Castle of Shikigami – Review

Degica Games have brought yet another classic Japanese game to Steam, this time it’s the first installment in Alfa System’s shoot-em-up series, Castle of Shikigami 式神の城.
It’s been translated and ported to the PC by Cosmo Machi and Degica.

Here’s some info from their press release about the story and the game

The Summer heat is scorching. Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Force has had enough. One after another, 32 female victims were found brutally murdered. Could this be the work of the occult? Call in the specialists!

Choose one of six characters and utilise their unique abilities to defeat the demons infesting modern-day Tokyo in this vertically scrolling shooting game. Use each character’s shot, special Shikigami attack and bomb to conquer each stage and it’s boss to ultimately discover who or what is behind “The Castle of Shikigami Incident”.

The game features:

  • Six playable characters with unique abilities and storylines
  • Five multipart stages of nightmarish demons in a ghost-infested modern-day Japan
  • Tension Bonus System that rewards risk
  • Exploit the time system to boost your score
  • Two-player local cooperative play
  • Newly translated story mode and character bios
  • Steam Achievements, Leaderboards, and Trading Cards

Degica Games sent me a Steam key and here’s my thoughts on the game…

The game was originally released on arcades back in 2001 and later came to PS2, XBox and other consoles, so the game does look a little dated – most glaring of all is an odd blocky green outline around the player sprite. However the crazy imaginative sprites and humour in the game make up for that if blocky sprites are not your thing.

First thing to note when booting up the game is it seems the XBox controller’s default settings are D-Pad only. The analog stick and “Back”, “Start” were not hooked up, which led to a frustrating first game. Once I twigged what was going on, I rebooted and manually set the analog stick, etc up.

You then get to choose from one of six playable characters, all who have special abilities and attacks.
My favourite being Kim de Jon who appears to have Darth Maul’s lightsaber with the appropriate sound effect too!

Your player character is a person as opposed to a spaceship, similar in some respects to Cave games like Deathsmiles, etc.
You’re flying over a 3D rendered city (Tokyo presumably) chasing the villains who are defended by teddy bears, dolls, dolls (or girls?) heads, and other random objects.

Obviously this is an old game (2001) so the graphics are a bit dated but a lot of the sprites are excellently drawn and the imagination and craziness of the designs are fantastic!
Makes you want to see what the next boss is going to be!
One of the first bosses is a baby-headed-butterfly (゚⊿゚)

The game mechanics are standard shmup with a few extra interesting mechanics.

You can’t just hold down the fire button to get auto-fire, as this triggers one of your special attacks (either a targeted missile attack, or a spinning lightsaber attack, etc depending on your character).

Also on later levels 3 circles appear in the lower half of the screen which cause you to slow down if you enter them.

Some bosses also have a green shape changing force-field around them which can be tricky to manoeuvre around or keep within if you get caught inside it.

These add some nice variation to the levels.

There is also a Tension scoring system at play here. Apparently if an enemy bullet grazes your hitbox, your tension bonus goes up and this is becomes a score multiplier when the scores are calculated on the results screens. So to get a really high score you need to play a risky game and not “avoid the bullets” too much.

The game is pretty hard and intense (it’s a bullet-hell game after all), so you tend to rack up some tension quite easily anyway. With bullet-hell games the trick is usually to learn the patterns, which this game has, but there also seems to be sections that are seemingly random – although that could just be my lack of experience!

One thing that bugged me a bit were the coins. Like a lot of shmups there are collectables, in this case, coins that the enemy drop when destroyed. Obviously you collect these up to get higher scores, however there seemed to be no “magnetism” at work here (some games the collectables are drawn towards the ship as you get nearer making it easier), so you have to actually fly over the coins to collect them, they don’t “come to you”. This makes it tricky / impossible to get them all.

As mentioned above there is a story in the game, although, to be honest it didn’t seem to make much sense – World War II and the luftwaffe seemed to be mentioned a lot, but then most people don’t play a shmup for the story anyway.

Overall I am enjoying this game, and it’s only about $10 (¥1180) on Steam, a bit more for the soundtrack bundle, so I would recommend having a look if shmups are your thing, or if you want to have a look at an interesting, quirky Japanese game.
The Steam port is fairly bare bones, but I don’t think you need a ton of graphical, display options etc with a game like this.

Disclaimer : As mentioned in the review, I received a Steam key code from Degica Games for this game, but all the views etc above are my own.

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