in 2005, it has received various ports and enhanced iterations in Japan and this Switch release is thankfully a culmination of everything so far. Well, except for the fact that we still don't have the original Espgaluda; hopefully, that'll come out soon along with a bunch of other CAVE shmups but I digress.
Anyway, what makes Espgaluda II a fantastic shmup is its Kakusei button which is, to put it bluntly, quite complicated but I'll try my best to explain it at a very basic level. Aside from a rapid shot button and a steady shot stream that slows you down, you can also tap or hold Kakusei which, depending on various factors, can make the difficulty easier or more challenging. For example, if you amass a wealth of gems and gold, you can use it to turn all onscreen projectiles purple which makes things much easier but once you run out of juice, the bullets will turn red and become much faster and more vicious. Needless to say, effectively utilizing this system to your advantage requires a lot of practice but once you strike the correct balance and strategize accordingly, it becomes one super-rewarding shmup.
There are so many factors when it comes to the mechanics and scoring systems of Espgaluda II that it can be overwhelming at first. On the plus side, there are tutorials that give you a general sense of what to do. On top of that, there is a variety of modes to experiment with; some of them being more complicated than others. Specifically, you can enjoy an HD version of the arcade release, the Black Label mode which lets you play as antagonist Seseri, Arrange mode which alters the rules to be even more complex, and a straight port via Arcade mode. Once you beat the game, you'll also unlock Omake mode which I honestly don't understand due to the lack of in-game instructions but it seems to make bullets more aggressive as you fly by them and it features a strange counter that always changes.
I should mention that the Normal HD arcade mode and Black Label mode can be played on an easier Novice difficulty which is welcome for genre newbies because Espgaluda II can be a brutally challenging shmup. So, when you consider all of the variations, you're left with a highly customizable experience that you can easily adjust to how you want to play it. That being said, I wish there was extra content aside from all the modes such as online leaderboards and maybe a gallery mode with unlockable artwork, music, and such.
Finally, I'd like to discuss that I love Espgaluda II's graphics which fall in line with the high level of quality that CAVE is known for. Of course, it's often hard to appreciate the well-animated characters and detailed backgrounds when the foreground is filled with hundreds of flashy bullets but whenever you catch a glimpse of a boss swooping in or a turret rotating, it always looks great. Oh, and the audio is spot-on, too, with arcade-style music and effects that blend together beautifully to enhance the chaotic onscreen action.
I'm a very happy shmup fan now that Espgaluda II is finally available for console in the west. With challenging action and complex mechanics that are rewarding to learn and master, its core gameplay has everything that genre enthusiasts would want.
- + Awesome core gameplay with very clever difficulty-swapping mechanics
- + Variety of challenging ways to play
- + Solid graphics and arcade-style audio
- - Initially steep learning curve makes it tough to pick-up-and-play
- - Could use extras such as online rankings